From Intelligent Design to Atheism

One of the architects of intelligent design is Michael Behe, a Roman Catholic. His son, Leo, was homeschooled and/but has since become an atheist, and here is an interview with Leo Behe about his journey. For me, this is not a comment at all on the viability or non-viability of intelligent design but instead the “reporting” of how children don’t always follow the faith or science of their parents. (So, please, don’t comment on whether or whether not ID creates or does not create such eventualities.) It’s also a post illustrating the influence of folks like Dawkins, and the significance of how some folks understand the doctrine of Scripture.

Leo Behe is not your typical young humanist. He’s the son of famed intelligent design proponent, author, and biochemist Michael Behe. Since 1996 the elder Behe, a professor at Lehigh University, has earned accolades from intelligent design proponents throughout the world for his books and court testimony in support of the concept. His most famous book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge of Evolution (1996), asserts that particular biological systems are irreducibly complex, meaning “the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.” While celebrated by sympathetic philosophers and creationist-minded Christians, the book has been panned by many in the scientific community, including Brown University biologist and fellow Catholic Kenneth Miller. Miller reviewed the book, arguing that it ignores empirical observation and that “Behe has gone two centuries into the past to find the argument from design, dusted it off, and invigorated it with the modern language of biochemistry.”

Here are the crucial lines of the interview:

The Humanist: You’ve previously written that the first critique of religion you came across was Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. From that, you realized “how questionable religion might sound to some who had not grown up around it.” Why did you originally read Dawkins and what particularly in that book made you question religion?

Behe: There was a lot of buzz about The God Delusion back in 2008 when I read it, and it seemed to be having an impact on a lot of Christians’ faith. I had recently decided to turn my interest in apologetics toward atheism, and Dawkins’ bestseller seemed to be a good place to start. The God Delusion has been criticized for its allegedly infantile treatment of metaphysics, but that aspect of the book was not what originally challenged my faith. The point that hit me hardest while reading was the fallible origin of Scripture, which I had never considered (to my own surprise). That point in particular was what originally shook my specific faith—Catholicism—and planted seeds of skepticism, which continued to grow as I expanded my knowledge through other literary works on both sides of the issue.

The Humanist: How long was this transformation, and why didn’t your father’s ideas (or others) about intelligent design demonstrate proof of a “designer” or creator?

Behe: The journey from very devout Catholic to outspoken atheist took about six months total. Once my trust in the Bible was shaken, I still believed strongly in a theistic god, but I realized that I hadn’t sufficiently examined my beliefs. Over the next several months, my certainty of a sentient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity faded steadily. I believe that the loss of a specific creed was the tipping point for me. After I lost the element of trust—be it trust in the Bible, trust in a church, or trust in the Pope—I had no choice but to vindicate my own beliefs through research, literature, and countless hours of deep thought. It was then that my belief in any sort of God faded away gradually, and to this day I continue to find more and more convincing evidence against any sort of design or supernatural interference in the universe. As for the arguments from design, such as irreducible complexity or the so-called fine-tuning of the six cosmological constants, I have many reasons for dismissing them each in particular, but one overarching reason would be the common refutation of William Paley’s classic watchmaker argument—the only reason that complex objects appear to be designed is because we as humans create complex objects, and we then assume that complexity is indisputably indicative of a designer. This is an association we make only as a result of what our “common sense” tells us.

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  • DRT

    Some kids, like I was, would do almost anything to *not* follow our parents.

    Two of my three kids are now atheist, gving basically the same reason I left the church when I was young. The Christians they see and the christianity that they see taught seem foolish. I point out my faith and perspective to them and they just laugh and say I am the only one that thinks that way, so that does not count.

    My 18 year old is the most specific.
    1. He doesn’t want to be a Christian because he doesn’t like Christians.
    2. We don’t need a religion to regulate morality, and it seems that Christians have terrible morals with the way they treat people. Morality can be better without the other stuff.
    3. If there is a god, the anthropomorphic image of him is very wrong and sensless to worship.
    4. As far as Jesus in specific, who knows, but given the other thoughts more importantly, who cares.

    Unfortunately I agree with him. The issue I have is that I have spent enough time with Christianity that I think we can save it if we change *NOW* and I have made it my calling to help educate people to change. If I did not have that calling I would be tempted to go back to buddhism.

    I do not accept the current Christianity in the US and believe it must change.

  • Robert

    I lost my trust in religious systems as well, but I just looked for a more acceptable form of religion, and became a theological liberal. It’s not the system that matters, whether it’s Catholic, fundamentalist, or whatever. It’s the God it purports to point to.

  • Robin


    What do you think Christianity must change into, or what must we change about Christianity. If it is just “Christians suck” nevermind, but if you have ideological or theological specifics I would like to hear them.

  • Robin

    Feel free to email me at
    robin(DOT)rhea(at)gmail(dot)com to prevent threadjacking

  • BradK

    It’s interesting that Behe was so influenced by Dawkins’ The God Delusion and that he specifically mentions Paley’s watchmaker analogy. I have not read that book, but I have read The Blind Watchmaker, which does a quite effective job of refuting Paley’s watchmaker argument. Yet I never felt any urge to abandon my faith as a result of reading it. I wonder what specific views or beliefs Behe held or insights he felt he discovered that caused him to abandon his faith that I did not? The other thought I had reading the interview is that Behe is so very young.

  • DLS

    A very good (but only semi-related) article from today: “Secular humanists on the real planet of the apes”

  • Scot McKnight

    BradK, that’s what struck me too.

  • MatthewS

    The nature of Scripture (“fallible origin of Scripture”, per Behe the younger) is a recurring theme among many of the folks I interact with who are my age or younger and who are asking pointed and open-ended questions.

    I find it somewhat frustrating that people don’t really want to read or study but they can be so quick (not commenting on Behe, but people I’ve heard) to take hearsay about history seriously.

  • AHH

    This seems closely connected to the recent posts here about Biblicism. Even though the younger Behe was raised Roman Catholic, it seems things began to crumble when his “trust in the Bible” was shaken.

    I think one of the biggest ways we in the Evangelical Church set up our youth for this sort of thing is by giving them a foundation of naive Biblicism that doesn’t stand up to external and even internal evidence (science being only one of the problem areas). And then people like Pete Enns and Kent Sparks and Stan Grenz take heat for trying to articulate a more robust and less ostrich-like doctrine of Scripture that doesn’t insist on making the Bible something that it is not.

  • CJ

    This is also reflective of some things I encounter in my undergrad theology classes, specifically a doctrine of Scripture that serves as a foundation for all other doctrinal beliefs. If that particular way of understanding the Bible is challenged, everything else falls apart. Those who have this paradigm–once they realize it–typically either become fearful and defensive, or they discard everything and walk away from the faith. It is hard to watch either response.

  • JBL

    I think this is a common result of indoctrinating people (especially children) into an religious intellectual construct rather than discipling them into a faith in Jesus and The Way. People wisely and easily come to abandon the intellectual construct when faced with one or more of the ridiculous contradictions in the intellectual edifice of “Christianity”. Unfortunately quite often they also abandon faith in Jesus as well, because they don’t realize there is a difference. I think this is partly or even mostly a result of the Modern/Enlightenment Era tendency of viewing things like the Bible in a scientific or juridical manner. People who were Christians started to attempt to make tortured intellectual arguments to “prove” the Bible. And what’s worse they told people you have to believe the whole intellectual construct, because if even one of these pillars were attacked the whole thing would come down. Non-believers took these arguments over the years and shredded them. The Bible doesn’t have to be rational, consistent or even “true” for us to love God and love others. Following Christ doesn’t make sense, and that’s ok. Sacrificial love seems counter-intuitive for lots of people – turn the other cheek, surrender the cloak too, go the extra mile. Resurrection will never make any sense from any scientific viewpoint. Why bother trying to make any of it sound sensible? Who cares when or how things were created or when or how end-times events occur? It really has no bearing on loving people in the pattern of Jesus. Telling people that they have to believe something that is unbelievable is not required to receive or give Christ’s love. People like this Behe guy are only being true to what they were taught. They found something “they were told they must believe” that is obviously not true, and like they were taught, they believe that if one thing is not true then none of it is.

  • rjs

    There are a lot of different responses to interviews like this one. Leo Behe is “newsworthy” only because of his father, but he is not unique.

    It is stories like this that rip my guts out (to give a graphic description). It is repeated far too often, and many others just bracket off all of the issues and questions and as a result are shadows of the Christians they could be. And church leaders don’t get it.

    I’ve written and rewritten a longer response here – but trashed it because I think it may have leaned too far toward the cynical and not carried enough of the sage or prophet (harking back to the posts on Andrew Byers’s book)… but we are blowing it royally.

  • Robin


    Is there anything in here to indicate that, had he spent time with Giberson et al., he could have been convinced of a hermeneutic that would have saved his faith?

  • Krister S

    I’m astonished-but perhaps I shouldn’t be-that The Humanist saw it newsworthy and educational that a 19-year old boy would see the world differently than his father. Especially since his father is largely an unknown to most of the readers. Who cares about Leo Behe’s views? Doesn’t The Humanist know that young Leo, while attempting to make a statement to the world (“atheists are just as human as theists”), doesn’t carry much weight? He’s a 19-year old frosh for Pete’s sake. My heart goes out to his father who, right or wrong, must witness his son being used as a pawn in service to ad hominen devices.

  • Amos Paul


    As a sideline comment on your question, I’d imagine that only a Christ-centered focus can ‘save’ any faith, hermeneutic, or whatever Christian belief/idea/practice. If someone or something is founded and focused securely on Jesus Christ all in all and objectively, presently real Go–then faith merely rests upon the historical authenticity of some book or cogency or some argument or another. Those arguments and whatever books are only important in that they point us at God.

  • DRT

    Robin, I think my response to your questions is probably worth throwing out in this thread, though I don’t think we should debate my views here.

    Among other things… biblicism, complementatrianism, calvinism, being the elect, saying Catholics aren’t Christians, thinking all you have to do is believe to be saved, thinking saved means being in heaven, prosperity comes from god, science ignorance, common descent ignorance, climate change ignorance, not seeing Jesus in other religions/peoples, building buildings for worshiping Jesus *instead of* helping people, and the list goes on.

    US Christianity has so much to change that I still wonder whether I am doing the right thing in trying.

  • Ultimately, we all believe what we want to believe, don’t we?

    That is why there are people who believe there was no Holocaust, that man never walked on the moon, that … fill in the blank. That’s why, presented the same information and barring/accounting for serious flaws in logic, two people can come to wildly opposite conclusions about that information.

    Family is only part of the context in which those two people shape their desires and choices, and therefore conclusions.

  • Adam


    Does Leo’s faith need saving or does his life need saving?

  • Amos Paul

    *on Jesus Christ all in all and an objectively, presently real God.

    What I meant to type in 15. Heh.

  • Scot McKnight

    Here’s what I see in this interview, which bothered me because I teach this age of student. I have no desire to trash evangelicalism here, and it has nothing to do with Behe himself (who grew up Catholic). Nor do I find any reasons to hammer away at Catholicism. Nor do I have any idea how he was reared and nurtured by his father, and I see nothing but respect in Behe’s attitude toward his dad. I like that.

    What I see is this: the power of Dawkins’ book. Dawkins more often than not is the one who is presenting many people today with skeptical conclusions about the Bible. Why is he the one who first informs so many that there are problems?

    Then also I see some parents who will be looking over Behe’s shoulder and say “I did all I could to show my child the way of faith and he or she still walked away.” My own guess is that Behe did a good job teaching his son.

    This kind of story, which is far too common (and I wrote about this in Finding Faith, Losing Faith and which RJS has written about in plenty here), makes me want to be a better teacher and a better “opener of minds” to the realities.

    What are you doing to help?

  • DRT

    Scot20, “What are you doing to help?” 3 weeks ago I sat through an apologetics lecture on why the bible is 100% right and met with the presenters afterward to ask why they had to hold that belief. They said that our young will go astray if we don’t teach them the truth. I tried to reason with them that their position is impossible to defend, and we are much better off presenting a real view, but, as you are alluding, there exists no such view to them. The contorted twisted faith (with faith=believing senseless stuff) is Christianity and that is what we must present.

    There has to be a better way!!!!!!!!!!!

  • AHH

    Scot @20 —
    I’m curious since you raised an excellent question at the end of your post: what do you do to help? When you teach, what is your approach to weaning young people away from the naive Biblicism that is so vulnerable? Or is it mostly “too late” on this front by the time they get to you in college?

  • Scot McKnight

    I’m not as good at this as I’d like to be, to be honest. But here are some things I do:

    1. On Genesis 1-3, indeed to chp. 11, I present some alternative views and contend that sincere Christians don’t all agree on these issues. I now use Walton’s book as a text to present another view.

    2. On authorship of the books — I don’t focus on the Pentateuch, though I sometimes bring up JEDP. I focus on Isaiah, and present the case for the traditional view and the multiple author views and then open it up for discussion. I don’t find many students bothered by this kind of thing.

    3. I contend that we don’t know if Job was a play or a person; I contend that some think Jonah is satire.

    4. We emphasize that prophetic language is metaphorical, and I think this gives a good anchor in how the Bible’s language works.

    5. I do some on historical Jesus and source criticism…

    Remember, these are 1st Yr Students, and my goal is to give them a proper confidence in the Bible, and to give them some dimensions of the Bible that they have perhaps not heard. My goal is not to disabuse them but to give them some tools to think about these texts.

    Who has some other ideas?

  • DRT

    Scot, the most important thing that would have been good for me to hear at that age and when I am in doubt is about respected Saints who had ideas that were different. I don’t know enough history, but if Aquinas conceded that genesis is a metaphor, or Luther thought that hell may not be real, then that gives considerable credibility to intellectual engagement, and honest intellectual engagement is what I think is needed.

    I also fully recognize I am a novice here, but imo….

  • rjs

    Robin (#13),

    This isn’t about ID, creationism, or Giberson. It is about teaching a robust faith, about not giving people the false expectation that atheists (and professors) are idiots that the average high school student or college undergraduate can reason into the ground. It is about providing a community to explore the hard questions with mentorship and conversation from a variety of viewpoints instead of indoctrination and high-fives. It is about teaching people how to think more than what to think.

    More than all of this of course it is about living the gospel and what Scot has called the Jesus Creed from the heart and constantly.

    I have trouble with some people from all viewpoints – including those who agree with me on creation – because it is a fight not a conversation among brothers and sisters.

  • A few thoughts.

    1) Behe is 21 or 22, not 19. Not a huge difference, but still, a difference.

    2) How much of this is related to being a strongly right-brained individual? I have a son like this (19 yrs old) and a nephew like this. I’ve watched my highly logical, completely non emotive son struggle through these same questions. It is a challenge for the highly logical to read such things as Dawkins writes and not simply say, “that makes sense.” Faith is such a leap, I realize that. That’s why it’s called faith. My boy still has his faith at this time, but my nephew studied philosophy (at a Christian college, no less) and quickly walked away from his faith. He’s extremely right brained and Dawkins (et al) just made sense to him. He will soon be a doctoral student with the goal of teaching.

    It’s hard. This is hard. But here’s what I do as the parent of four teens (and five younger kids to boot.) I am still learning, and hope this works. 🙂

    1) I purposefully create an atmosphere where it is okay to learn, okay to question, okay to wrestle. I quietly and gently direct them back to the foundation of a God who loves, to God become flesh.
    2) As a Wesleyan, I’m not afraid to bring experience into the equation. We live the life with our children, allow them to see us struggle and mess up – but we get back up and apologize and try to show how God is always seeking to redeem. We articulate, verbally, how God has carried us and redeemed us, how He has worked in very tangible ways in our lives. (And no, I don’t mean in finding us the right parking spot on a rainy day.)
    3) My husband and I try to guide our children to living by the narrative of the Scriptures rather than getting bogged down in the details. We have endless, countless conversations around supper clean up or before bed. When we are confused about something, we encourage them to step back and trace God back to the core of his character: What drove God from the beginning. Whey did God create? Why did he bother with humans. We refuse to get hung up on the age of the earth or “what women are allowed to do within the church.” The answer is – these things are adventures in missing the point of who God is and what compelled him. We can talk about them, but they are peripheral.

    4) We practice continual forgiveness. I think that keeps us tender and humble with the kids. As a mom, I work to emotionally teach and engage my right-brained son. I work to logically ground my other emotionally driven son. We shift, we twist, we turn, we fall down, we get up, we hug, we go on. 🙂 It’s so messy – but so good! I hope that all of this helps with the kids, keeps them in the faith.

    5) We pray. Oh, goodness, do we ever pray for wisdom and mercy and forgiveness. Teens do that to you.

    6) We don’t limit this to our own kids. When our kids bring other kids home – we consider that God brought them to us, too – it’s our part of God’s kingdom work, what we are supposed to do. We jump in with them too, IF they indicate a need for that.

    The real answer is, though, that our kids aren’t grown. Check back in another 15 years and I might have a different perspective!

  • Patrick

    If you ever get a chance to watch Bart Ehrman debate a believer, you’ll see this is why Bart lost his faith, he explains it. He freaked out when he realized the ancient MSS were varied and not all identical.

    In each case, when the person realized the Scriptures were not some kind of metaphysical, Divinely glowing, written in stone items, they lost their faith shortly thereafter.

  • Joe Canner

    “What are you doing to help?”

    Just being willing to put your neck on the line seems to help some. I go to a fairly conservative church, but I have put out feelers to let it be known that I don’t buy the party line on stuff like creation/evolution, gay rights, women’s rights, Islamophobia, ECT, etc. Without being confrontative, this lets people know that they are free to confide in me on these issues, and that they need not feel ostracized at our church.

    I had a particularly poignant discussion with a young lady who had only just heard evolution presented in a neutral or positive way for the first time at her (Christian) university. She wanted to know how I managed to reconcile science with the Bible. I doubt if I saved her from atheism, but I think it resolved some tensions for her, just knowing that sensible Christians (IMHO) can hold such views.

    I have not stuck my neck out on issues of inerrancy, OT exegesis, biblicism, etc., as I still have a lot to learn on these issues (although not nearly as much as I used to, thanks to Jesus Creed!), but hope to be able to eventually.

  • “Why” not “Whey.”


  • I taught conservative evangelical college students for 7 years and I tried to model a careful approach to Scripture but also a fearlessness in the face of any and all questions. I didn’t always have the answers, obviously, but many evangelicals are brought up to think that one of the worst things to do is even to raise certain questions. But God can handle it, and the faith is robust enough to be challenged and explored critically.

    That doesn’t solve everything, but it does keep students from thinking that the fact must either make absolute sense all the time or it must be jettisoned en toto.

  • Amos Paul

    I think that, first of all, it’s incredibly important to illustrate that the Bible is filled with stories of God revealing himself in various ways to all kinds of people most often without the use of Scripture.

    Moreover, as Scot implied, Scripture is a multi-facted tool we have which testifies about God a hundred million different ways–metaphorically, literally, poetically, sometimes within the story, and other times more in how the story effects the individual that hears it. Our job as believers is not to believe in the Bible, but to test and approve what is and really is not God (Romans 12:2)–and this includes learning to read and interact with the Scriptures well. Either they testify about something real or they don’t. And if our God is true, He is beyond mere definition and explanation within a text.

    And of course, the ancients in Judaism and Christianity provide lots and lots of precedent for seeing the Biblical language as possessing many layers of meaning which go much deeper than the words on the page. I confess that it wasn’t just the incredible depth and range of historical ‘orthodox’ belief that opened my eyes to the transcendant nature of God within all this stuff, but also the sheer number of historically ‘heretic’ believers and their incredible variety of beliefs worldwide which, when investigated, were also very serious attempts to get know the Lord their God. I saw the same objectively true God become expressed in a variety of contexts so that it became obvious that we humans require finite ways of learning about an infinite God.*

    I really appreciate Proverb 6:23, “For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light.”

    If Jesus is truth and light, the words of the Bible and definitions of doctrine are merely a lamp we have to hold that light. They aren’t the light itself.

    *The anthropological ‘Homo-Religiosus’ discussion is also very useful in illuminating that humans inherently seem to respond to something Divine. Moreover, even ‘Anti-Religious’ stances are religious views. They are meaningful responses to the burning question of God in every human’s heart. In the history of the whole world’s societies, the pursuit of God and religion has never been merely irrelevant.

  • T


    I like your ideas. I think another is to get folks outside of Western Christianity to some extent. Work with churches and missionaries that are in very different cultures.

    Get exposed to some radicals doing what they do, whether it’s folks in Mother Theresa’s mold or groups doing healing and evangelism with YWAM. Ask these teens or twenty-somethings how they think Jesus should be embodied today and why. Then encourage them to research those embodiments (past and present), pray, and hang with them.

    I think the biggest problem is that we give kids arguments and philosophies. We give them talk, and the kingdom of God is not a kingdom of talk but of power. They want to base their faith on the power of God instead of persuasive arguments, but the power is harder to come by.

  • DRT

    I want to posit one thing. Coming up with a game plan is to appease the powers that be. As far as the kids are concerned, telling them the message as we know it would be fine, imo

    In my short stint of evangelizing I have found recent converts to take to the message that I share quite easily.

  • Dan Arnold

    Picking up on RJS’ comments, the Evangelical churches I’ve been associated with (and I think this is broadly true of Evangelical churches in general) tend to discourage questions about core beliefs.

    My current thought is that churches are places to reinforce what you think you already believe. This is not all bad, but it presupposes that you (or the Pastor, at least) already has everything worked out. I would love to provide a safe place in the church for people to ask the hard questions that RJS mentions. Sadly, I can’t because even the conversation threatens the established orthodoxy of the church and its denomination.

    I have worked in higher-ed most of my adult life. What I am finding is that people in their 30’s and 40’s and beyond who abandoned their faith (typically in college) are frequently still open to talking about the faith they left behind if you are willing to listen and not be dogmatic. These are highly educated people who don’t need certainty, but do need more that pat answers. So for now, I listen and see if I can help people think a just bit differently about things. At the very least, it leads to some surprising and fulfilling conversations. The problem is that there are few, if any, churches I can point them to after our talks.

  • Larry Barber

    Among other things… biblicism, complementatrianism, calvinism, being the elect, saying Catholics aren’t Christians, thinking all you have to do is believe to be saved, thinking saved means being in heaven, prosperity comes from god, science ignorance, common descent ignorance, climate change ignorance, not seeing Jesus in other religions/peoples, building buildings for worshiping Jesus *instead of* helping people, and the list goes on.

    But DRT, I’m a Christian and attend a Christian church and I don’t believe any of those things. I don’t think your argument is with Christianity, but with fundamentalism.

    With regard to Behe, one, I think he is being used by the magazine because of who is father is. Nobody would care what he thought if his father was somebody else. Two, he displays a similar pattern to a lot of the new atheists of leaving the faith they were brought up in when they are in their teens or early twenties. Most of the new atheists that I have read just don’t have an adult view of faith and Christianity. We, the church, have to do a better job of teaching our young people, giving them a better understanding of the Bible, doctrine and church history. The problem is most adults in the church don’t have a very good grasp of those subject. It’s not surprising that when someone like the young Behe goes off to college and hears a coherent challenge to what he has been taught, often erroneously, that they lose their faith.

  • Jerry

    I am struggling in this area myself with my own son. What I came to understand is he is surrounded by messages that question faith/God/Jesus/Christianity (he attends a large State University). If you are fed a steady diet of negative images of faith, what will be the result. If you want a glimpse of their worldview, look up “All That’s Known” from the musical “Spring Awakening.”

  • rjs


    I have been in the secular academy – well known places – as a graduate student, post doctoral scholar, and professor in the sciences for 30 years now. It is #@$%&# hard – and it only gets harder as one moves higher in the structure beyond the undergraduate level.

    I can’t get my own (university town) church to understand or care, or to even listen to me from experience despite a great deal of study and agonizing over these issues – and as far as I can tell it is no better and it is often worse elsewhere.

  • DRT

    …one of the things I left off my list that I would be remiss to not mention, anti-intellectualism.

  • Robin


    Referring to your list below. I agree that it doesn’t seem like you have a problem with essential elements of Christianity, it is just that you don’t like some Christians. I can think of tons of orthodox Christians that you would get along swimmingly with, it is just that there are lots of us Christians who hold particular views that you feel like you need to “save” and “educate”.

    Why not just find some believers that share your views, fellowship with them, and not feel like you need to change the rest of us neanderthals? Do you really live in a party of the country without mainline congregations that would share your views?

    “Among other things… biblicism, complementatrianism, calvinism, being the elect, saying Catholics aren’t Christians, thinking all you have to do is believe to be saved, thinking saved means being in heaven, prosperity comes from god, science ignorance, common descent ignorance, climate change ignorance, not seeing Jesus in other religions/peoples, building buildings for worshiping Jesus *instead of* helping people, and the list goes on.”

  • DRT

    FWIW, one of the lessons I have learned from my kids is that if I believe something different than the most vocal Christians it does not matter. The brush paints with the most lunatic if the alternatives being considered are join or not-join.

  • DRT

    Robin, I live in rural Virginia. My neighbor across the street in a $550k house flies the rebel flag and is one of those instrumental in kicking me out of the most progressive church around. Half the people that go to church meetings carry fire arms, the kids of these families torment my intellectual children, the nice russian church being built up the road has been threatened every way to sunday, I was ostracized for thinking that Palin is not right and felt like my family may be in jeopardy when I said I voted for Obama, the locals are down right pissed that VA changed the holiday from Lee Jackson King day to Martin Luther King Day, my local representative told me face to face that I have no right getting my nose in local politics because I have only lived here 11 years…..

    Robin, it is alive and well here in ways both subtle and not so subtle.

    I am a minority here. I have an European ethnic name, I am educated and I speak single syllable words with one syllable. I talk to women like equals. For the first time in my life I am discriminated against, and not just passively but actively. It is institutionalized by the churches which feed the in-group behaviors that are anti-thetical to the teaching of Jesus and justified by excluding people such as myself because we are different.

    This is not fundamentalism, it is destructive in-group behavior supported by church teachings. Let me be clear. These are not fundamentalist churches. These are the non-fundamentalist churches. But even in those people are quite quick to fall back on how the outsider is outside the flock. The history and language goes very deep.

    When my kids said they are atheists it breaks my heart, but I really don’t have a counter argument to it. They tell me that the kids in school who hunt and chew tobacco and kick dogs and beat up girls are the ones who are first to say that they are Christians and are saved by the lord. We are talking schools with a couple thousand kids. Lots of kids. My kids want nothing to do with these people and I would rather they declare they are atheists than try and fit in with them.

    So, my argument is not with fundamentalists. Yes, it is easy for us to sit here on this blog and compartmentalize the christians out there and say who we are with and who we are not. But that is not the reality of my community. And my community covers 200 or 300 square miles and lots of people. My community feels it is a shame that we allowed that stupid emancipation thing to rule us feel as long as they are worshiping the god of their ego they are saved from the fire of ECT.

    Whew. Thanks for letting me vent.

  • Robin

    I grew up Catholic in rural western Kentucky, and can empathize with your children. I went down that same path until I was about 20. However, the instrument(s) of my conversion were (1) seeing genuine believers in college that didn’t fit the religious types you bring up and (2) coming to believe that I was a sinner who needed a savior.

    Honestly, God just opened my eyes and changed me from being an agnostic/Catholic/Buddhist, to believing that his word could be trusted and I needed to respond.

    So yes, the baggage in your surroundings is negatively affecting your children’s perception of religion, but if they are anything like I was the things keeping them away are mainly thinking either (1) God doesn’t matter or (2) if he does I’m probably A-OK, after all look at all of the stupid Christian hypocrites around me.

    Being an intellectual kid in a rural place brings a lot of pride and superiority along with it.

    As I remember I’ll pray for your kids. Why don’t you leave the area? Lastly, if you don’t mind me asking what city is near you in Virginia? I have been in some really rural parts of KY, but I still don’t think it has been quite as bad as you described, I’m interested in the area that is still like that.

  • DRT

    …and lastly (ha, if you can believe that), I believe that Jesus wants us to make disciples, followers of him. What better place to teach his message than here among all these…..

  • RobS

    To me, a lot of these things seem minor and petty. I don’t want to discourage the flow of ideas or having an opinion, but to what extent does it unify the body vs. divide it?

    Case in point, a bunch of Catholics aren’t Christians. And a bunch people in other churches on any given Sunday aren’t Christians either. But some (in both cases) are.

    Climate change ignorance doesn’t define my relationship with Christ. I try to be a good steward of the gifts of God, and that includes my physical environment. But it also doesn’t mean I go to the extreme and try to deceive to obtain government money to continue my research either.

    However, Jesus didn’t die for climate change, so I’m going to have my opinions but not let it divide the bride of Christ.

    … but no worries, I’ll keep recycling in the meanwhile… 🙂

  • DRT

    I am only a few miles from the epicenter of the east coast earth quake. Frankly it took me several years to really get to the true feelings of the locals, since the southern way is to say everything nice to your face and then talk behind your back. By the way, that is something that took me a long time to understand. I am from the north. There, I will tell you things to your face that i will never say to anyone else, it just is not right to do otherwise. But here, when I tell people something to their face in private, they assume that I am doing 10 times worse behind their back since that is the southern way. This results in a retaliation totally disproportionate to what was actually done. Tough culture, to talk behind your back and assume that is the way it is supposed to be done.

    Robin, my bet is that you, as a native, would never have fell into that trap, right? You would have not said the bad thing to their face because that is rude, right? Not where I come from. It is a matter of respect that you tell the person to their face what you think, not to anyone else. I consider things like that to be against the teaching of Jesus. That is part of what I want to bring to light.

  • Brian

    I was just listening to the most resent “Unbelievable” in which Bart Ehrman discussed his turn from Christian to atheistic agnostic. I find it interesting how rare it seems that once people reject Christianity, they seem to favor atheism as opposed to some other religion. It seems to communicate the idea that if Christianity is not true, then there must be no god.

  • DRT

    RobS, would your view change if your church said that their policy was that you can have any view of climate change you want, but they teach it is true in bible study, to the kids on Sunday, and everyone jokes about those non-believers of climate change whenever you get more than 2 together?

  • DRT

    FWIW, Dad keeps telling me that I should just move. He has other friends that tried to make it in the south and they just could not do it.

  • DRT

    Why doesn’t this silly “you are posting too many comments” thing work anyway 🙂

  • Robin


    Regarding hospitality and civility. I grew up Catholic in a county that was 97% baptist and methodist, so while I was thoroughly native, I was also somewhat of an outsider. I’m really not sure how I would talk to their face/behind their back.

    I think I took the advice of thumper’s mom (If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all) to heart early on. So I’ll have fierce debates, but I definitely don’t say things behind people’s back, and if I’m tempted to say unkind things to people’s faces, I generally shut my mouth in those situations as well. I think that is common to my geographical area.

  • DRT

    Robin, the thumper advice is sound on some levels, and as a child that would work. The kids are not taught to talk behind people’s back by any stretch, that is something that the grown ups have learned to do. That way they can maintain the sweet southern charm up front….remember, that is the most important thing.

    It took me a few years to get trusted enough in the community to see what is really going on though if I had been more perceptive I would have known sooner. I was head teller, an occasional preacher in the church, head of the finance committee, hosted the website, a trustee of the church. But, as i came to find out, was still an outsider.

    I have gone on about this far too much. I am not bitter about this anymore (right?), but am trying to incorporate it into my understanding of the body of Christ and the dynamics of people.

    My point is that a lot of people (and I know more than some by personal experience), succumb to ridiculous theology and in-group behavior in the name of Christianity while, in fact, the behaviors and theology they are espousing are not in keeping with the teachings of Jesus. These behaviors are controlling type of behaviors that jeopardize the future of Christianity.

    Why don’t I move? Sigh….

  • Jules

    He’ll be back methinks. So young. Dawkins’ God Delusion book is so new. Give him some time.

  • DRT @ 41 – Wow. Thank you for telling your story. Eye-opening. Thank you for fighting the good fight.

  • DRT…golly. I hear your concerns for the name of Christ, your family & for the church & community. (That seems like such a pallid statement compared to your story and the emotions that you & your family feel.)

    We have a 20 and 21 year old. Our daughter is in church at college and while our son stays connected to us & our faith, he hasn’t connected to a local church. That’s kind of his personality to need a push outward. 🙂

    We didn’t focus on apologetics & defense of Scripture, but we did pull him out of a Lutheran school in 9th grade that began to teach intelligent design & creationism. He went to a private G&T school for a semester & had college biology. Blew him away & he loved it.

    What we focused on was always asking questions, always seeking truth, and always linking life & relationships & personal struggles to the stories and teaching we see in Scripture. We read & talked about Scripture together, but more in dinner table conversations than in any organized “family Bible study”. I talked about seminary classes – including mine w/ a prof, Brad K. (#5’s name above reminded me of his philosophy & theology focus that both my kids absorbed by HS years.) If anything, we probably gave them the opposite message of “certainty” in anything except the fact that we believe that we walk the journey of life with Christ when we love God, one another & neighbors.

    Furthermore, we need the power of God with us to do this, and the companionship of believers beside us to have the courage to carry on. Our kids were aware of and we didn’t hide some really difficult family issues we had to deal with together. They experienced betrayals with us as family & as individuals, and they watched us wrestle with how to handle all of those normal (& some unusual) life situations “in Christ”. When (not if) we messed up, we had a family policy of spoken, specific confession and forgiveness.

    We made no excuses when the kids became aware, in the evangelical churches we attended, and in their Lutheran middle school, that we held to far higher standard of love & integrity in Christ than repeating the words of a creed. When they were in secular elementary & high schools, we talked frankly about peer interactions, athletics, vicious competition, studying, cheating, drugs, alcohol, sexual activity, gender issues, etc. Our kids never fit in, and we never tried to encourage them to do so. We encouraged them in honoring others & practicing reconciliation where possible. They stood up to bullies. In fact, we spoke more of the outsider language of Christianity in the NT, and how to lessen tension/conflict.

    They saw us do the same in our personal and professional lives. They and we have all paid the price for standing in Christ. This road isn’t easy and it’s not pain-free. I believe, ultimately, that our kids do perceive the integrity of our lives, how we honor & love God and others, or not. That answer of Love persuades me more than any intellectual argument – and I’ve heard many too many of those. Grace & peace to you & yours, DRT. May you have the courage to walk faithfully where God has placed you, and to discern when/whether to go out or to come in. (Ps. 121)

  • DRT

    Thanks Ann F-R, and Mark

    One difference I do note is that I do not have a spouse who joins me in my pursuit. She could not get over her cynicism.

  • Glenn

    I don’t know if one can pinpoint a specific view that is responsible for faith to unravel. For every argument against design, we have Anthony Flew who cites design as the reason why he can no longer be an athiest. For every argument against Paley, we have Dallas Willard who thinks Paley made a valid argument.

  • TSG

    DRT- I would like to thank you for sharing your story. My wife and I have not been attending any one church for a couple of years. Jesus Creed actually gives me an intellectual guilt trip. I really believe a community called atonement is true. And yet living rurally we have to drive quite a distance, and still find fellowships to be the most segregated hour of the week, in the sense of no diversity or richness of culture. Just yesterday, I commented on Roger Olson’s blog that I really believe that Kierkegaard’s position was to the crisis of Christianity in western civilization. Various kinds of theology, both conservative and liberal, are handmaidens in the cultural captivity of the faith. Do we even realize how much the Baal culture of Canaan is reproduced in the American church culture? Last week we visited a church that seems to be dead or maybe dying. I really think I’m going back to it. There are season’s in our lives. I really pray that your previous church was such, and that you and your wife can find another.

  • Jeff

    The comment on “Biblicism” as a source of unbelief is a great point (#9). Bad arguments, trumped up belief-systems, that all can be undermined by reasonable thinking does lead to a lack of faith. It is a travesty that Christians bury their heads in the sand to the evidence that is out there (or only listen to a small coterie of quacks who constantly change their arguments to support some trumped up view of the Bible that the texts themselves do not espouse!).

    The problem here, however, is that these are ostensibly straw men (along with all the problems that DRT complains about – those are all legitimate problems – but they are simply problems relating to fallible, sinful people living today). Shall we reject scientific conclusions b/c of a bad acting scientist? Back to Biblicism. It (and many modern views of Christianity) is simply not what the the Scriptures are actually saying. So, too, those who reject God when they find out young-earth creationism is false. That’s not from Scripture either. The young Behe finds the problems with “Christian beliefs” but those are not problems that should undermine one’s belief. Tim Keller’s book Reason for God addresses these problems quite well.

    Further, I wonder if Leo has read through N.T. Wright’s solid historical foundational work on Christian Origins? There is no biblicism. But there is good reason for faith in the resurrection and in God – without chucking one’s rationality. Rather than “creating unbelief” (unless one bases one’s faith on Biblicist views or on what modern Christians say the Bible says), seeing such problems should not rationally lead to unbelief; but it should lead to seek to change ourselves and others and continue to seek out what the Scriptures say.

    The fundamental issue of faith, if there is one, is whether the resurrection is historical. If it didn’t happen, chuck it all. If it did, well, then, it changes everything.

  • Kenneth McIntosh

    Back to Scot at #20:
    –I teach religion at a secular college and present to students that there are a variety of legitimate Christian perspectives on the nature of the Bible, the origins of life, and other issues.
    –I present biographies (Saint Patrick, Michael Judge, Father Damien) of Christians who lived in amazing, sacrificial ways (this has more positive effect than anything else)
    –I show the Test of Faith film series (with Collins, Polkinghorne, etc) and discuss the nexus of faith and science
    –I’m planning a series at my local church using the above film resource and inviting the larger public
    –I recently gave a public seminar on the history/transmission/canonization of the Bible texts which covered these issues in an objective and nuanced way
    –I’m getting involved with a debate group on my campus, hoping to present a “third view” between Foundationalism and Atheism.
    …that said, trying to present a “third view” of Christian faith is often a lonely and thankless cause.

  • Paul Johnston

    A well educated 20 year old turns iconoclast? Well I’ll be!!. Somebody once said the first draught from the cup of reason inspires atheism. At the bottom of the cup one finds God. I agree with those who say to check back in 15 years.

    Wait for a wife, chldren, communitiy and commitment. How different our adult relationships are from what we envisaged in our youth. Wait for the adult relationship you will have with elderly parents when you are middle aged. Wait for love and love lost. Wait for the dead. What cold comfort Hitchens, Dawkins and in my day Russell are to the suffering and afflicted. Wait for the reality of your less than perfect self in a less than perfect world.

    I must say my eyebrow did arch at Mr. Behe’s reason for abandoning his faith. The Catholic faith has long since reconciled scripture with it’s traditions. Unlike so many of it’s evangelical counterparts ongoing analysis and exegesis plays a much less important day to day role in the life of the average Catholic.

    The essence of Cathoic belief is the Eucharist. It is source and summit of all that we hold to be true. Experience Jesus in the Eucharist and you will remain Catholic first, last and always. You have no other choice. All rational argumentation is simply trumped and transcended. All you need say is yes your arguments are attractive but I meet Jesus in the Eucharist.

    Sorry, Mr. Behe, I’m not buying what you are selling. Catholic faithlessness is primed by a loss of faith in communities, in traditions, in parents and institutions. Young well educated Catholics are intoxicated by the compelling arguements of philoshophy and science, sacramental experience by contrast seems primitive and irrational.

    Catholics leave the faith because they have never knowingly experienced the supernatural presence of Christ through their traditions. Conversely Catholics such as myself and millions and millions of others who have these expeiences can never leave. Argumentation and historical contradictions become mostly irrelavent.

    Strong charges indeed I suppose but I don’t think Mr. Behe is being quite honest here. A 20 year old who fudges with the truth, mostly because his understandings are incomplete, well I’ll be!!

  • Well said, Paul The Catholic content and age comment kind of hit it for me. It is striking though, given Behe’s signal importance to the ID movement. Quite a story. Thanks Scot for catching it!!

  • Robert A

    It’s never pleasing to see one’s child brought put in to in an attempt to question their work. Kids are their own people and I’ve seen people who are devout Christian raise children who became atheists and vice versa.

    I’ll be curious to see how this young man’s journey turns out. Thankfully our lives take longer to work out than the latest run of a magazine.

  • Tim

    Saint Monica prayed for her son, Augustine and never gave up. I am trying to be like her

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    Thank you, Scot, for posting this and also for your thoughts at #20 and #23. I am sure rjs can sympathize with my position: My son is a Ph.D candidate in physics and is repulsed by the widespread intellectual dishonesty of Christians dealing with science.

    I have some ideas as to why Dawkins’s book is so convincing. First, Scot is correct–the book is persuasive because it is often the first time that Christians encounter a rational discussion of Scripture in the same manner and tone that I would discuss the Bhagavad Ghita. The book actually is not an anti-Christian diatribe at all. It is a rational and pleasant, sometimes even humorous, book to read. It frequently cites Scripture–accurately!

    Here’s the other thing it does–Dawkins interprets Scripture literally, just as literally as any Christian literalist. His interpretation will be familiar to anybody raised up in a literalsit tradition. When you read literally, it’s very easy to show inherent contradictions in Scripture and some very bad passages—divine genocide, for example.

    If you have not already reached the conclusion that the Bible has apparent and unexplainable contradictions and disturbing passages that are apparently irreconcilable with a loving God, then Dawkins’ book will be very persuasive, because he documents those passages very succinctly.

    I don’t have any quick answers. I do remember attempting to stump my grade school nun, who only cheerfully replied “It’s a mystery!” to mwhat I thought were devious questions. Then, I thought her answer was a bit of a cop-out. Now, I’m thinking she might have been wiser than I credited her for because she easily recognized that some things are indeed a mystery.

  • Shelley Daez

    I completely agree with what you’ve said, Paul. Parents need to help their children form a personal relationship with Christ at an early age first and foremost — and they need to help them nurture that relationship as they grow — before catechizing them intellectually in the Faith. In matters of faith, intellectual formation should be secondary to spiritual formation. Faith is caught, not taught. As Pope Paul VI said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

  • Alesja

    Reading this article, I felt sorry again for the Christians, who have been taught to fully rely on the infallibility of the 66 canonical books from the 4th century A.D.
    Whenever the main emphasis is put on the Book and not on God, the consequences of the post modernism are destroying. Because the Bible was never meant to be the Word of God, the only Word of God that I know studying Scriptures and exegesis, is Jesus Christ. And one doesn’t need to pretend to be blind not to admit that the Bible is incomplete.
    But that is why Jesus taught about the Spirit that will come and will lead us in all truth.

  • Re: I find it interesting how rare it seems that once people reject Christianity, they seem to favor atheism as opposed to some other religion.

    The thing that surprises me, specifically, is how so many Roman Catholics, once they lose their faith in that church (often because of the sex abuse scandals) turn to agnosticism (or more often, to apathy) instead of to Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, or Lutheranism. Surely losing faith in one set of church authorities shouldn’t mean losing faith in all of them. But too often, that’s what seems to happen.

    Regarding Arguments from Design, I think they’re terrible, they have a lot of problems, and Christians should stay away from them. The strongest arguments to my mind…well, I find the ontological proof somewhat compelling, but in general I prefer the experiential arguments, and the argument from miracles, to the philosophical ones.

    Re: Reading this article, I felt sorry again for the Christians, who have been taught to fully rely on the infallibility of the 66 canonical books from the 4th century A.D.

    I’d recognize more books than 66 in the canon, but you’re unquestionably right. The centerpiece of our faith is Christ, not a set of books. Christianity existed before the Bible was written, after all.

  • Amos Paul


    Whether or not you like ‘philosophical’ arguments is not a good indicator of how good they are… I know more than one philosophy professor that has been convinced that theism actually makes sense because of some of those arguments. That’s a real step.

  • RobS

    Hey DRT (#47),

    (As we all know) I’m not smart enough to know if climate change is real or not… but if my church made it a policy issue of some kind and thought they should build doctrine around it, I would have to question that policy and doctrine.

    Reason being, I haven’t seen anywhere in the Bible that says if the climate of the earth is changing right now.

    I see “solutions” of some radical climate change environmentalists as being dishonest (data manipulation and bad science) and even hostile toward humans being allowed to inhabit the earth. But I also see the “care free” crowd taking little to no responsibility to care for God’s gifts. Certainly both sides don’t seem to appear to align with the person I think God wants me to be, so I reject both extremes.

    All that said, I’m not sure even a moderate thought such as that would go over well. Things are different even just up here in Manassas, VA where I am vs. the most rural areas. I’m not saying “without fault” but I do see glimmers of reconciliation, unity, and hope in society from time to time.

    Mate, let me know if you ever roll up “north” and we’ll do coffee.