Thursday, December 29, 2011

Growing Up With Silent Doubt

I was reflecting on my childhood indoctrination the other day, and I remembered sitting quietly in the back seat of our station wagon on the way to church, hoping that maybe this time the preacher would say something convincing enough to remove all doubt. It never happened. I remember him saying once, "Millions of people around the world can't all be wrong!" and how I was almost convinced, except that my 9 year old inquisitive brain shot back silently and sharply in my head, "But what about all those millions of people who believe something different?" 

Early on in my indoctrination during the 1970's, Sunday School teachers and other adult congregation members (including my parents) would admonish me for being too inquisitive. I would be told repeatedly that to question the word of God was to question God himself and risk eternal damnation. So I kept my doubts to my self, silently fearing that my "sinful" thoughts were already known by the all powerful "Father in Heaven" and that my doom had perhaps already been sealed. The indoctrination had successfully done its job. I was sufficiently terrified enough to go through the correct motions of praying, reading the Bible verses I was told to read, proclaiming my love for a 2000 year old "savior" whom I had never met, and obediently stifling any doubts that would creep into my mind lest I be damned forever.

Even in my rebellious teen years, the fear still existed. I had pretty much determined that I would most likely go to Hell if I suddenly died, hoping that maybe I would have enough warning before hand to make a last minute prayer for forgiveness. I would imagine myself slipping into Heaven just in the nick of time, with the gates slamming shut and nipping the backs of my heels. I had an atheist friend in high school, and I remember him telling me how he didn't believe in any god or afterlife. I was so amazed that he could think such a thing and not be frightened of death, or of being wrong and finding himself in Hell! It was astonishing! And I had a hard time grasping how he could be so comfortable with his position. Somewhere in the depths of my mind though, buried beneath the lies, the fears, and denial, was a wish that I could be just as comfortable with my life as he was with his.

In my 20's my wife and I decided we needed to get our act together and start following the "right path." We both started attending a church and reading the Bible in earnest. By my late 20's, after digging deeper into the scriptures and finding all the contradictions and horrible atrocities committed by a supposedly "loving" god, those doubts from my childhood began to surface again, with fear of eternal damnation tagging along for the ride. My first breakthrough in shaking off the paralyzing indoctrination of my childhood came to me while I was thinking (of course).

I was working at a factory at the time, and 80 percent of my time was spent watching a machine run, intervening whenever it got jammed. So I had time to spare for self-reflection and thought. I first realized that my emotional fear was all that was holding me back from pursuing the rational doubts that I had been stuffing down all these years. So I conducted my own little "thought experiment." I asked myself, "If I had no fear whatsoever, would I still believe all of this Christianity stuff?" The immediate, almost knee-jerk answer that popped into my head was a resounding "NO!" Fortunately, my wife was having doubts as well, and although our individual searches for the truth didn't match up exactly, they were close enough in comparison that we were able to share our discoveries with each other, both of us agreeing that the doctrine of Christianity was bunk and would not get us any answers to our questions.

I didn't know it at the time, but that day in the factory was the beginning of my 13 year journey toward non-belief in a god and the supernatural. It took me several years of searching and struggling with the byproducts of my indoctrination before I eventually landed at being an atheist. I still wanted to believe there was a god of some sort; that there was some type of afterlife and some kind of externally defined purpose for my being in the world. Yes, there were still some residual fears that needed to be shaken off, but I was on my way to freedom, breaking my silence at last, asking questions and fearlessly letting my doubts be heard by anyone who cared to listen.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why Write All These Words?: The Death of an Atheist

For the past week I have been reading many online posts, blogs, and articles noting the death of Christopher Hitchens, best known perhaps for his book God is Not Great. Some atheists, myself included, felt mild sadness and will miss his writing and his skill at debating. Some atheists viewed him as their hero and were literally shedding tears. Some atheists hated the guy over political differences and were glad that he was gone. 

Of course there were also theists who had something to say about Mr. Hitchens’ death. Some were genuinely heart-felt and kind in their address. The rest of them seem to fall into three categories.  Some went with the Universalist idea, suggesting he would be in Heaven eventually. Others who do not believe in a literal Hell suggested that he was indeed dead and gone, missing the opportunity for “everlasting life” in Heaven. Lastly, there were those who said that if he didn’t convert at the last moment, that he was in Hell and/or separated from God forever, screaming for mercy. The latter group came across almost gleefully in an “I-told-you-so” sort of way, as if his death was somehow “proof” that he had begun his eternal torment.

At first I was angry at the theists in this latter group for expressing such terrible ideas about the late Mr. Hitchens. Then it occurred to me that in his day he didn’t really have any kind words for the late Jerry Falwell or Mother Teresa either. None of this really matters anyway. He’s dead. So what purpose do all of these words have? Why would so many people bother to write about their feelings concerning one man’s life and how he lived it? My guess is that when news breaks about the death of a widely-known person who has had such a divisive influence on our political and theological discussions, there are a lot more of us who notice a sort-of “empty spot” in our lives. Whether it’s big or small, or brings sadness or happiness or something in between, the fabric of our lives has been permanently changed, and we take notice.

Perhaps in the case of Christopher Hitchens, a very outspoken atheist who held no punches when it came to debating the existence of a god and/or an afterlife, there is an odd curiosity of what it must be like to come face to face with death, unwavering and unrepentant. His fellow atheists, whether they liked him or not, might recognize this one aspect of his outlook on life and death with some respect, perhaps awe. Theists on the other hand, especially the more fundamental ones, might have a harder time wrapping their heads around this.

Of the many misconceptions widely held about atheists, the idea that we actually believe in a god but simply refuse to acknowledge it somehow, seems to be one of the most common. So when someone like Christopher Hitchens dies with no remorseful last-minute conversion, the theist might conclude one of two things:
  • He honestly did not believe that there was a god or an afterlife. - For the theist to acknowledge that Mr. Hitchens’ disbelief was truly held through to the very end could mean that there is the slightest chance that he might have been right. Such a concept seems to be one of the scariest for a stalwart theist to imagine.
  • Or he was simply too stubborn and prideful; refusing to believe what was “obvious.” - This allows the theist to continue feeling secure in his or her beliefs without having to address any doubts. Thus the theist, depending upon the flavor of religious faith, concludes that Mr. Hitchens is burning in Hell or just eternally separated from God or is truly dead with no chance of experiencing an afterlife, and all is right with the world.
No, the words aren’t for the late Christopher Hitchens, they’re for us, and they help each of us to describe how we are dealing with this “empty spot” that has been left behind. Whether we agree with each other or not; whether we are theist or atheist; whether we liked the man or not, all of these words paint a tapestry of how his life influenced the world around him. So, if we all felt the same, it would be a pretty boring tapestry, wouldn’t it?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

On Faith and Killing in the Name of Faith

I wonder sometimes, if there was no religion, would the hairless apes of Planet Earth simply latch onto some other ideal or philosophy that they would be willing to kill for? Someone once told me that faith was the culprit in clashes like this one rather than belief in a god or a religion.

Faith can be placed in anything I suppose, whether it is a person, place, thing, idea, or philosophy. However, it seems to me that those who consider faith a moral virtue also attach the qualifier that it's only virtuous if it is in agreement with their own values. As long as the hairless apes on this planet hold to this way of thinking, I doubt seriously that any peace we might enjoy would ever last longer than a fleeting instant in our brief, tumultuous time here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Listening to Silence

when i was young i was told
god was maker
of everything that has been,
everything that is,
everything that will be.

i was told then to pray
for his still voice,
his comforting words of hope,
comforting wisdom,
comforting love for me.

i listened in silence
for any word.
so anxious i was to hear,
anxious to perceive,
anxious for belonging.

in silence i heard naught
but my own sigh,
disappointed, no answer,
disappointed, still,
disappointed, grieving.

so pretending to hear
some small still voice
i bowed down with the others,
bowed down just in case,
bowed down for parents' praise.

trying with each prayer to
feel his presence,
i felt only my sadness,
felt my tears falling
as hours turned to days.

i did what i was told
for all those years.
yet those years were not wasted.
they gave me wisdom,
time to think, time to feel.

now grown and on my own,
my life is full.
i have a world around me,
a world i can touch,
not imagined, but real.

without belief in some
fictional god,
i still have life before me,
a life with purpose,
with vision and with choice.

i've listened to silence
and found for it
two uses (among others),
to stay quiet in,
or to fill with my voice.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cherish Your Doubts

Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth.

Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.

A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.

Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false.

Let no one fear for the truth, that doubt may consume it; for doubt is a testing of belief.

The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing:

For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure.

Those that would silence doubt are filled with fear; their houses are built on shifting sands.

But those who fear not doubt, and know its use, are founded on rock.

They shall walk in the light of knowledge; the work of their hands shall endure.

Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help:

It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the attendant of truth.

- Robert T. Weston

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Problem of Faith

In a recent email exchange with a few close friends, I lamented on my fence-sitting position about the idea that religion, in and of itself, is harmful to our society. I received a great response from my friend Janet Factor. Our short exchange is pasted below. Janet's response is included with her permission.


I continue to have this internal debate over the idea of the direct "harmfulness" of religion.

Many atheists claim that religion, in and of itself, is harmful, not only because of what some religious adherents do in the name of a particular religious deity or figurehead, but because of the negative influences it can have on their day-to-day decision making (for example: praying for healing instead of visiting a hospital).

I always wonder, however, with humans being the way they are, if there was no religion, wouldn't there most likely be some other harmful political or social ideal that various groups would follow with just as much fervor?


You have a point, Mike, in that of course there are other destructive ideologies that people can adopt. However, it is not as though the presence of religion prevents them from arising, Nazism got along just fine with the German churches.

I would put it this way: the problem is not belief in gods per se, nor is it even the broader system of religions in general. The problem is FAITH. Faith is a great evil that underlies Nazism and Stalinism just as much as it underlies religion.

For this reason, I believe that if religion, which explicitly names faith as virtue, encourages and glorifies it, were somehow eliminated (not that I think it will be) the other irrational and destructive systems of thought would also decline. Faith teaches people to be credulous, and the evil among us will always exploit credulity.

But I will say, this is a battle that will have to be fought anew in every generation. It will never be won for good and all.

I think Janet is correct. As long as faith is upheld by humankind as a virtue, it will remain an anathema to our wellbeing in modern society.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Atheist's Paradox - A discussion with my friend, Edward

Edward, a friend of mine and a believer in God, recently posted a comment on my Facebook page which presents the "Atheist's Paradox". I had asked him to place the comment here, but technology didn't seem to want to cooperate, so at his request, I am presenting our discussion here. I will update further discussion between us on this topic here as time permits.


The atheist's paradox: Those without experience of God's presence are in no place to talk about him, and those who have are in no place to doubt.


The Atheist can comment about the god character he or she has read about and say, "If an omniscient, omnipresent god like this did exist, why would this god leave such a confusing message behind, and punish those who didn't believe with everlasting torture?" These are valid questions, and for many Atheists, a satisfactory answer has not yet been given.

So, if a non-believer is in no place to talk about this god, how would believers expect to engage them a dialogue which would allow them to provide a convincing argument otherwise?


Darwin was quoted “Man understanding God is like a dog trying to understand calculus.” We often want to push our perspective on what God should be, which usually is the perfect father or mother figure we wished was in our lives making us safe and happy. We also by nature seem to want God to be omni-fare making life the most well monitored playground imaginable.

But the most casual of observations will teach us that God did not make this universe a child’s dream like candy garden. The God who made little fluffy bunny rabbits also made foxes to kill and eat them; then when we protect the rabbits from the foxes we only hand the rabbits to crueler fate of starvation via overpopulation. No matter what, rabbit loses; doesn’t sound much like an all loving and kind God does it. To have a positive relationship with God, one must get past the notion that the meaning of life is to be coddled and cared for by your creator.

God like the like the mass of a photon may well not be directly observable. So if we are not quick enough to catch God winking at us, then the best we can do is secondary observations borrowing from statisticians and sociologist the tools to see if evidence exits.

I would be interested to see the source of that quote from Darwin. The closest I could find was the following:
"I feel most deeply that this whole question of Creation is too profound for human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton! Let each man hope and believe what he can."

In any respect, I believe I understand the point you are making here. I have heard Atheist skeptics say that if you want to ask them about belief in God, first you need to define what "God" is.

Reading what you have written, I am reminded of Mathematician and Philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who is famous for saying God created the best of all possible worlds. Note he was not saying that it was a wonderful place where everything is delightful and joyous. He meant that the world was the way it was simply because it could not be any other way. Put another way, he believed that God was a perfect being who made the world the most perfect way possible. Making it any different would simply have resulted in a worse world.

It doesn't convince me of God's existence, but I do think it's an interesting way of viewing the world. So, to bring this back to the issue of the paradox with the definition of God that you have provided (your last paragraph), I, an Atheist, am talking about (or blogging about) God although I do not believe I am experiencing His presence. Perhaps the paradox should be worded as my late father (a former Baptist preacher) used to say when I was a child:
"For the non-believer, proof cannot be found. For the believer, proof is not necessary."

This I can agree with. Given your definition, it does come down to an issue of faith. Faith is the stickler point for me. Darwin said, "...this whole question of Creation is too profound for human intellect." Then he followed up with, "Let each man hope and believe what he can." Seems like he left "belief" up to the individual.

To believe or have faith that there was some "creator" responsible for the Big Bang and life on Earth is understandable and maybe even plausible. However, to also believe that this "creator" is interested in our morals and day to day activities, demands that we worship and praise him, and wants us to accept 2000 year old writings as his word and commandments for how we are to do these things just seems (forgive me) absolutely ridiculous.

I am of the mind that just because I don't have all the answers to the questions of "life the universe and everything," it doesn't mean that I fill in all of those unanswered questions with "God did it." Today's scientists, through experimentation, study, and peer review, have managed to answer many questions that were unanswerable in Darwin's day. So I still hold out hope that we will someday have those answers we seek, although it most likely won't be in my lifetime.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Colin McGinn "Why I am an Atheist"

It wasn't until I saw him on Johnathan Miller's BBC series "Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief" (which someone was kind enough to post on the internet) that I knew who Philosopher Colin McGinn was. Just recently, I decided to look him up on Google and find out a little more about him. I was very happy to find a blog post of his entitled "Why I am an Atheist."

It's somewhat of a lengthy read for a blog post, and his first few paragraphs threw me back a little, because his definition of what an Atheist "believes" VS. what he or she "knows" seemed at first glance to be contrary to my way of thinking. I persevered however and am grateful that I didn't let this one issue stop me from reading the rest of what he had written. Thanks to Mr. McGinn, I now have more to think about, or perhaps less. ;-)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I Atheist

This was originally written on a Facebook note in August, 2009. I didn't want it to get "buried" there, so I have "resurrected" it here with a little editing. Enjoy.

I Atheist
by Mike Haynes on Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:03am
A recent FB conversation about faith with a good friend and other Atheist related topics I have encountered today have prompted me to think, and write.

First a couple of definitions:

1. the belief in one God as the creator and ruler of the universe, without rejection of revelation (distinguished from deism).
2. belief in the existence of a god or gods (opposed to atheism).

1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

So, a Theist is one who believes in the existence of a god or gods, and an Atheist is one who does not. There is no reference to science or religion. Note the use of the words "belief" and "disbelief" in both definitions. No other verb or activity is defined.

Clearly we can see that "theism" by definition covers any religious belief that includes a creator/ruler or god and any individual or group deistic philosophy. So a statement of the form, "All theists think/believe/say/assert/worship " could be refuted by many people who consider themselves to be theists.

Likewise, a blanket statement of the form, "All atheists think/believe/say/assert/worship " could be refuted by many people who consider themselves to be atheists.

You will find many Atheists who disagree with other Atheists. Contrary to popular stereotypes, some Atheists are Pro-life, some are politically Conservative, some have very high morals while others lead a life as decadent as possible. You can't pin us down with a single ideology very easily. All you can say is that we don't believe in a god. I am not writing this to "convert" anyone to "Atheism." I simply want my voice to be heard.

I am an Atheist. I believe there is no god and no afterlife. Note that I am not making an assertion of knowledge here. I am not saying, "There is absolutely no god." Nor am I saying that I "hate" any god or any others who may believe in a god. I am not a Satanist. Satanism would fall under the blanket term of theist since a Satanist would be viewing Satan as a "supreme being".

I have been told there is a god. I have seen no measurable evidence and have had no personal experience to support this statement as true. It does not seem plausible to me, and thus I do not believe it. That is all. The possibility exists that tomorrow I may change my mind for some reason, but I doubt that will happen.

I have been told that my disbelief in a god is a form of blind faith, something I ranted about earlier concerning Fundamental Christians. In the strictest sense, it may be true that my non-belief may require some faith, but here's my take on that idea:

I have faith that I'm going to enjoy my next cup of coffee. I have faith that the sun will appear over the eastern horizon tomorrow morning. This is supported by inductive reasoning. Past experiences of these events do not guarantee 100% that the next occurrences will be the same as before, but I believe it's a safe bet. I have faith in this respect.

However, if every day of my life, someone walks up and tells me that invisible pink giraffes orbit Pluto and they can't be detected by any means we know of, I will not believe it. If I was also told that these invisible pink giraffes created us, the universe and everything in it. I would not believe it.

Suppose that someone wrote a book a long time ago about how invisible pink giraffes orbited Pluto, and that they could be detected at one time, but now choose not to be...that they know my every move and can read my mind...that I can thusly communicate to them telepathically and they will grant my wishes, but only if they want to and only if I send a sincere enough telepathic message. Oh yes, and more importantly, I need to give a percentage of my income to a special invisible pink giraffe messager who would make sure that the money was put to use in a way that the invisible pink giraffes see fit. Would my non-belief still be regarded as faith in the traditional sense?

As absurd as my above example sounds, I could never in the strictest sense assert that it is 100% false. The faith required to believe it is 100% false could hardly be considered "blind faith" however.

I do not believe that science has all the answers. I believe science is a good methodology to use in order to understand our world. Science will retrace it's steps and correct and/or improve itself as new information comes along. Newton's Theories on Gravity worked fine in his day. Einstein's Theory of Relativity improved upon Newton's theories so they would work at velocities near the speed of light. Einstein actually acknowledged one of his own "blunders" and publicly admitted it. It is this type of self-evaluation and correction that has given us the modern technologies we enjoy today. Science does not have all the answers, but it is continually striving to unravel the mysteries of this universe we live in using proven methods that can be backed by empirical evidence and sound logic. Belief in the Scientific Method does not require blind faith.

I don't care if someone else believes in a god or gods (or invisible pink giraffes). It doesn't concern me. So why do I bother stating that I am a non-believer? Why is it so damned important to me? It is because there are people in the world who are willing to kill themselves and others for their god. Their are those who believe their government should enforce their religion and teach it in their public schools. Their are those who would warp the scientific method to include a "god" factor in their calculations. There are those who would have children believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

So? What religion should our government enforce? What denomination of that religion? Should the space shuttle be prayed over by technicians, or should they actually do the calculations and work necessary to make sure it gets off the ground? What about your surgeon? Should he/she remove your kidney stones with prayer or with sound, scientific, medical knowledge? These are of course extremely silly examples, but hopefully you get the idea I'm driving at.

This is why I wear the label of "Atheist."

This is why I speak out.

This is why I will not "get over it."

This is why I will not shut up and go away.

- Mike Haynes


American Psychological Association (APA):
theism. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved August 20, 2009, from website:
Chicago Manual Style (CMS):
theism. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: August 20, 2009).
Modern Language Association (MLA):
"theism." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 20 Aug. 2009. .
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE):, "theism," in Unabridged (v 1.1). Source location: Random House, Inc. Available: Accessed: August 20, 2009.
BibTeX Bibliography Style (BibTeX)
@article {Dictionary.com2009,
title = { Unabridged (v 1.1)},
month = {Aug},
day = {20},
year = {2009},
url = {},

American Psychological Association (APA):
atheism. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved August 20, 2009, from website:
Chicago Manual Style (CMS):
atheism. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: August 20, 2009).
Modern Language Association (MLA):
"atheism." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 20 Aug. 2009. .
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE):, "atheism," in Unabridged (v 1.1). Source location: Random House, Inc. Available: Accessed: August 20, 2009.
BibTeX Bibliography Style (BibTeX)
@article {Dictionary.com2009,
title = { Unabridged (v 1.1)},
month = {Aug},
day = {20},
year = {2009},
url = {},

Einstein, Newton, Gravity, and Light

Einstein's Blunder

Young Earth Creationism


Monday, January 31, 2011

Stupid Creationist Tricks

Yes. I said stupid. Call me arrogant, but when creationists continue to throw poorly thought-out arguments against evolution, they sound uneducated and stupid.
Ask An Atheist