Archive for ‘religion’

November 28, 2022


by Neil Rickert

It’s a while since I last posted. I’m getting older and I guess I am slowing down.

I participate in several online forums, where creationists are showing up. The way that they argue is somewhat interesting, even if depressing.

In general

Creationists are not all alike. Most Christians are probably creationists of some kind. But the creationists who show up on Internet forums are not typical.

One version of creationism would be for the creationist to say that God created the world that we see as we look around. So if the world that we see appears to be 4 billion years old, then God created the world 4 billion years ago. And if the world that we see appears to use evolution to maintain biodiversity, then God created evolution as a way of sustaining the biosphere.

I do not have any serious arguments with that kind of creationist. As an agnostic, I don’t know whether or not there is a God behind all that we see. And it really doesn’t matter to the science.


The anti-evolutionists are the problematic creationists.

Of course some people may have doubts about evolution. It can be difficult to follow the science and the evidence, so I’m not at all concerned about people who are having doubts. It is certainly possible to live a reasonably normal life while doubting evolution.

The problem is not with the doubters. It is with those who actively oppose evolution.

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July 20, 2022

Progressive Christianity

by Neil Rickert

My main intention, in this post, is to link to two recent posts that seem worth reading. Both posts were on the “Progressive Christian” channel at Patheos.

The first of those posts is by James McGrath:

When growing up as a young Christian, I saw Jesus as taking liberal and progressive positions. And James pretty much agrees with this. It always seems strange to me that most American Christians are so conservative. They could not have gotten that conservatism from reading the Gospels. Even the early church practiced a form of Christian communism. There are still modern progressive Christians, with Martin Luther King having been just one example. Yet most American Christians seem very conservative and seem hostile to the liberal ideas that Jesus taught us.

The link blog post goes into some of the history of this. Or, as the summary by James McGrath puts it:

TL; DR: The core of Christianity was progressive from its beginning, and today’s progressives continue that tradition.

The Establishment Clause

The second post I want to highlight, is by Fred Clark:

That title is weird. The post is really about the establishment clause of the first amendment to the US. Constitution, and about why it is so important.

Some people seem to think that there is a tension between the establishment clause (often described as separation of church and state), and the freedom of religion clause. Recent supreme court decisions have use the freedom of religion clause to override some decisions based on the establishment clause.

Fred argues, correctly in my opinion, that there is no tension. The establishment clause is an integral part of freedom of religion. If the state can impose religious requirements, then that imposition is against freedom of religion.

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July 6, 2022

Fred Clark on the culture war

by Neil Rickert

I was not intending another post so soon after my last one. But then I read Fred Clark’s latest post at his “Slacktivist” blog. It is brilliant.

My apologies that his actual post is on Patheos, which means that it is loaded with far too much advertising. But it is still worth reading.

Fred goes after the religious right, that grossly immoral minority that had the gall to refer to itself as “the moral majority”. To illustrate, here is a sample paragraph:

“Winning” power politics in opposition to public opinion — in opposition to the will of the majority of citizens and voters — isn’t a “culture war.” It’s simply the denial of democracy. The “Christian Right,” in other words, is exploiting the undemocratic features of our politics to impose undemocratic results on everyone else.

Please take the time to read that entire post. It hits hard, and is on target.

May 29, 2022

American Evangelicals

by Neil Rickert

I grew up in Australia, and I was a member of an evangelical church there. I later moved to USA as a graduate student in mathematics, and I left Christianity after a few months there (at around age 23). I originally saw “evangelical” as a theological term, referring to particular theologies — particularly those that arose from Luther’s reformation. At the time of my youth in Australia, that made sense.

In America, I made similar assumptions about the meaning of “evangelical”. But experience has shown me that this was a mistaken view. It turns out that it makes more sense to think of “evangelical”, at least in the USA, a referring to a political and cultural identity. For example, I often hear the news media distinguishing between “evangelicals” and “mainline protestants”. Yet many of the “mainline protestant” churches would fit my original Australian understanding of “evangelical”.

Are evangelicals Christian?

What I see coming from American evangelicals does not fit the understanding of Christianity that I had in my youth. Yes, they call themselves “Christian”. But what, exactly does that mean? To me, it meant following the teachings of Jesus, such as “love thy neighbor”. And that’s where American evangelicals seem to fall short.

Here’s a post written by Rodney Kennedy, who is apparently a progressive Christian in America:

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May 1, 2022

Nonsense about atheism at The Big Think

by Neil Rickert

A recent post at Uncommon Descent mentioned a topic at Big Think:

The title is perhaps what attracted the UD poster. But the title is already absurd. Why would anyone think that atheism is particularly rational?

For starters, atheism isn’t actually a belief system. It is merely a matter of not being committed to theism. So it doesn’t actually make sense to ask whether atheism is rational.

The post lists the author as Will Gervais in partnership with John Templeton Foundation. A google search suggests that Gervais is a professor of psychology at UKY.


I chose to respond to this because of the absurdities that I noticed. The post begins with a subtitle:

Many atheists think of themselves as intellectually gifted individuals, guiding humanity on the path of reason. Scientific data shows otherwise.

This already seems dubious. The first sentence is undoubtedly true, if only because “many” is an undetermined number. Six people could count as many, and I know at least that many myself who match the description. But scientific data is unlikely to counter this. The scientific data more likely reports a statistical probability, which is not the same as “many”.

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February 20, 2022

Does science require faith?

by Neil Rickert

There was a recent post at the heterodox stem substack, arguing that science requires faith. My thanks to Jerry Coyne for the reference. Coyne has already expressed his disagreement with that viewpoint. In this post, I’ll add my own disagreement.

In elementary school, after we learned to use fractions we were taught to use 22/7 for the value of \pi. We did not actually use the symbol \pi at that stage. We were not given any reason for using 22/7. We had to trust the teacher for that. This was for doing what we called “mensuration” problems — finding areas and perimeters. So, yes, you could think of that as a kind of faith. A child needs to trust teachers and parents while growing up.

The next year, we learned decimal fractions. And we began to use 3.14 or 3.1416 for \pi. I quickly worked out that this was not the same as 22/7, so by then I understood that these were approximations.

In high school, we studied physics every year. One of our first physics experiments was to find the value of \pi. We were given wooden cylinders, and wrapped a thread around the cylinder as a way of measuring the perimeter. And we directly measured the diameter. At first this seemed strange. I had done enough reading to know that the value of \pi was usually found mathematically (with an infinite series), so the physics experiment seemed bogus. But then I realized the point being made. We did not need to depend on faith. We could find these things out by ourselves. And that’s what is distinctive about science.

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January 25, 2022

A different kind of Christianity

by Neil Rickert

I don’t often post on religion. But this is one of those times. I came across this video via a post at The Skeptical Zone.

The video is a bit long — 2 hours, though the last 30 minutes is commentary. It describes a church in Oklahoma, which is very different from typical evangelical churches. It sees Christianity as all about action — working to make the world a better place — instead of being all about belief.

This is much closer to what I understood to be Christianity from my own reading of the New Testament. And, in all honesty, if I had come across churches like this, I might never have deconverted from Christianity.

September 20, 2021

Conservative Christianity

by Neil Rickert

I’m taking a break from my more usual topic. So this is something of a filler.

I was a Christian from around age 11 to around age 23. I’m inclined to say that I was a liberal Christian in a conservative church. I perhaps should add that this was in Australia.

Conservative Christianity never made sense to me. I was a liberal Christian, because that made sense. My pastor encouraged me to read the Bible, so I did. I read the OT and the NT in parallel. When I got to the Adam & Eve story, my reaction was “Surely I am not expected to believe that this is true history!” It seemed so obvious that it had the genre of a fable, that I didn’t even bother to ask my pastor about that. And, of course, I had a similar reaction to the story of Noah and the flood, the story of the Tower of Babel, the story of Jonah. I guess I was already well on my way toward becoming a liberal Christian.

The Gospels

In my reading of the NT, I particularly (but not exclusively) concentrated on the gospels. After all, the religion was supposed to be about Jesus and his teachings. And I thought those teachings were pretty good. I read where Jesus taught that we should love our neighbor (Luke 10:27). And this was followed by the parable of the good Samaritan, which I took to be a lesson that we should care about all humans, even those from different ethnic backgrounds. This idea was reaffirmed in Matt. 25 — the parable of the sheep and the goats.

I guess this is what people mean by “The Social Gospel”. But the conservative churches, particularly so in America, reject that social gospel.

To me, based on what I learned during my period as a Christian, the conservative version of Christianity seems distinctly unchristian to me.

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August 2, 2019

The FBI and me

by Neil Rickert

Well, okay, the title of this post is misleading and I’m having a little fun in using that title.

Yesterday, I saw a blog post by William Dembski, where he used the acronym “FBI” as shorthand for a Fundamentalist Belief Inventory.  So no, in this case “FBI” does not stand for “Federal Bureau of Investigation”.

The inventory consists of 40 pairs of statements.  In each case you are supposed to pick the one that fits best.  And it is a forced choice — you are not allowed to select “none of the above”.  I suggest you follow the link above to Dembski’s post and read the questions.  It will give you an idea as to what fundamentalists believe.

Testing myself

Directly testing myself would not be much fun.  I would probably score a zero on the fundamentalist scale.  So, instead, I tried to answer them as I probably would have answered them back at age 20 — around 3 years before I left Christianity.

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September 3, 2017

National Day of Prayer

by Neil Rickert

President Trump has declared that today (Sep 3, 2017) shall be a national day of prayer.

I pray that Donald J. Trump resign from office, or be removed from office by impeachment.