My Life as a Straw Man


St. Sebastian, or, Life as a Pin Cushion


I learn new things about myself all the time, thanks to the wonders of the Internet.


I’ve learned, for example, that I reject evolution and believe the earth to be only six thousand years old.


This came as a shock to me, because, for as long as I can remember, I’ve thought the evidence for evolution overwhelming, and I’ve assumed — or, maybe more accurately, imagined that I’ve assumed — the earth to be roughly 4.5 billion years old.


I’ve learned that, in fact, I reject science and believe it to be satanic.


This was news to me, as well, because I’ve always liked science.  Or thought I did.  Growing up, I was passionately interested in astronomy.  (My eyes were bad, though, and that hurt.)  I came to the university as a mathematics major, intending at first to go into cosmology.  I’m still very interested in the subject — curiously, my dissertation was on an eleventh-century Arabic Neoplatonist cosmology — as well as, particularly, in geology.  On Maui, in Rocky Mountain National Park, at the Grand Canyon, at Yellowstone, in Zion and Bryce, along the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, I almost invariably buy a local geological guide and drive those with me to distraction as I call out passing geological features.  And who can travel very far in an automobile without a copy of the Geological Guide to Utah, the Geological Guide to Wyoming, and etc.?  Not me.


I’ve also learned that I believe all doubters and disbelievers of Mormonism to be either weak minded, less intelligent, less valiant, or less spiritual, or under the influence of dark forces while trying to justify their disbelief in order to do what they really want, which is to wallow in the pleasures of sin.  I’m assured that there can be, in my universe, no legitimate grounds for doubt, no sincere lack of conviction.


Here, too, this was stunning to learn.  While I don’t question for a moment that weak mindedness, stupidity, disobedience, lack of interest in spirituality, dark forces, and a desire to sin can and do interfere with faith, I had always imagined that there were legitimate grounds for questions and that, in this life, at best, “we see through a glass, darkly.”  (See 1 Corinthians 13.)  I have plenty of unbelieving friends and relatives, and I had always thought that I loved them.  But, it turns out, I actually hate and despise them all.


The Internet is a marvelous thing.  Google, for example, puts an entire world of knowledge at our fingertips.  But who would ever have believed that anonymous comments from total strangers on message boards could be the principal source of self-knowledge, replacing introspection?  Yet another surprise, I guess.



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  • Frank Staheli

    Good insights, Daniel! If the world were filled with disagreeing people who were at least HONEST about what they disagreed with others about, we’d have a MUCH more scintillating conversation. ;-)

  • David Kent

    Dan, maybe it’s not so bad. Perhaps St. Sebastian imagined the arrows pierced him. But then again, it’s on the internet then it must be true. If that’s the case, I’m amazed at what I’ve found out about you. You sneaky little devil.

  • Ivan Wolfe

    One of the funniest things I read this week about you was at the Times and Seasons blog. Morris Thurston of Dialouge magazine basically said that “what happened to Dan and Lou at BYU-sponsored FARMS” proves that their journal is within the mainstream of the church or something.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    I would be curious what you would consider to be legitimate grounds for unbelief if any? Does a lack of faith, in your opinion arise from weak mindedness, stupidity, disobedience, lack of interest in spirituality, dark forces, and a desire to sin?

    You are no doubt aware that in our world today, the majority of scientists either consider themselves atheists or agnostics although many undoubtedly respect and admire the world’s religious traditions.

    The 2011 Templeton prize winner and theoretical astrophysicist Martin J. Rees has no religious beliefs and explained, “I grew up in the traditions of the Anglican Church and those are ‘the customs of my tribe.’ I’m privileged to be embedded in its wonderful aesthetic and musical traditions and I want to do all I can to preserve and strengthen them.”

    In his BBC Reith lectures, he speaks of glorious cathedrals, monuments built to last a thousand years and that if humans today, like the cathedral builders of our past, were to redirect our focus on the long term, then problems facing our planet could be solved and the future for billions of people could be secured. There is wisdom in the words of this non-believer.

    • danpeterson

      Lucy McGee:

      As I said in my blog entry, “I don’t question for a moment that weak mindedness, stupidity, disobedience, lack of interest in spirituality, dark forces, and a desire to sin can and do interfere with faith.”

      Of course.

      But the evidence for faith is ambiguous — I think it was intended to be so — and there are good grounds for disbelief as well as for belief.

      I don’t blame anybody for saying that she just didn’t find the available data persuasive, for instance, or that the problem of evil makes the notion of a personal, loving, powerful God untenable for her. I understand and respect such grounds for disbelief. (And I’m only supplying a couple of representative examples.)

  • JohnH

    I am sure that you are just failing to appreciate the context in which the statements were made and their particular nuance of meaning.

  • Susan Steinhaus

    Golly Dan. I’m learning lots about you too! One of my very favorite college housemates told me this… I had come home from my campus ministry where I had presented a talk. I was fearful that I had offended some of the people present. I was probably 22 and very earnest in what I knew. He said, Susan, if I haven’t offended at least one person a day I’m not doing my job. He wasn’t at all mean spirited about it. It is just that if you are standing up for the weak, poor, the lost, the lonely, the downtrodden you are bound to offend someone. There are many more Christina Saints who can attest tot that. I have come to appreciate that about Orthodox Saints. They aren’t saints because of doing something miraculous. They are saints because of their faith.

    I am enjoying catching your words now. Have you had time to read any of Gabriel Jay? He is in Jerusalem right now at the Shalom Hartman Institute. It is his first trip and he is very excited.

  • Susan Steinhaus

    Perhaps there are “Christina Saints” who have been martyred but I had in mind the Christian ones!

  • Louis Midgley


    I am wondering how you came to have Lucy McGee as your Guardian Angel Nanny.

    • danpeterson

      I’m just lucky, I guess.

    • Lucy Mcgee

      Hi Dr. Midgley. I knew nothing of your history and so did some reading. Sorry for addressing you as Mr. in a past comment. You and I are light years apart regarding faith. I find it interesting that you are so inclined to discount the hundreds of millions of humans on earth that do not follow doctrines and the control foisted upon believers by those professing some exalted status. Some believe that this is a made up fantasy in the minds of people who have found a way to control and profit from the willing.

      I’ve never been religious because my parents were not. I spent my youth totally surrounded by nothing religious, ever. I never attended any church as a child and didn’t gravitate toward it as an adult. Yet, I’ve never believed that my life, or the lives of my family were about shopping and debauchery as you wrote might be the case. It is most certainly sad that someone of your intellect has so little regard for the “secular” world and those that are attempting to make the planet a better place.

  • Dale Jeffery

    It’s unfortunate, of course, that you have posted this on your Blog. Now everyone can snag their own quotes, and cite a link to this page as more “proof.”

    For instance,

    “I reject science and believe it to be satanic.” ~ Dr. Daniel Peterson

    Didn’t even have to use ellipses marks.

    • danpeterson

      And some, past experience demonstrates, will be unethical enough to do just that.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    RE: Lucy McGee–I guess some atheists lack the imagine to be able to understand that people can be sincere believers in God and things spiritual AS WELL AS intellectually honest and fulfilled. That is clearly a deficiency characteristic of Prof. Richard Dawkins. They share that characteristic with many religious people, of diverse traditions, who cannot conceive how any honest and intelligent person could disagree with their views on things spiritual, and therefore conclude that those who disagree with them are being dishonest and therefore evil.

    Perhaps the scientifically verified fact that Mormons are far more tolerant of people whose religious viewpoints differ from theirs is related to the Mormon belief in the availability of convincing revelation, conditioned on the willingness to seek it and accept it when found. People who have not yet had that revelatory experience, or don’t understand enough to recognize it is desirable, are not going to agree with the views of the Latter-day Saints, no matter how intelligent the non-Mormon is, but that is to be expected. Intelligence alone is not enough to find spiritual truths, in the Mormon view, so those who do not currently embrace the Mormon viewpoint are no less smart or good or honest. Mormons believe that every person has the opportunity, indeed many opportunities, to accept a revelatory experience, even beyond the grave. It is irrational for a Mormon to try to pass final judgment on someone for not accepting Mormon beliefs, since the state of their souls is usually not final here in mortality.

    Believing Mormons are not bothered by aggressive atheists, since we are confident that many of them will have an interesting reaction to the observed fact of their own continuing existence after death. We believe there are few persistent atheists in grave holes.

    • Lucy Mcgee

      I appreciate your belief system which offers eternal exaltation. But can you imagine a person who would not desire such a future foisted upon them? Can you imagine someone who believes that life on earth is enough?

      I’ve read about the Mormon belief which implies that LDS members in good standing, will be offered an exalted eternity in a Celestial Kingdom, which seemingly places believers above all others. What about that?

      Would God offer up such an eternal future given that billions of people have lived and died, many of whom just and kind, only to be spending their eternity in a Terrestrial or Telestial eternity simply because they were born in the wrong time, on the wrong continent and learned the belief system of their tribe?

      How can a lifelong non-believer find any solace in such a set-up, in such an arbitrary eternity which has never been communicated to the vast, vast majority of humans on the planet. If my math is correct, there are an estimated 14 million LDS members. Our planet’s population is nearly seven billion which means that LDS members are but 0.2% of humans. Even if this 0.2% were doing all that were possible to spread to Reformed Gospel, that would still exclude the vast, vast majority of people, who, once dead, will be spending eternity in a lesser Kingdom, through zero fault of their own. I don’t get it.

      • JohnH

        God is just and therefore offers everyone equally the chance of exaltation. This means that if a person who has never heard of Christ or the restored Gospel lives the best that they know how according to whatever knowledge they do have and they are willing to receive more knowledge and both strive to overcome their errors as they know them while alive then they have as much right to exalted as anyone else. Likewise a member in good standing that doesn’t accept more knowledge from God, or that doesn’t repent of their sins, or that does act according to the knowledge they have is just as condemned as anyone else that refuses those things. Yes the ordinances of the gospel are necessary but when they are received is not as important, assuming they are accepted when offered.