Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Guest Post: Fundamentalism: The Leading Cause of Atheism

Today's guest post comes to us from England.  It's by Jonny Scaramanga.  He was raised as a Christian fundamentalist, attended a school run by Accelerated Christian Education, and made a lucky escape. Since then he has taught music in Higher Education and is now preparing for a PhD. 

He has written about fundamentalism for the Times Education Supplement, and discussed it on BBC Radio 4′s Sunday program, hosted by Edward Stourton.

He also has what is quite possibly the most amazing last name I have ever heard.

Check out his blog, Leaving Fundamentalism, and follow him on Twitter at @JonnyScaramanga.



The ICR (Institute of Creation Research)  is perplexed. Why would anyone leave Christianity? That's the question raised by this article from the ICR, "Pastor Became Atheist. Why?" It's about Teresa McBain, a former Methodist minister who left the church after two decades to become public relations director at American Atheists. From ICR's article:
"She explained her reasons to the Christian Post, saying, 'One [reason] was the contradictory nature of the Bible; the lack of scientific or historical foundation or accuracy, which took me a very, very long time to come to terms with.'


It makes sense to reject the God of the Bible if the Bible contained errors and lacked scientific or historical foundation. But it doesn't. Analyzing and teaching the amazing ways that true science confirms Scripture is what motivates the ministry of ICR—evidence for the veracity of science and Scripture abounds."
The ICR are on the thinnest possible ice here. It is exactly this kind of teaching that I was brought up with, and it virtually guarantees that its adherents will either wind up wilfully ignorant (and actively hostile to knowledge), or become atheists. It leaves you nowhere else to go.

Creationists have achieved what Stephen Law calls "The Vision Thing". They've reached such a level of delusion that Creationism seems so self-evidently true that you'd have to be blind or an idiot not to see it. I remember gales of laughter at dinner tables with my Creationist friends as we giggled about scientists who thought humans were descended from monkeys.

Creationists of this stripe tend to emphasise, as Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) does, that it's Creationism or nothing. The theory of evolution, they tell students, "is directly opposed to what the Bible says concerning the creation of the earth and the beginnings of mankind." Elsewhere, they teach students,
"This theory leaves no room for man’s responsibility or man’s sin. If evolution were true, no man would be born a sinner because Adam would never have fallen and committed the original sin of disobedience to God. If evolution were true, Christ would not have needed to die for sin.”
I was raised to believe not only that the Bible is inerrant, but that it must be inerrant. The Bible, the Word of God, is the foundation of the faith. My PACEs [Packets of Accelerated Christian Education - Workbooks used by ACE. --HH] taught that in a very real sense, the Bible was written by God. If the Bible contains errors, how could it be the Word of God? And if the Bible is not the Word of God in its entirety, how can we claim to know anything about the will of God? We would have no basis for claiming to know what God says, and faith would become arbitrary. This was unthinkable. Either the Bible has no mistakes, or we have to throw out the whole lot.

You do not need me to explain the problem: Genesis is not scientifically accurate, and the Bible does contain errors. And knowledge is so freely available today that it is inevitable that children will discover this. The theology I was raised with leaves you two options: Fundamentalism or atheism. That's it. My teachers and pastors maligned liberal Christianity and other religions constantly.

The are two ways to maintain a belief in Biblical inerrancy and infallibility: You can ignore all the evidence (with which your fellow conservative churchgoers will probably be happy to assist), or you can contort your mind into the spectacular knots required to fit a literal interpretation of the Bible with reality.

The Bible scholar Bart Ehrman describes how he lost his faith in inerrancy in this clip (I also like it because the interviewer reminds me of the guy in Grover's restaurant on Sesame Street). Bart had written a 35-page paper reconciling an error in the book of Mark: Jesus mentions a story involving the high priest Abiathar. The only problem is that the same story, as related in 1 Samuel, says Ahimelech was high priest at the time. Now, that's not a big deal, unless you're a fundamentalist – in which case it's the kind of thing you spend 35 pages trying to harmonise. And, Ehrman says, you can do it. There's a semantic argument that just about gets around the problem. But that's one problem fixed, and you've still got the rest of this list to go. And you have to ignore the argument, more satisfying to fans of Occam's Razor, that maybe Mark just made a mistake.

And some of the mistakes are really hard to explain. For example, the fundamentalist insists that Methuselah really lived for 969 years. And he also insists that Noah's Flood wiped out all life on Earth apart from the animals on the Ark. But if you crunch the numbers in Genesis 5, Methuselah lived for 17 years after the Flood, without going on the Ark. As the creationists at Answers in Genesis concede, "This is a problem." No shit.

Fundamentalists spend a lot of time on this stuff. Check out, for example, this list of Bible contradictions answered. There are some tortuous arguments here. And I don't know why it really matters, because, if it ever comes to a showdown between Reason and the Bible, they're going to go with the Bible anyway. Martin Luther said, "Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his Reason." And more recently, evangelical posterboy William Lane Craig has written, "Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter."

This makes religion unfalsifiable. And I just can't believe that God would set up the world so that the path to truth and the path to deception look exactly the same.

So parents: if you want Christian children, don't give them a black and white choice between atheism or fundamental Christianity. Given those options, any intellectually honest person has no choice but to go with atheism.



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