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January 8th, 2014
08:39 AM ET

Pastor tries atheism, loses jobs, gains $19,000

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) - In the past, at times like these, when his life foundered and frayed around the edges, Ryan Bell often prayed for help. But this year, at least, the pastor has resolved not to.

For the next 12 months, Bell says he will live as if there is no God.

He will not pray, go to church, read the Bible for inspiration, trust in divine providence or hope in things unseen. He’s taking the opposite of a leap of faith: a free fall into the depths of religious doubt.

Bell’s “intellectual experiment,” which began January 1, has already borne dramatic consequences.

In less than a week, he lost two jobs teaching at Christian schools near his home in Los Angeles. He’s 42 and has been a pastor or in seminary for most of his adult life. Now he faces the prospect of poverty and taking odd jobs to feed his two daughters, 10 and 13.

“There have been times, usually late at night and early in the morning, when I think: What have I done? It really undermines the whole structure of your life, your career, your family,” Bell said.

But just as the man of God began to despair, he found help from an unlikely source: atheists.

'Suspending belief '

The seeds of Bell’s journey were planted last March, when he was asked to resign as pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist congregation in Hollywood.

He had advocated for the church to allow gay and lesbian leaders, campaigned against California’s same-sex marriage ban and disputed deeply held church doctrines about the End Times.

Eventually, his theological and political liberalism became more than leaders in the denomination could bear, and he lost his career of 19 years. His faith was shaken, and for a while Bell became a “religious nomad.”

On the positive side, losing his church job gave him the freedom to question the foundations of his religious belief without fear of troubling his congregation.

“I could finally pursue those questions that had been bouncing around my head,” he said, while earning money from teaching, speaking and consulting jobs.

MORE ON CNN: Behold, the six types of atheists

Then, after lunch with a friend last year, he thought: What if he tried out atheism, and lived with no religion at all for a year?

“It’s like when you go to a movie and you suspend disbelief for three hours to get inside the story,” Bell said. “I’m suspending my belief in God to see what atheism is all about.”

Bell, who still holds ministerial credentials in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, thought it would be a neat little intellectual experiment.

He would interview atheists, attend gatherings of nonbelievers and read through the canon of skeptics: Friedrich Nietzsche, Baruch Spinoza, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, among others.

When friends got sick, instead of praying, as was once his immediate response, Bell said, he would “do something tangible and practical and supportive for them.”

He would start a blog, “Year Without God,” and write about his faithless journey. Bell thought maybe a few people would read his posts, follow along and offer advice or criticism.

“I didn’t realize, even four days ago, how difficult it would be for some people to embrace me while I was embracing this journey of open inquiry into the question of God’s existence,” Bell wrote on Saturday.

‘We need to talk’

The first signs of trouble came around the turn of the new year, just days after Bell announced his experiment online.

Texts and e-mails arrived from friends, family and colleagues with the ominous phrase, “We need to talk.”

Kurt Fredrickson, a friend of Bell’s and associate dean of ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, sent one of those messages.

Bell, a graduate of Fuller, had taught in the school’s doctorate development program for the past year. But Fredrickson told his friend that his sabbatical from faith meant a sabbatical from the seminary as well.

“From an academic standpoint, and even as a personal journey, I’m really excited about what Ryan is doing,” Fredrickson said.

"There is no honest person of faith who doesn’t have doubts, and Ryan is being courageous enough to take a step back and assess his life. This is bold stuff.”

But Bell’s job at Fuller was to help students through their doctoral dissertations, a particularly stressful time, Fredrickson said, when seminarians need to lean on a person with strong faith.

“They are flying solo for the first time, and we want to not only teach, but to nurture souls as well,” Fredrickson said. “Ryan saying he’s going to be an atheist for a year is a little contradictory to that.”

Fuller would be happy to talk to Bell when his experiment is over, the dean added.

MORE ON CNN: What Oprah gets wrong about atheism

Azusa Pacific University, where Bell had taught intercultural communication since 2011, also declined to renew his contract.

Rachel White, a spokeswoman for the school, wouldn’t comment, saying it was an internal personnel matter. But she said all school and faculty are expected to sign a statement of faith outlining their belief in Christianity.

Also this year, Bell lost a consulting job with a Seventh-day Adventist Church in Glendale, California.

Bell said he bears no ill will toward the church or the schools that let him go, though he wishes they would tolerate, if not support, his atheism experiment. The loss of income has led to some family stress, he said.

“I have kids to support and utilities to pay and the rent is due,” Bell said. “At this point I’m willing to do almost anything.” Bell said he and his wife are divorcing, though not because of his atheist experiment.

Meanwhile, the phone calls, e-mails and texts from friends and family worried about the fate of his soul continue to pour in.

‘A beautiful gesture’

“He learned what it’s like to be an atheist real fast,” said Hemant Mehta, a prominent atheist blogger and schoolteacher in Illinois.

Mehta said he knows many atheists who fear that “coming out of the closet” will jeopardize their jobs and relationships, just as in Bell’s experience.

Mehta said he doesn’t exactly agree with the premise of Bell’s experiment. How does someone pretend to be an atheist? It’s not like a hat you wear to see if it fits. Faith taps into deeply held beliefs and emotions. Even during his experiment with atheism, won't there still be a nagging suspicion in the back of Bell’s mind that God exists?

(For the record, Bell describes his current theological views as agnostic - somewhere between belief and atheism. But he's trying to put that aside for the year to live and think like an atheist.)

Mehta said he admired Bell’s pluck and sympathized with his plight. Though he had never spoken with the pastor, Mehta set up an online fundraiser for Bell on Tuesday. In just one day, nearly 900 people donated more than $19,000 to help “the pastor giving atheism a try.”

“I think more than anything else, people appreciate that this guy is giving atheism a shot,” Mehta said. “I mean, he lost three jobs in the span of a week just for saying he was exploring it.”

Bell said he knows Christians and agnostics who have contributed to his fundraiser as well, so it’s not an all-atheist effort.

Still, he’s impressed that nonbelievers have flocked to help fund his experiment

“It really validates that the (atheist) community is really all about the search for truth,” Bell said. “They know that I might not even end up as an atheist at the end of my search, but it doesn’t matter to them. It’s such a beautiful gesture.”

Will the support tip Bell toward atheism? The pastor is agnostic about that, too – for now.

MORE ON CNN: Can atheist churches last?

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • evangelicals • Faith • Lost faith

soundoff (6,251 Responses)
  1. Reaper

    Why do atheists like to slap themselves on the back for doing good things for others? What is the point? An atheist who strives to be a "good" person is the biggest fool of them all. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you will surely die." This should be the atheist creed. Every other human is a drain on their resources. Every ignored desire a wasted opportunity. Every restrained impulse a betrayal of what they claim to be their core principle. People of faith operate in a manner consistent with their belief system, while atheists live duplicit lives.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:53 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      So only those with imaginary friends get to be happy and thankful in this world??? Silly child, imaginary friends are for children and those suffering from delusions of grandeur.-seek help!

      January 8, 2014 at 7:56 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      You're extremely good at following the example of your disgusting, azzhole god, rather than obeying his commands. Well done, good and faithful servant. You'll be one of those that enters into joy with your god over the souls in eternal torture in hell. Ya'll yuck it up real good. I feel like vomiting.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:58 pm |
      • Darren

        You seem to have such a dislike for someon who you say does not exist...

        January 8, 2014 at 8:07 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          I'm just describing the character as the book portrays him. I describe Santa as being fat and jolly and wearing red, too. Do you have a snide and stupid remark for that, too?

          January 8, 2014 at 8:11 pm |
      • counterww

        No, you are just a jerk. It is obvious from your posts. Capt. obvious... jerk.

        January 8, 2014 at 9:49 pm |
    • Observer

      Reaper,

      So striving to be a "good" person makes someone a fool?

      Bright.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:58 pm |
      • Reaper

        What is your motivation for being a "good' person? Do you know? Do you even understand why you do what you do? In order to be a good person you have to make some level of sacrifice of your own desires and/or resources. Why would you do that if you are born and die? You seek happiness, peace and harmony, but why? You are an animal... one click up from an ape. Why deny yourself any pleasure? Why share anything?

        January 8, 2014 at 8:19 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Social mammals have evolved empathy and sympathy and "altruism" that helps the entire species. So, evolution has made our species have those morals and desires. Some animals have "better" morality than we do, and they don't believe in god.

          But, if you need to believe in a god who slaughtered an entire planet's worth of women and children and kittens and who tortures people forever in a pit of fire--just to be "good" to your neighbors and keep from being a serial killer, then please, continue to believe.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:23 pm |
    • skarphace

      There is no truer charity than that which is given anonymously by an Atheist. Christians do not give true charity as they believe that God knows of what they do. Those that get tax breaks for their charity (see Mitt Romney), do not give true charity. Those that announce that they have given charity do not give true charity, as they want others to think highly of them for it. Slam Atheists all you like, when they give anonymously, it is true charity.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:59 pm |
      • cheri

        You and QS and Xzanthius really do not understand Christians and what Jesus said. You may have Puritans mixed up with us. The New Testament says directly that good works will not get you into heaven. It also says to not brag about your prayers or charity. Yes, Jesus said that we should love others, even our enemies. That can be really hard for anyone, but I guess you have to be a true believer to understand why and to have the strength to do it.
        It is interesting to me that non-believers are so vehemently opposed to faith, but God tells us that will happen. "Doth thy protest too much"?

        January 8, 2014 at 9:04 pm |
    • QS

      You have it backwards.

      Religion instills in people the notion that they should strive to be good people not just to be good people, but as a way to receive their reward of entrance into heaven when they die.

      They think they need to let "god" see them donating to help the poor so they can somehow validate through their own self-reinforcing delusion that they are a good person in the eyes of "god". To them, paying taxes to support government programs for the poor isn't enough personal recognition for them – it's too....group-oriented.

      It is selfishness masquerading as charity.

      January 8, 2014 at 8:00 pm |
    • Xzanthius

      So religious people only love others because that way they will go to heaven? Seems a little disingenuous of them doesn`t it?

      January 8, 2014 at 8:02 pm |
    • uos_spo6

      There is no creed to atheism. You are defining it as a like minded congregation, it is not, it is an opposing theory to religious notions of divinity and that is it. Atheists who form groups got it all wrong. Form a group for a different reason. To be Atheist all that is required is to not believe that a diety or divine being exists. Aside that you could think whatever you want about anything, even the after life.

      Hell, maybe there's a complex system of physics at work there we don't understand. But magic controlled by a divine being? Please don't waste my time unless you have a serious idea.

      Believers love to equate Atheism with absence of compassion love or spirituality. It is far from that in any sense. It is nothing beyond denying divinity.

      January 8, 2014 at 8:06 pm |
    • Pankaj

      Reaper: I totally disagree with you. Although I consider myself agnostic, I would argue that if you are atheist you can be a great human being. The reason I am highly compassionate for others is not because there is a God and I have to choose between heaven and hell. But rather because of humanism. Life is hard and the reason I do good is because I know that, and if I can do something to alleviate suffering in others, its a great feeling. I would live my life equally the same–if there is a god or if there isn't. If the reason you do good is because of the former, I feel bad for you.

      January 8, 2014 at 8:11 pm |
  2. TG

    Mr Ryan Bell can be likened to a "foolish" man "hearing these saying of mine (Jesus) and not doing them.....who built his house on the sand. And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and struck against that house, and it caved in, and its collapse was great."(Matt 7:26, 27)

    Mr Bell has failed to successfully build a faith that can weather the "storm" of agnoticism or atheism or even doubts, though a religious pastor. In the apostle Paul's day, true Christianity was attacked by gnostics, who believed that salvation was dependent upon special mythical knowledge of deep things unknown to ordinary Christians.

    Paul told Timothy to "guard what has been entrusted to you, turning away from the empty speeches that violate what is holy and from the contradictions of the falsely called "knowledge". By making a show of such knowledge, some have deviated from the faith."(1 Tim 6:20, 21) Timothy guarded his heart, carefully following Jesus teachings and became "like a discreet man who built his house on the rock", whereby all that attacked it was unable to destroy it, unlike Ryan Bell.(Matt 7:24, 25)

    Mr. Bell has obviously been unable to build up a storehouse of indepth information that provides sound evidence of a Creator. Though Seventh Day Adventist say that they accept only the Bible, the depth of accurate Scriptural teaching is like the rest of the churches of Christendom who have been incapable of providing "meat in due season."(Matt 24:45, KJV) It is very shallow.

    For example, can Mr Ryan Bell explain from the Bible why God has allowed wickedness to continue ?(clue Gen 3:1-6) Or of God's purpose for the earth ?(clue Isa 45:18) Or what God's Kingdom is (clue Isa 9:6), why it was created (clue 1 John 3:8 as well as Matt 5:5), and who are the ones that make it up ?(clue Rev 5:9, 10) Or of who God really is (clue Isa 42:5), his name (clue Ex 6:3), and his everlasting purpose ?(clue Rev 21:3-5)

    January 8, 2014 at 7:52 pm |
    • Observer

      TG,

      It looks like Mr. Bell ACTUALLY thought for himself and ACTUALLY followed the Golden Rule. No wonder he is an outcast by Christians.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:55 pm |
    • skarphace

      Don't worry, he will be back, and he will credit God for saving him from poverty due to his lack of faith. Praise the Lord!

      January 8, 2014 at 7:55 pm |
  3. Mrs. Krabappel

    Now class, say hello to the friendly bigot;
    "just as the man of God began to despair, he found help from an unlikely source: atheists."

    January 8, 2014 at 7:51 pm |
  4. Chanel

    Unless he renounces his religion and no longer believes in God then he isn't Atheist. He can play pretend Atheist all he want's guess what, he isn't

    January 8, 2014 at 7:47 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Maybe he just wanted to find out how harshly and quickly the christians would judge him? In that case, his experiment is a resounding success; he's found out exactly what it's like to deconvert from christianity.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:52 pm |
  5. skarphace

    I think that Ryan Bell has an agenda. Maybe it is personal, and maybe it is political, and maybe he just wants to sell a book one day, but his agenda seems to be to discredit Atheism by proving through personal experience that a person cannot live without God. Forget that the results of his "Atheist Experiment" are his own fault, he will blame them on his apparent lack of faith (even though by taking such an experiment he is displaying that he still does have faith in God).

    He is like one of those "Christian Scientists", who say that they use the scientific method but get it backwards. He is starting with a conclusion, "Without God you will fail", and working back towards the hypothesis, "What would happen if I lived my life without God?". However, when you work backwards that way, you are fooling yourself. He could very well have kept his jobs. He chose to give up his jobs.

    If you have a career and your entire work experience for the last 19 years is in that career, and you choose to switch careers without preparing yourself for another career, what happens? You go broke, which is just what happened to Bell. This has nothing to do with God. It has everything to do with making bad choices.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:47 pm |
  6. MrMightyHigh

    Mr Bell never was saved, and now he is an example used by God to show that salvation cannot be earned, even if you go to seminary and learn all about theology and you work as a leader of a church. God saves only those He elects, and no others regardless of the works they may do, and none of His elect ever fall away. Mr Bell is like the seed sown among thorns, who sprouted when he first heard the gospel, but his motives were false, his priorities were always self-glory and recognition from other men since the beginning, and he was eventually strangled and overcome by the forces of the world. Now Mr Bell will be used by God to show His righteous judgment and wrath, and the extra peril that comes to those who lead others astray by falsely claiming themselves to be guides on the narrow and difficult path to the Lord, but who are actually leading many down the broad way to destruction.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:40 pm |
    • Observer

      MrMightyHigh,

      Mr. Bell angered Christians apparently because he ACTUALLY chose the Golden Rule over negative verses picking on gays. Looks like Christians couldn't handle it.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
      • skarphace

        Many conservative Churches are like this, but this alone does not make his pilgrimage, if you will, his only choice. There are also many liberal and even nondenominational churches out there where he could have gotten a job with his experience. He could even have started his own Church and taken some of the church goers with him (I went to a Church for a while that started this way). He chose to give up his career, and now he is paying for it. He will still blame it on his lack of faith and probably make some money writing a book after he "sees the light" and comes back into the fold, however.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:53 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      Are you high?

      January 8, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      He chooses people who are easy to manipulate like yourself. Or at least the church does.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:46 pm |
    • Fukery

      Of for God's sake, how do you know he wasn't saved, you Christian elitist? Just shut up. Your condescension is nauseating me.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:48 pm |
    • Glyde

      LOL

      January 8, 2014 at 7:56 pm |
    • bostontola

      Mr High and Mighty,
      I would think only God would know if he was saved. Do you presume to know that? Your God is not going to be happy about that (finger wagging).

      January 8, 2014 at 7:57 pm |
      • MrMightyHigh

        True, only God knows who He saves. But God also reveals in Scripture that He is absolutely sovereign, that He does not make mistakes, that all men are doomed to destruction absent His grace, and that the fruits of His grace can been seen in the works of men as motivated by His Spirit. God may call Mr Bell at a later time, but his life so far does not show the fruit of the Spirit, and it is not a sin for me to shine a light on the evil done by Mr Bell.

        January 8, 2014 at 8:15 pm |
    • Mr High and Mighty

      If you are religious, what you are saying doesn't exactly jive with the Bible's idea of salvation and its connection with grace. It just makes religious people look pretentious.

      January 9, 2014 at 3:12 pm |
  7. Lamb of dog

    Faith = I don't know so I'm sticking with what the old guy at the pulpit tells me.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:37 pm |
    • bostontola

      Science = I don't know so I'll develop some hypotheses and devise ways to accurately test those hypotheses.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:40 pm |
    • MrMightyHigh

      Faith is a gift from God, not something that we decide to have. Denying your Creator is the default position of all men, and is nothing to boast about.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:49 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Dictionaries are your friend, don't be afraid to use them.
        Faith is defined as belief without evidence. Your belief in your god is a product of you not your god.
        Do you care that your beliefs are based on evidence?

        January 8, 2014 at 7:51 pm |
        • MrMightyHigh

          You are missing the bigger point, because you are stuck viewing from the perspective of man. The dictionary's definition of faith does not address the origin of belief without evidence. The point is that if I were left on my own, I would choose the easy and prideful path that is no different from all the deniers on this blog, but God has granted to me His gift of faith that overcomes my fallen nature of opposition to Him. Without His gift, my eyes would not be open. I have done nothing to deserve this gift, but God has given it to me by His grace, He has shown me His truths revealed in Scripture and Creation, and for that I will be eternally serving Him.

          January 8, 2014 at 10:23 pm |
      • Lamb of dog

        I'm denying your false creator. And boasting about it.!

        January 8, 2014 at 7:51 pm |
      • skarphace

        You realize that you just discredited Ryan Bell's pilgrimage, right? If you can't choose to have faith, neither can you choose not to believe. It is clear that Ryan Bell still believes in God and therefore he is not an Atheist no matter what he claims.

        January 8, 2014 at 8:08 pm |
  8. Kris

    Ryan Bell has never been a Christian or a believer of anything if this 'experiment' is needed. The devil is dancing tonight.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:37 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      So if I can't play with god can I dance with the devil?

      January 8, 2014 at 7:38 pm |
    • Observer

      Kris,

      So no THINKING allowed if you are a believer, right?

      January 8, 2014 at 7:40 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Does it offend you that much that one more is questioning your silly belief system?

      January 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
  9. Reaper

    There is no such thing as an atheist. Everyone has something or someone they worship. Atheists are delusional to believe humans are simply the manifestation of who is at the top of the current food chain. Study microbiology and then conclude that it takes more faith to believe in the existence of God than in the process of evolution.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:30 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      It takes more faith to believe in god. Exactly.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:33 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      It takes more courage to be honest and say, "I don't know" why the universe and we are here than to say that some big invisible sky wizard chanted magic spells for six days and was only able to produce a universe so fragile that it flipped into nuclear meltdown with the twist of one woman's wrist. How ridiculous!!!

      January 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm |
    • bostontola

      It takes zero faith to believe in evolution, it is a directly observable phenomenon.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:36 pm |
      • Topher

        It is? Where?

        January 8, 2014 at 7:39 pm |
        • bostontola

          Look up Lenski, Garland, there are many more recently. The flu evolves every years in case you didn't notice. Moths evolve new coloration to match trees and smoke stacks to blend in, there are many examples.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:47 pm |
        • Topher

          Neither of those are evolution. They are natural selection.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:48 pm |
        • SAcience Works

          Try this Topher .

          The Loom 2 days ago

          Evolution Hidden in Plain Sight
          by Carl Zimmer

          http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2014/01/06/evolution-hidden-in-plain-sight/

          January 8, 2014 at 7:49 pm |
        • Topher

          Science Works

          No time at the moment to go read it. Give me the jist of it.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:51 pm |
        • bostontola

          Topher,
          It is amusing to me that you think you are the arbiter of something you don't believe in, evolution. Hilarious.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:58 pm |
        • SAcience Works

          It’s hard to believe that Escherichia coli could have any secrets left.

          For over a century, scientists have picked the microbe apart–sequencing its genes, cracking its genetic code, running experiments on its metabolism, earning Nobel Prizes off of it, and turning it into, arguably, the most-studied organism in history.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:59 pm |
        • Topher

          OK, so what about it? Is it evolving into something else?

          January 8, 2014 at 8:01 pm |
        • Topher

          bostontola

          Of course I don't. It's a "science" with no basis in science.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:05 pm |
        • SAcience Works

          A new KIND of dctA gene Topher take the TIME and read it .

          January 8, 2014 at 8:11 pm |
        • bostontola

          Once again you present judgement. You deny evolution is a science when thousands of biologists say it is. Somehow, you know better than them what is or isn't science. Hilarious.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:12 pm |
        • Topher

          So its NOT becoming something new?

          January 8, 2014 at 8:12 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Topher, why do you debate a subject you know NOTHING about? It's rather stupid of you, don't you think?

          January 8, 2014 at 8:14 pm |
        • Topher

          I know enough that science rejects it. It's not testable, repeatable or demonstrable. We've found no change in kinds. And to get that change we'd have to add additional information to the creatures genetics ... a problem when we only see losses. It's a fairy tale. Believe it if you want, but you've left science and entered religion.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:18 pm |
        • midwest rail

          Everything you need to know about Y.E.C.s view of science :
          " By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information."

          January 8, 2014 at 8:21 pm |
        • Topher

          I agree with that statement. The Bible is never wrong.

          And yes, all information is subject to interpretation. You and I go into and evidence with a presupposition ... mine, there's a God, evolution is a fairy tale and the world is young; yours there isn't, evolution is true and there's been billions of years.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:24 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Topher, just because you've chosen to remain ignorant, and not educate yourself on the facts, does not mean that your opinion is just as valid as proven fact. The earth is DEMONSTRABLY very, very old. Evolution is DEMONSTRABLY true. You just want to cling to your fairy tale with a big invisible sky wizard chanting magic spells for six days. Laughable.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:27 pm |
        • midwest rail

          Here's the problem with your statement, Topher. Because you believe the Bible is never wrong, AND because you believe your interpretation of the Bible to be correct, then YOUR presupposition is that you are always right. Which precludes rational discussion of any kind.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:29 pm |
        • Topher

          You can think I'm wrong about the Bible. That's fine. But we're discussing evolution here. And it doesn't meet the scientific standard. Evolution is NOT demonstrable. And the earth is only demonstrably very, very old if you use some untrustworthy dating methods and completely ignore the ones that point to a young earth.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:33 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Topher, just because you don't understand scientific methods and how the age of the earth is determined and how evolution is proven thousands of times each day doesn't mean that you're correct in your IGNORANT assumptions. Learn something. Is Trigonometry not correct either, just becasue you don't understand it.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:50 pm |
        • Topher

          Cpt. Obvious

          "Topher, just because you don't understand scientific methods"

          What don't I understand? For it to be science, it requires the thing to be testable, repeatable and demonstrable.

          "and how the age of the earth is determined and how evolution is proven thousands of times each day"

          Then there should be evidence, so let's see it, for one. And if science also rejects evolution (because a cow doesn't have the genetics to become a whale), why do you believe it? So not only does science say it doesn't meet its standard, it says it's biologically impossible.

          "doesn't mean that you're correct in your IGNORANT assumptions."

          Ad hominem, one. Two, grow up.

          "Learn something. Is Trigonometry not correct either, just becasue you don't understand it."

          As far I know, Trigonometry is proven to work and doesn't disagree with the Bible. I'm not too concerned about it.

          January 8, 2014 at 9:04 pm |
    • Topher

      I don't believe there are any true atheists, either. God said that every person KNOWS He exists because of the Creation and because of the conscience. And because of these things all will be without excuse.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:36 pm |
      • AtheistSteve

        Except for 2 things Topher.
        The universe doesn't appear created and consciousness is merely a function of our brains.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:39 pm |
        • Topher

          It doesn't? Dawkins disagrees with you.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
        • AtheistSteve

          Dawkins is a biologist...why would I care what he thinks about the universe? And secondly that's an appeal to authority.

          Again...why exactly do you think the universe looks like something that was created?

          January 8, 2014 at 7:49 pm |
        • Topher

          Pretty sure Hawking said the same thing.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:52 pm |
        • AtheistSteve

          More importantly what would a universe that wasn't created by God look like? Clearly you think it would be different, right? So how would an uncreated universe differ from a created one?

          January 8, 2014 at 7:52 pm |
        • AtheistSteve

          I guarantee Hawking never said the universe was created. At least not in the way you use the term as in created by a higher being.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:54 pm |
        • Topher

          He didn't say it was created. He said it LOOKED created.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:56 pm |
        • AtheistSteve

          Got a quote of that Topher or are you just spinning more lies. Plus I already pointed out the fallacy of appealing to authority. Can't you form thoughts of your own? And answer the question. How would an uncreated universe differ from a created one?

          January 8, 2014 at 8:00 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          I wonder how many noncreated universes Hawking investigated to compare ours to?

          January 8, 2014 at 8:02 pm |
        • Topher

          AtheistSteve

          "Got a quote of that Topher or are you just spinning more lies."

          Google it.

          "Plus I already pointed out the fallacy of appealing to authority."

          I never said it's true because they said it.

          "And answer the question. How would an uncreated universe differ from a created one?"

          Well, it wouldn't exist, for one.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:07 pm |
        • fred

          AtheistSteve
          "consciousness is merely a function of our brains"
          =>I assume you believe it was simply a matter of protein and time that resulted in consciousness. You do not know how protein or time came to be in the first place then you extrapolate two unknowns into a belief concerning consciousness which is not of any substance known to man. Sounds like you have a lot of faith in that which cannot be seen.
          I always find it interesting how the atheist denies faith yet bases his entire non belief in that which is invisible.

          January 8, 2014 at 9:01 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Algorithms aren't visible, and don't exist in the same sense that matter does, but they are real enough and I believe in them. That's what you are, fred: stuff running on a squishy sort of computer.

          January 8, 2014 at 9:06 pm |
        • AtheistSteve

          "Well, it wouldn't exist, for one."

          Really? Why?
          You say that God created the universe(without a shred of proof) and then you turn around and say proof of God is creation.
          That's the very definition of a circular argument.

          But let's go back to your statement. It wouldn't exist if it wasn't created. I would argue that it formed with no help at all from an intelligent agency. Why? Because everything we observe in the universe is formed with no help at all from intelligent agents. Stars, galaxies, planets and moons form from interstellar clouds under the unthinking influence of gravity. Where exactly does God come into the picture?

          January 8, 2014 at 9:12 pm |
        • fred

          Tom, Tom, the Other One
          Ok, so we can with "algorithms" create artificial intelligence that communicates and begins to adjust its code and response. When two or more are then communicating interesting results are observed and as with Siri the code must constantly be modified to limit "self expression". Exactly what is the difference between your consciousness and that which has been created artificially?

          January 8, 2014 at 9:29 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Do you hold that there's a difference, fred?

          January 8, 2014 at 9:32 pm |
        • AtheistSteve

          fred
          "I assume you believe it was simply a matter of protein and time that resulted in consciousness."

          You can assume whatever you want. I'm not letting you put words in my mouth.

          Topher

          The universe is. It exists and we can observe it. Your supposed God is invisible, undetectable and irrelevant since he doesn't direct anything that happens in the universe. And that's exactly what we would expect to see if there is in fact no God. No difference at all.

          January 8, 2014 at 9:50 pm |
        • fred

          Tom, Tom, the Other One
          Yes, as creator we limit and determine acceptable outcome with fixed boundaries that are pre-established. Free will is not allowed in the code due to inherent danger. The "life" is limited to an objective containment. Even a dog seems to have something more than all the intelligence we can code into the creation. That something is observable but escapes definition.

          January 8, 2014 at 9:51 pm |
      • Barry Howe

        You sound like an idiot. Loser.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          We're at a loss as to what to do. Last week we told Topher to study genes, since that scientific discipline proves evolution in about a billion different ways, but he said he'd already found the best fitting pair they had at the local mall, so....

          January 8, 2014 at 7:46 pm |
        • Darren

          Really!

          January 8, 2014 at 8:03 pm |
      • Lamb of dog

        Peekaboo.......... No I truly don't believe.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
      • sam stone

        man said it, gopher, not god. try to keep up. it may you look like less of a chump, but i have my doubts

        January 8, 2014 at 9:33 pm |
    • Kittie

      Spoken like someone that has no clue what evolution or the theory of evolution through natural selection is. It is micro-biology and DNA sequencing that has proven common descent beyond a shadow of a doubt. You'd know that if you weren't completely scientifically illiterate.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
  10. Robert

    What a mistake. There is a GOD, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Do think this world we live in, the Blue Planet is just a occurance in the big bang. I'll tell you there is a Spiritual aspect to the physical. I don't care what this man is trying to accomplish as he is a now become a antichrist. You don't play games with GOD! Check back with this man in a year or two and see his outcome.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:30 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      I used to play peekaboo with god until one day I said peekaboo and he was no longer there.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:34 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      PEEKABOO........ Nothing.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:36 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Cute, one more who failed Science.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:45 pm |
  11. Nina

    Sometimes I think 'God' is a habit–and from reading this article, it seems Mr. Bell was deeply into the habit.

    That said, atheists are not people devoid of compassion, thoughtfulness or kindness. Believing in a god doesn't mean one automatically prays for a sick friend–most people would deliver chicken soup. Prayer is what a lot of people do to feel good rather than actually get up and do good. It's hoping and wishing and asking for something.

    Whether I believe there is a God or not is irrelevant. What I do believe is that there is so much beyond any organized religion, so many opportunities to help others, help ourselves, improve the lives of many people and load up on the compassion.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:25 pm |
    • cheri

      It sounds like many of you are operating under pure emotion. Why don't you really look at the evidence. Read "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" or "The Case for the Creator" or "The Case for Christ". Christians are not lemmings who need a crutch or can not think for themselves. Many non-believers want to ignore evidence of the afterlife as well. I started out as an atheist and really looked at the objective evidence. In the end, I realized the truth was always there. Darwinism and evolution are very fallible theories.
      As for the Bible, the times and laws in the Old Testament is very different from the New Testament. Jesus changed many things for the mercy and salvation of man. Nina, what you say about compassion and goodness is right out of Jesus' mouth.
      Look at it this way. Even if you don't "believe", if you follow the principles taught by Jesus, you will be happier and a better person. If everyone did, we would have world peace.

      January 8, 2014 at 8:41 pm |
  12. Dave

    I'm an atheist.

    When a disaster strikes, I don't go to church, I make a donation to the Red Cross.

    THAT's helping.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
    • TheTruth

      The Red Cross gives less than 25% of charitable giving to disaster relief – the rest stays in the bank (legally).

      January 8, 2014 at 7:27 pm |
      • skarphace

        That is an urban myth, TheTruth. Do you want the truth? The Red Cross only spends around 22% of their donations on their own administration. Source: www. givewell. org/international/disaster-relief/International-Federation-of-the-Red-Cross

        January 8, 2014 at 7:37 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      I'm a pastor. When tragedy happens. For example a plane crashes and almost everyone dies. I like to thank god for the survivors instead of focus on the bad things. Thanks god for not letting everyone die. You're a swell god.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:29 pm |
    • jd

      Your still giving to the Cross one way or the other

      January 8, 2014 at 7:31 pm |
  13. Brian Calix

    More importantly, are we actually getting along on the comment page? Are we actually having reasonable discussions today without insulting each other? I'm very impressed ladies and gentlemen. Have a happy 2014 to all of you from a guy on duty on the USS Eisenhower.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
    • bostontola

      Thanks for your service sailor(?).

      January 8, 2014 at 7:28 pm |
    • Topher

      Thank you for serving!

      January 8, 2014 at 7:30 pm |
    • Krijn Mossel

      I know, right? It must be a sign of the End Times 😉
      Thanks for your service, btw!

      January 8, 2014 at 7:46 pm |
  14. bostontola

    Strict Christianity and science are not compatible. I know that many Christians allow themselves to relax interpretations of the bible to align with science and that is fine. For the sticklers, which is the illusion:

    Scientific model of our universe, it's origin, and the origin of life. Using the disciplines of physics, chemistry, geology, biology, meteorology, archeology, paleontology, anthropology, psychology, etc. a high detail picture has emerged. Are there gaps? Of course, there is plenty of work to do both in coverage and in detail. But if it were a picture, the scientific picture would be in HD with billions of pixels. The image would be startlingly sharp. There would be isolated pixels missing, hardly noticeable in some areas, visible gaps in others, but overall, the picture is unmistakeable. A missing pixel is not evidence that the picture is an illusion, but a sign that more work is to be done.

    Christian model of our universe. Creation story was recorded thousands of years ago. It is high level, low resolution. It contains things directly in conflict with scientific knowledge (earth created before stars, plants created before light, etc.) Many of the human added elaborations have subsequently been found to be wrong (e.g. sun and everything else orbits the earth, etc.) The justice system and morality defined in the bible is in conflict with our Consti.tutional system of laws. In the bible, people can be punished for crimes done by their ancestors, slavery is regulated, women have a subservient role, etc. If you focus on only the parts you like, you can see a beautiful picture, but if you look at the whole bible, the picture is not beautiful and it is not supported by reality (i.e. is an illusion).

    Maybe Mr. Bell started to discover this.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:22 pm |
    • TheTruth

      Your claims about Christian teachings versus science are largely out of touch with reality – where did you come up with this?

      January 8, 2014 at 7:29 pm |
      • bostontola

        For the Christian creation story, Genesis. For the biblical laws, it's all through the bible. The science is in any number of textbooks or google it.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:38 pm |
      • Fukery

        And yet you refuted none of his points. Why?

        January 8, 2014 at 7:39 pm |
      • cosmicsnoop

        You are kidding right? This person makes perfect sense. When you realize the bible is just a book of man made mythology, you see how out of touch with reality people are who actually try to fit these bizarre notions into real life. It doesn't work. I figured out at age 12 there could not possibly be a devil or hell, through rational thought. Many years later I explained why it is baloney to my in-laws and how it's not very hard to figure out it's make-believe, since I did at 12. Their response was: well, I don't agree. Well, if that conversation was a high school debate, I won. I presented my argument and backed it up and they had no way to defend their beliefs because you can't. They're silly.

        January 8, 2014 at 8:07 pm |
  15. QS

    "The Age of Enlightenment" (originating about 1650-1700) was a cultural movement of intellectuals beginning in Europe in the late 17th century, emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition.

    Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method.

    It promoted scientific thought, skepticism, and intellectual interchange. It opposed superst.ition and intolerance, with the Catholic Church a favorite target.

    The new intellectual forces spread to urban centers across Europe, notably: England, Scotland, the German states, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Italy, Austria, and Spain. Then those forces jumped the Atlantic to the colonies, where it influenced Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, among many others, and played a major role in the American Revolution.

    The "heretics" of their day dared to stand up to religious superst.ition, intolerance, tyranny and persecution at their own risk.

    Those same "heretics", who challenged the overall concepts and notions of religion and faith we now refer to today as intellectuals and philosophers.

    Now why would we today refer to a period of time in our history wherein religion was diminished and reason was embraced, as a period of enlightenment?

    And the better question: why, as we consider reason to be a more enlightened position than faith in this context, do so many people today insist on remaining unenlightened?

    January 8, 2014 at 7:20 pm |
    • Hear, hear!

      "The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

      Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind." –John Adams [from A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787-1788)]

      January 8, 2014 at 7:29 pm |
    • TheTruth

      “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our Creator and, I hope, to the pure doctrine of Jesus also.” Thomas Jefferson
      "The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: 'that God governs in the affairs of men.' And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?" – Benjamin Franklin

      January 8, 2014 at 7:31 pm |
      • Benjamin Franklin

        “some books against Deism fell into my hands; . . . The arguments of the Deists . . . appeared to me much stronger than the refutation; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.” (from his Autobiography)

        January 8, 2014 at 7:38 pm |
      • Doris

        Jefferson did follow the teachings of Jesus. But he was an enlightened Deist and as such, likely did not believe in the divnity of Christ nor any of the magic in the Bible. In fact he wrote his own version of the Bible that was only 84 pages long. Deists also did not generally believe that God played an active role in people's lives – he was simply the Creator.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
    • TheTruth

      You actually think that Wikipedia is a credible source?

      January 8, 2014 at 7:37 pm |
      • Doris

        It can be a good starting point in many cases. It's good to check out the sources given there. Is there something in particular that QS wrote that you find in error?

        January 8, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
  16. Peter

    As if there's any doubt that at the end of the year, this guy is gonna say something akin to "my faith came back, stronger than ever!"

    January 8, 2014 at 7:19 pm |
    • skarphace

      That is an urban myth, TheTruth. Do you want the truth? The Red Cross only spends around 22% of their donations on their own administration. Source: www. givewell. org/international/disaster-relief/International-Federation-of-the-Red-Cross

      January 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm |
      • skarphace

        I have absolutely no idea why my comment was posted here. I will try again in the correct place.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:36 pm |
  17. loki

    pastor dipsh1t, go f yourself.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:17 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      Now that he is free of religious dogmas he can go f himself. Now isn't that great.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:21 pm |
  18. CanI

    I am homeless and atheist. But have not thought of a journey this guy is announcing. May I get that much support he got? $19K with that short time. I need to try this journey – experimenting rather than living it. What a joke! 🙂

    January 8, 2014 at 7:13 pm |
    • Lord Joe

      You homeless and yet yous got a computer? How you work that out? Where you yous the compuker? They got em at the homeless shelter? I'm confused.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:32 pm |
  19. JesusChrist Son of God Son of Mary Brother to the Holy Ghost

    Just what us atheist need, a religious person with a pea brain. He has proved he has no brain, so he cannot be an atheist.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:11 pm |
  20. QS

    Whenever two renowned religious people meet to debate their beliefs, some refer to this as "a meeting of great religious minds to discuss the various inner-workings of their respective beliefs".

    But when a non-believer and a religious person ever try to debate their differing beliefs it’s something completely different.

    In the first scenario, the two that are meeting both argue their individual positions from a similar foundation – faith, which for some reason is viewed as being worthy of respect and adoration.

    But in the second scenario, the non-believer begins the conversation from a fundamentally opposite foundation – logic, which in this context is viewed by the religious person as "attacking or mocking their beliefs".

    In this, I believe there can never truly be any common ground to be found…there can only be coexistence.

    Unfortunately, far too often it seems that religious people have no interest in coexistence as much as they would prefer that everybody simply believe as they do for nothing more than convenience and conformity.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:09 pm |
    • AE

      Sorry, but I've known some completely illogical, irrational and down right dumb non-believers in my life. Most are smart, but not all. And I've also known some brilliant and logically minded believers. Men and women that are paid good money to teach believers, and, yes, non-believers mathematics and other logically minded subjects at university levels.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:16 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        Agreed.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
        • AE

          And I kind of get what QS is trying to say. But it just isn't quite... sufficient.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:27 pm |
      • QS

        In the context of my comment your response doesn't make sense as each scenario was based on the people doing the debating being "renowned" in their fields.

        Thought I had made that clear, but apparently I need to clarify even further my point.

        Obviously any two shmucks can ramble on incoherently about their beliefs going back and forth, but that's not what I was suggesting.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:40 pm |
        • AE

          What is a renowned non-believer renowned in?

          January 8, 2014 at 7:44 pm |
        • QS

          Examples would be Hitchens or Dawkins, Sagan and Hawking.

          They are renowned in philosophy, psychology, history and even religion.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:55 pm |
        • AE

          Hitchens was a good writer and journalist. But he wasn't a renowned psychologist or historian. He drank and smoked himself to death, in a time when the dangers of doing both were widely known, which seems completely illogical and irrational to me.

          None of these guys are renowned psychologists or historians. Most are known as "pop" scientists. They simplify their scientific and cultural understanding for a mass audience to sell books.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:05 pm |
        • QS

          Could say the same about what most people consider a renowned religious leader....like the Pope.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:07 pm |
        • QS

          And it seems you're sort of proving my point – the non-believer in these scenarios is typically the one viewed with suspi.cion and doubt while the religious person is given every benefit of the doubt. Why?

          January 8, 2014 at 8:10 pm |
        • AE

          There are believers that are renowned in philosophy, psychology, and history. Non-believers do not hold any exclusive claim to these subjects. Believers win Noble Prizes and peer reviewed awards.

          There are believers that teach non-believers about philosophy, psychology and history.

          The Big Bang Theory was fathered by a Catholic priest!

          How would a conversation between a renowned chemist who happened to be Jewish or a Noble Prize winning biologist who happened to be a Christian and you go?

          January 8, 2014 at 8:33 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      @QS

      So let's identify the root cause(s).
      1) Lack of well-rounded education at young ages?
      2) Indoctrination into religion, often beginning with baptism near birth?
      3) Poorly managed life stresses that drive one to seek justification or "a plan" behind one's life circu mstances?
      4) Peer pressures from family and friends?
      5) Something else?

      This is the blueprint to stop the crazy...stop these things from happening.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:33 pm |
      • QS

        The very basic, most fundamental root cause is fear of death. And that's the one most people have the hardest time reconciling.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
        • exlonghorn

          Maybe just fear in general...but yes, I absolutely agree. What a miserable way to live your life.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:43 pm |
        • exlonghorn

          Maybe just fear in general...but yes, I absolutely agree. What a miserable way to live your life.

          January 8, 2014 at 8:43 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      @QS

      So let's identify the root cause(s).
      1) Lack of well-rounded education at young ages?
      2) Indoctrination into religion, often beginning with baptism near birth?
      3) Poorly managed life stresses that drive one to seek justification or "a plan" behind one's life?
      4) Peer pressures from family and friends?
      5) Something else?

      This is the blueprint to stop the crazy...stop these things from happening.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:38 pm |
    • counterww

      Who's defining what is logical ? the atheist? Now that is funny.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:06 pm |
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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.