My Story

I’m quite honored to have had my request for inclusion to the blog accepted by John, with facilitation provided by Ed Babinski. The big names here (with more to come) both goads me to raise the bar on my efforts to post, and amazes me that I ever made it in. This introduction post will serve as a brief bio.

I am an ex-minister, though without a formal education or denominational attachment in ministry, unlike some of my fellow contributors here. I am an ex-drug abuser. I am an atheist.

My story is no more special than any of the others here, or of your own. Raised in Redneckville, USA, nestled safely away from temptation and any semblance of a classical education, I did what every child does: I trusted my authorities and parents. I made the oh-so-courageous decision to abandon moral responsibility and ask Jesus to take away all my guilt and shame as a pre-teen. At that point, unfortunately for my parents (and for Jesus), I moved to Nerd City.

Every week, my allowance was spent solely upon paperbacks from the K-Mart across the road, and science became a passion (not to mention that it was a more beautiful epistemology than a Presuppositionalism founded on the Cinderella-esque “Prince Jesus picked me, a lowly pauper, and put the Glass Slipper of the Holy Ghost on me” story). By 16, I had already developed pretty deep and serious doubts about the Christian worldview, partly due to the things I had learned about anthropology, the evolving (memetic) tenets of all religions, and Christianity in particular (especially post-Enlightenment), and one of my favorite subjects, cosmology.

The simplistic non-answers proffered by religious authorities I sought assistance from did nothing but further my doubts, and when my father, a devout Southern Baptist, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, I became a sort of agnostic, more of a nihilist, although I didn’t know it at the time. To be fair, childhood religious experiences are often suspect as claims of deep and meaningful rational decisions. My own decision to give up the idea of faith at 16 is impugned by the personal grief and confusion of finding out about my dad’s condition, I will concede. Irrespective of this, I began using drugs shortly thereafter. Possibly I would have used regardless of my worldview, I can’t really say, but I moved quickly from alcohol and weed to harder drugs.

Suffice it to say I only used in this fashion for a few months before my mother found out and I was sent to get help. On my graduation date (May 1999) I was sitting in a circle saying, “Hi, I’m Daniel, and I’m an addict…” (…hi Daniel...). After returning to the real world, I didn’t last long before using again. I was told this would happen, because, in their words, I hadn’t “hit rock bottom yet”. I also refused to give up alcohol and weed, believing I could simply abandon the harder stuff but keep smoking dope with no “gateway” issue. I was wrong, obviously.

In retrospect, I see they were right, but for the wrong reasons, but that is for another essay. I was arrested August 14th of that year for eight felonies, placed on house arrest (with the ankle bracelet that Martha made infamous), and assigned to stand trial in November. My attorney negotiated to have me sent to Appalachian Teen Challenge, my parents’ ultimatum, in order to have the case taken “under advisement”. I was there 14 months. I spent an average of 20 hours a week in Bible study and around 10 hours a week in prayer. I came out and was “on fire for God” (or a well-programmed holybot, depending on your perspective). My charges were reduced to one misdemeanor and lots of probation, and a great deal of the clemency was attributable to the people I had robbed−known drug dealers.

I enrolled in engineering at SVCC while I became the youth pastor at a church of ~500 people, then went off to Virginia Tech to finish my degree. I got married, got a B.S. Biochemistry / B.A. Chemistry, and enrolled in a Ph.D. chemistry program at the University of Florida. I then re-initiated a defunct freethought student organization at UF.

I was a holybot, and am now an atheist. What happened in between my departure from TC and now is long, convoluted, and I am still trying to figure out. Succinctly, I began to study the Bible more in-depth, evolutionary theory and its evidence of a blind and chance process producing humans, and I started to read basic philosophical arguments against god’s existence, possibly most important of all, I began to reflect upon the process by which I acquired faith, my motives and reasons for believing and practicing religion. From my introspection and studies, from my interaction with friends and family, with pastors and laymen, with scholars and everyday working “Joes”, I abandoned faith in God. I was already an atheist towards Zeus and Allah and a million other concepts of god, and basically I just became an atheist towards one more − the Judeo-Christian god of my heritage.

So...that’s my story, in brief, or at least as briefly as I could stand to make it. Hopefully, those who come to this blog and read my posts and comments will judge my ideas on their own merits, and nothing else. Again, I am glad to be here, and I know I’ll learn a lot from the more-learned-than-I who allowed me aboard, and I am enthused to jump into the fray at the interface between us heretics and some of thedefenders of the faithwho have engaged with the blog so far (and all the others we expect to debate with).

Thanks for taking the time to read about me. Feel free to email me anytime.

13 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Welcome aboard Daniel. With passion like this you'll do very well here. Danny has also revamped our Blog, and it looks much better. Thanks!

DagoodS said...

Welcome, Brother Danny. Cosmology has been a pet project of mine in the past six months. I find it addicting. If you take requests, I would love a blog on this area.

exbeliever said...

Danny,

Glad to have you. I look forward to your posts.

b4d6uy said...

Where is Kayla?

Daniel said...

All,

b4d6uy is referring to a friend of mine who recently committed suicide, which I wrote about here. I don't know if he was born an asshole or if he took lessons on it from God, or if it is a divine gift, or what.

b4d6uy,

Where is Kayla? I'll answer that in the form of another question: where is Jesus?

The same place you'll be in a few scant years. Read into that what you will, since if you only implied the grave, which is true, then I guess that's not an insult [if yours wasn't].

Rodge said...

Brother Danny, does being an antheist mean that you are also a materialst (or non-spiritualist)? Recently I've been surprised to realize that my doubts about a traditional God do not mean that it isn't rational to believe in individual spirituality, or even to believe in an unorthodox version of Christianity. I don't want to take more of your time if this doesn't interest you, but if it does, you can find a summary of my conclusions at www.explorerationalfaith.net.

Daniel said...

Rodge,

I am a materialist.

I read a few of your essays, including the one on spirituality.

I wish I had the optimism to consider my free will and thoughts more than an epiphenomenon which is, reductionally speaking, the movement of electrons and ions through the big piece of fat inside my skull. I think there is a part of us that, no matter how disciplined to reason, cries out in agony at the demise of free will in the traditional sense. We certainly have the power to make choices, but are those choices not at the mercy of the desires we feel, which are themselves at the mercy of our biochemistry, ad nauseum? When you say:
Here’s the logic: What goes on in the physical world affects our decisions. Our decisions in turn affect the physical world. But between input and output, something happens that is not governed by physical laws: We exercise our free will. A name for a part of reality not governed by physical laws is spirituality. This evidence that the physical and non-physical can co-exist and interact is profoundly important, and not a bit superstitious or illogical.
I find myself wanting to agree, except when we say "non-physical" I simply cannot conceive of such a thing. Not only can I not conceive of such a thing, I simply have no reason to believe that such a thing exists. The thoughts in my mind, the feelings I feel, they are not just biochemistry, in the "value" sense, but they certainly are biochemistry, in the physical sense. Without the biochemistry, the feelings are different or do not exist. Thus, again, I am a materialist.

Thanks for the intriguing thoughts, though.

b4d6uy said...

Danny,

Why do you consider my question an insult, and make me out to be an asshole?

You invited us to read your background. I did. Kayla's death appears to be a life altering event for you. I think you are in pain; and I think you are looking for relief. It seems I struck a raw nerve. Sorry about that.

I wasn't implying anything, btw. I wanted to hear what you thought. If you ask me what I think, I think she's in Heaven w/Jesus (you did say she was "saved"). Oh - I think Jesus is in Heaven.

I'd rather believe Kayla is in Heaven rather than just dead in the ground; but that's your prerogative.

Peace.

Jeff

Daniel said...

Jeff,

If that was all you intended, then I apologize. Short posts on sensitive matters tend to be barbs more than consolations.

I suppose I would like to believe that she is in heaven, that I will be one day, that there is a big giant Guy in the Sky watching over us, but I simply have no good reason to. I would like to believe there is a huge diamond buried in my back yard, but the same skeptical burden of proof applies there, as well.

Do you think I don't want to believe that I will see my wife again in some blissful paradise after we die, and Kayla, and my parents and friends? Unfortunately, those things which appeal to our mortality will not make us immortal.

Peace to you, as well, as Jesus was reputed to have said, the peacemakers will be called sons of God, but the people perceived as leaving pointed comments to make a theological barb will be called assholes. ;)

b4d6uy said...

Still not sure why you thought it was a barb. Prickly, maybe. I'm guessing that Kayla's death might be what sent you "over the edge" in your loss of faith.

I was actually more concerned that the other's on this list didn't seem to notice your baggage. If anything, the terseness was directed at them.

If I were you, I'd be pretty pissed off at God. Deciding that there is no God...man, where do you direct your anger?

Jesus doesn't exist either, right? Why do you quote him?

Jeff

Rodge said...

Danny,

If you don’t believe in free will, I can’t change your mind by arguing with you. But free will is such a central part of my philosophy, that I need to test and challenge my own belief, to be sure I’m not kidding myself. So I want to be sure I understand what you’re saying. I agree that my decisions are influenced by the laws of nature. But are you saying more than that -- that they’re dictated by the laws of nature? Was it pre-determined by the laws of nature that, when I got up this morning, I would write this note to you, rather than look through other threads, or play a computer game? When I’m out for a leisurely walk, and pause to decide whether to turn left or to turn right, then decide to turn right, then change my mind and decide to turn right -- are you saying that all that is pre-determined by the laws of nature? Are you saying that, given enough information, someone could have predicted these particular choices at that particular time? My day is filled with hundreds of choices that, to me, seem influenced by the physical world, but not controlled by it. Am I correct in thinking that you’re saying all that is an illusion, that even my most trivial decisions are out of my control?

Daniel said...

Jeff,
I think the readers of this site are intelligent and perceptive enough to see exactly why it looks like a barb and sounds like a barb. A one-sentence quip about a dead good friend who recently committed suicide, if it isn't, "i'm sorry to hear that" or "sorry for your loss" or "at least she's at peace now" but instead is an open-ended "where is she?"...yeah, I think readers are intelligent enough to hear the implication there.

As for my "baggage". If I have baggage, so what? I didn't try to dig it up and lay it out on the comments board, as you did by going offsite and reading a personal story of mine then throwing it casually out to evoke a reaction from me. This site isn't about me, Jeff, or my baggage; this site is about the lack of logic and evidence for reasonable faith in Christianity.

Anger? No, I am sad that she died feeling hopeless and alone, in part because she believed that if she kept praying and trying harder she would eventually receive help "from on High" that never came.

I'm not angry at Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy, or, in Darrow's words, Mother Goose. Why should God be any different?

Jesus may be based (loosely) on some historical figure, or not. We certainly find more than a couple of possibilities from the Talmud, but none that match the Bible's criteria. Of course, Christians [Eusebius, most likely], desperate to make Jesus a solid historical figure, invented some "proof" in the writings of Josephus, now didn't they?

Speaking of that, and of Mother Goose, I want to quote Origen:
The old mythological fables, which attributed a divine origin to Perseus, and Amphion, and Aeacus, and Minos, were not believed by us. Nevertheless, that they might not appear unworthy of credit, they represented the deeds of these personages as great and wonderful, and truly beyond the power of man; but what hast thou done that is noble or wonderful either in deed or in word?

And Justin Martyr:
And when we say also that the Word, who is First begotten of God, was born for us without sexual union, Jesus Christ our teacher and that He was crucified and died and rose again and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing new beyond what you believe concerning those whom you call sons of Zeus. For you know of how many sons of Zeus your esteemed writers speak: Hermes the interpreting Word and teacher of all; Asclepius, who thought he was a great healer, after being struck by a thunderbolt ascended into heaven; and Dionysus too who was torn to pieces; and Heracles, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his pains; and the Dioscuri, the sons of Leda; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who though of mortal origin rose to heaven on the horse Pergasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been said to have been placed among the stars? And what of your deceased emperors, whom you think it right to deify and on whose behalf you produce someone who swears that he has seen the burning Caesar ascend to heaven from the funeral pyre?

Exactly what, again, separates the stories about Jesus in the Bible from the stories about any of these others [as even Justin and Origen here admit]? The historical personas each of the gods listed are based upon may indeed be real. Who cares? They're all dead now. So is Jesus.

You didn't appreciate some Scripture? I figured, since you esteem it as "God's Word", that you would appreciate the reference. Maybe I was trying to be a peacemaker, or witty, or both.

So, no, I'm not angry at a god, dead or otherwise, just disillusioned with those who self-appoint themselves as that god's ambassadors.

Daniel said...

Rodge,

About prediction:
I'm not saying at all that the laws of nature are predictive of your actions and behaviors and thoughts, because that would only work if we had a simple formula and the correct variables to predict whether you would write me a note or read a forum or newspaper...

Two systems to consider are quantum mechanics and nonlinear dynamics.

Think quantum uncertainty: even something no one ascribes "mind" or "choice" or "agency" to, quantum mechanics, is itself frought with fundamental uncertainty and fundamental randomness. If the very atoms that constitute matter that constitutes you are fraught with uncertainty and elements of chance and randomness, how much more so for your brain and thoughts and choices?

Think nonlinear dynamics: mathematical systems which do not allow the prediction of outcomes even given all the initial conditions and an equation to model the average behavior. The tiniest variation in initial condition, like a parts per trillion concentration change of dye within water, changes the pattern that emerges drastically. How apt this is an analogy of human behavior. Human behavior is statistically predictable just as the laws of quantum mechanics are. I can give you a 95% confidence interval over which the density of electrons in an orbital are higher than the average time spent within a certain nuclear radius. I can't predict it perfectly, nor human behavior, even assuming that human behavior is mathematically modelled as electron velocities are...

Let's break it down to this: primary causes. Is your choice to turn right a primarily nonphysical cause? Does some immaterial mind initiate the idea "turn right" and, at some mystical interface with your material mind (which I'm sure you don't deny--the brain), it causes the material to act upon what the immaterial has initiated? Or, is the function of the material mind (brain) wholly independent of, and not contingent upon, anything immaterial? I choose the latter, because I have no logical reason to suppose that a "spirit," or anything immaterial that can cause material things to act, exists.

Would I bet my life on it? Nope. I'm not a philosopher at all, much the less one of mind. I am just a chemist. I have a lot of biochemistry as a background (B.S., Virginia Tech, Biochemistry), so I know the intricacies of biofeedback and the systems-level controls and switches and such that the body uses. This level of complexity can produce the illusion of agency within systems like gluconeogenesis and metabolism in general..."how did the body know to turn that off, or on, or slow that down, or speed that up?" But, upon close and serious inspection, the laws of physics are still operating, no differently than the operate on the same chemicals swirling in a beaker.

I think the problem I have is that I understand chemistry well enough to see that there is no fundamental difference in the chemistry inside your brain, the chemistry inside a mouse's brain, the chemistry inside a reptile's brain, etc. They all operate according to the same laws of physics. So do their livers. (do reptiles have livers, hmm...can't remember)

I can't help but say non sequitur if we invoke free will for ourselves but not for my dog. She (a beautiful Saint Bernard) just got up and moved across the room and laid down in a different spot. Did she not choose to do so? But did she choose to do so "freely", or because of the laws of physics and chemistry inside her big furry brain?

The idea of a "free" will is that it can somehow supercede, be transcendent to, or override the laws of physics and chemistry. I just cannot understand or believe such a thing, and, due to the constraints of observation and the philosophy of naturalism, science could never hope to substantiate such a thing. The assumptions that everything we observe obeys the laws of physics is what underlies our ability to do science in the first place.

Sorry I rambled on so much. How about we make this an email conversation?