(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)
Last Wednesday, we had on our campus at Case Western Reserve University the promised free distribution of Ray Comfort’s printing of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, with an introduction by him containing his pathetic attempts at combating evolution.
The distribution seemed as if it was being done by community people and not by our own students. I did not get a copy myself but a number of people were gathered at the intersection just outside my office handing out religious tracts. I was stopped by a middle-aged woman who gave me a pamphlet and asked me if I believed in god. I said no. She asked me why not and I said that there was no reason to believe in god.
I asked her why she believed in god and she said that god spoke to her. I said, Really? You actually hear voices in your head? Yes, she said. I asked, What language does this voice speak and in what accent? She said English and added that god would speak to me in my own language and in my own accent. I said that I never heard such voices and that was why I did not believe but since she spoke to god, I asked her to ask god to tell her the serial number of the dollar bill in my wallet to convince me that the voice she heard really was god. She looked pained. That would be mocking god, she said. Why, I asked? It just would and she would not do that. I decided not to press her further on this point
I have found that pointing out logical contradictions or circular arguments never convinces religious people immediately so once you have made your point, it is best to move on and not belabor it. So why do I do bother arguing at all? I am a firm believer that religious beliefs change slowly as a result of people trying and failing, on their own, to reconcile the contradictory beliefs they are forced to hold. So what I do is plant as many seeds of doubt as I can and hope that at least one will take root and sprout and undermine the whole religious edifice.
The best way to do that is to not defend your lack of belief (because religious people don’t really care what your reasons are and don’t listen) but to pose questions to them exploring the logical consequences of their beliefs. Since they care what they think, it forces them to grapple with these issues. This method of posing questions and getting people to figure things out for themselves is known in education circles as ‘inquiry-based instruction’ and is widely used as an effective teaching technique, especially with science, where students often have deeply held, unconscious, and erroneous beliefs, just like religion.
Anyway, back to my encounter with the religious person. She then asked me what I thought would happen to me if I died today. I told her that my usable organs would be harvested and then I would be cremated and that would be it. But what would happen to me after that, she asked? Nothing, I said, that was it. What about the afterlife, she asked. I told her I did not believe in it. She asked why not and I said that there was not a shred of evidence that there was an afterlife, just like she had not a shred of evidence for god, except for the voices in her head. She asked whether I wasn’t scared of being wrong about god and going to hell and suffering torments for eternity. I said I was not worried at all.
I asked her if she had met and spoken to anyone who had died. She said no. So why do you believe in the afterlife? She said the Bible promised that there was one. I asked why I should believe that book more than any other book. She said that it was because it was the word of god. And why do you believe in god, I asked, because of the voices in your head? Yes, and also because the universe has obviously been designed by a god. I said that there were perfectly reasonable explanations of the universe that did not require a god but she was, of course, incredulous that such explanations were possible, and she brought out the usual chestnuts such as ‘the miracle of childbirth’ as evidence of god’s necessity. I decided it was time to move on from that topic too.
I asked her if when Jesus rose from the dead, his physical body also rose. She said yes, of course, because the Bible says he ate fish with his disciples.
So where is his body now? Up in heaven, and she pointed up.
Really, up there? Yes, with Moses and Elijah and all those others who have joined god.
Their actual physical bodies are up in the sky? Yes.
So since they have physical bodies, they must eat and drink there, no? Yes.
So in heaven they have to grow food and cook just like here? Yes, they eat wonderful fruits and other foods.
So that means they go to the bathroom and so must also be having a sewage system in heaven? She looked pained again and said that she did not want to talk about such distasteful things.
But if the actual bodies have been resurrected, I said, then what about the decomposing bodies that we find in graves? She said that after we die, only our spiritual bodies go to heaven at first. It is only at the end of the world, with the rapture, that our physical bodies also rise from the graves (or wherever they are after all that time) and join up with our physical bodies. Since the end of the world has not occurred yet, this didn’t square with what she had just told me about the physical Jesus, Moses, and Elijah and the others currently palling around in heaven in their physical bodies, but I let it go. Maybe they got there early using their frequent flyer miles or elite status or something.
Next: Hitler makes a cameo appearance.
POST SCRIPT: Some Grey Bloke is having trouble with the whole self-loathing thing