A Positive Article About an Atheist Professor

When you hear the phrase “atheist professor,” maybe this often-forwarded, untrue email comes to mind.

Dr. Hector Avalos is an atheist professor and an overall good guy — an educator who isn’t biased against religious students, a Bible scholar with several books to his name, and the faculty sponsor of the Iowa State University Atheist and Agnostic Society.

The campus paper wrote a glowing profile of him this week that’s worth a read:

What had begun as a cold progressed into early systemic arthritis and conjunctivitis. Eventually, Avalos was diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis, a rare auto-immune disorder.

Behind in school because of his illness, Avalos asked professors in biology, German and Hebrew at the University of Arizona if they would give him full credit for courses he had never taken if he passed the final exams. They said “yes,” and Avalos passed them all because of his program of self-study in high school.

“Altogether, my first semester back I took 45 credits and was able to finish my sophomore, junior and senior year in three semesters,” Avalos said. “One of my professors said, ‘You should be at Harvard.’”

Through good grades, recommendations and academic scholarships, Avalos made it to Harvard. There, he earned a master’s degree in theological studies and was accepted into the Ph.D. program before becoming ill again. Avalos’ doctors gave him two years to live.

“There is this old adage that says there are no atheists in foxholes,” Avalos said. “The idea is that when you’re faced with death, you become a believer. Well, I have faced death many times because of my illness. What has helped me is what I see helping me, which is medical science and my family.”

I love faculty sponsors of college atheist groups who do so much more than just sign paperwork… we need more of them like Dr. Avalos.

  • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com considerthe teacosy

    Avalos began his religious studies to defeat any argument against his faith in God. These studies led him instead to a faith in science and in family.

    “If you have someone who loves you as much as you love them, that’s about as good as it gets in life,” Avalos said. “If that doesn’t get you through, I don’t know what else can get you through.”

    I love this! Particularly as a simple, clear response to the idea that atheists don’t believe in anything.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    I usually dislike the term “brights” (as some have referred to atheists and freethinkers), but in this particular case the it applies in several ways. What a remarkable human being.

  • Rob

    I’ve always hated the foxholes saying. Aside from being absolute religious propaganda, it’s a trepid euphemism. To be honest, it would be:
    “In the end, all cowards turn to God.”
    Professor Avalos is just another lustrous example of how farcical and fallacious it is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    Great story and inspiring. Goes to show, you’re not dead until you’re dead and I hope he has many years ahead of him.

    Hector Avalos doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke or gamble, either.

    I loved this at the opening of the article. Seriously, are Atheists like me and Avalos who don’t drink, smoke or gamble that much a rarity?

    I did use to buy lottery tickets occasionally (not hardly like a lot of the die-hards do, I don’t think I ever spent more than a few dollars a month) but that was when I was working and desperate to get out of it. I haven’t bought one ticket since I retired and am free of working for a living anyway. Those occassional lottery tickets were the only gambling I did. I got cured of horse racing my first go at it when my horse lost by a nose and never placed another bet again and I’ve never got the appeal of casinos and the track, football pools, any of it.

  • Liz

    @muggle

    I don’t smoke or gamble, but I would occasionally drink if I wasn’t feeding a child currently. By occasionally, I mean like once a month on average and I never get wasted. Also I would probably eat marijuana food, I just don’t like inhaling smoke.

    My point being..nevermind. I’m pretty ‘immoral’

  • Nakor

    @muggle: Nope, I don’t think we’re that much of a rarity at all. :)

    I don’t even get the crazy reactions these days. It’s just “Oh, you don’t drink? Huh. Well there’s coffee here too, go for it.” (This may in part be because people realized that I am available as a designated driver and easily bribed with free appies and coffee though!)

  • captsam

    Liz you don’t sound immoral to me. in my opinion “bad habits” are only bad if they are pushed onto others.

  • Richard Wade

    muggle, Liz and Nakor,

    I don’t drink or smoke either, but those are health issues given my family background. I never understood how they could be seen as moral issues. Gambling just seems dumb to me.

    I can have enough fun at a party so that people assume I’m drinking, then they’re surprised that I’m not. I guess it’s about letting not caring about impressions and appearances any more.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Looks like we’re not that rare. I don’t drink or smoke either, and while I have pulled slot machines at Vegas once or twice in the past, I don’t have any interest in gambling. I just don’t find it particularly fun.

  • Roger

    Gambling is, to me, a waste of money. But drinking–something I didn’t do until fairly recently–well, it sure can be fun!

    I actually am glad to read this post about Avalos–I too am a religion professor and an atheist (oh, and I’m Black AND gay) and have been “coming out” all over again. Just when I thought I was done coming out of closets…honestly, it’s been easier telling people I’m gay than “Oh, yeah, I don’t believe in any supernatural entities, either.”

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    I guess all the do-gooder Christians must have been referring to me as the stereotypical atheist, since none of you seem to have been very naughty. Ironically, it was when I was a theist that I was at my very worst – or best – depending on your point of view…

  • Dan W

    Avalos sounds like an awesome professor. Meanwhile, I don’t smoke, rarely gamble, but I do drink from time to time. I enjoy the state of being drunk, I guess. It’s my main “bad habit”, and I have no problems with people who choose not to drink.

  • Luciferadi

    It’s funny — on more than one occasion, my not drinking has led people to assume I’m religious.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    I have heard some Dr Avalos’ debates and he is very good. He started as a Catholic child evangelist, studied theology, then realized most of what he was taught was wrong.
    One of several Biblical scholars, including Erhman & Price, whose Biblical studies turned them into atheists or agnostics.
    My mother suffers from Wegener’s Granulomatosis (sometimes called Wegener’s Syndrome). It is an auto-immune disease that attacks the vascular system and can lead to damage of the lungs, heart & kidneys. She contracted it in her 70′s (which is unusual because it usually appears in women in their 30′s); and caused her to lose all but 17% of her kidney function. She coped pretty well on diet for 5 years, until an illness 2 years ago forced her to go on dialysis at the age of 83.
    (Oh, & this was in Canada where that socialist medical care lets old people die…..)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    Hmm, nice to know I’m far from alone.

    I should have pointed out what Richard did that it’s hardly a moral issue. For me, eh, I know myself too well. Wouldn’t want to be about alcohol like I am about chocolate. (Now that’s my vice.) Richard, I’m like that too at a party. I’m amused by the drunks but they rub off and I get so goofy that people tend to say maybe it’s a good thing you don’t drink or smoke (referring to the wacky tabaccy) if you get like that without it. Pity I don’t drive.

    Luciferadi, I have occassionally got that for drinking but not for a long time now. I do get some who think I’ve been through AA which leaves me amusingly correcting no, I never drank, which leaves them astounded. I do get that about being celibate. People seem to think religious beliefs are the only reason to be celibate by choice.

    Roger, on the bright side, you always leave them guessing and you mess with people’s pre-conceived notions. Preconceived notions should be messed with every now and then just to keep people thinking when possible. For me, it’s been the other way around, despite some bad reactions to the Atheism thing, it’s easier being an out Atheist than daring to say out loud that you’re celibate.

  • ihedenius

    I heard Avalos on debates, interviews. No idea he was so sick. Smoking, drinking or gambling I decided is dumb at an early age.


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