Sunday, July 2, 2017

The absence of evidence is the evidence of absence

The absence of evidence is the evidence of absence. While the absence of evidence may not be proof of the absence of evidence, it does give us a rational starting point. It is evidence. It is good to show the distinction between evidence and proof. Proof is a compilation of evidence and facts that lead to a conclusion beyond reasonable doubt and evidence is one supporting factor in a given theory. No would be consider rational for supporting the prosecution of people without evidence, that is because the lack of evidence is evidence. There is no evidence of Sam stabbing Ruth, so we have no rational grounds to convict Sam. And while this alone may not be proof, there may still be motive and opportunity, but without evidence there is not case. Furthermore when it comes to atheistic claim that there is no god, many agnostics and theists will cry out that I have no evidence. But I do.The fundamental misunderstanding is described above. The lack of evidence for god is evidence and based upon this and this alone I am rational in assuming or starting with the idea that there are no gods. This conclusion is valid with many other premises, such as with Santa Claus, Pink Unicorns, The Tooth Fairy, and other magical beings. But the gods get special treatment because of political, social, and personal biases. But it is no different. Just like I am rational in saying because we have no evidence of a tooth fairy or a Santa Claus we are rational in saying that there is no Santa Claus or Pink Unicorns. I am therefore rational in saying there is no god, and the burden of proof is still upon the one making the claim that there are indeed gods.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Becoming an Atheist Apostate Part 1: My Religious Experience

Hello, I'm Mark and this is my deconversion story.  I was born into a Christian home. I went to so many churches growing up, most of them of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist stripe. I have "accepted Jesus" several times. The times the stick out the most when I was five on  an Easter Sunday of all days. I wanted to go to heaven so bad and descriptions of a Jesus being tortured to death, and  his resurrection inspired/scared me. I was subsequently baptized. At the age of seven, I prayed and accepted Jesus again, because I was not sure I did it right, and  hell  scared the shit out of me.  When I was eleven, I was plagued with doubts and nightmares of hellish torture and demons. The hell, fire, and brimstone preacher did not help by saying the littlest of doubts is cause for concern. So I accepted Jesus again. And since it happened in such dramatic form, I was baptized for the second time. Fast forward about a decade and a half. I had made some pretty major shifts in my thinking and now here I am getting baptized again, not because I "accepted Jesus" or "prayed the sinner's prayer" now  I somehow got super serious about God and realized that "accepting Jesus" was not in the Bible. This was actually a pretty big deal. In order to get saved the right way I had to demonstrate faith and repentance. And the only way to "know" you are saved is by examination of your fruits. This led to me, claiming a much later and more subjective salvation experience, I don't actually know when. This led to another baptism. I was in my late 20s, so not that long ago.

So far this is my religious experience as it pertains to salvation. But here is another aspect that one cannot skip over. At the age of 13 I felt pressured to go into the full time ministry. And at the age of 15 at Lake Texoma Baptist Camp I surrender to this pressuring. This call to the ministry would dominate my life. I would spend hours studying the Bible, reading the Bible in public, and preaching. I was a firebrand fundamentalist. I headed off the Pensacola Christian College in 2002. I would earn a Bachelor's in Pastoral Ministries and Master's in Biblical Exposition.  I almost met the love of my life, my beautiful and wonderful wife. 

While in seminary, I made a major shift.  After some disillusionment with the college my fundamentalism and rigid outlook started to crack. I started to ask questions about some basic things I was being taught. But what filled the crack was not rationality, but Calvinism. An even more entrenched theological position. And while I loosened up on some of the peripheral issues like listening to rock music, woman wearing pants, and KJV only-ism. I dived head first into this deep theological tradition. A mutual friend at college introduced me to the likes of Ron Paul and Alex Jones. I soon started drinking that cool aid too. But I think in the long run it had an impact on my deconversion. I started to broaden my sphere of influence. Atheists like Adam Kokesh, Stefan Molyneux, and Jesse Ventura started to make an impact on how I viewed atheists. I was introduced to the Zeitgeist Movie, which made me actually question my faith for the very first time. Because of this, I started to take apologetic studies way more serious. I was in panic mode and started  soak up all I could from the likes of R. C. Sproul, Ravi Zachrias, Josh McDowel, and William Lane Craig. 

After graduating college, I attend a little but very influential church, Mount Zion Baptist Church. They had a literature distribution center that printed many of the Puritan and Reformed theologians world wide. This would add to my studies. This was a church like nothing I had attended. They took everything serious. Everything they did had a Biblical reason. They actually cared about each other, unlike many other churches they did not rush off at the end of service but stayed and had fellowship. And to be honest I miss this. This church and the people would help me and my growing family at this time financially and medically. And while I could spend quite a bit of time on how awesome this church was especially compared to others. 

There are three things that I think are important. First, I actually enjoyed and looked forward to going to church, I was not bitter or angry. Second, I was sincere, I actually for the first time started to take Christian serious on a whole different level. What did the bible actually say and how does this impact my life. Sure I was serious before but in the rule following sense. For the real first time, truth meant something. I was being transformed on an epistemological level. This would lead to me realizing my call to pastor was not an actual call from God and that many colleges use this call to ministry as way to make money. Today, I think it is all subjective nonsense, but I can say that the reason I am not a pastor today is not due to my atheism. Finally, I think the the clash I had with authority at the church would be very formative in my becoming an atheist. 

So that last part needs some fleshing out. While searching for truth, I came to question the practice of spanking/hitting scripture. I found scientific reasons while this was damaging, but I found little scriptural reason to support this practice. And of course the circle jerk of what the Bible commands and what it doesn't led to many debates on Facebook online, I eventually concluded that I was not going to spank my children. Meanwhile the conspiracy nonsense and anarchism I was exposed to was fueling a passionate search for truth. I was eventually called into the pastors office. My online presence did not go unnoticed, and while the pastor appreciated my desire for truth and my striving to being biblical. He basically said I was in disobedience by not following the leadership God had placed over me and that I was in disobedience to "clear" biblical teachings. Because I was planning to move back home to Virginia, little was actually done about this, but it was very clear that if I stayed there may have been actual biblical discipline if I kept pushing back against the authority placed over me. And in many ways at this early stage in this story, my passion for truth was starting to come into conflict with my desire to be biblical.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Indoctrination 4: Can't Touch This

It is no secret religion earns a privileged role in society. And it is not surprise that Christianity especially in the west gets an even more esteemed position in society. Hell, Catholicism get away with literally fucking kids. I even had a friend of mind tell me he thinks it is good that the Catholic church has covered up many of their child sex scandals. He says the importance of faith out weighs the truth and that discovering the truth is not worth having people lose their faith. I could not disagree more. Faith does not get a special pass nor does any religion. In fact I think faith is failed epistemology and religion is nothing but an extraordinary claim.

One of the key aspects of indoctrination in society, is that religion gets this pass while most other things do not. Asking for evidence when it comes to religious claims can be seen as tantamount to blasphemy. And even questioning doctrine has gotten people in deep shit. Just look at the images of the inquisition. This level of indoctrination is subtle and overt. It is possible for young kids to become biased in preference to religion at an early age because of how religion is simply revered in society. And in more overt ways, children are told that blasphemy is a sin and that questioning faith is dangerous. Granted things are becoming more and more sophisticated and religion is attempting to appear more rational and progressive, but it is still the same dogma just dressed up in a shiny new suit.

Faith is nothing more than pretending to know something that you can't actually know. The issue is instead of students learning about epistemology, logic, reason, and philosophy they are told to just have faith. Faith is a shortcut to  supposed knowledge, but it only ends you in the barren land of speculation. Faith is not even honest, it is pretense of false hope. Faith pretends to be belief and is nothing but guesswork. So why should it have any special place in society? I think evidence and reason are the best places to start for our foundation of knowledge.

And lastly, religion really is an extraordinary claim! And this is even greater reason why we need evidence. Some will say we must have extraordinary evidence, but I would be happy with any evidence. Faith requires no evidence though, which is why there are no evidence based religions. Faith is the heartbeat of religion and especially Christianity. Because how else are we to believe in a things like gods, angels, demons, spirits, holy ghosts, resurrections, heaven, hell, miracles, etc. These are all claims! And religion gets away from its demand of proof because of special privilege in society. This is why I do not give it such a special place. And just like I demand astrologers and psychic for evidence, I to demand religion. The same way I disdain chiropractors, homeopathic, and anti-vaccine nuts I disdain creationism, snake handlers, and miracle workers.

Some will say this about religion, that it is untouchable. But I say lets touch the shit out of it. Let me get elbow deep in the pierced side of religion.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Indocrination 3: Fine Tuned Nonsense

I find it fascinating that the story of creation in the Bible is not really about a fine tuned universe but rather just fined tuned  nonsense. It is designed for the gullible. Me. That is right, I swallowed this shit hook, line, and fucking sinker. And the hook has just been pulled and thanks to the flying spaghetti monster I have been set free.

It appeals mostly to the indocrinated. Me again. For some reason I wonder why any would believe in this stuff. Most belief systems require at best a young impressionable mind. Maybe this is why religion matches cultural settings at such a stunning rate of comparison.

Born in the south? Most likely you have ties to evangelicalism. Born in India? You might be Hindu. China? Yeah, you got Buddhist. Bullshit discovered in one's life is almost always traced back to a parental source. It's almost like nonsense has been fine tuned to little ears.

It was designed for the simple minded and while I don't like to view myself as simple minded this is exactly where a dogmatic literal of interpretation of most of the Bible leads. "The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it" was an actual song sung at my fundamentalist Christian college. And this still rubbed people the wrong way, mostly the dear Calvinists  who would say belief doesn't matter, it shoud say, "God said it, that settles it!" Reality is not defined as "that which is real" but "that which conforms to the Word of God." This may sound crazy, but I lived this, breathed it, and even preached it.

Lastly, believing the world is a mere six thousand years old lines up nicely with an ancient view of reality. In other words it's perfectly branded for the bronze age mind. The mind not acquainted with science and has no idea what it evidence actually is. The hold up the Bible and say, "here is the evidence" just as I have done. The Bible is not evidence it's the fucking claim. And in order to take this claim serious one has to put a Jeffersonian spin on it.

I get that many will say I am only talking about the dogmatic types I am safe. I am a Christian who is okay with science and evolution. I applaud you, indeed you are not simple minded, and you have a nuanced world view. However, it is like you have still been caught by the fisherman  and while he has thrown you back you desperately are trying to get back to him. Do you realize how much has to be cut from the Bible for it to make sense to you. When will give up at trying rationalizing your faith and making excuses for it? I gave up my faith because it makes no sense when given an actual test based on rationality, skepticism, and truth. This is what happened to me, Christianity made sense when I looked at it with God glasses on, but take off the glasses. Look at it like an outsider would and see how long your faith remains intact.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Indoctrination 2: Information Overload

 What gets me about my deconversion is about how ignorant I was as a fundamentalist believer. There are just so many aspects to science, history, technology, and even philosophy that have to be reinterpreted or ignored. As a child going to Christian school, I could not have experienced this more. Not only am I sheltered from peers in the "world" but I am also getting all kinds of information wrong.  Some of the most basic aspects of science and how it works was demonized. Evolution when it is mentioned was of course of the devil and the reason for the holocaust. Talk about a priori conclusion, well that is religious fundamentalism in a nutshell. They start with a conclusion and cleverly show you why it must be this way.

The application of science is huge, I was never taught to be curious, in fact  it was discouraged. In fact the old adage of "curiosity killed the cat" was an subtle but driving force in my circles. In what many would consider a hallmark of scientific exploration, curiosity was never championed unless it served to benefit the overaching fable. This curiosity I had to cultivate on my own, but seeing how was drawn to the religious, I became curious of theological issues. I would spend my study hall periods studying the dispensations or the covenants. I would read books on why UFO's are demons trying to trick us, or read books about KJV onlyism. I was curious indeed, but more like a dog barking up the wrong tree. 

Not only was curiosity subtly frowned upon, but wonder was curbed as well. The awe and wonder I now feel about exploding novas, super massive black holes, the evolution of venom, or whatever was always hijacked by - look at what God created. "Our God is an Awesome God" was played ad nauseam. Somehow the awe inspiring God worshiping wonder of flesh eating bacteria, the impeccability of some viral diseases, and the effectiveness of childhood cancer did not spur us to worship in chapel. In high school biology class, it was almost as if the course was meant as a mechanism to indoctrinate from a "Christian worldview" so the impressive evidence supporting evolution was completely distorted and instead we were told how amazing these creatures were in light of Genesis 1. Today, as I sit in my heathen atheism, I am enthralled beyond expression at how so much information flies in the face of religion. The lines of evidence that demonstrates certain facts are so compelling, I find god and Jesus to be boring. Intellectually vapid. Its like trying to breakdown an Aesop Fable. And honestly that might be more interesting. 

The wonder of learning new things, challenging preconceived ideas, smashing ill formed opinions, and realizing that there is so much I do not know. When Christianity is taught to children or to adults, it is proposed as a theory of everything. Sure we can learn more about how rabbits hop, how trees grow, and how even fossils form. But it is all directed in a way that first upholds the Christian worldview. So there is no discussion in the evolution of a rabbit hop, or examination of trees older than four thousand years, and of course fossils are put there by cataclysmic events like the Flood. So information is steered and controlled. And little impressionable minds are manipulated and controlled from the ground up. 

Today, I am kind of on an information overload, a little over three years, after I gave up my faith. I sit on my couch wishing I had more time. More time to read and explore, to visit museums. But life and its responsibilities prevent me from getting to deep. If only I was a child or a teenager. Or even in my twenties and had a much sharper mind. If only I did not feel so robbed from my youthfulness. Seriously though, It pains me inside, to realize how much my information was controlled by a propped up, fucked up, worldview that has the intellectual acumen of a Cheeto. There I said it, feels pretty nice. 

Indoctrination: Shock and Awe Removal

It goes without saying that in order to fall away from one's religion one has to first be a convert, but the reality of my situation is focused less on conversion and more on indoctrination. I was not really converted into religion, I was manipulated. I had never once recoiled in shock to the idea of Jesus being beaten, tortured, and crucified. I had never once questioned the validity of the talking snake. The idea of original sin never once crossed my mind. In all honesty, skepticism was curbed by a growing fear of hell.  I was exposed to religion before I knew how to talk. And at the impressionable age of five, there I was praying to accept Jesus. It was at this point, I accepted the whole package of Christianity. So right from the start I was biased, manipulated, and indoctrinated.

Why do they think it is okay to teach children these stories as incontrovertibly true 
and to threaten them with hell? Maybe they know that the older a child gets the better the chance they will see through all the lies and bullshit. At the age of four and five when does a child even have the capacity to be shocked, to question, or to be skeptical? They don't know how to read yet. Telling kids like me about these shocking religious claims at such an early age removes the shock value. Noah's Ark  and Flood is a messed up story,  but showing that cute boat and all those cute animals deadens the sounds of babies drowning. Tell a child about Jericho and the conquest of Israel, not only does the five year old just accepts that big walls can just collapse because people marched around it a certain amount of times but they ignore yet again the screams of all the dying children. Not too mention all the stories that don't get told in Sunday School.

Bible stories should terrify children, but the packaging makes all these accounts seem innocent, soft, and even great.  So here I am at the innocent age of five surrounded by grown adults who believe in all this shit. What I am I suppose to do?  The most "rational" people in life believe in all of this, and those people who don't are depicted as sinners, infidels, and heathens. Even at such a young age, there was an us vs. them mentality. We had to reach out them, but be careful they are of the devil. And if you think I am exaggerating all this, I would invite you to read the works of Jack Fucking Chick.

Hell is promised for those who question too much. So before I am even taught how to access claims, how to be skeptical I basically strong armed into believing whatever claims my superiors say.  The relationship between a parent and child is a special one. I am connected to my parents, because even to this day I strive for their approval. So when religious claims are wedded with parental love and care, the indoctrination becomes entrenched even more. And it is not like my parents are doing this out of malice, but out of good intentions and out of love. Who wants to see their child go to hell. So of course, they are also being duped by an overarching system that feeds like a leech upon family units and cultures.

The one aspect of removing the shock and value and normalizing all these religious beliefs is done effectively when you get a five year old to accept these ideas before he even had a concept of what they mean but now he has accepted the whole entire worldview. This is damaging because he will from the outset build his philosophy, epistemology, and ethics from an insulated faith based worldview. There never was an outsiders test of faith, because at the age of five I was never on the outside. Considering also the manipulating techniques of fear mongering about hell, this alone is a built in mechanism to remove doubts. So, of course not only do I not know how to question claims, but this pernicious and devilish doctrine of hell will remove the desire to do so. Add in that all this is reinforced by loving parents who might be victims themselves, a culture, church and support structure. Being skeptical can actually be dangerous and scary. So from the outset, I want to make it clear, I am a victim of religious indoctrination and manipulation and I am kind of pissed off about it. 

The Middle Finger Analogy

For many deconversion or apostasy is something to stay far away from. It is inherently contentious because the apostate is denouncing and turning his back on the religion of his parents, his ethnicity, and his culture. And for those who deconvert from religion altogether and became atheists or agnostics it is tantamount to giving the middle finger. People's identities are woven with their religions and god beliefs. So when their beliefs come under attack, even in the smallest of ways many people are offended and become defensive. 
This is true of all religious differences. In Islam people have been killed by their family for converting to different religions or to different sects. In America there are cults that force complete banishment.  Any major or  minor changes when it comes to religion can be taken personally as well. When I shifted from Arminianism to Calvinism this was taken very personal by family and friends. I even had to have meetings with various pastors and almost got kicked out of seminary over a minor theological difference. This indeed was tantamount to giving the finger. So imagine what it must be like to say that it is all bullshit. This is big fat middle finger to all religions. 
Of course, I need to be painfully clear here, I am not trying to insult you. The very nature of religion makes it seem that way, but I must assure you we can still be friends, and no I am not sticking my middle finger at you. Keep in mind that we are all guilty of doing this exact thing. There are subtle ways all people are guilty of metaphorically giving the bird.
First, religions give the middle finger to other religions! This is an important distinction. When relatives, family, and former church member see my Facebook profile or see these blog posts, they must keep in mind that there are always two sides. Part of telling my story is too show them my perspective. And to the world, religion as a whole is one big hate orgy. My religion has it right and all the other religions are wrong, this interpretation is the correct interpretation and all others are heresies. And my version of the holy text is the correct one all other versions and texts are perversions. Keep in mind, this is not just an issue with the fundamentalist or the extremist - who want to collect Harry Potter books and burn them ( I was one of these nut jobs ) or the ones who want to fly planes into buildings ( I am not comparing the two, just drawing a contrast).  But even liberal theists can still be very enthusiastic about their religion while disdaining all others. Of course there are exceptions. But as a whole, religion is a force that divides and it in itself is one big middle finger to the world.

I want it to be said from the outset, that I am not trying to offend anyone. Of course offense will be taken, this is unavoidable. I just hope that you  can understand that I mean you no harm personally. Calling religion stupid is not the same as calling you stupid. Many theists will do the same to the atheist and say that we are fools, because of Psalms 14:1. There are some atheists who take this very personal,  but I do not take it personally. Instead I try to understand the argument, and while I may think it is shallow and weak I do understand it.  You may think I am foolish, but I also think you are foolish. And here many fights can be break out.  Instead of focusing on the perceived insult let us discuss the reasons why we think each other is foolish. And that is why I am setting up this blog, as a place to show how I changed my mind and to give reasons why. Feel free to comment and to add your thoughts. Thanks for reading.