Durango Skeptics and Atheists

A Community for Critical Thinkers in the Four Corners Region

Category: Religion

I recently had the opportunity to do something I would have never done on my own: Visit a Hindu temple to participate in a full moon fire ceremony.

Our group arrived early to Haidakhandi Universal Ashram in the midst of a crisp, cheery morning. A friendly woman with fair skin and light hair, who looked to be in her mid to late twenties, greeted us outside in front of the temple. She smiled warmly as she welcomed us to the ashram. In her hands were three items, one of which was a small container of rice. The other two items, paste-like substances, were a bright yellow and a bright red. She dabbed a bit of each on our foreheads and then stuck a few rice grains there. I believe these three items were meant to represent the qualities of clarity, beauty and abundance (but I could be remembering it wrong…..).

Read More

Members Talk- Christianity and the Rise of Jesus Christ (Superstar) on YouTube

If you missed the last Members Talk on Christianity and Jesus, no need to fret. Thanks to member Preston Benson, we have the presentation in its entirety on our newly created Durango Skeptics and Atheists YouTube channel. Hopefully, we will add other videos to the channel as the opportunity arises.

Check it out:


An Evening With Richard Dawkins

Thanks to Member Robyn Baxendale for sharing this awesome experience with us.

An Evening with Richard Dawkins (aka the best night of my life!)

by Robyn Baxendale

It all started with some random guy handing me his parking pass, score! My daughter Lindsay and I then proceeded to walk along Pearl Street Mall in Boulder looking for a unique place to eat lupper (lunch + supper). On our way we stopped by the Boulder Theater to make sure we knew where to go later that evening (yep, I’m getting old) and I took the opportunity to snap a photo of Lindsay in front of the marquee.

Baxendale 01

The breakfast place Snooze tickled our fancy but they had just closed. We went back to the van and perused my phone for restaurant reviews and decided on the French bistro Brasserie Ten Ten known for their generous happy hour menu. It surely lived up to all the fuss, how could it not with cream filled mozzarella? We still had time before Dawkins so we decided to get our nails done. I’ve only had three manicures in my life, all for weddings (including my own!), Dawkins surely deserved the same attention to detail.

It was then time to head over to the theater. The line was long, snaking into the alley, and it was raining but lucky for me my jacket and pants were water resistant. Lindsay was not so fortunate (what a cruel mother I am!) The seating was general admission so we were a little apprehensive about our place in line. Should we have skipped the nail pampering and waited in line for an extra hour to guarantee choice seating?

As we entered the theater I overheard an employee telling some people that the balcony had a great view of the entire theater.  We headed up the stairs and low and behold found seats in the front row!Baxendale 02

Choosing the seats next to us were a pair of recent college grads and one of them offered to buy us drinks. “Umm, this is my 13 year old daughter and I’m her Mom, so no, she will not be having any Jameson in her Coke!” While he was getting our drinks we learned from his friend that an anthropology degree will get you a job as a beer line tech, good to know. Our drinks were delivered just as Dawkins was taking the stage.

Now was the moment we had all been waiting for! Dawkins was questioned for about hour by Annabelle Gurwitch of whom I was previously unaware but am now a fan. This was followed by a half hour of audience questions. I’m just going to list what Lindsay and I can recall from that time (quotes are paraphrased):

On the topic of new age hippie types Dawkins remarked, “They are pernicious but I don’t believe they are viciously pernicious.” In contrast to pernicious conservatives. Pernicious seemed to be his word of the night.

When asked by an audience member why teeth haven’t evolved to be cavity resistant Dawkins replied that he once asked his own dentist, Dr. Sharp, the same question. Dr. Sharp retired so he started seeing Dr. Tack. Dr. Tack asked Dawkins who his previous dentist was and he told him it was Dr. Sharp. Dr. Tack replied, “This couldn’t possibly be the work of Dr. Sharp. I know his work and this is not it!” But why haven’t our teeth evolved to resist cavities? We eat too much sugar! Dawkins wonders why Americans put sugar in everything, even beef stew!

People were asking Dawkins a plethora of political questions. He is an evolutionary biologist and an outspoken atheist so he was a bit perturbed that he was being asked so many questions outside of his expertise and lamented that he didn’t want to, “sit up here and be the wise old man.” That being said, when one audience member used his question time to make a political statement about the importance of getting involved in politics Dawkins chose to emphasize the point instead of brushing him off. Bravo! Dawkins then added that the squeaky wheel usually gets their way.

Dawkins believes that the arc of history bends towards justice but it’s like a saw tooth and we are on a downturn right now. Wah-wah.

He sees climate change as the most important problem we are facing right now. Not that we should ignore other problems but this is the most pressing.

Dawkins noted that our human tribes are more global now because of the internet rather than geographic as in the past. Gurwitch said that her next book was going to be about tribes versus tribalism.

A recovering Southern Baptist thanked Dawkins for opening his mind and changing his life. Dawkins said, “So many people have said that to me and I can’t tell you how much it means to me.” Applause!

Dawkins is tickled that gay marriage and marijuana were legalized around the same time in Colorado. After all, the Bible says that when a man lies with another man he shall be stoned.

Lastly, he was asked about finding meaning in life, ala Viktor Frankl. Dawkins replied that for genes it is simply about survival and propagation. As people, we create our own meaning.

It was now time for book signings. No selfies and have your book open to the title page, assembly line style. Dang. We were told to stay in our seats and we would be called up by rows. Well, seems they forgot about us lowly balcony dwellers so we just waited until we could see the end of the line. While in line we met Chauncey from Secular Hub in Denver. They have their own building and serve as a hot spot for all things secular. Check them out at: www.secularhub.org  Also while in line I was given a photo of Dawkins from CFI (Center for Inquiry) to be signed.

With these happy distractions my turn to hit the stage came as a shock. Equipped with a smile from ear to ear and a brain on auto pilot I somehow managed to get my book signed. And then this happened…Baxendale 03.jpg

Me: “Can I have a high five?” Dawkins: “What’s that? Like this?” Did he not know what a high five was or was he asking what I had said?! Either way, yay for me! I then proceeded to introduce Lindsay in the fashion of a spokes model, “Up next, the youngest member of our audience, my 13 year old daughter Lindsay!” Annabelle Gurwitch (apparently amused by my shenanigans) told Dawkins to give Lindsay a high five so that she could take a picture to post on social media. Lindsay high fived Dawkins several times and even got to hold the pose for this once in a lifetime photo op (good thing we got our nails done)!Baxendale 04

On our walk back to the car I was an ecstatic mess. I agreed that I would need to calm down before attempting to drive. After some convulsing, steering wheel shaking, and profusely praising Lindsay for having the foresight to take a video of my Dawkins high five encounter we were off.

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to my husband or kids to name this the best night of my life but…this is one squeaky wheel still grinning from ear to ear. Creating my own meaning with my daughter by my side, it doesn’t get much better than this!










A World Without Gods

So much death in the news these days. My heart aches for those families who lost people they love in this latest round of Boko Haram killings in Baga. Boko Haram’s goal? To establish an Islamic State in Nigeria. I can’t help but wonder how people can believe in an all-powerful and influential God amidst the atrocities we see in the world around us.  If you  are a believer, isn’t everything that happens supposed to be part of God’s perfect plan?

I’m reminded of words from Voltaire’s Candide:

“If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?”

If this is what a God-created and supervised world looks like, then what would a world not managed by a supposedly all-loving and all-powerful God look like? What would you expect to observe in such a world? Clearly, if there’s a god looking out for us, he’s pretty inept at his job.

Some  may bring up the fact that according to Christian theology, this is a fallen world and therefore, evil exists. But what of diseases that target the weakest- children and the elderly? Why would this god create such a creature as a virus or a bacterium that inflicts suffering on the innocent? This is exactly what one would expect to see in a world that was not created and supervised by a benevolent god. It’s difficult to rationalize the existence of a god amid a sea of suffering. Suffering we hear about every day, if you are one that happens to check out the news.


I read an article recently that I think states the problem and solution succinctly:

“But it has often been said, if we don’t play God, then who will? Such was the central takeaway of the European Enlightenment and the rise of secular humanism. Working under the assumption that God does not exist (or at the very least, does not intervene in our affairs), a popular opinion emerged stating that humanity has an obligation to take matters into its own hands if it is to truly understand the world and make it a better place. And by applying reason and the scientific method, humanity stands a much better chance of success than idly waiting for a supernatural force that doesn’t appear to exist or care one whit about us.”

Human progress will march on. And with it, hopefully, will come less and less need for religion. Sure, humans will always find justification for doing bad things. But we will always find justification for doing good things as well. We don’t need religion for that either. As former Seventh-day Adventist pastor, Ryan Bell, who now considers himself an atheist put it: “Why do I need religion to love?”

You don’t.





The topic of faith among those who are religious has always been an interesting subject to me- one that I would welcome further exploration and discussion of but for now, I just had to share the words of a good friend who so accurately identified the myriad of problems with faith.

Thanks to Tony D. for these thoughts on the matter:

It is not that I dislike faith (I do, but that is irrelevant), it is just that in years of discussions I have never heard even a half-serious defense of faith as a valid epistemological method; only emotional appeals, and stories of personal experience are offered when the question arises. 

There simply is no reason to believe anything uncritically, none, under any circumstances. This is obvious to a normal person; or to a faithful person in any normal realm of life, like buying a house, signing a contract etc; but when it comes to religion, the weirdest things are presented as “reasonable”, and your complete, uncritical and wholehearted belief is turned into a virtue. It is not; uncritical belief is gullibility, and it renders a reasonable discussion of human rights impossible because faith and dogmas are discussion dead ends; there is no appeal. This is so because, in these matters, the source of these “absolute rules” is always portrayed as a mysterious and invisible entity that can never be checked or expected to answer; only the priests are always ready to tell you the Truth. I find it ironic that absolutes, moral or otherwise, are so appealing to so many in one of the countries that most bravely fought absolutist kings and inflexible rulers.

Discrimination and violence against homosexuals is but one of the many terrible consequences of the faith virus. Some good comes from it too, there are generous charities, truth be told; but we can have the charities without the fear mongering, the child indoctrination, the lies, distortions, living for death, constant and absurd guilt, the delusion that the Universe was created for our use only, that nature is at our service and has no other purpose … and all the other negative consequences of inflexible world views that are sanctioned by god as unquestionable.


Living Deeper With God

Last night of few of us from the group attended a talk entitled “Living Deeper With God” given by Dr. Justin McBrayer, a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Fort Lewis College. His talk was presented as a rebuttal to Dr. Dugald Owen’s talk last Spring “Living Deeper Without God, co-sponsored by Durango Skeptics and Atheists and the Fort Lewis Philosophy Club.

Here’s some recap (with a sprinkling of my own personal opinions on the talk):

Dr. McBrayer made it clear from the beginning that his talk was in no way about providing reasons for believing in the existence of a God. Rather, his talk focused on the quality of life for believers. He told the audience he would be arguing for the following theses:

  1. Theists can have deep lives.
  2. The case for deeper non-theistic lives (as proposed in Dr Owen’s talk) is a failure.
  3. Theists have deeper lives than non-theists.

He appropriately defined what he meant by “a deeper life”- including such things as knowledge, virtue, strong family and interpersonal relationships, contribution to the world, etc.  He then discussed each of these aspects of a deeper life and why theists are just as accessible to them as atheists are-even more so.  He then cited some statistics on various things including how those that are religious are positively correlated with higher education attendance and higher generosity in the form of charitable donations.  Basically, the religious are just happier, smarter, healthier and more generous than those of the non-religious persuasion. At least according to Dr. McBrayer.

Here’s some numbers he presented showing the average annual amount given to charitable organizations:

Religious Conservatives: $2,367

Religious Liberals: $2,130

Non-religious Conservatives: $789

Non-religious Liberals: $661

These numbers came from a book entitled, “Who Really Cares? The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism” by Arthur C. Brooks. I believe it’s based on a table provided in the book. Here is a copy of it I found online:


I thought bringing in data divided between conservatives and liberals was irrelevant to his theses and politicized the discussion unnecessarily. That aside, I was curious about where the data came from. In an effort to learn more, I googled SCCBS. It stands for Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, 2000.

Interestingly, there was another study of the same vein published in August 2013 by authors Michele Margolis and Michael Sances, both from the Department of Political Science at MIT. They concluded that conservatives and liberals are equally generous in their donation habits. Here is what they said about Brook’s use of the SCCBS data:

“One reason for this anomaly could be the unorthodox way in which the SCCBS asks about ideology, which differs from the standard phrasing used in the ANES (American National Election Studies) and GSS (General Social Survey). The ideology question wording in the 2000 SCCBS reads: “Thinking politically and socially, how would you describe your own general outlook–as being very conservative, moderately conservative, middle-of-the-road, moderately liberal or very liberal?” It is likely that this wording compels many economic liberals to identify as social conservatives, and many economic conservatives to identify as social liberals; because social liberals tend to be wealthier, this would explain why liberals in the SCCBS are wealthier. Certainly the wording affects the distribution on the ideology question. Whereas 33 and 34% of respondents in the 2000 ANES and GSS respectively identified as conservatives, the percentage jumps to 43 in the SCCBS. For these reasons, it seems reasonable to ask whether these findings can be replicated using another dataset.”

Other critiques of Brook’s book and his misuse of data are found here and here. The Friendly Atheist had another interesting take on this subject and a similar study found here.


Dr. McBrayer mentioned that religiosity was an indicator of increase in higher education attendance.  In a country where around 90% identify with a belief in a supernatural god, is that really a surprise? The same can be said for prisoners, where the percentage, for example,  of Christians in the prison system is estimated  around 70%.

For me, the underlying irony of the entire talk was Dr. McBrayer’s initial dismissal of reason and well-grounded evidence when considering claims. He stated, “A claim is reasonable to believe only if you have a cogent argument for it? That’s crazy!” He then proceeded to try to establish his own claims by reasoned arguments and evidence. Huh?
 There also seemed to be a sense of categorizing all claims as equal, particularly when he asked, “what is adequate evidence?” That which is considered adequate evidence is different for different claims. If you tell me you had eggs and toast for breakfast and I know you to be a straightforward and honest person, I will most likely believe you without needing further evidence. If you tell me, however, that there is an extra-terrestrial visiting you every night from the planet Gulang, I’m going to need more evidence than just your word.It’s been said before but bares repeating:


There was some wording that Dr. McBrayer used in reference to atheism that seemed plain odd to me- “evidence for atheism” and “arguments for atheism are not good”. To try to convey to Dr. McBrayer how that sounds to an atheist, I’m going to replace a couple of words in those statements:

-“What is the evidence for the non-existence of Bigfoot?

-“Arguments for the non-existence of Bigfoot are not good.”

To clarify, atheists simply do not believe there is substantive evidence to justify a belief in a god. In this case, the burden of proof is on the believer. To use  Dr. McBrayer’s phrasing undercuts that point.


Another thing  I’d like to discuss concerns a statement Dr. McBrayer said during a brief discussion during the Q and A on the “hidden god”, the god who doesn’t reveal himself but is helping you behind the scenes (or something to that effect). Dr. McBrayer illustrated this concept through a story about his young son on a camping trip. He told his son he could walk by himself to a nearby store, to the chagrin of his wife. “What my son didn’t know”, he explained, “is that I was following him the entire way”. Dr. McBrayer then conveyed that this, perhaps, is how god works. He lets us do things on our own for our own personal development but he is there watching over us nonetheless.

Here is why I think this example fails.

Let’s say that as Dr. McBrayer was watching his son, a stranger approached the young boy and began guiding him away from the campground and towards a car. As a parent myself, I have no doubt what would happen next. Dr. McBrayer would swoop in, grab his child and, depending on the circumstances, call the police. Thousands of children are reported missing every day. Why doesn’t God, the ever-present father swoop in and save them as well? I would say that Dr. McBrayer is the better Dad.

The Q and A session also brought up a point on the use of the words “religious” vs “theism”. Dr. McBrayer admitted to interchanging these words and acknowledged the differences in connotation between them.

The last thing Dr. McBrayer said as he closed out the Q and A session, however, was the most surprising to me:

“Practice is more important than belief.”

Wait a minute here! Doesnt’ that undermine your entire theses statements about how a belief in god translates into deeper living? Now you say belief is not so important?

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. McBrayer’s talk and thought it was well presented. I just don’t happen to agree with him.

Incidentally, I just read an article in yesterday’s paper that the second annual World Happiness Report was released Monday from the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network. They found that the highest levels of happiness were in Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden.


Thanks to all who attended the talk and we hope we can continue to take part in the Fort Lewis Philosophy Club’s subsequent discussions.

Coming up next week: “Skeptical Religion-What it Means and Why it Matters”.  For more information, see our meetup page.



Why Christianity is Sometimes Worrisome

Today is a day that I find myself, once again, thanking our founding fathers for their immeasurably wise foresight in penning the First Amendment, particularly in regard to religion in this country. I shudder to think what we would look like if  religion had free reign.

Quit Squirming Cartoon

From The Phoenix  NewTimes Blog

If a handful of Republican state legislators have their way, high school students in Arizona would not be allowed to graduate until taking an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution.

According to  House Bill 2467, sponsered by Republican Arizona state Representative Bob Thorpe, Sonny Borrelli, Carl Seel, T.J. Shope, and Steve Smith, high school students would be required to take an oath before graduating and receiving their diploma.  The Oath states,

“I, _________, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; so help me God.”

Then there’s the story posted on CCN’s iReport blog entitled, Why I Raise My Children Without God”.  The author, a mother to two teenagers living in Texas, outlines her reasons for non-belief and why she is not teaching her kids about God. There was an overwhelming response to her post which led many readers to flag the article as inappropriate. So many, in fact, that CNN requested that people stop.

And then there’s this guy who somehow got himself appointed to the United States House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Yes, there is a multitude of examples of people who call themselves Christians who are attempting to infringe on the rights of others, those that cling to the belief that  the Bible is the greatest moral authority.


I’ve heard it stated from the Moderate Christian that “those guys are giving the rest of us a bad name” (or something along that line)  or “they are not true Christians”.

But the fact of the matter is, they do have their Bible to support them in their intolerance. I also find it difficult to understand how Moderate Christians can ignore the Hell concept found in their bible and what it requires to avoid it.

Member Clayton recently sent DSA members a podcast from Point of Inquiry which discussed the need for atheists/secularists to join forces with moderates to facilitate passage of social policies that we all agree upon. This, I think,  is mostly a good idea. But I  can’t help but  have that nagging feeling about the book moderate Christians adhere to. The parts they’ve cherry-picked, at least.

Which leads me to my next question for the Moderates: If there is so much of the Bible you cannot get behind and have already tossed out, why not just go ahead and toss out the whole thing? One can still follow the philosophies of Jesus (or Buddha or Confucius, etc for that matter) without calling themselves Christian. You can still be a good person and help others without binding yourself to a book which also has supposedly God-proclaimed texts about how to treat slaves, when to stone children, misogynistic tendencies, and, of course, rules on how to get into Heaven and how to end up burning in a Lake of Fire. Most Moderates have already dismissed these parts of the Bible they cannot stomach.

Why not the rest?

It seems some have indeed recognized this incongruity and have turned from organized religion  to classify themselves as “non-affiliated”.  According to a recent Pew study, the “nones” have risen to 19.6 percent here in the US.

This is  great news. Yet, still we have the Paul Brouns, the Rick Santorums, the Rick Warrens- all of which consider themselves Christians. And they are speaking out in the name of their religion.

This is why Christianity worries me.

Happy Reason Rally Day 2012

Today is a special day for Atheists, Agnostics,  and Freethinkers.

For the first time, non-believers are descending upon the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to let our leaders know that we are here and we want representation.

Additionally, this day celebrates living a fulfilled life without  beliefs  in supernatural beings. It celebrates reality and the beauty contained within. It celebrates the clarity found in a rational worldview unsaddled by superstition and fear.

This day is also for those still grappling with the thought of “coming out” with their non-belief.  This is a difficult position to be in, particularly for those raised with religious beliefs.

But you are not alone.

Brandi, one of our members, is at the Reason Rally and will be blogging a full report on this momentous event when she gets back.

In the meantime, here our a couple of pictures she sent:

Tim Minchin

What is the Definition of a “Christian”?

We had an interesting meetup at Joel’s this past week. In addition to meeting some great new members, we were also joined by a few curious members of a local religous group. As you would expect, discussions ensued….

After talking with a couple of the people who identify as “Christian”  and listening to what some of their beliefs entail, I found myself becoming very confused.

This is not the first time this has happened.

Read More

Meet the Teenage Demon Slayers

Anderson Cooper recently featured Reverend Bob Larson and his band of teenage demon slayers on his show. The exorcising team consists of the Reverend’s daughter, 17  year old Brynne, and two sisters (not related to the reverend), 17 year old Tess and 20 year old Savannah. Below is an excerpt from the show in which Brynne describes her first exorcism experience at the age of 13  in a church in Africa.


Read More

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén