home
RSS
Church without God - by design
Members of an atheist congregation at Harvard listen to music during a recent gathering.
June 22nd, 2013
11:25 AM ET

Church without God - by design

By Dan Merica, CNN

Boston (CNN)-– It’s Sunday in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a rapt congregation listens to a chaplain preach about the importance of building a community.

A few dozen people sit quietly for the hourlong service. Music is played, announcements are made and scholars wax poetic about the importance of compassion and community.

Outsiders could be forgiven for believing this service, with its homilies, its passing of the plate, its uplifting songs, belongs in a church.

If so, it’s a church without one big player: God.

Sunday’s congregation in Cambridge is a meeting of the Humanist Community at Harvard University and the brainchild of Greg Epstein, the school’s Humanist chaplain.

A longtime advocate for community building, Epstein and his group of atheists have begun to build their Cambridge community and solemnize its Sunday meetings to resemble a traditional religious service.

To Epstein, religion is not all bad, and there is no reason to reject its helpful aspects.

“My point to my fellow atheists is, why do we need to paint things with such a broad brush? We can learn from the positive while learning how to get rid of the negative," he said.

Godless congregations

For Epstein, who started community-building at Harvard nearly 10 years ago, the idea of a godless congregation is not an oxymoron.

“We decided recently that we want to use the word congregation more and more often because that is a word that strongly evokes a certain kind of community - a really close knit, strong community that can make strong change happen in the world,” he said.

“It doesn’t require and it doesn't even imply a specific set of beliefs about anything.”

Epstein is not alone in his endeavor. Jerry DeWitt, who became an atheist and left his job as an evangelical minister, is using his pastoral experience to building an atheist church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

This Sunday, DeWitt's congregation will hold its first meeting as a "Community Mission Chapel."

"When you become a part of this congregation, this community, you are going to become part of a family," DeWitt told CNN. "There is an infrastructure there for you to land in. There is going to be someone there to do weddings and to do, unfortunately, the funerals."

READ MORE: Unbelieving preachers get help to 'come out' as open atheists

Sunday school for atheists

As members of the Cambridge congregation file into a wood-paneled classroom at Harvard, singer Shelley Segal greets them with a few songs from her latest recording, called simply, “An Atheist Album.”

Taking a hint from the theme of the event, Segal strums on her guitar and belts her song, “Gratitude.”

“I don't believe in a great power to say thank you to,” Segal sings. “But that won’t take away from my gratitude.”

Harvard's humanist chaplain Greg Epstein leads an atheist gathering.

After the music, Epstein offers a few words of greeting before the meeting gets to its heart: a discussion about compassion.

A four academics and a journalist discuss the effects of religion on raising children and their ideas about compassion. Congregants listen intently, some even taking notes.

Each service has a message – compassion, evolution or acceptance - after which congregants engage in a lengthy discussion.

Before the main event, kids are invited to what some parents refer to as “Sunday school,” where Tony Debono, a biologist Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teaches the youngsters about evolution, DNA and cells.

There's little talk about organized religion, positive or negative.

Likewise, down in Louisiana, said his atheist services will not be anti-religion.

"What we are looking at doing is different," DeWitt said. "If you are a religionist and you come and sit in our pew, the only way you can leave offended is because of what you don’t hear and what you don’t see. We won’t be there to make a stance against religion or against God."

Coming out of the closet

In the last few years, the number of “nones” – those who don’t associate with any organized religion – has grown at a rate faster than any other group. Nones now represent one in five Americans, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll.

Although the number of atheists has grown, too, there are still a large number of “nones” that choose not to associate with the label “atheist.”

Some at Harvard’s Humanist congregation fall into this category.

“I don’t particularly have a religion,” said Anil Nyer, a neurologist who brought his daughter to Humanist Sunday school. But Nyer also said he didn’t want to label himself as an atheist.

One reason to shy away from the atheist label: Many Americans hold a negative impression of nonbelievers.

According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll, nearly 40 percent of Americans believe that atheists are changing American culture for the worse.

“Whenever we put atheists on a list like this and we compare them to other groups, atheists tend to come in towards the bottom of that list,” said Robert P. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.

“Americans tend to hold a lot of reservations about atheists.”

Epstein hopes his congregation can change that.

By formalizing meetings and building a strong community, the Harvard group hopes it can be a model for other atheist congregations forming around the country.

A group meets during an atheist gathering in Boston.

More atheists may come of the closet if they know a congregation will be there to support them, Epstein said,

“Being an atheist is something we want people to come out and be,” said the Humanist chaplain. “There are so many people, probably millions, who are humanists or atheists or nonreligious in private and nobody knows."

Epstein said he gets e-mails daily from people founding atheist meet-up groups.

“Tulsa, Oklahoma; North Carolina; London; Vancouver, Canada; Houston, Texas,” Epstein said, listing the sources of the most recent e-mails.

“One part of what we are saying is come on out and let your neighbors know” about your disbelief, he said. “It is not going to make you worse of a person, it is going to make you a better person to be more open about who you are.”

Rituals for the irreligious

For the last few years, the Humanist Community at Harvard has operated out of a small three-floor walk-up off the bustling streets of Harvard Square. The walls are littered with posters about atheism – tributes to famed atheists Eddie Izzard, Seth MacFarlane and Stephen Fry.

Because of the scattered furniture and the Harvard dorm feel, Epstein jokingly describes the space as “college broke chic.” That’s being generous – but it's also about to change.

Starting in the fall, the Humanist Community at Harvard will begin meeting in a nearly 3,000-square-foot community center with an event space for nearly 100 people.

Although the plan is to use the space at the group’s headquarters, it will also serve as a broader community center for the group that Epstein and others are trying to build in the Boston area.

“What we really would like to see is a community center where people can come by at anytime and to use it as a space to study or have a meeting for various committee,” said Chris Stedman, the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard.

Stedman said he sees the new building as a place for people to gather, not only to become part of a humanist community, but to also become more engaged with the world.

When he talks about his plans for the future, Epstein appears to long for a time when the new community center could mimic aspects of church - a place for baby-naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals.

The success of an atheist church will depend on walking the thin line between too much and too little ritual, Epstein said.

Humanists boast a proud freethinking streak, and some at the Harvard event said they don’t want to be associated with any sort of dogma or belief system - or even a system based on disbelief.

Anyway, Esptein said his congregation will be less a group of people united by beliefs - or disbelief - and more like an opera, or a painting.

“Our community is like a work of art," he said. "Hopefully people will respond to that work of art and it will garner controversy and discussion like a work of art."

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Church • Houses of worship • United States

soundoff (6,897 Responses)
  1. My Dog is a jealous Dog

    "According to a recent Public Religion Research Inst itute poll, nearly 40 percent of Americans believe that atheists are changing American culture for the worse."

    I look at the traffic today and this quote and all I can say is WOW! I can't even pretend to accept the hypocrisy of the Christians on this board today – it must be Sunday. I can't tell you how offensive it is to be threatened by my fellow Americans. You just refuse to understand the First Amendment – don't you dare call yourselves patriots!

    June 23, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • ATHEISM = RELIGION

      Atheists don't need to attend church an Sunday to be hypocrites, they do a fine job at being hypocrites 24/7.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • My Dog is a jealous Dog

      You are an ignorant troll and have nothing to contribute – so I support your right to speak your mind, but I choose to ignore your bigotry. I have many religious friends and family that I respect, but most of the religious posters today are showing a lot of hate.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:09 am |
  2. ATHEISM = RELIGION

    I don't think most atheists are really non-believers at all. I think they're just angry, aggressive people who enjoy attacking others, and atheism gives them a great excuse. It's just a trolling gimmick for most of them.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • Observer

      ATHEISM,

      It's the believers who are angry and attacking the rights of gays and pro-choice advocates. Wake up!

      June 23, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • ATHEISM = RELIGION

      Observer – Stop being so ignorant and blind. There are plenty of atheists who attack against gays and pro-choice advocates. Wake up11

      June 23, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I can understand your feelings. I felt that way when I was a believer. However, years after dropping my faith, I now feel very strongly that most believers are the ones who really don't believe in their religion and their god. I think that their actions would be much, much different if they truly believed what they claim to believe. Atheist's behave exactly as you would expect a nonbeliever to behave.

      So, you have it backwards.

      Oh, and as to your claim that atheism is a religion: please explain how this could possibly be. Atheism is a religion like "off" is a tv channel.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • Danny

      Well, good thing it's only your opinion and not factual.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • Mystery Moves

      To the christian named "ATHEISM = RELIGION" I suggest you look at your reflection because you are sinner.. What makes you so angry inside, so self righteous, what could possibly be so bothersome this morning to cause you to interject your personal negative view on this subject given how you are so truly blessed and satisfied with your religion? Please don't say anything – just think about your anger management issue and your need to post rude and disrespectful comments. Did the post make you happier?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  3. RichardSRussell

    Respectfully disagreeing, I find that Sunday morning is a time to reinforce the deep, meaningful, intimate relationship I have formed with my pillow.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • a reasonable atheist

      If you live in Utah, it is also a great time to go to Target.

      June 24, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  4. Colin

    Dear Christians:

    God here.

    If doctrinal accuracy is the measure we use, this atheist church is the closest to the "Truth" than any Christina church. This is because I, in fact, do not exist. Is not the concept of a 13,700,00,000 year old being (age of the Universe) capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the actions and thoughts of the 7 billion human beings on this planet utterly ludicrous?

    Look, if I did exist, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Greco-Roman Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors or how and why it was compiled with certain writings included and others excluded, nor how it has been edited over the centuries, yet you cite it for the most extraordinary of supernatural claims.

    Thirdly, when I sent my “son” (whatever that means, given that I am god and do not mate) to Earth, he would have visited the Chinese, Ja.panese, Europeans, Russians, sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, Mongolians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Indonesians and native Americans, not just a few Jews. He would also have exhibited a knowledge of something outside of the Greco-Roman Middle East.

    Fourthly, I would not spend my time hiding, refusing to give any tangible evidence of my existence, and then punish those who are smart enough to draw the natural conclusion that I do not exist by burning them forever. That would make no sense to me, given that I am the one who elected to withhold all evidence of my existence in the first place.

    Fifthly, in the same vein, I would not make about 5% of the human population gay, then punish them for being that way. In fact, I wouldn’t care about how humans have $ex at all, given that I created all of the millions of millions of species on the planet, all of whom are furiously reproducing all the time. Human $ex would be of no interest to me, given that I can create Universes. Has it ever occurred to you that your obsession with making rules around human $ex is an entirely human affair?

    Sixth, I would have smitten all you Christian activists, and all evangelicals and fundamentalists long before this. You people drive me nuts. You are so small minded and speak with such false authority. Many of you still believe in the talking snake nonsense from Genesis. I would kill all of you for that alone and burn you for an afternoon (burning forever is way too barbaric even for a sick, sadistic bast.ard like me to contemplate).

    Seventh, the whole idea of members of one species on one planet surviving their own physical deaths to “be with me” is utter, mind-numbing nonsense. Grow up. You will die. Get over it. I did. Hell, at least you had a life. I never even existed in the first place.

    Eighth, I do not read your minds, or “hear your prayers” as you euphemistically call it. There are 7 billion of you. Even if only 10% prayed once a day, that is 700,000,000 prayers. This works out at 8,000 prayers a second – every second of every day. Meanwhile I have to process the 100,000 of you who die every day between heaven and hell. Dwell on the sheer absurdity of that for a moment.

    Finally, the only reason you even consider believing in me is because of where you were born. Had you been born in India, you would likely believe in the Hindu gods, if born in Tibet, you would be a Buddhist. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no god. Believing in me was fine when you cringed in fear during the Dark Ages and thought the World was young, flat and simple. Now we know how enormous, old and complex the Universe is.

    Move on – get over me. I did.

    God

    June 23, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • BK

      For moving on, you sure spent a lot of time explaining yourself.

      June 23, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • Camus

      Oh boy, where would we be without Colin's mind reducing, unintelligent copy/pasting?
      It's always good for a laugh to see how a finite, ignorant little speck like Colin will try to say what an infinite, all knowing being would think or say.

      June 24, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Camus, As opposed to how finite, ignorant little specks like believers say what an infinite, all knowing being would think or say. You know about the bible, marriage, laws, education, etc.
      If you had proof of a god then all of humankind would be together in believing in that god, and presumably that god would communicate what it wants and we'd all act accordingly. So your guess is no better than ours and at least a lack of faith is based on lack of evidence.

      June 24, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  5. Jack Ketch

    Just think of us Atheists as missionaries spreading the good news of reality to the primitives.

    Like the old Atheist saying goes... Love the believer, Hate the belief.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  6. ATHEISM = RELIGION

    Hey there are Atheist churches including the largest in California, they take donations, AND they filed for tax exempt status for religious preference. So yeah. Bet you think Richard Dawkins is 100% correct?

    OH wait, his ideas are being destroyed by another atheist who has proven that group selection is much more important, yet Dawkins wants to be famous more than right... so even Atheists think he's a joke.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • I Am God

      Actually most Atheists think of you as a joke and are laughing their heads off at your stupidity.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Zon

      Sounds like someone is intimidated and insecure. It's OK, let go of all those fairy tales. You'll feel better when you do.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      After you're done wearing out this screen name, you can move on to other lies, like
         COMMUNISTS = CAPITALISTS
      or
         PETA = CARNIVORES
      or
         RED CROSS = CANNIBALS

      June 23, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • James

      Difference is that atheists don't blindly believe in a single god who made everything. Dawkins is largely correct – if he is wrong over some details so what, he is only human (pun intended). The details can be corrected following rigorous experiment and observation OR we could all just believe in the cloud fairy for frightened adults...

      June 23, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  7. Jack Ketch

    I know who I am!
    I am Man. I am the direct result of 3 Billion years of Evolution by means of Natural Selection.
    I am related to every living organism on planet Earth.
    I look at a majestic Oak, a beautiful Rose, a fearsome Shark, I see myself, just in a different form.
    Every organism on Earth came from a common ancestor! We are all connected!

    Why would I need a God when the actual TRUTH of existence is absolutely astounding!

    June 23, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Andy

      How about your soul ? Where did it came from ?It just appeared thanks to chemical reactions ?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • The real Tom

      Got any evidence that a "soul" exists at all? No, you don't.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Tom, you worked hard at being soulless. but you do have one.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • The real Tom

      Ever seen anyone's soul, HS? No, you haven't. You have no evidence there is any such thing. If there were, yours would be filthy.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  8. Bob Eidson

    This is really the type of religion we have today without really coming forth and saying so! The Bible says they speak of me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. Many do not believe in God and are mocking him by attending church and pretending that they do. The Bible says God will not be mocked. You can expect judgement to follow!!

    June 23, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  9. ATHEISM = RELIGION

    Many atheists claim that there are thousands of "gods". If you believe in all of these 30,000 "gods", what's the problem? Who is taking your rights away from believing in them? You can still keep adding more gods within the next 30 seconds if you want, and yet, no one will care. If that makes you happy, so be it. So, stop selfish towards those who believe in God, Jehovah. Atheists sound like a 5 years old who has tons of toys to play with, but can't stand to see other children have one toy to play with. Live and let live and grow up for your sake.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • I Am God

      You are obviously. Remember the crusades and the inquisition? Guess you don't.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • oOo

      You're the one who needs to grow up and recognize why we live in a society with protections to prevent any religion from taking over the government.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  10. Caspar Mulders

    Christian: the Bible is true because it's the Word of God.
    Agnostic: how do you know?
    Christian: because it says so right here, in the Bible.

    Atheist: everything that's written in the Bible is a lie.
    Agnostic: how do you know?
    Atheist: it's in the Bible, so it's got to be a lie.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • G to the T

      Christian – everything in the bible is the literal word of god.

      Scholar – the bible is a collection of stories spanning many centuries that has been gathered together, voted on, edited, redacted and finally translated. While there may be some facutal items included (names of places/people for example) there is no proof to the claim that it is a consistent whole breathed by god.

      June 25, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  11. ATHEISM = RELIGION

    People like ATHEISTS have kicked God out from public schools and you expect for God to intervene ONLY when chaos takes place??? When you decide to bring God back to these schools, then we can start asking questions about why God didn't intervene, until then, you UNBELIEVERS are stuck with reaping what you've sow and be blamed for putting your curse upon the children of this generation.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • The real Tom

      More lies? Nobody has "kicked god out of" anything, you silly putz.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • I Am God

      Get a clue. God doesn't exist. If God did then he would be an obvious dictator, which the United States disagree with.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Observer

      ATHEISM,

      If the loss of a 10-second long prayer in school makes the difference in a Christian's life, your religious training is a failure and you need to spend more time at home praying.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • oOo

      Your God is such a wimp that he shrinks away just because school children of different backgrounds are charged with a full day of studies in a secular environment?

      June 23, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Adela

      Nobody says you can't pray in school. The point is not to have it forced on all school children despite their own beliefs or parental wishes.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • liferiot

      No, the founding fathers did that. It's called separation of church and state.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • Danny

      Kind of like how god didn't intervene in the Amish school shooting?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • DE

      The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data – a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends. There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms.

      June 23, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  12. Jack Ketch

    To all American Fundamentalist Christians.

    The Congress of the United States have recently voted to extend Medicare coverage for all Fundamentalist citizens of the U.S.
    At no cost to you, all Hospitals within the United States will now provide FREE electric-shock therapy and FREE doses of Thorazine.
    Please register with your local government department and indicate that you are requesting the Fundamentalist Cure.

    Act now before it's too late.
    Free steak knives for the first million cured.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  13. mary

    Other churches pretend that god exists and collect money for "him".

    June 23, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • Zon

      Yup. Apparently God has a cash-flow problem. And according to some is a Registered Republican.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  14. Zon

    Based on these comments, the religious look to be very threatened by the Atheists, still. Why is that? Why would they care if their neighbor of coworker does not subscribe to faith? I think it's fear. They're afraid because the atheist understands the universe in terms supported by repeatable evidence, and they rely on fairy tales to explain the world around them. They're intimidated because every aspect of their lives requires actions based on hard evidence except what they go to Sunday School for. They are afraid because, contrary to its claims of peace, their religion has only served to make them ignorant of the world around them. It has served up nothing but darkness and false hope at the expense of a total life commitment.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  15. ATHEISM = RELIGION

    Since prayer was taken out of the schools in 1963, violent crime has increased 544%. So why would anyone complaining why GOD wasn't there when God has been kicked out from public schools and places? Stop your ignorance and complaining. IF you want God to protect this nation, RETURN back to God.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • oOo

      Misleading statistics. Try harder.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • I Am God

      What an utter false statement. Get a clue.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Zon

      No true. Violent crime has been declining steadily for the last 20 years. At the same time atheism has been growing. A correlation?

      June 23, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Observer

      ATHEISM,

      Violent crime is actually declining in the U.S. Maybe it's because gay marriage was passed?

      June 23, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • Danny

      Race relations and gender equality have also improved since prayer was removed from public schools. See how this works?

      June 23, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • DE

      The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data – a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends. There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms.

      June 23, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  16. realoldguy

    Even atheists can't resist putting on a feeble little show about their religion.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • mary

      Even realoldguy likes to pretend that he matters.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  17. ATHEISM = RELIGION

    Evolution stands exposed as a myth; a fanciful theory where so-called "fact" is built upon assumption; where theory replaces data; where guesswork replaces logic; where anti-supernaturalistic bias reigns supreme. Evolution is built on the house of cards called "The Geologic Succession Of Strata," which ASSUMES that the "oldest rocks" containing the "simplest forms of fossil life" are ALWAYS beneath "younger" rocks, which supposedly proves that life "evolved" from "simple" to complex; that men came from amoeba. Here, you will discover the astonishing truth about evolution's big lie!
    -Garner Ted Armstrong

    June 23, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • I Am God

      Wow you must have failed your classes in science didn't you?

      June 23, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • Lisa

      Ummm... suggest you read more about evolution or look for some education on it. Your words show that you have not done your homework on the topic.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      no it doesn't...

      June 23, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • Colin

      A few reaons intelligent design is BS. First and most obviously is the fossil record. The fossil record is much, much more than just dinosaurs. Indeed, dinosaurs only get the press because of their size, but they make up less than 1% of the entire fossil record. Life had been evolving on Earth for over 3 thousand million years before dinosaurs evolved and has gone on evolving for 65 million years after the Chicxulub meteor likely wiped them out.

      The fossil record includes the Stromatolites, colonies of prokaryotic bacteria, that range in age going back to about 3 billion years, the Ediacara fossils from South Australia, widely regarded as among the earliest multi-celled organisms, the Cambrian species of the Burgess shale in Canada (circa – 450 million years ago) the giant scorpions of the Silurian Period, the giant, wingless insects of the Devonian period, the insects, amphibians, reptiles, fishes, clams, crustaceans of the Carboniferous Period, the many precursors to the dinosaurs, the 700 odd known species of dinosaurs themselves, the subsequent dominant mammals, including the saber tooth tiger, the mammoths and hairy rhinoceros of North America and Asia, the fossils of early man in Africa and the Neanderthals of Europe.

      The fossil record shows a consistent and worldwide evolution of life on Earth dating back to about 3,500,000,000 years ago. There are literally millions of fossils that have been recovered, of thousands of different species and they are all located where they would be in the geological record if life evolved slowly over billions of years. None of them can be explained by a 6,000 year old Earth and Noah’s flood. Were they all on the ark? What happened to them when it docked?

      A Tyrannosaurus Rex ate a lot of food – meat- which means its food would itself have to have been fed, like the food of every other carnivore on the ark for the entire 360 odd days Noah supposedly spent on the ark. T-Rex was not even the largest carnivorous dinosaur we know of. Spinosaurus, Argentinosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus were all larger and ate more even meat. Even they were not large enough to bring down the largest sauropods we know of, many species of which weighed in at close to 100 tons and were about 100 feet long. A bit of “back of the envelope” math quickly shows that “Noah’s Ark” would actually have to have been an armada of ships larger than the D-Day invasion force, manned by thousands and thousands of people – and this is without including the World’s 300,000 current species of plants, none of which could walk merrily in twos onto the ark.

      Then, of course, there are the various races of human beings. There were no Sub-Saharan Africans, Chinese, Australian Aboriginals, blonde haired Scandinavians, Pygmies or Eskimos on the Ark. Where did they come from?

      Second, there are those little things we call oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels. Their mere existence is another independent and fatal blow to the creationists. Speak to any geologist who works for Exxon Mobil, Shell or any of the thousands of mining, oil or natural gas related companies that make a living finding fossil fuels. They will tell you these fossil fuels take millions of years to develop from the remains of large, often Carboniferous Period forests, in the case of coal, or tiny marine creatures in the case of oil. For the fossils to develop into oil or coal takes tens or hundreds of millions of years of “slow baking” under optimum geological conditions. That’s why they are called “fossil fuels.” Have a close look at coal, you can often see the fossilized leaves in it. The geologists know exactly what rocks to look for fossil fuels in, because they know how to date the rocks to tens or hundreds of millions of years ago. Creationists have no credible explanation for this.

      Third, most of astronomy and cosmology would be wrong if the creationists were right. In short, as Einstein showed, light travels at a set speed. Space is so large that light from distant stars takes many years to reach the Earth. In some cases, this is millions or billions of years. The fact that we can see light from such far away stars means it began its journey billions of years ago. The Universe must be billions of years old. We can currently see galaxies whose light left home 13, 700,000,000 years ago. Indeed, on a clear night, one can see the collective, misty light of many stars more than 6,000 light years away with the naked eye, shining down like tiny accusatorial witnesses against the nonsense of creationism.

      Fourth, we have not just carbon dating, but also all other methods used by scientists to date wood, rocks, fossils, and other artifacts. These comprehensively disprove the Bible’s claims. They include uranium-lead dating, potassium-argon dating as well as other non-radioactive methods such as pollen dating, dendrochronology and ice core dating. In order for any particular rock, fossil or other artifact to be aged, generally two or more samples are dated independently by two or more laboratories in order to ensure an accurate result. If results were random, as creationists claim, the two independent results would rarely agree. They generally do. They regularly reveal ages much older than Genesis. Indeed, the Earth is about 750,000 times older than the Bible claims, the Universe about three times the age of the Earth.

      Fifth, the relatively new field of DNA mapping not only convicts criminals, it shows in undeniable, full detail how we differ from other life forms on the planet. For example, about 98.4% of human DNA is identical to that of chimpanzees, about 97% of human DNA is identical to that of gorillas, and slightly less again of human DNA is identical to the DNA of monkeys. This gradual divergence in DNA can only be rationally explained by the two species diverging from a common ancestor, and coincides perfectly with the fossil record. Indeed, scientists can use the percentage of DNA that two animal share (such as humans and bears, or domestic dogs and wolves) to get an idea of how long ago the last common ancestor of both species lived. It perfectly corroborates the fossil record and is completely independently developed.

      Sixth, the entire field of historical linguistics would have to be rewritten to accommodate the Bible. This discipline studies how languages develop and diverge over time. For example, Spanish and Italian are very similar and have a recent common “ancestor” language, Latin, as most people know. However, Russian is quite different and therefore either did not share a common root, or branched off much earlier in time. No respected linguist anywhere in the World traces languages back to the Tower of Babel, the creationists’ simplistic and patently absurd explanation for different languages. Indeed, American Indians, Australian Aboriginals, “true” Indians, Chinese, Mongols, Ja.panese, Sub-Saharan Africans and the Celts and other tribes of ancient Europe were speaking thousands of different languages thousands of years before the date creationist say the Tower of Babel occurred – and even well before the date they claim for the Garden of Eden.

      Seventh, lactose intolerance is also a clear vestige of human evolution. Most mammals only consume milk as infants. After infancy, they no longer produce the enzyme “lactase” that digests the lactose in milk and so become lactose intolerant. Humans are an exception and can drink milk as adults – but not all humans – some humans remain lactose intolerant. So which humans are no longer lactose intolerant? The answer is those who evolved over the past few thousand years raising cows. They evolved slightly to keep producing lactase as adults so as to allow the consumption of milk as adults. This includes most Europeans and some Africans, notably the Tutsi of Rwanda. On the other hand, most Chinese, native Americans and Aboriginal Australians, whose ancestors did not raise cattle, remain lactose intolerant.

      I could go on and elaborate on a number of other disciplines or facts that creationists have to pretend into oblivion to retain their faith, including the Ice Ages, cavemen and early hominids, much of microbiology, paleontology and archeology, continental drift and plate tectonics. Even large parts of medical research would be rendered unusable but for the fact that monkeys and mice share a common ancestor with us and therefore our fundamental cell biology and basic body architecture is identical to theirs.

      In short, and not surprisingly, the World’s most gifted evolutionary biologists, astronomers, cosmologists, geologists, archeologists, paleontologists, historians, modern medical researchers and linguists (and about 2,000 years of accu.mulated knowledge) are right and a handful of Iron Age Middle Eastern goat herders copying then extant mythology were wrong. Creationists aren’t just trying to swim upstream against the weight of scientific evidence; they are trying to ascend a waterfall.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Danny

      Lots of lies here. I can only assume that you cling to apologists who do not have facts on their side, and must "lie for Jesus" in order to keep their fanbase and continue to sell books.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • crossbreed

      When did eyesight evolve?

      June 23, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • a reasonable atheist

      @Colin

      I love the smell of science in the morning (or afternoon, or evening). It smells like.. understanding.

      June 24, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • G to the T

      @Crossbreed – why did eyesight evolve?

      Why wouldn't it? Plants need light, so some kind of light sensitivity makes sense, even just the basic (detecting light vs dark) can be extremely helpful in finding shelter/avoiding predators, etc.

      Did you mean "how did the eye evolve"? That's a much larger subject, but we can already see in nature the entire spectrum of vision all the way from simple "eyespots" that detect light/dark, to "eyepits", so "pinhole" to "lensded" and right up past our (rather clumsily "put together) eyes to the those of eagles,etc that have much better eyes than ours. I've often heard it said "what use is half an eye?" The answer is ALOT. 🙂

      June 25, 2013 at 10:15 am |
  18. Jack Ketch

    "In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth"

    The Universe or Heaven is 13.5 billion years old.
    The Earth is 4.5 billion years old.

    What was God doing for the 9 billion years between Heaven and Earth?

    It's very difficult to continue reading the Bible when the VERY FIRST sentence of the book is such utter nonsense.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • Colin

      And then, waving waited 3,720,000,000 years for human beings to gradually evolve, on one of about 200,000,000,000 planets in one of 400,000,000,000 galaxies, he gives them eternal life and sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.

      While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Iron Age Middle East, including the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies.

      Either that, or it all started 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake.

      Either way “oh come on” just doesn’t quite capture it.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • Ebuka

      That your started your delusive word here at about 9:15 am for instance, does not mean you ended your last word by 9:15 am. That i took my cup of tea and pasted my teeth at the beginning of today does not guarantee a short or long time interval. Jack you have a begging and you must have an end. don't criticize anything you cant comprehend. seek the wisdom to understand. and how sure are you on that age statistics just like John Dalton's atomic theory, before hand the theory was all we believed to be true, not knowing that it wasn't so, time and chances happens to all. GO AND KNOW YOUR MAKER

      June 23, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • G to the T

      Ebuka – "God didit" OK gottcha...

      June 25, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  19. ATHEISM = RELIGION

    Okay, but FIRST you (and the science community) MUST prove, beyond any doubt, how animated matter is created from inanimate matter.

    Oops... never mind about the science community. They've already agreed it's impossible. Guess you're on your own. Let us know FIRST when you can prove that, and we'll prove to you there is a God.

    June 23, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • I Am God

      Ha talk about avoiding obvious facts.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • Observer

      ATHEISM,

      So instead, God came from NOTHING and then created EVERYTHING from NOTHING. Don't talk about proof when you have NONE.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      you must prove how an embodied mind that exists outside time and space (I know, it sounds crazy) can cause anything

      June 23, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • oOo

      You representation of mainstream atheistic claims is idiotic. I would demand the one with claims about imaginary beings go first.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • Rod

      You are totally wrong, just because you’ve taken on religion completely including hook, line, singer and copy of angler times, doesn't mean the rest of us have. There are many of us that find believing without proof, as in faith, is a step we are not willing to take. The very fact that Atheists are keen to take on many of the benefits religion has to offer, to help build a good caring community full of charity and good deeds, should tell you that Atheists are not the evil , totally lacking morals, people you'd like to paint us. The only difference is that you believe in the bibles God and we don't. The idea of the Atheist churches is a wonderful idea and if one starts in my area I will be keen to join.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  20. TheTruth

    Church without God- by design, its kinda contradicting itself... If its " by design" someone must of designed it...the design doesnt appear from nothing!!

    June 23, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • TheTruth

      No, that's not The Truth at all.

      June 23, 2013 at 10:59 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.