Skepticism, Religion Archive

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Email Debunking - 1895 8th Grade Final Exam

BlackboardI recently received an e-mail with the subject line, '1895 8th grade final exam'. It supposedly showed how inadequate our modern education system is compared to that from a century ago. So, I took a look at it, and found the whole thing a little dubious.

Here's the introduction from the e-mail.

Subject: 1895 8th grade final exam

Take this test and pass it on to your more literate friends..

What it took to get an 8th grade education in 1895...

Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents stated that they only had an 8th grade education? Well, check this out. Could any of us have passed the 8th grade in 1895?

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society And Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

Let's leave all the subjective statements aside for now, and first determine whether this is actually a legitimate test that was administered to 8th graders in 1895. As it turns out, it is a real test from 1895, but it's not certain who it was intended for. As is claimed in the e-mail,the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society does indeed have a copy of the test. They have a transcript of the exam online, at the bottom of which they print the following claim:

The following document was transcribed from the original document in the collection of the Smoky Valley Genealogy Society, Salina, Kansas. This test is the original eighth-grade final exam for 1895 from Salina, KS. An interesting note is the fact that the county students taking this test were allowed to take the test in the 7th grade, and if they did not pass the test at that time, they were allowed to re-take it again in the 8th grade.

So, the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society at least believes that the exam was for eighth graders.

Truth or Fiction has looked into this claim as well. They have even posted some photos of the exam on their site. As they point out, nowhere does the exam indicate who it was intended for. As the authors of that site point out, many of the questions actually seem oriented more towards teachers than students.

Snopes also took a look at this exam. While they didn't confirm or debunk whether this particular exam was for 8th graders, they did show an example of a different exam from that era that was definitely intended for teachers, which seemed remarkably similar in scope and difficulty to the exam in question. They also included quotes from the administrators of that other exam, indicating that it was a bit difficult, and that teachers didn't do so well on it.

So, if I had to bet, I'd wager that this exam was intended for teaching candidates, not students. However, there's no way to tell for sure right now, so let's move on.

For the sake of argument, let's just assume, as the e-mail claimed, that this was an 8th grade final exam. How does it compare to a modern day education? The Snopes link above actually did cover this question pretty well, but having a daughter who just completed 7th grade, I think I'm in a good position to offer a closer perspective.

One note before looking at the questions - another site, Digital History, has gone through and answered everything. However, their answers are rather brief, sometimes incomplete, or not necessarily responding to what I'd imagine the exam was actually referring to. So, I've include a bunch of links below to more information responding to most of the questions.

Let's start off with the grammar section.

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina , KS - 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie,''play,' and 'run.'
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6 What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

First, here are links to give you answers to each of the questions: Capital Letters, Parts of Speech, verse, stanza, paragraph, verb parts, grammatical case, letter case, Punctuation.

Some of those might sound a little difficult at first blush, but once you look into the actual information that they're asking for, it's pretty clear that most of it is common knowledge, even for 8th graders. For example, if it was a multiple choice test, and it asked you to pick the option with the correct capitalization of a title, most people would probably get it right. Likewise for correct uses of punctuation, or verb tenses (parts).

And while grammar is important to a well rounded education, I do think people put too much emphasis on the rules being hard and fast, when really, they're just a description of how language is used by the people speaking it. Languages have survived just fine for thousands of years without scholars telling us not to split infinitives or use prepositions at the end of sentences. I've written about this before in Grammar Police, and SMBC covered it more humorously here.

Next is arthmetic.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. For tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000.. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft.. Long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt

I'm not going to work out the answers, but here are links to information necessary to figure out the answers: Arithmetic Operations, Unit Conversion Tables, Compound Interest.

This section is little more than unit conversion, and it's the only math in the whole test. There's no algebra, and only basic geometry finding areas of rectangles. No probability, either. My daughter's math education has far surpassed what's in this test, and she's only in 7th grade.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Here are the links to get the answers: U.S. History, Columbus, American Revolution, Territorial Growth, Kansas History, Civil War, Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, Howe, 1607 - Jamestown, 1620 - Plymouth Colony, 1800 - Jefferson Election?, 1849 - California Gold Rush, 1865 - End of Civil War.

The U.S. history doesn't look too bad. I think my daughter would do decently on it. If it was more Texas centric instead of Kansas centric, she'd do better.

The orthography is section is pretty obscure.

Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'U.'
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Here are links to get some of the answers: Alphabet, Phonetics, Orthography, Etymology, Syllabication, Phonemes, Trigraph, Subvocalization, Diphthong, Cognate words, Linguals, Caret U, Silent letters, bi / bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sub/sup, cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays,

Some of this is pretty specialized, and probably difficult for most people. But out of the whole exam, this is the only difficult section.

On the other hand, Orthography must have changed in the past hundred years, because I had difficulty even finding some of the things these questions were referring to. For example, I'm pretty sure that the 'subvocals' I found is referring to something different than this exam, and I couldn't find any references to cognate letters that weren't references to this exam. So, it would be hard to fault modern day 8th graders for not knowing outdated terms.

And the final section, Geography:

Geography (Time, one hour)
1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Here are the links to get the answers: Climate, Kansas Climate, River Uses, Oceans, Mountain Ranges of North America, Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, or Hekla, Yukon,, Juan Fernández Islands, Aspinwall, Orinoco.

Other than questions 5 & 6, this looks like stuff my daughter has covered already in school.

Notice that the exam took FIVE HOURS to complete.

Gives the saying 'he only had an 8th grade education' a whole new meaning, doesn't it?!

No wonder they dropped out after 8th grade. They already knew more than they needed to know!

No, I don't have all the answers! And I don't think I ever did!

Have fun with this...pass it on so we're not the only ones who feel stupid!!

That's it? Where's the science? Or the world history? Or government? Or art? Or literature? Or questions on how to do research? Or as I pointed out in the arithmetic section, where's the higher math? My daughter has had a much broader education than the hypothetical one from this test, and she won't finish with 8th grade for another year (and this is Texas, which doesn't exactly have a stellar reputation for education).

So, even if this was a real test for 8th graders from 1859, it doesn't reveal a dumbing down of education for modern day students. That's really no surprise, though. Just read books that describe schooling from that era, like Tom Sawyer, or Anne of Green Gables. I don't think anybody reading those books would wish for a return to that type of education. If anything, I think this exam shows just how good a modern day education is.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Theistic Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

Theistic EvolutionI must be getting old - I'm becoming forgetful. Jerry Coyne recently wrote a post titled Does theistic evolution differ from Intelligent Design?. I left a comment on his site, and had already started to write a blog entry expanding on that, when I came across an old entry of mine that said almost exactly what I was planning to write, Difference Between ID Proponents and Theistic Evolutionists. Oh well, since I already have some of this written, I might as well go ahead and post it so as not to waste the effort.

Coyne stated his position right in the introductory paragraph.

My answer is that these two brands of bad science elide seamlessly into one another, with no sharp line to demarcate them. Nevertheless, I don't call people like Francis Collins advocates of ID simply because that term conflates them with the hard-core, get-in-your-school adherents of ID who populate the Discovery Institute. But let us remember that this is a quantitative and not a qualitative difference.

He went on to write in his penultimate paragraph:

If you think that an intelligent god intervened in the process of evolution, especially to ensure the appearance of human beings made in that god's image, then you're advocating intelligent design. If you accept even a little bit of divine tinkering in the evolutionary process, you're not standing on some inclusive middle ground--you are, as P.Z. Myers said, halfway to crazy town.

I understand that both concepts are related, and maybe there is a grey area in between them. But I think there is an important difference between the two positions. To a proponent of theistic evolution (TE), if you take away God, evolution continues to work, you just may not end up with humans. To a proponent of Intelligent Design (ID), if you take away God, evolution is vastly different, without any complex structures. In other words, a TEist accepts all the evidence for evolution, but adds in an extra mechanism on top of it to accommodate their religious belief. An IDist rejects all the evidence for evolution, and invents a mechanism to replace it.

Part of the problem is that ID is so poorly defined. But even someone like Michael Behe, who accepts a bit more of the evidence for evolution, still accepts irreducible complexity, and believes that some features of organisms just couldn't have come about without divine intervention (or alien intervention, if the less honest press releases from the Discovery Institute are to be believed). And if you look at something like the ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, it reads like straight up creationism. Here's a passage from page 22 of that book that I've quoted twice before on this blog.

Instead, fossil types are fully formed and functional when they first appear in the fossil record. For example, we don't find creatures that are partly fish and partly something else, leading gradually, in the dozens of characteristics which they exhibit, to today's fish. Instead, fish have all the characteristics of today's fish from the earliest known fish fossils, reptiles in the record have all the characteristics of present-day reptiles, and so on.

And here's another one from page 25.

There is, however, another possibility science leaves open to us, one based on sound inferences from the experience of our senses. It is the possibility that an intelligent cause made fully-formed and functional creatures, which later left their traces in the rocks.

And as I pointed out in that previous post of mine, what else can you expect of a theist? They see God's intervention in everything, from the weather to diseases to coin tosses. Why would they leave evolution out?

I also disagree with Coyne implying that because the two positions "elide seamlessly into one another, with no sharp line to demarcate them", that they shouldn't be considered as different. The same argument can be made for many things, from colors, to night and day. I'm especially surprised at an evolutionary biologist using this argument*. If you could get in a time machine and see every individual in the lineage from one of our ancestors from 6 million years ago to today, you'd never be able to pick out just exactly when one species transitioned into another. But I don't think anybody would try to argue with the fact that we're a different species than that 6 million year old primate.

So, while TE and ID may be related in that they both see the hand of God influencing the history of life on the planet, there is enough of a distinction between the two positions to merit separate labels.

*Don't take this as an attack on Coyne. I have great respect for the man, read his blog website almost daily, and think his book, Why Evolution Is True, is possibly the best introduction to evolution for people who don't know much about it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

An Open Letter to a Child on How to Think

The ThinkerI recently received a few comments on this blog from a 12 year old girl. They were in two of my entries on religion, Why I Am an Atheist and The Book of Job. I left her a reply in that second entry, but I think the reply is good enough that I don't want it to get lost in the comments section. So, I'm posting it here in an entry of its own.


Thanks for visiting my site and taking the time to comment. From the first comment you left me, I take it that you're 12 years old. In real life, I'd be very hesitant to discuss issues such as this with someone of your age without knowing how your parents felt about it, since many parents have strong feelings over these issues. But, since you were precocious enough to leave me two comments, I think it's okay to discuss it a bit. However, I'm still not going to attempt to debate this with you, or to push any particular view on you. Rather, I'm going to comment on how to think about the world.

In your life, you're going to meet many people with many different views, from atheists like me to Christians like yourself, along with Christians from different sects with slightly different beliefs, and probably even people from completely different religions, like Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or Jews. We all have conflicting beliefs, so we can't all be right. And it's not just religion. There are all types of claims about the world that people make - whether coffee is good for you or not, whether or not global warming is happening and is a threat to our society, if a special carburetor can give your car 100 mpg, if vaccines can cause autism, or whether the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. You'll need to figure out for yourself which claims are true, which are false, and which ones you just might not be able to know for sure.

So, when thinking about claims about the world or the universe, it's always good to ask, 'How do you know?' It may be literally asking someone, or it may just be asking it in your mind. But the answer should always be better than simply because somebody said so. I tend to think science is the best way to answer questions, so I think the answers should be based on evidence.

And don't be afraid to point that question inwards and ask it of yourself. Once you examine your own beliefs, you'll probably find that much of what you thought you knew actually is true. Good. But you'll probably also find things you thought you knew that were wrong. All the better - because now you're not wrong anymore. Just never be afraid to admit when you're wrong, so that you can correct yourself.

If you're interested in reading more on this, I'm going to give you two links. The first is a letter written by a fairly famous scientist, Richard Dawkins, addressed to his daughter. It's been put it on the Internet, so that anybody can read it that wants to.

Good and Bad Reasons for Believing

This second one was a hypothetical letter written by another scientist, P.Z. Myers, to a girl who was quoted on the Internet (he never actually sent her the letter, since he only found out about her by reading about her on the Internet).

Dear Emma B.

So thank you for visiting my site and taking the time to comment, and thanks for being concerned about me. I'll take my chances on not believing in any gods, but I wish you the best of luck in learning about the world.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Book of Job

JobI can't remember the exact reason now, but I recently did a Google search on 'book of job' followed by a rude word to describe a rude person. I know - not the most polite of searches, but that's what it was. And I came across a link to this page on Yahoo Answers, Doesn't the book of Job show how unjust and cruel God is?

The first two chapters of the Book of Job are pretty short. If you're not already familiar with the story, I'd recommend reading them and the final chapter before going on with the rest of this blog entry:

If you're too busy for even that, here's the quick synopsis - Job was a very successful man. One day, when Satan was visiting with God, God bragged on Job, "Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless--a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil." Satan challenged God that Job was only faithful because he was so blessed, so God said, "All right, you may test him. Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don't harm him physically." So Job lost everything he had (including his servants and children), but stayed faithful to God. In their next encounter, Satan got God to allow Job to be harmed physically, so long as his life was spared. So Job was afflicted with boils from head to foot. Then follows 39 chapters of Job complaining of his troubles, questioning why they befell him, his friends responses, and even God's responses. Finally, in Chapter 42, God restored Job to his former glory - more so in fact - with even more camels, oxen, donkeys, sons and daughters.

Reading through that Yahoo Answers page, I find it somewhat amazing the rationalizations that Christians go through in justifying this book and trying to make it consistent with a loving god. Here are just a few examples. (Note that the references to Job's wife are due to the original questioner stating that Job's wife died along with his children.*)

It was all a test that made Job stronger rather than cause him to rebel against The Loving and Caring God of the Universe. And the dead relatives and servants of Job are going to go to a better place. So God did nothing wrong and He never does anything bad. You can count on that because God gave Job much better things after his suffering.
you really are of the devil if you can read how the devil killed Jobs children and STILL blame God.

If I asked you to say something about satan I suppose you'd say what a good ununderstood chap he is.

He has YOU blinded, lets hope your children grow up to be better - when you are dead and gone maybe there will arise a better generation.

All Satan asked for was authority over Job. Job 2:4. Job's wife never died. He continued after this 'test' with the same wife. (You said you read the account. you should know). The fact his children died is an example of Satan going too far, not abiding by the agreement.

IT WAS ALL SATANS idea and God allowed it....pray for some wisdom and guidance...

God already knew Job was a man of outstanding faith and integrity, so he allowed Satan to try and prove his point. He did warn Satan NOT to kill Job. Notice, though, when all was said and done, God gave Job an additional 140 years, 10 more children, and increased his wealth. Additionally, in the earthly resurrection Job will receive back to him all 20 of his children, and those of his servants that Satan killed.
God did not allow Satan to harm Job, take his possessions or kill his children in order to test him. Satan made false charges against Job and all humans and God had faith in Job to be able to prove Satan's charges false. Job did not remarry. His wife did not die. She gave birth to more children.
The book may be entitled Job, but it's really about satan. It's about showing him that no matter what the circumstance, those that have a strong relationship with God cannot be removed or drawn away from it even when divine protection is temporarily removed.

First, I'm going to address something that wasn't even mentioned in most of those comments on the Yahoo Answers page. As I already quoted, in the first chapter, God told Satan to "Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don't harm him physically." And just a few verses later, the Bible describes how Job's servants were killed - some murdered, some by "the fire of God", and how his children were killed after a wind knocked over the house they were in. Stop and think about that. The Bible is putting Job's children and servants among his possessions - that he owned them. I've discussed the ambiguity of servant vs. slave in the Bible before, and this just reinforces that according to the culture in which the Bible was written, it was okay for a man to own other people.

Then there's the question of just how good Job was. For those 39 chapters following his misfortunes, Job went on and on whining about how unlucky he was. What a self centered man. What about his children, who were crushed to death? Or his servants, who were murdered? Or his servants' wives, who were widowed? Or his servants' children, who were made fatherless, or maybe even orphaned? All those people killed, and all those families affected, and all Job could think about was how unlucky he was. If he was what God considered "the finest man in all the earth", there must not have been very many fine men around at the time, or God had a warped sense of what constituted fine.

Okay, now let's get into how this book of the Bible reflects on God. Most Christians believe that God is all knowing, all powerful, and good and loving. So, when Satan challenged God about Job's character, God should have already known what was in Job's heart, and shouldn't have needed to put Job to any test. God already knew the answer. So what was the reason for allowing this test to occur? Was he merely trying to demonstrate to Satan Job's loyalty? That seems a bit callous, putting a man through such troubles just to prove a point to a fallen angel. And of course, God knew Satan's character before the tests were begun, so even allowing for free will and assuming God didn't look into the future to know exactly what was going to happen, God knew what Satan was capable of and how Satan would likely torture Job. But even assuming that Satan surprised God, God is still supposed to be all powerful. So even if Satan violated the terms of the deal, God sat back and allowed Satan to continue to torment Job. In the real world, when someone has the power to intervene and prevent the injury of someone else, especially when there's very little cost to the first person, at the very least we'd consider it immoral not to act, if not criminally negligent.

Just imagine any parent with a child. If a known criminal came up to them and challenged them about the character of their child, would it be okay to let the criminal torment their child to test the child's character? What if there were terms, and the criminal violated the terms, would you expect the parent to let the challenge continue? It's ludicrous when you put it in real human terms. I don't know what should make it substantially different in divine terms.

And the above assumes that it was Satan causing all the harm, but some people were killed by the "fire of God", and the end of Job 2:3 seems to indicate that God was responsible for at least some of Job's suffering, "And he has maintained his integrity, even though you urged me to harm him without cause." That would be like a criminal going up to a parent, and convincing the parent to harm their own children.

Moving past the challenge itself, when God finally showed up to talk to Job directly, the Lord went on and on bragging about how powerful he was. It sounded like a 'might makes right' argument, not based on any type of real morality.

And then, when Job was finally restored to his glory, the manner in which it was done is still unsettling. After having lost all of his children, they were simply replaced, as if this made everything alright. I'm a parent myself, and I love my daughter intensely. If tragedy were to strike and my wife and I were to lose her (which I hate writing even as a hypothetical), it would be heart breaking. And it's an insult to even consider that she could be replaced with a new child.

I realize that this is where Christians quit looking at death as a bad thing, since they believe in an afterlife, but think about how people actually react to death. Nobody celebrates at a funeral. They're always sad affairs. Loved ones are gone, and they're going to be missed terribly. Pretending that there's a heaven doesn't take away the grief. And in the story of Job, there's also the manner in which everybody died. It wasn't the Angel of Death taking them peacefully in the night. Everybody died a painful, violent death.

I have to admit, that the Book of Job isn't entirely inconsistent with a notion of a god. It's just inconsistent with the mainstream Christian view. If you take away one of the following three assumed qualities of God, either loving, all-knowing, or all-powerful, then the Book of Job makes much more sense. A capricious god, or one who didn't care deeply about his/her creations, would have no qualms about putting a person through such a test. Even a god who didn't know how the test would play out might go through with it. But that's not the type of god most Christians believe in.

So, if the Book of Job reveals anything, it's not a God worthy of praise and adoration or worship out of love, but a God worth worshiping only out of fear, lest you be the target of his next wager with Satan.**

*Job's wife is mentioned only once in the Book of Job at 2:9, so according to the Bible version of the story, there's no indication that Job took a second wife. However, a later, slightly different version of the story, the Testament of Job, does give Job two wives. (Wikipedia)

**Of course, atheists recognize there's no need to fear the non-existent, so I guess what the Book of Job really reveals is the mindset of the culture that created it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why I Am an Atheist

If you're at all familiar with the skeptical blogosphere, you've probably heard of PZ Myers' blog, Pharyngula, and you may even have heard of his 'Why I Am an Atheist' series. He put out a call for submissions for people to tell their own stories, and has been publishing those stories on a regular basis (here's an example of one of my favorites.) I sent in my own essay - we'll see if it ever gets posted on his site. It's a bit of repetition of things I've already said on this blog, but it brings them all together in one place, so I thought it would be nice to print it here.

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismI grew up in a religious house. We went to church every Sunday; my mother was director of the CCD program; my brothers and I were even altar boys (with none of the controversy that has come to light recently). This wasn't all just ceremony. I sincerely believed in God and Jesus, and thought I could feel His presence when I prayed.

But as I got older, I began to question my religious beliefs, and eventually realized that I'd been mistaken. There was no moment of epiphany. The gradual realization came after several years of research and intense self-reflection. I didn't become an atheist just because I didn't like going to church Sunday mornings, or because I didn't want to have to follow the rules anymore. I don't "hate God" (it's a little hard to hate an entity you don't believe in). I read the Bible. I studied science. I read up on philosophy. I became an atheist because that's the way I think the universe really is. But don't confuse atheism with Postmodernism or Nihilism. I still think there's an objective reality. I still worry about how to be a good person. I just no longer see a god as being part of that.

While there were numerous initial seeds of doubt, the process began in earnest in an attempt to reconcile the Bible with the actual history of the planet as revealed through geology and biology. It was at the time Intelligent Design was making big headlines. I'd just recently learned how many people were creationists (prior to that, I'd naively thought most people accepted evolution and the ancient age of the Earth), and it made me wonder if I was being a bad Christian for not taking the Bible at face value. So, I looked into evolution and creationism in a lot more depth than I had before. The evidence for evolution and an ancient Earth are even more overwhelming that I'd already known, and there's really no doubt over them. But still being a good Christian, I vainly thought I'd be able to write a convincing essay showing how the Bible could be interpreted figuratively and still be accepted as true. However, by the time I'd finished researching the essay, I realized that the Bible couldn't have been divinely inspired. I didn't give up Christianity all at once with that realization, but it was a big first step, and within another year or two, I'd basically become an atheist. Obviously, there was a lot more to the process than just realizing that Genesis wasn't accurate, but that could take an entire book to write. [cough, cough - $4.99 from Lulu (or free online)]

This period is also when I took on the responsibility of becoming a father. In fact, once I began having doubts about my religion, this responsibility was one of the main things that drove me to research the issue further - how could I teach my daughter things that I wasn't sure of myself? At first, as a Christian, there was no question on how to address religion with her - respect everybody's views, but Christianity was the true religion. But once I started having my own doubts, things weren't so easy. I'm pretty sure I'm right in my atheism, but I want her to think for herself, and I don't want to indoctrinate her into any particular view like I was into Christianity. So, I make sure that she understands that she's going to have to decide these things for herself.

Until very recently, my daughter went with one of her friends to her friend's church every Wednesday night - kind of like Sunday school, except, well, on Wednesdays. So in addition to me trying to teach her about various religions, she got to hear about Christianity from actual believers. The thing is, without that strong pressure from parents to accept Christianity, it's not an easy thing for kids to swallow, especially when they're being raised with a respect for science. I don't mean to say that religion and science are necessarily antithetical, but science teaches you to question everything and look for evidence. In that sense, faith just doesn't cut it.

Now that I have questioned religion, there's no going back. I didn't simply choose to be an atheist. I studied all the evidence I could find, initially in an attempt to become a better Christian, and atheism was the unavoidable conclusion. I could no more choose to go back to being a Christian than I could choose to go back to believing in Santa Claus, or choose to believe that the Earth is flat. I opened Pandora's Box, and it can't be closed again.


Selling Out