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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Using reason, we can rise above religion, 16 Nov 2009
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This review is from: Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists (Paperback)
It's hard to think of a book that "has caused more confusion than the bible" and harder still after reading Dan Barker's remarkable account of his leaving evangelical Christianity for the freedom of unbelief. That he chose the word "confusion" rather than, say, "evil" is important: even the newest of atheists - the stable boys and girls of the Four Horsemen - must concede that not all Christians are evil, but the claim that all religious people are confused - insofar as they rely on faith - is more defensible.

Barker did not lose his faith - he gave it up on purpose once he rejected "the very concept of faith as a valid tool of knowledge." He "made made the leap, not to atheism, but to the commitment to follow reason and evidence wherever they might lead" and he realized that faith - "intellectual bankruptcy... the evidence of non-evidence... a free lunch, a perpetual motion machine" - was only ever going to be an obstacle to his search for truth.

His Christian friends at first thought he might be having some sort of spiritual crisis, but he was not seeking "inner confirmation" - he wanted the "objective, external evidence" that he'd always assumed was there. While at college and studying the bible he'd thought that the "Christian evidences" could be left to the experts, who "had already figured it all out and who could provide the historical, documentary and archeological evidences if anyone ever asked. (No one ever did.)" That parenthesis is telling, since so much of the success of religion relies upon obedience to authority, on people not asking questions. (Children, and most adults, who do ask questions are easily palmed off with half-truths and lies or ignored or intimidated.)

Once he began looking for himself he discovered that "there is not a single contemporary historical mention of Jesus, not by Romans or by Jews, not by believers or by unbelievers, not during his entire lifetime". What about the Gospels themselves? Biblical scholarship, kept from the average churchgoer, has revealed a wealth of surprising facts. The last twelve verses of Mark, for example, are not original but were added later. Even if we considered the Gospel accounts to be historical (which for many other reasons we can't), "they tell us that the earliest biography of Jesus contains no resurrection!"

It isn't just the historical and scientific inaccuracies that lead Barker to describe the bible as "the Bad Book". Reading any number of verses - Numbers 15:32-36, Psalm 137:9, Isaiah 45:7, Luke 12:47-48 (which shows that the impulse to abolish slavery arose out of human not Christian values) - without the blinkers of faith should lead any decent rational human being to that conclusion. ("There are some good teachings in the bible, of course, but is a garden overrun with weeds still beautiful?") In stark contrast to the much repeated lie that you cannot be moral without religion is Barker's view that "the bible does not have a grasp of ethics" and that humanism "is the only way we can be moral" - and this from someone who was a committed evangelical Christian for many years!

This is a tough subject made tougher by ingrained habits of thought or rather non-thought. How many of us reflect upon where we get our values? We spend more time researching which toaster to buy than whether the golden rule really is a good ethical principle. Barker does a great job elucidating some very thorny issues. He confidently speaks for all atheists (a rare point of agreement?) when he says that we "find our basis for morality in nature". Moral values are real, but that does not mean they are "objective" in the sense of existing "independently of a mind" ("objective value" is an oxymoron). However, values "can be objectively justified by reference to the real world. Our actions have consequences, and those consequences can be objectively measured." The takeaway message? "People should be judged by their actions, not by their beliefs" (contrary to much of the history of institutional religion).

As if wanting to make up for years of evangelical preaching, this book is a model of clear thinking and concision. Here are a few standalone sentences, each of which contains more sense than the average sermon: "Theists do not have a god: they have a belief." "Transcendent does not equal supernatural." "God belief is just answering a mystery with a mystery, and therefore answers nothing." "Atheism is exquisitely vulnerable to disproof. Theism is not." "Theists are afraid people will think for themselves; atheists are afraid they won't."

Few atheists will have had quite as much contact with theists as Dan Barker, and fewer still can draw upon an earlier career as a preacher. His knowledge of the bible and his confidence as a public speaker, formerly used to bring "lost people into the kingdom of heaven", now serve a very different purpose. He is ruthless in demolishing groundless religious beliefs and exposing the cruelty and barbarity of the bible, but he never forgets that there is a human being in thrall to those beliefs and that book.

As co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, his continuing advocacy of separation of church and state ought to be a doddle in a country founded with this principle built into its constitution, but if so many Americans can deny the truth of evolution then we should not underestimate the ingenuity of the faithful when it comes to denying the plain facts of history. In a country where atheists are a lower form of pond life than bankers, we should admire and support Dan Barker for taking such a public stand for humanist values.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 Sep 2010 17:05:35 BDT
D. Jones says:
Thank you, an excellent, informative review.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Sep 2010 17:10:54 BDT
Sphex says:
And thank you for taking the trouble to post your appreciation.

Posted on 30 Sep 2010 08:21:37 BDT
The quality of Dan Barker's reasoning, and the value of this review is perhaps summed up in this one line:

"Biblical scholarship, kept from the average churchgoer, has revealed a wealth of surprising facts. The last twelve verses of Mark, for example, are not original but were added later."

Shock, horror, probe!

But hang on, I can't find a single modern printing of the Bible that doesn't give this information. So in what sense is it being "hidden" from the average "churchgoer"?

This enthusiasm for claiming to "expose" the faults of the Bible - a la Bart Ehrman - have never transcended the "flash in the pan" pattern of success, and this book is no more convincing than any of the others.
Except, it seems, to people who know little or nothing about the Bible in the first place and want to believe the worst.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Oct 2010 16:17:46 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Oct 2010 21:40:00 BDT
Sphex says:
"I can't find a single modern printing of the Bible that doesn't give this information."

I have on my desk a modern printing that does not give this information, and since it is the Authorized King James Version I doubt it is the only copy in circulation.

As for those "who know little or nothing about the Bible" I readily admit to belonging to that fortunate class (far better to be ignorant of the Bible than ignorant of Darwin or Shakespeare), but I would point out that both Dan Barker and Bart Ehrman set out wanting to believe the best about the Bible and revised their views after many years of informed and reasoned study.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Mar 2012 16:48:08 GMT
Last edited by the author on 25 Mar 2012 13:51:08 BDT
Have you really read "The Origin of Species" - all the way through? If so you know that it was Darwin himself who identified the fact that 'creatures' (pigeons in particular) bred for differences tend to revert to, or at least towards, the form of their original ancestor (in this case the rock pigeon) rather than continuing to "radiate indefinitely".

(Darwin suggested that changes would be more likely to have an effect on the group in isolated populations. But is there any evidence that alleged changes in the ancestors of modern horses, for example, all took place in isolated herds? Not that I know of.)
In fact Darwin plagiarised much of his basic thinking from a series of articles by a Christian naturalist called Edward Blyth who would probably be called a creationist these days.

The true father of evolution was Gregor Mendel - a Christian monk by the way - who carried out genuinely scientific experiments which demonstrate the process of genetic inheritance.

Your comments about Barker and Ehrman are equally off course. Both men claim to have started out as genuine believers, yet neither shows in his work a clear understanding of authentic Christianity. Neither seems (I can only go by what they've written) to have understood the basic principle of studying the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Both of them seems to have spent a remarkable period of time NOT noticing the information that allegedly made them lose faith. Barker seems to have spent a lot of time simply passing himself off as a Christian when in fact he was already an atheist - his version of events, not mine. Ehrman's story of going through various colleges and universities without spotting the bits of the New Testament that he now harps on and on about also seems pretty fantastic. So sorry, I don't buy this "wanting to believe the best". account.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Mar 2013 00:24:32 GMT
J. Englund says:
I do not understand why anyone having a knowledge of the bible or say even a pokemon comic... means they would be ignorant of Darwin or Shakespeare? stickk to making a rerasoned point and keep the emotive non-useful crap out of it. you wrote such a good review on New Atheism and had a good debate there... but you seem to want to upset people while making valid points. no need chap.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Mar 2013 12:00:17 GMT
Sphex says:
You misread my post: I simply suggested that it's better to be ignorant of the Bible than ignorant of Darwin or Shakespeare, which does not imply that someone who is well-informed about the Bible must therefore be ignorant of Darwin or Shakespeare. You're right that it's not a particularly useful point to make, although one of the great and growing problems of our age is knowing which stuff to read and which to leave out.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Mar 2013 17:01:13 GMT
Hi phex

It would be interesting to know whether you comment on where to be ignorant has some kind of reasoning behind it, or whether you are content to acknowledge that it is simply your npersonal opinion.

If you want to claim that it is based on rational grounds perhaps you would like to elucidate?

Posted on 9 Mar 2013 17:45:19 GMT
Hello again

The reason I asked about the reasoning behind your claim (I assume you DO have a reason, no matter what) is prompted by this comment in your rbiew:

"even the newest of atheists - the stable boys and girls of the Four Horsemen - must concede that not all Christians are evil, but the claim that all religious people are confused - insofar as they rely on faith - is more defensible."

Though amused by you comments about the stable staff, I was a little surprised by the latter part of your claim.

Are you aware of what is known as "Hume's Problem"? What Hume realised in placing so much emphasis on the importance of empirical evidence was that in practice it is unworkable.

You (generic) can talk to a million Christians, and every one of them might be confused about theitr beliefs, but your clain could only rise above the level of sheer speculation if you can show, from experience, that EVERY single Christian, alive or dead, fits/fiited your description.

Having said that, it is interseting that you think people of faith are necessarily confused - if I;ve understood what you are saying.

Firstly, are you aware of just how much ALL OF US live our lives on the basis of faith?
For example, have you made ANY arrangements for the future - even as near as tomorrow? If you don't value faith then you should - in reason - stop doing that. Because your continuing existence will NEVER be something you can be sure about. Or at the very least, you should alwats add the qualifier "If I'm stll here" when you agree to get involved in any future event.

From a belierver's point of view, We can draw evidence about
the praxticality of "reasonable faith" from one of the most cautious businesses in Earth - insurance.

The insurance business works on statistics. But sttistics are still speculative, no matter how big the base for a given calculation. Yet insurance companies put their faith in the statistics being a fair indication of their risk, even after numerous incidents indicating that almost totally unforseeable events can occur - like the attacks on the "twin towers" on 9/11.

In fact the only way I can see for your comment to make sense is if you believe, as the very confused Dr Dawkins insists, has repeatedly and erroneously claimed - now with back-up from the equally confused Dr Sternger, hat ALL faith is "blind faith.
"Though I wonder, unless these two have personally witnessed EVERY act of faith in the history in the history of the world, how can they be so confident about their assumption?

Speaking of which, on what basis are you making your own claim if not on the basis of faith?

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Mar 2013 11:04:45 GMT
Sphex

I just noticed you post from a couple of years ago when we were discussing possibly spurious passages in the New Testament. I said that these were hardly "hidden" since most Bibles had some indication of passages that are of doubtful authenticity. You replied:

"I have on my desk a modern printing that does not give this information, and since it is the Authorized King James Version I doubt it is the only copy in circulation."

FWIW

Whether any kinds of notes on the text are included in a Bible is decided by the publisher, not by some kind of overall authority. And I'm happy to acknowledge that some editioons from publishersnmay be less informative than others, regardless of which particular version of the Bible we are talking about.

It would be interesting to know the publisher and date of the Bible you referred to. But the fact thjat you seem to have found an exception to the rule doesn't change the fact that the majority of publishers include notes, either in the text or as footnotes, indicating
which passages are generally agreed, by biblical scholars to be of doubtful oigin.

Moreover, these passages are so well=known amongst Bible students, I cannot think how critics like Barker, Erhman and Loftus could have done any serious Bible reading without knowing about the passages you mention.

Seems to me, as a very general observation, that the most obvious reason for not being aware of this is a desire to find a reason for criticism even if it is as spurious as the material it refers to.

JMO
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