Friday, March 20, 2009

Why I Left Atheism - A Critique

During a recent conversation I was challenged to read Why I Left Atheism, a paper by a guy named John N. Clayton who runs DoesGodExist.org. The autobiographical "booklet" details Clayton's story of becoming a Christian, and I was encouraged to read it in the hopes that I'd find it convincing. Thus I sat about hear out the exposition of this so-called former atheist-turned-evangelical with an open mind. Here's what I found:

Common Caricature
Very early on, Clayton begins making the common mistakes we see Christian evangelists make. In the second paragraph, he states that he used to be an atheist and the life he led was a stone's throw from pure evil. Clayton writes, "...that kind of life and conviction led me to do and say things and to be something that was really very unpleasant. I lived a life that was immoral and which reflected a lack of belief in God. I lived in a way that was very self-centered and that satisfied my own pleasures and desires regardless of whether or not other people were hurt in the process of what I was doing."

It is in this manner that Clayton shows us the first face of his ignorance. He equates being an atheist to living a "self-centered", "unpleasant", and otherwise "immoral" life. He argues from morality, assuming that all atheists are immoral by default, and that that kind of lifestyle is a reflection of not believing in God.

He couldn't be more wrong right off the bat. To falsify his claim we'd only have to find one person who doesn't believe in God (that is of course, the Christian God) and who leads a life that is not "self-centered", "unpleasant", or "immoral". Shouldn't be too hard.

We Don't Know Yet
Clayton then tells us that he was raised, nay indoctrinated as an atheist by non-believing parents. I'll give Clayton the benefit of the doubt, although this composition is already taking on the standard tone of the "once-blind-but-now-I-see" crowd. Things really start to get shady when Clayton claims to have had a discussion with one of his college professors on the "creation of matter from nothing" (apparently during an astronomy class where the topic was "origins"). Upon asking the professor which theory best explains creation ex-nihilo, Clayton is told he needs to learn to ask intelligent questions. Indeed, that's the smartest line so far, for Clayton should understand that matter/energy cannot be created or destroyed as per the First Law of Thermodynamics. The professor supposedly tells Clayton that these are questions not for the scientist but for the theologian, and Clayton is stunned that science doesn't know everything. The tone of this paragraph (and the following one) is reminiscent of the old email that has made the rounds a few times, the one about the atheist professor and the Christian student who "defeats" him with science.

The point of the paragraph seems to be that we are to focus on the answer the professor gave, about origins not being within the realm of science. Richard Dawkins covers this topic well in Chapter 2 of his book, The God Delusion. Put simply, religion falsely claims the right to answer why questions, and science gets the how. But not only is such a thing as a why question nonsensical, but the fact that most of the claims made by God-believers about their deity require some sort of physical interface, as it were. Dawkins writes, "The moment there was the smallest suggestion of any evidence in favour of religious belief, religious apologists would lose no time in throwing NOMA out the window." (NOMA being non-overlapping magisterium, the idea that science can't answer questions about God.) If God interacts in any way with the physical world, that point where the transaction occurs is (or should be) a place of testability.

Nevertheless, Clayton's unoriginal idea that science can't solve poorly-worded questions continues throughout the missive. Clayton moves on to the next professor (who always seems to be "one of the great XYZ professors in the country"), this time, biology. Again Clayton poses the question of origins to the all-knowing scientist, and again he is told that it is a question for religion, not for science. He then attempts to slip in a little argument-from-authority: "I guess what was happening to me was the same thing that Lord Kelvin, a very famous British scientist, described in his writings when he made the statement, 'If you study science deep enough and long enough it will force you to believe in God.' That is what happened to me. I began to realize that science had its limitations--that science, in fact, strongly pointed to other explanations than natural ones to certain questions."

A very famous scientist said science leads to God, so it must be true. More importantly, science doesn't know every answer to every question, so therefore Magic-Man done it! Clayton is just not seeing the problem here. An explanation has to stand on its own two feet. Even if the whole of science turns out to be a load of cow shit doesn't mean that God, FSM, Bigfoot, or Santa Claus wins by default.

Science is making progress; a thousand years ago people thought that lightening was caused by an angry god throwing bolts down to earth, and that illness was caused by evil spirits. We've come a long way to closing those gaps in our knowledge, but still some remain. Those gaps -- however convenient a hiding place to stuff a deity into -- do not suggest anything "supernatural" simply because they are unknowns. This God-of-the-gaps argument is the most-used attempt offered by theology. Not knowing something isn't a proof for anything except ignorance.

How The Bible Is Accurate
Clayton's next words reek of absurdity. While keeping the bad-boy image of living an evil immoral atheist life, Clayton reads his bible in the hopes of discovering scientific contradictions. You guessed it, he finds none! I'm not sure what his definition of "scientific contradictions" is, but I'm pretty sure "bats = birds" should qualify.

The intellectual bankruptcy continues for the rest of the paper, all the while Clayton cherry-picks bible verses and reiterates the view that he could do whatever he wanted to -- because after all, there was no God. He talks about his rebellious youth and implies that children who don't believe in a supernatural father-figure can't be good moral people and this is what's wrong with society today. Clayton recounts having to lie to his mother about certain happenings with a girl whom he had taken out the night before, and because "that was the last thing I was going to tell my mother", he learned to lie reeeel good. He then points to a bible verse that says "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger", thus blaming his lying, stealing, and general wickedness on the sins of his parents as strictly forbid in the "inerrant Word".

And of course no theistic proclamation is complete without the classic Psalm 53 attack: "The fool says in his heart there is no God"! Ouch, John. That always stings us heathens! Why you gotta do that?

The Need for God
Clayton admits to thoughts of suicide, recounting how his immoral atheistic lifestyle drove him to sink so low. It's the same old story you hear again and again about the drug-using rebellious hedonist who's hit rock bottom, then they "find Jesus" and all their problems just melt away. Even Clayton himself admits this and writes, "Have you ever wondered why it is that when a person gets clean from drugs, gets rid of the problem of alcohol, or conquers some of the problems like the ones I had, that the person always seems to get involved in some religious cause, halfway house, or something like that? Why is that?"

I'll tell you why that is. First off, it's easy to believe in God given the standard definition of his attributes. You can't see him, touch him, etc. but he'll take all your cares away and you'll even get to survive your own death! What's not to like about that, given your current state of mind?

But most importantly the reason lies in a common misconception (one that Clayton himself admits to subscribing to). There is this perception that you're either a godless, immoral, no-good asshat OR a god-fearing, virtuous, upright religious pillar. It's the idea that somehow religious people automatically receive respect simply because they're religious. By starting out claiming that you were a somewhat shitty person because you had no sky-master demonstrates this fallacy. According to this false dichotomy, what other choice do the run-downs think they have? People who think in this manner can't seem to understand that human beings don't need a god to be good.

Even if religion was proven to be the best way at dealing with these stereotypical problems, that would not make any of its claims true one bit. Being helpful doesn't equal being real. Beneficial? Maybe. But can anyone give me a benefit that religion offers that can't be provided by secular means?

Picking A God
Clayton next claims that he sought answers from other religions and "found that [they] taught many things I could not accept. There were teachings in their writings concerning what life was like after this life that were unrewarding and unrealistic and there were descriptions of God that were illogical and inconsistent."

Oh? And the omniscient/omnipotent or infinitely-just/infinitely merciful inheritances are logical? Streets of gold and worms that never die are realistic? Since he can't find anything to suit his personal taste, Clayton picks the bible as the only obvious truth (since truth is based on what suits you best). "I decided that if I ever came to believe in God, it would be a belief based upon the Bible." Statements such as these reveal Clayton as a poorly-reasoned atheist.

After picking out which flavor of Christianity he liked best (Church of Christ, apparently), Clayton finally gives us "the final straw" that took him from godless heathen to moral sainthood. Again, it's one of his "leading atheist" professors. This time it's geology, and Clayton ends up his somewhat contrived banter by telling his professor, "Sir, you have not really shown me any contradiction between what we have studied in this course and in what the Bible has to teach," to which he replied, "Well, I guess if you really study it, there is no contradiction." So again, he paints the picture of science (or scientists) not being able to solve his ill-formed questions...therefore Yahweh exists and the bible is literally true.

John Clayton finally sums up his "lesson" by saying if you're not with God you're against God. So remember, if you're not with the Tooth Fairy you're against the Tooth Fairy -- you can't be both!

Fail
This laughable tale has no hope of convenience any intellectual to take him seriously. At every point he incorrectly summarizes the state of things as we know them with regards to science, logic, and reason. He assumes first, and since no satisfactory answer is found, he turns to untested dogmatic irrational thinking that lacks any evidence whatsoever. Clayton's only arguments are from incredulity and morality. As for the latter, he doesn't get that he was just an immoral person, not because there was no God to tell him what to do or think, but because he didn't respect himself or his fellow man.

Clayton may indeed have been an atheist, although a poorly-informed and irrational one. Still, he displays an enormous lack of understanding about the scientific method and the fields of biology, cosmology, and geology. Those of us who hold our position due to reason and intellectual rationalization can quickly point out the flaws in Clayton's pesudo-arguments. This exercise has not truly been a waste, however, for the doors of conversation remain open, and the bright light of knowledge is still shining through and rousing the ill-informed.


-STA

20 comments:

Brian Westley said...

I'm not sure what his definition of "scientific contradictions" is, but I'm pretty sure "Pi = 3" or "bats = birds" should qualify.

I'm an atheist, but I don't think either of those are terribly good examples of scientific contradictions. Ancient approximations of pi aren't very good (but 3 is pretty far off even for back then), and taxonomy was probably more concerned with grouping flying critters together than feathers vs. fur.

Of course, the BIG contradictions are there -- raising the dead (which historians failed to notice), the sun standing still (which astronomers failed to notice), walking on water, water to wine, etc. so it's ridiculous to say the bible doesn't have them. But pi and bats=birds aren't really contradictions, just lack of rigor in my view.

STA said...

I get where you're coming from, Brian but the idea is that, from a literal fundamentalist view, the bible has no room for approximation or vagueness. An all-knowing God wouldn't write a book with these things in it, and that was the point I was making. Either God should have known better, or ignorant humans wrote the bible.

And yeah, you're right. I could have probably chosen better scientific contradictions. Spur of the moment, ya know.

Eric T. Jones said...

I love the argument that so and so was immoral, and then found god and became moral. The stories always start out with the person being unhappy that they are immoral, not unhappy because they don't have god. It's funny that people who are unhappy about their weight, make a plan to lose weight and do, don't find god (typically). I think it's because people don't associate god with losing weight, but he is associated with morality (for no good reason if you ask me). The results of someone that believes in god don't prove that god is real, just that that person really believes that he is.

STA said...

Well said, Eric.

Anonymous said...

just to clarify, i would like to explain that i am not claiming in any way to "know all" and that i will never claim to know any more than even one one millionth of one percent of all there is to know. I am simply pointing out two out of the many obvious flaws in your critique.
you state that "He argues from morality, assuming that all atheists are immoral by default, and that that kind of lifestyle is a reflection of not believing in God." first, yes, atheists ARE immoral by default, christians are immoral by default, everyone is immoral by default. And second, even if that weren't true, I have read "Why I Left atheism" and that was not his meaning at all. What he ment was that living that kind of lifestyle was an effect of of not believing in God. He made those choices because he did not have the authority of God, because he did not belive in God at the time.
You then state that "To falsify his claim we'd only have to find one person who doesn't believe in God (that is of course, the Christian God) and who leads a life that is not "self-centered", "unpleasant",or "immoral". Shouldn't be too hard" actually, it is not only hard, its impossible! all people are unpleasant, immoral, and self centered. Even those who believe in God. I know that i can be all of those things on a daily basis sometimes, and i consider myself to be a strong christian. Again, my intent is not to be smug or arrogant, i am just trying to point out some of the more obvious flaws. Thank You for taking the time to read my comment.

STA said...

I would like to think when you state things like "all people are unpleasant, immoral, and self centered", you mean "sometimes". If that's the case, then I would agree with that statement. That has nothing to do with the existence of a god, and that's something that you'd agree with too, judging by your statements.

If, however, you mean that it takes a Christan God-fearing person to keep from being "immoral", then you not only don't understand the concept of morality, but you fail to understand the nature of reality you reside in.

From what Clayton was saying (and backed up by what you just said), he was living that lifestyle *because* he was an non-theist. Atheism is simply a response to theism. It cannot "lead" to anything, let alone his lifestyle which you claim is a direct effect of not believing in a specific deity. Again, as I stated in the post, all we'd need to do is find someone who 1) doesn't believe in God, and 2) does NOT lead the lifestyle in question. And guess what...there's one typing this comment right now.

I could submit countless others in my stead -- the fact is that not believing in God does not and cannot produce the lifestyle John Clayton was practicing before his conversion. There are other mitigating factors involved, but having no theism isn't one of them.

-STA

Anonymous said...

I find it funny how you guys think how you're so smart because your atheists. When in all reality half of you have probably never read the bible, and you cant disprove the bible. Also there is a lot more proof that the bible is true than it is false. Just because stephen hawking says something doesn't make it true. If Stephen Hawking was so smart he probably would have realized the fact that things dont magically appear out of nowhere and would have came to the conclusion that there must be a God. His argument that heaven is a fairy tale is lacking logic, look at 500 years ago, if you told them that in 500 years they would be able to see and talk to eachother from across the world, that you would be able to record the past and play it back, that we would have a place full of information that everyone would be able to go to while sitting at their house, that we would be able to go to other planets, even the smartest person around would have called you crazy and that will only exist in your imagination...or a 'fairy tale'.

But I guess it doesn't matter to you what i say since apparently I'm (like everything else in the universe) just a bunch of random matter that happened to turn out with a brain, and life, and that even though the universe is extremely beautiful just like the earth but it was all randomly created.

well, hope you come to your senses and accept Jesus, ill be praying for you. :)

Anonymous said...

Nicely said, Anonymous. I first would like to say to STA that I cannot respect the way you respond to some of these posts that counter your statements. You come off quite rude, and that seems to be pretty consistent with a lot of atheists--smug. Every time I read a blog or watch a video regarding this type of discussion, all I encounter is bitterness and sarcasm. Who wants to live like that? Can you not manage to have a respectable, non-sarcastic conversation when someone respectfully challenges you?

Anyway, I do have a question: how does one explain the countless near-death-experiences (visiting heaven/seeing Jesus/visiting hell...)? These experiences strongly parallel many other peoples' experiences with death. I'm not saying that every one who dies and comes back has this experience, but for the many who do, I'd like to see what you think. I will also be praying for you.

STA said...

To the second anonymous commenter: I'm sorry you seem to think all atheists are rude and unhappy. I'm neither, and if you'd like to find more of us, the Friendly Atheist has droves of them. You, like the previous anonymous, are entitled to your opinion, however ill-conceived or logically flawed. But you asked me a direct question, and I'll give you the courtesy of answering it.

"How does one explain the countless near-death-experiences? These experiences strongly parallel many other peoples' experiences with death."

I will disagree strongly with that assertion. If one actually looks into such thing, they'd see that 1) not all dying people experience something (which you seem to agree with), and 2) the experiences are not all alike; it depends on the culture and believes the person holds. Why is it that a Hindu sees Vishnu or a Muslim see Mohammad? Some claim to see angles, demons, aliens, faeries, lights, giants. Some say they didn't see things, but felt them, like an overwhelming sense of love, weightlessness, or fear. So no, not all reports are identical or even "strongly parallel" each other. Far from it.

And a lot of that depends on the culture we are brought up in. Those who tell stories about ghosts or bigfoot are more likely to "see" one than those who don't believe in such things. It's the same reason our cultural concept of aliens from outer-space went from green Martian men or robots to little grey creatures with big black eyes...once a meme takes hold, it's hard to stop it. I'm sure you can find any viral internet meme and see how easy it is for others to perpetuate the idea. And even if it does go away, it's still in our collective memories -- "Yo Quiero Taco Bell", anyone?

We want to fit in, and we absorb these stories, whether we want to or not. This plays a part on a brain that's dying. And while we don't yet fully know everything that goes on in the dying brain, it's safe to say that a lot of the phenomenon of NDEs have very, down-to-earth, explanations. In fact, there's been studies done on perfectly healthy brains that are able to produce out-of-body or near-death experiences. We've been able to attach devices that stimulate the temporal lobes of the brain with magnetic impulses. Subjects report a sense of another presence in the room. Some report alien encounters or a strong sense of love and the voice of God.

In summation, the brain is a fascinating organ that we're still learning about through science. If there was something to it, science would be the best tool we have to find it. We don't know what all happens when a brain shuts down, but think about it: any machine that malfunctions is bound to produce a strange occurrence. That doesn't mean ideas produced by a dying machine that creates ideas must somehow be real.

-STA

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3xItrGOi6Q&feature=related

Anonymous said...

Here's the great equalizer. There is no absolute proof for or against God so we are all individually accountable for our fate which is awesome. If it turns out there is a Christian god and you are an atheist you’re screwed or if it turns out there is not and your a Christian, no harm done I guess, but maybe you could have had a lot more fun. I simply love that as individuals we are captain of our own fate. I’m so sick of all the parasites here on earth. We have to take care of them and coddle them. Come on man up and get in the game you useless lazy worthless fools. Ye, I’m all about rugged individualism because that is the only option. Our species depends on it.

Without god we are left with 2 realities
Scientific proof
Subjective opinion

Nothing more- nothing less and that’s the way it should be. We get to figure it out for ourselves and that is why in some parts of the world it is perfectly fine to eat people and others to eat animals or leaves or whatever. Some people are kings and some are slaves and some kill themselves and others love themselves. No rhyme or reason nor should there be. Thus the great observance that we are all just dancing to our own DNA. Not sure but I think the great philosopher Richard Dawkins or maybe it was Huxley that made the astute observation but it could have been someone else. I concur with the brilliance of the statement. It frees us all to be whatever we want to be without guilt or judgment. No god- no judgment-no absolutes. Individuals are their own gods and humans are the pinnacle of everything. We rule and should rule with no accountability to anything or anyone. Don’t want to hear about the poor polar bears or some other pathetic animal that humans are blamed for their demise. Absolute rubbish. This earth goes to those best able to conquer it and everyone else is left behind. Period. I’ve always thought it was odd that so many so called liberals seem to hate the human species. They are forever going on about morality or accountability to other species. Nonsense. You get about 75 years here and go for all the gusto you can get. Humans are accountable to no one whether beast or plant. It’s not our fault that gorillas are stuck as gorillas or species go extinct since that is the way to has to be for progress to happen

I don’t care if you are an atheist or a fundamentalist don’t you dare put your restraints on me. You do things your way and I’ll do them mine. Don’t tell me anything is right or wrong because your opinion is meaningless to me or society. You Christians and you atheist are equally hypocritical because you both claim to know the truth on what is good for humans and what is not. What the individual thinks is supreme granted to him or her by its evolutionary right to take charge and move forward.

When the beginning is accidental, and without purpose or meaning anything goes. Individuals and or like minded individuals form societies and make the rules. If you don’t like it form your own society but leave me alone. I hate when I hear the atheist apologist say don’t harm as the general principle here on earth. What an idiotic statement. All lets just love everyone and everything will be OK. No to the contrary evolution demands that the strongest survive. If you don’t make it too bad you had your chance. You have zero accountability to the earth or others. You pointy headed professors only like to hear yourself talk to make it appear that you are good and moral and care. You are just as evil as the rest of us. You have no superior knowledge on human nature or right or wrong or good or evil. You’re a selfish beast that wants to feel good about yourself so you think your educated mind makes you superior. To the contrary you look that much more foolish to the masses.

The Lama said...

I just read John Clayton's account of his conversion from atheism. I then found your critique and found that you articulate much of my own reaction to the piece.

I'm not an atheist myself -- I'm more a christian agnostic with buddhist sensibilities (a position I've arrived at quite "scientifically" and a claim that gets me into many an interesting conversation).

Anyway, I must say that much of Clayton's story sounds entirely made-up. I became immediately suspicious when he claimed that he read through the Bible and didn't find a single thing that contradicted scientific observation. Really? The story about the earth being created before the sun, moon and stars (Genesis 1) didn't raise any red flags? The story about the non-heliocentric sun standing still in the sky (Joshua 10) posed no problems?

In addition, some of Clayton's "recollections" of what professors in this or that class said to him do not comport with anything that I or my colleagues who teach college science courses would EVER say. (In fact, when a student asked me about the conditions that existed before the big bang, my answer was, "We don't know...but we're working on it.")

In short, my sense of Clayton's account is that he has fabricated his atheist past by working backwards from his own (and likely long-held) misconceptions about atheism. His implication that his immoral living was a result of his lack of religion made me wonder if he's ever even spoken with any of the many atheists who can give clear, valid rationale for a moral life apart from a god. (Sam Harris offers plenty of such rationale in his book, The Moral Landscape.)

You were kind to give Clayton the benefit of the doubt and to assume that most of his tale was on the up-and-up. However, I am not quite so kindly inclined (perhaps because I'm not an atheist ;-).

A couple of decades ago, there was a story about a christian speaker who claimed that he'd once been a satanist. He traveled all over the country selling books, appearing on TV, and telling groups about his satan-worshipping past. When some folks looked into his claims about a former life dedicated to satan, they could not find a single witness or piece of evidence that corroborated the claims. In fact, they found plenty of testimony that the man's claims were false. (Here's that story: http://www.watchman.org/occult/warnke.htm.)

I'll bet there are people out there who can attest that John Clayton has always been a theist of some sort. Either that, or he was a piss-poor atheist.

The Lama said...

I just read John Clayton's account of his conversion from atheism. I then found your critique and found that you articulate much of my own reaction to the piece.

I'm not an atheist myself -- I'm more a christian agnostic with buddhist sensibilities (a position I've arrived at quite "scientifically" and a claim that gets me into many an interesting conversation).

Anyway, I must say that much of Clayton's story sounds entirely made-up. I became immediately suspicious when he claimed that he read through the Bible and didn't find a single thing that contradicted scientific observation. Really? The story about the earth being created before the sun, moon and stars (Genesis 1) didn't raise any red flags? The story about the non-heliocentric sun standing still in the sky (Joshua 10) posed no problems?

In addition, some of Clayton's "recollections" of what professors in this or that class said to him do not comport with anything that I or my colleagues who teach college science courses would EVER say. (In fact, when a student asked me about the conditions that existed before the big bang, my answer was, "We don't know...but we're working on it.")

In short, my sense of Clayton's account is that he has fabricated his atheist past by working backwards from his own (and likely long-held) misconceptions about atheism. His implication that his immoral living was a result of his lack of religion made me wonder if he's ever even spoken with any of the many atheists who can give clear, valid rationale for a moral life apart from a god. (Sam Harris offers plenty of such rationale in his book, The Moral Landscape.)

You were kind to give Clayton the benefit of the doubt and to assume that most of his tale was on the up-and-up. However, I am not quite so kindly inclined (perhaps because I'm not an atheist ;-).

A couple of decades ago, there was a story about a christian speaker who claimed that he'd once been a satanist. He traveled all over the country selling books, appearing on TV, and telling groups about his satan-worshipping past. When some folks looked into his claims about a former life dedicated to satan, they could not find a single witness or piece of evidence that corroborated the claims. In fact, they found plenty of testimony that the man's claims were false. (Here's that story: http://www.watchman.org/occult/warnke.htm.)

I'll bet there are people out there who can attest that John Clayton has always been a theist of some sort. Either that, or he was a piss-poor atheist.

STA said...

The Lama: "You were kind to give Clayton the benefit of the doubt and to assume that most of his tale was on the up-and-up. However, I am not quite so kindly inclined..."

Good point...I hadn't thought of it like that. You may be right.

Audra Bowden said...

John Clayton is a family friend and has known my grandfather for years. I assure you. His conversion story is accurate and true. However, you probably aren't going to believe my testimony that he is who he says he is either. It seems pointless for one to even read Clayton's material if they've already decided that they aren't going to believe his testimony anyway. As for disbelieving the conversations between he and the professors that he had encountered in his early life: Are you absolutely certain that without a doubt, all college professors in all universities respond with the exact same care and open-mindedness in which you claim is exercised by you and your colleagues? I challenge you to really think hard about that because I myself have been mortified by some of the responses from various professors about various topics (religious as well as non-religious) that I have witnessed throughout my college experience. I’ve even questioned how someone so close-minded could teach a sociology class or how someone so sure of themselves could teach about the varying psychological theories disputed over the years. Just because your experience with teaching has been a good experience (and I applaud you for remaining honest and open-minded) doesn’t mean that all experiences are the same way. Clayton can in some ways, be somewhat intimidating and can come across as somewhat pushy. I’m sure many of his college professors wouldn’t have appreciated his persistence and eventually reacted in the same way most frustrated individuals would have reacted. I myself have seen professors get extremely frustrated when challenged by a student. This wasn’t an example of a curious straight A teacher’s pet asking a question once and then accepting his beloved teacher’s unfulfilling response simply because he holds his professor up on a pedestal. Clayton has the type of personality that would have demanded a deep intellectual response and if he had received an “I don’t know” he probably would have challenged the professor to dig deeper. Keep in mind, at this time; He wanted deep intellectual answers to refute Christianity. He wanted to have complete confidence when challenging his Christian opponents. As I stated; if you’ve already decided that a source isn’t who they claim to be (which is based off pure assumption unless you have material stating otherwise); then reading their material is simply a waste of time. I’m also a bit surprised that someone who teaches science would make such a bold assumption about someone without confirmed resources to back up the claim. If you’re making assumptions about things or people without resources to back up your claims; then you’re being biased which goes against everything science stands for.

Steve said...

Just a question. Have you read any of Clayton's work besides "Why I Left Atheism"? If not I would as that you check out the actual website and look at the online course he offers.

Arvind Raj said...

I hate to say this but most of the anonymous here are highly ignorant...

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous:
"If Stephen Hawking was so smart he probably would have realized the fact that things dont magically appear out of nowhere and would have came to the conclusion that there must be a God."

Stephen Hawking's best-known discovery is Hawking radiation. Hawking radiation happens because of vacuum fluctuations, which are literally something coming from nothing.

Aronnax said...

Very much enjoyed reading the critique of Clayton here. My parents obtained his teaching materials while raising me in the Church of Christ in Louisville Kentucky (from which I later escaped) and I saw him speak at our church in the mid 1980s, twice as I recall (though it may only have been once.)

I found his 'arguments' convincing as a kid but quickly applied a little analysis and determined they didn't hold water. I challenged him on one of his "dandy design" arguments, the example of a bee's honeycomb forming a hexagonal lattice which he pointed out optimizes material cost and structural strength.

At the reception which followed his lecture at our church (I was in my middle teens and already on my way to becoming an agnostic) I pulled out seven pennies and laid them on the table between us. Then I squished them all into the smallest space they could occupy without overlapping, and of course they formed a hexagon with a single penny in the middle, bounded by six pennies around it. The thrust of my argument was that the hexagonal lattice crops up by itself in nature, without being designed: it's a consequence of the mathematics of circles and not something extra that one needs to add in, in the way a 'designer' would do. If a bee makes a honeycomb cell big enough for a bee larva to grow in, and just puts it as near as possible to the identical cells that have been made before that, then the hexagonal lattice arises "by itself", so to speak.

I can't remember exactly how Clayton responded, but I had the satisfaction of knowing that even a child's simple argument could deflate a creationist.

Now I'm a happy, well adjusted atheist (though I still have traumatic memories of my Christian upbringing). I love evolutionary biology, and am working on a project with Richard Dawkins in reviving some computer programs of his that teach evolution (the ongoing work is hosted at http://watchmakersuite.sourceforge.net/

Looking at Clayton's website now and then over the years, I mostly feel sadness. Clayton has some knowledge of the natural world around him, and I'm glad that he's reasoned himself away, at least, from being a Young Earth Creationist, and I think he's probably a closeted fan of evolutionary theory. But it still makes me sad that someone who probably has a genuine fascination with science is still convincing himself of the truth of the mythical Genesis account. "He could be a powerful ally, if turned."

Alan Canon
Louisville Kentucky

STA said...

@Alan Canon [Aronnax]
Thank you so much for the comment. This is probably the most-commented-on post I've ever made here. Honestly, when I wrote it I didn't know much about Clayton (as can be seen from my opening line). People keep finding it and commenting all these years later. Apparently he was more "popular" than I though.

Anyway thank you for the words, and for your work with Dawkins' evo programs. I too have used similar programming in my own game and projects that require simple base rules that extrapolate themselves out into complex arrangements. It's great to see that his work can still be found by today's audiences thanks to great folks like yourself!

Sorry for letting this site fall by the wayside lately...life has gotten in the way, I guess. I plan on making a valiant attempt at a return soon. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting.

And thanks again, Alan!
-STA

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