Q & A: Dialogue with a Christian
By George A. Ricker
Like most of you, I get lots of unwanted email. Most of the time I simply trash it without ever opening it, a practice that has doubtless caused me to miss a few things but also has made me much less susceptible to the malignant viruses, trojan horses and all the rest that await the unwary. In fact, most of the time I only open email that meets certain criteria and scrap the rest.
Because I run this web site and participate in various forums in which various aspects of atheism, gods, religions and such are discussed, I do keep an eye out for material that may be related to those discussions. So the email that is featured in this dialogue was unsolicited but not entirely unwelcome. I am always open to the possibility of discussion with believers. This particular email managed to incorporate a number of false ideas that we atheists encounter regularly, so I thought a response would be in order, if for no other reason than to disabuse my anonymous correspondent of a few, rather bizarre notions.
In what follows I will present the original email in its entirety (sans user name and email address) as it came to me. Then I will dissect it, interjecting my responses following the specific questions they address.
First, heres the email, note I have not corrected grammar, spelling or punctuation:
Do you really think that we are here on earth by chance? I mean when you really think about it what are the chances of usevolving into what we are today over millions of years? And if in fact you do then is one race of humans more evolved than the other? This country was founded on Christianity so why are you trying take that away I mean is any one forcing you to pray or become a Christian no so why do you find Christianity as a threat to the U.S.A. I have a question what if your right and when people die thats it then no harm done but.... if the Bible is right and there is a God and you were to die that would not end up so good for you would it.Albert Einstein said something great he said (I would rather live like there is a God and die to find out that there was not than live like there is not a God and die to find out that there is.) One of the smartest people known to man said this. Think About it......
Jesus Loves You!!!!
Here is my response. As I said, I will inject the questions from the original email where appropriate. I will put my responses in bold face, and leave the original in italics.
RICKER: This probably does not deserve an honest answer, since the question is obviously intended to insult and provoke. If you had a genuine interest in my thoughts about these subjects, you could have found the answers by visiting my web site and reading the material I have posted there.
However, I am going to answer your questions. I will also post your questions (without the name and email address you are using) and my responses on my web site in a piece that will be titled "Q&A: dialogue with a Christian" Your inquiry was unsolicited, so I feel no compunctions about sharing it with others. By posting my response to your inquiries, I hope to minimize the likelihood that you will misrepresent my position in some other exchange with some other victim.
CHRISTIAN: Do you really think that we are here on earth by chance? I mean when you really think about it what are the chances of usevolving into what we are today over millions of years? And if in fact you do then is one race of humans more evolved than the other?
RICKER: I think every thing that exists is the result of undirected natural processes. I think those processes are inherent in the nature of matter/energy. I do not think we know exactly how all of that comes together or what the ultimate origins of everything that exists would look like. But if what you mean by things happening "by chance" is that they were not orchestrated or caused to happen by some supernatural agent, then I can say without hesitation that I find "chance" to be a far more likely explanation of how things came to be than any sort of divine being of any description. The notion of a god seems preposterous to me, and, quite honestly, the idea that the universe we occupy was created by an omnipotent being with benign intent is ludicrous.
The available evidence (a bit of study will give you better information than you seem to have now) tells us that evolution is a process that has occurred over billions, not millions, of years. It also tells us that evolution did not have to lead to us, so, in that sense, the existence of our species is a happy accident. It is in the nature of things that once life began, the process of natural selection would have produced variation over time. However, that variation might have led to different life forms that those with which we are familiar. All of humankind is one species. There is no evidence to suggest that one racial group is more evolved than any other. There is evidence to suggest that racial characteristics evolved in response to the environment in which they emerged. However, for all the beautiful diversity of our species, we are far more alike than we are different.
CHRISTIAN: This country was founded on Christianity so why are you trying take that away I mean is any one forcing you to pray or become a Christian no so why do you find Christianity as a threat to the U.S.A.
RICKER: It is false history to claim that the United States of America was founded on the Christian religion. The record is clear that the authors of our Constitution aimed to create a government that received its legitimate authority from the people and not from the god of any religion. They designed a system of government that was secular and specifically prohibited religious tests for public office. Our government was based on no Christian dogma. It owes none of its characteristics to any Christian teaching. The ideas of representative government, separation of powers, a bicameral legislature, a bill of rights, an independent judiciary and so on did not originate with Christianity. The First Amendment specifically prohibits the Congress from enacting any law that constitutes an establishment of religion.
The Treaty of Tripoli, which was negotiated during George Washington's second term and signed by President John Adams declared, in no uncertain terms, that the government of the United States was not founded on the Christian religion. Now the treaty itself was no big deal. It was only in force for a short time before being revamped during the administration of Thomas Jefferson. But what is most significant about it is that it was adopted by unanimous vote of the U.S. Senate. Many of the senators who voted for that treaty were also delegates to the conventions that had drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Don't you suppose that if they had thought the United States was founded on Christianity they would have, at least, offered some strong objections before voting to ratify a treaty and make that language the supreme law of the land? Can you imagine the brouhaha we would hear if a similar treaty containing similar language was proposed today?
I'm not at all sure what it is you think I am trying to take away. I am trying to disabuse you, and any others who hold that view, of the bogus notion that our "country was founded on Christianity." But I have no interest whatever in interfering with anyone's religious practice. As far as I am concerned, your right to practice your religion should be inviolable. The only exception would be if your religion called on you to do harm to someone else. Your right to practice your religion does not give you the right to brutalize women or children or to attack the persons or property of other people who don't agree with you. But as long as those boundaries are respected, I think our Constitution guarantees you the right to exercise your religion freely, and I stand ready to defend that right if needed. In order to protect the rights of conscience of all citizens, whether religious or not, I also think it is necessary for government agencies to maintain absolute neutrality on the subject of religion. Government agencies should not express religious opinions or dress themselves in the trappings of religions. They should not promote religious practices or propose laws that are based solely on religious dogma. Religious opinions are certainly welcome in the marketplace of ideas. But they ought to be subject to the same critical analysis as all other ideas.
You seem to think that as long as government is not engaging in overt coercion, there is no harm being done in its promotion of religion. However, one of the hallmarks of our legal system is the notion that all Americans are equal in the eyes of their government and none receives preferential treatment over any other. Now there are, at times, exceptions made for folks who cannot be held accountable for their actions or who have been disadvantaged by previous acts of discrimination (in an effort to redress past wrongs), but, by and large, we take the position that each of our citizens has the same rights and none can be regarded as more worthy than any other. However, once government begins promoting the ideas or practices of a specific religion or religion in general, then equality before the law is out the window. Citizens who do not share the prevailing orthodoxy may be disadvantaged in numerous ways, not least of which is the constant reminder that they are, somehow, less worthy than those who do follow the religion of the majority.
We are all disadvantaged when laws are based on the writings of a particular holy book. The notion that scriptural edicts should have any force at all in determining the legal status of same-sex marriage, or whether or not the government should fund stem cell research, or whether women should have access to safe, legal abortions and contraceptive devices that can reduce the number of abortions illustrates just a few examples of the damage that can be done. The promotion of something called "abstinence only" sex education, even though it has clearly been demonstrated that the misinformation and distortions generated by such courses lead to more, not fewer, unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, is another. Today, near the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, school districts around the nation are constantly beset by Christian fundamentalists attempting to interfere with science education and to insert their religious mythology into science courses. All of these things are ways in which our society is harmed by Christian mythology. I have no problem with the religious practicing their religions. But it is not the business of government to promote it for them, and that is especially true of that portion of the government that is entrusted with the education of our children.
CHRISTIAN: I have a question what if your right and when people die thats it then no harm done but.... if the Bible is right and there is a God and you were to die that would not end up so good for you would it.Albert Einstein said something great he said (I would rather live like there is a God and die to find out that there was not than live like there is not a God and die to find out that there is.) One of the smartest people known to man said this. Think About it......
RICKER: You seem to be suggesting that the only options available are to have no god-belief, which is my stance, or to worship the "God" you worship. But the dichotomy suggested is absurd. Now I don't think I am wrong, but I also make no claim of infallibility, so I can accept the idea that I might be without letting it throw me into a panic. What about you? Can you accept the idea that you might be wrong? Suppose there is a god, but it is a different god than the one you worship. Most of the people on this planet don't worship your Christian deity. Of the two billion or so who are Christians, there is tremendous variation in what they think about the nature of the god they worship. So what makes you so sure that you know what you are talking about? Do you think a deity would be more angry with someone who worshipped no gods or with someone who worshipped the wrong god?
I don't know the source of the statement you are attributing to Albert Einstein. I do know it can't be taken at face value because Einstein had some very definite ideas about the god-idea. But here's another statement from Einstein.
"The idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I am unable to take seriously." (Albert Einstein, Letter to Hoffman and Dukas, 1946)
What about that? Since you already have stated Einstein is one of the smartest people known to man, doesn't that cause you to reconsider your opinion just a bit? Think about it.
CHRISTIAN: Jesus Loves You!!!!
RICKER: Lastly, Jesus doesn't love me. If the Jesus presented in the New Testament of the Christian Bible ever existed at all, he has been dead for two thousand years or so. Now, I know you think it is terribly cute to end your email that way, but I find it insulting to me. If your god actually did exist, I wonder how it would feel about being used as the tag line in an unsolicited email.
You do manage to cram an incredible amount of misinformation into a fairly short post, so, at least, your ignorance is concise. I would suggest a reading list to you, but I'm not going to waste any more time here. Buy my book, Godless in America. There's a good one at the end, although it's a bit dated. You'll also find more complete discussions of some of the points I've raised in this post.
I should note there was a small heart icon following the Jesus loves you nonsense. I havent bothered to reproduce it here. I did hear back after sending my response. The chap who had sent the email apologized (I wont speculate about his sincerity) for insulting me and said that wasnt his intent. He also promised to get back to me later on the substance of my response. I wont hold my breath. These folks rarely have the stomach for an honest discussion. They are more comfortable with drive-by shootings in which they can fling their, to them, unanswerable questions at any unwilling target who catches their eye and then move on and ignore the objections raised.
This sort of thing is insulting because of the way it is presented, and the rather obvious assumptions made in sending it. I have no qualms about discussing my atheism with theists. I dont even mind explaining myself to a certain degree. However, when someone presents me with this sort of poorly reasoned argument and expects me to take it seriously, I find it offensive. The notion that I would have arrived at the positions I have taken, and advocated quite publicly, without considering the points raised in the email is an affront. Many Christians assume that we atheists exist behind a veil of ignorance that can be shredded by a few shopworn homilies from their playbook.
All of which only confirms my suspicion that somewhere there exists a volume called the Complete Compendium of Really Dumb Arguments for the Existence of God. Although I have never seen the book myself, I infer its existence from the number of times the same tiresome arguments get repeated over and over again. After being breathlessly presented with the 967th iteration of Pascals (long discredited) Wager, the whole exercise becomes tedious.
As the late, great Kurt Vonnegut used to say, And so it goes.
© 2009 by George A. Ricker