To: Bill Nitardy


You suggested I was angry at God because the Bible was misrepresented to me. This wasn't the way it was. When I took the Bible course, I had already come to the conclusion that the stuff was probably myth, so my belief system wasn't particularly shaken by what I learned. It was just that I felt that ministers had withheld important information that they must certainly have known, given their training. I was never angry at God.

Mormons: A friend told me Mormons believed God was married, which would be consistent with your statement that God was producing offspring. I asked some Mormon missionaries that came to my door about that and they denied it. I'm curious what the whole story is.

Muslims: I don't think they would be too pleased to be accused of worshipping Satan. My understanding is that they accept the Old Testament, so Allah would be the being that composed the Ten Commandments, which would make him the same God you worship. On they other hand, they certainly have different ideas of what God is like and what God expects of them. I have read things my Muslims that strongly oppose terrorist type violence, so I think it's safe to say that, like Christians, there is a of variety in what they believe.

Loving your neighbor: I have no problem with including "as yourself" at the end of loving your neighbor. I think most Humanists would agree with this. As far as using the word "basically", "love your neighbor" seems a little vague to me so I might prefer to say something like "other people's happiness should be as important to you as your own." I think "Treat others as you would like to be treated" would also be accepted by most humanists.

You didn't seem to understand my objection to the George Wald quote. I did not claim that evolution is true (although I do think it is) and I certainly wouldn't expect you to accept it on my authority. In general I don't expect you to accept anything on my authority, since I think all of us should be cautious about accepting claims other people make as well.

I would paraphrase Wald's argument as follows: (1)Spontaneous generation had been proved impossible. (2)To explain the start of life, scientists must either accept spontaneous generation or supernatural creation. (3)The fact that scientists choose spontaneous generation, which is impossible, shows how extremely prejudiced they are against supernatural creation. This argument is faulty because the spontaneous generation in (1) is different from the spontaneous generation in (2) and (3). The proof described in (1) did not in any way prove that the spontaneous generation in (2) and (3) was impossible. This is easy to see if you know the nature of the experiments done to prove (1), which were described in your link. Scientists did not, therefore, pick a choice they knew to be impossible. Perhaps scientists really are terribly biased and perhaps spontaneous generation was not the origin of life, but that certainly could not be deduced on the basis of the experiments Louis Pasteur performed. As a result, the quote fails as an argument.

Curious about why Wald would have made such a statement (was he joking?) I did an internet search for George Wald. I found he was quoted a lot on creationist sites, with both this quote and a similar one from (apparently) the same article. One reference was on a site that checked up on quotes such as these: The writer found the original article and determined that the other quote was actually incorrect. He transcribed some sections from the article, and one of the themes seemed to be that what might be called "impossible" over a short time scale is not necessarily impossible over billions of years. This is closely related to what your quote was about, but doesn't carry the implication that scientists had any inappropriate anti-creationist mindset. The transcribed sections didn't include your quote, so I called the library and they said they would send me a copy of the original article, which should arrive in about a week. I'll let you know what I find.

I decided to do searches on the other quotes you sent to see what came up. Your first example was the Michael Ruse one. I found a transcript of his talk at this site: . This is a pretty good quote for the kind of point you want to make, that science is a religion, although I think he is saying something milder - that science has some elements in common with religion. I read the whole talk and would say that the quote did not misrepresent his views.

Next you had the one from John J. Dunphy. I only found one reference to him outside of people who quoted him to make Humanism sound bad. That was a reference to a more recent article by him in a recent issue of Free Inquiry (Fall, 2002) which I actually owned, so I read it. He was talking about all the flak he had received about the original article! He complained that Pat Buchanan had quoted him, but the footnote didn't refer to the original article, but to an article where Phyllis Schafly had quoted him. He was annoyed that Buchanan had obviously not even bothered to look up the original article himself. Dunphy reproduced the paragraph that contains your quote, and your quote is accurate (except for the minor detail that where you used "--" there was omitted material which would normally be indicated by "...") and seems to accurately reflect Dunphy's opinion.

One question is whether Dunphy accurately reflects Humanist opinion. I think not. Nobody says what award was involved in the "award-winning essay", but I would guess it was awarded by Humanists, perhaps the editors of The Humanist where it was published, so I suppose a few people agreed with him. Personally I don't object to Humanism being called a religion, although the term is misleading when applied to Humanism and I know Humanists who are utterly outraged by the idea of calling it a religion. I don't think it should be called a faith because "faith" suggests believing things without evidence. The only humanistic values I would like to see promoted in schools are ones you probably would agree with: freedom, democracy, respect for other people, seeking truth, and the like. I would not condone anything in the classroom that would be likened to proselytizing. I think most (but not all) Humanists would agree with me. So, in my opinion, Dunphy is not very representative of Humanist opinion.

A second question is how much influence Dunphy has. I had never heard of him, even though I have been getting The Humanist for about 15 years. As far as I know he does not have or has ever had any leadership position in either the American Humanist Association (AHA) or the Council for Secular Humanism (CoSH), a rival organization that publishes Free Inquiry. The last I heard, the AHA had about 6000 members nationwide, which would probably account for most of the circulation of The Humanist. This is pathetically tiny. Most people have never heard of either the organization or the magazine. I don't know the circulation of Free Inquiry, but I'm sure it is tiny as well. Neither of these groups is calling the shots in our society, and Dunphy isn't calling the shots in these groups.

Your next quote was from H.S. Lipson, a physics professor who had an article in the Physics Bulletin. The only discussion of it I found outside of creationists quoting it was this message board reference: . I searched for Physics Bulletin and only found the journal mentioned as holdings in two university libraries. It apparently stopped publishing in 1988. It looks to me like Lipson is a creationist who might know little about evolution since it is not his field, and has published his impression in minor physics journal, so I don't think he tells us much.

Your fourth quote was from Sir Arthur Keith. Keith lived from 1866 to 1955, so whatever he said wouldn't be very timely. Scrolling down to item #81 on the site given above for the Wald quote is a comment on the Keith quote. The writer concludes that the quote is phony. You didn't provide a reference, but others have attributed it to his introduction to the 100th anniversary of "Origin of the Species". Apparently Keith didn't write that and in fact was dead at the time. He did write an earlier introduction, but it didn't contain the quote claimed, at least according to the website above.

Overall, I don't put much stock in quotes. Part of that is because I don't have high regard for "authorities". Because somebody important, or somebody who is supposedly on my side, says something, that doesn't mean I agree with it or other people agree with it. People trying to prove their point using quotes ("quote mining", as the "talkorigins" site calls it) sift through thousands of quotes and select out those that suit their purposes, so we are getting a very contrived view. To make things worse, it is very common to pick things out of context and make them appear to mean something very different from what the author intended. Finally, some quote are erroneous or even fabricated, but well-meaning people pass them along without realizing this.

If you want to find out what secular humanists think, read the Humanist Manifestos, look at their websites, read their magazines and books, and perhaps talk to people who consider themselves humanists (you have a start with me). Quotes you get from people trying to demonize them won't give you a fair picture. The same goes for Mormons and Muslims, and for that matter, science. I don't worry about what dictionaries or selected individuals say about science, since I judge science from books by scientists, magazines like Scientific American and Science News, newspaper articles, TV shows like NOVA, lectures and even occasionally talking to scientists and reading scientific journals. That lets me form my own opinions based on a large amount of information.

I still must take issue with your perspective that "if we do not believe we are under the authority of a higher god, we are a god unto ourselves by definition. We are the highest authority." At least in my dictionary, the definition of "god" doesn't imply this. There are a lot of characteristics associated with the idea of god, and in the humanist's view humans might have a couple of these (mainly that good is based around the needs of man rather than God), but there are more characteristics of God that humanists know that man does not share, like perfection and omniscience and supernatural powers and need to be worshipped. To say humanists "see man as god" gives a misleading and negative impression of humanists. I think people who say it are not usually trying to represent humanists truthfully - rather they are trying to portray them negatively.

Some explanations for some of my comments: I didn't say the Hebrews were primitive tribesmen because of any evolutionary assumption - I said it because I think of everybody 3000 (or more) years ago as being primitive, certainly by modern standards. My reason for saying Moses probably didn't write the first five books of the Bible is because that is what I understand most Biblical scholars to believe. It had nothing to do with when writing was invented. This was one of the issues that was addressed in my college Old Testament class. Analysts think, based on characteristics of the writing, that there were at least four different writers of these books whose work was interspersed. One of the differences between writers was the name used for God. Another part of the evidence was that stories were sometimes repeated using different styles. The evidence was the text itself, and at the time I found it persuasive. That was a long time ago, so I can't argue the case effectively now, so I don't expect you to agree with me, just understand that this isn't a frivolous assumption, and I have run into it enough times that I can assure you it is well known, although I'm sure it's not universally accepted. As to whether the stories were handed down verbally, it's my impression that is what most experts think, although you are right that it's possible they could have been written down right away if God had taught Adam writing. Moses, of course, would have had to have had some other sources (perhaps direct revelation from God), since much of what is described happened before he was born.

My claim of a contradiction in Genesis: I agree with you that the Hebrew could be translated either as "formed" or "had formed" (I don't know Hebrew, but a Jewish friend confirmed it). The trouble is that verse 18 is incompatible with "had formed" since in it God says "I will make a helper". I looked up the passages using three translations:

King James:
18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

Revised Standard:
18 And the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."

19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every bird of the air; and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.

The NIV does change verse 19 to be compatible with Chapter 1, but verse 18 is a problem in all of them. Personally I think the most reasonable explanation for this is that the writer intended to say Adam was created first. As to how the original writer could have written incompatible stories, many of the scholars who believe there are different writers also think that the Garden of Eden story was probably written much earlier than the "In the beginning" story by a different writer. The editor who put them together may not have felt he had the authority to alter either version.

You said that I was putting the onus of proof on you to prove evolution is not true and that I presupposed it was true without making a case for it. I'm not sure what I said to imply either of these, but that was not my intention. I do think evolution is true and will be happy to tell you why in a future letter.

I apologize for claiming you blamed most bad things in the world on secular humanism. As a secular humanist I have gotten the feeling that sometimes people want to make secular humanists the scapegoat for everything they don't like. I was wrong to assume you took that view.

You ask "Why is where I get my information relevant to the quality of the arguments?" If two people are trying to resolve a difference of opinion, I think it is very helpful to know how each others opinions were formed. One of the reasons that debates go nowhere is that people's arguments have nothing to do with why they believe what they do. As a result there is nothing the other person can do to change their mind, since the real issues are not really being debated.

Also, knowing a source can also be useful for evaluating the quality of the source or getting more information from that source.

I very much respect you for your comments on valuing the truth and preferring to agree with me if I am right to winning the argument. I, too, would rather change my opinion than prevail if in fact it is your view that is right. Even if we don't wind up too close to each other, I know I have learned things from the discussion so far and hope you have too.

I am willing to say the jury is out with respect to problems with science (I don't necessarily agree with your case, but I don't think I have proved it false), and also to consider that, if Theism is true, there may be something parallel and opposite we could label as "secular humanism". I hope that means the path is clear for you to present your diagram and whatever points go with it.