Daniel Dennett on Preachers Who Do Not Believe

Yep, that's right. There are preachers who don't believe. That's what Dennett's study explored in a recent study.

PZ Meyers had this to say:
Dan Dennett has been studying the phenomenon of preachers who don't believe what they preach, and the paper and commentary are available at the Washington post. Strangely, the newspaper has headlined it as "Skeptical clergy a silent majority?", which is odd — the work doesn't attempt to quantify how many unbelievers there are in the ministry, but is more of a case study of those they've found…and since they are only describing the in-depth interviews of five people, it's absurd to try and draw conclusions about proportions.

It's interesting stuff, but utterly unsurprising to atheists. These are people who entered the ministry out of a sincere desire to do good in the world, and as they delved into religious scholarship, they discovered they couldn't believe anymore…but hey, they were still humane and concerned about their fellow human beings. They're also concerned about what will happen to their income if they leave the church, and what will happen to the opinion others have of them. And they engage in some difficult and twisty rationalizations for their situations.

One other interesting point is that several of them came to their atheism by way of reading books by Ehrman and Spong, and also Harris and Hitchens. These works do make a difference. Unfortunately, we also learn that while they have received enlightenment, they're very, very reluctant to share that shameful knowledge with their congregations, and continue to reassure them about belief in god.

Unfortunately, the Washington Post couldn't just put up Dennett's bombshell on its own: they've surrounded it with a confusing cloud of commissioned articles to answer the question, "What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination?" Most of them are believers, except for Rebecca Goldstein and Tom Flynn and Herb Silverman, and most of them are making excuses. You just knew that someone would make the inane argument that "doubt is part of faith." No, it's not. Faith is the blunt instrument used to crush doubt.

The comments on Dennett's article are also fascinating. There are people who are quite upset about his revelation. And there is even a Cracker Catholic there, claiming that an atheist priest at communion turned a wafer into a hunk of bloody meat — therefore, god, apparently.

Just watch. This is news that will provoke protests and complaints and lots of excuses. I hope it also encourages more ministers to come out of the closet and face reality, instead of making it their profession to obscure the truth.
You can read the study for yourself right here.

For a Washington Post story on it click here.


Winston Smith said...

Of course there are preachers who don't believe. That's one reason why the church has so many problems; in the New Testament they were called "wolves in sheeps clothing".

John, you and Dan Barker are both good examples of people who preached even after they didn't believe.

I can only imagine the damage that could have been done had you stayed in the church, but the Lord let you expose yourselfves.

Stephan Huller said...

John, if you want me stop mentioning this I will no longer post these stories at your blog. But I have decided to track Biblioblog sites (including Joel's) as they continue to out pace Fortune 500 companies in Pakistan.


I will demonstrate a trend that ONLY THESE sites consistently rank as the highest sites in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the claim that Alexa is somehow 'inaccurate' cannot explain the phenomena. This supposed 'anomaly' shows up every day, every week, all the time.

Joel is supposedly more popular in Pakistan than he is in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Pakistan 27,167
United Kingdom 37,369
Canada 38,282

What is even more astounding about that number is that only half the country can actually speak English, so one would imagine that among English speaking Pakistanis that number would be MUCH HIGHER (if it were true) and would eclipse his ranking in the United States of 19,437.

There is no correlation between ability to speak English in Pakistan and interest or faith in Christianity.

Please, please do a story on this. I have increasing doubts that these numbers are a result of anything other than the use of technology on the part of at least some Bibliobloggers which originates from sites in Pakistan, although I can't prove any of this. Technology like:


At the moment all of this is just an open question, one which could be the result of alternative factors I might not have considered. Maybe some of your readership with be able to fill in the blanks.

A 27,000 score in a country of 179,000,000 would account for a massive increase in one's Alexa rankings.

Let's hope we can all find the truth.

إن شاء الله

Dan DeMura said...

John thanks for sharing the article information... As a former pastor myself...I for one was never able to preach what I didn't believe, and because I couldn't wear the mask it got me in "doctrinal" trouble quite a few times while I was active in ministry.

I admit there were times when I would purposely avoid certain topics in my discussions, because I didn't want to stir controversy.

But after a while you have to let it go... I don't see how guys continue to stand in the pulpit when they don't believe.

Johnny P said...

@ Winston Smith

These patronising evangelising posts are quite sad, really. The Lord let's people expose themselves, just like he lets a tsunami kill 200,000 people. You always want it both ways. God actively promotes wolves exposing themselves, but somehow cannot be held to blame over the world that he supposedly designed and created for causing untold pain and suffering to innocent thousands.


Brad said...

"Just watch. This is news that will provoke protests and complaints and lots of excuses."

Based on a case study of five? Why should anyone offer "protests and lots of excuses" when PZ himself admits that the study doesn't attempt to quantify anything. Would finding five hypocritical atheists prove anything to PZ and a majority of folks here...I doubt it. That humans are hyocritical, irregardless of personal paradigms, is nothing new under the sun.

gamedirt said...

I remember the study was part of this talk he did last year. Interesting stuff.

Anthony said...



"wovles in sheeps clothing" is a bit off the mark. Does this mean that they are preaching unbiblical doctrines? Does this mean that they are trying to lead their "flock" away from Christ? Are they trying to force atheism down the congregation's throats?

I'm an atheist through and through, yet I could totally be a preacher, preaching "sound Biblical doctrine" and "giving all the glory to God" every single Sunday. Hell, they just repeat the same stuff almost every time.

the only "wolves" I can think of are those reprehensible Catholics priests. There're your wolves.

These pastors; just people caught in an almost impossible situation, trying not to end up on the streets with no job and trying not to upset everyone they know. I know that if the pastor at my old church were to come out as a non-believer, their would be multiple lives ruined by such an admission.

Certainly not the description of a wolf right there, but maybe it's just me.

Lynn said...

I can't believe these preachers would be called wolves in sheep's clothing. That seems rather harsh.

I think preachers, for the most part, want to help people. They can get into it all, then somewhere along the way, realize that they no longer believe this stuff. Then they have to figure out a way to get out gracefully, or they start realizing that maybe they are still doing good helping people in their present position.

What irks me is that if you simply change your mind about what you believe, you are considered evil. That is very hurtful, besides being untrue, ofcourse. You are simply a human being who has changed their mind.

Chuck O'Connor said...


You said, "That humans are hyocritical, irregardless of personal paradigms, is nothing new under the sun."

Irregardless is not a word. You mean to use regardless. Irregardless would mean the same thing as regardless. Now, irrespective is a word.

AdamK said...

"...the Lord let you expose yourselfves."

Isn't it convenient how the doctrine of free will comes and goes, depending on what you're arguing?

normajean said...

Chuck, commas have appropriate placements.