A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Showing posts with label Atheism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Atheism. Show all posts

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Boring Christians Produce Boring Atheists

One of the challenges Christians confront is how the politics we helped create has made it difficult to sustain the material practices constitutive of an ecclesial culture to produce Christians.

The character of much of modern theology exemplifies this development. In the attempt to make Christianity intelligible within the epistemological conceits of modernity, theologians have been intent on showing that what we believe as Christians is not that different than what those who are not Christians believe. Thus Alasdair MacIntyre's wry observation that the project of modern theology to distinguish the kernel of the Christian faith from the outmoded husk has resulted in offering atheists less and less in which to disbelieve.--Stanley Hauerwas

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Atheism's Crisis of Faith: Staring Into the Abyss of All Meaning

from Theo Hobson:
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Like any movement or religion, atheism has ambitions. Over the years it has grown and developed until it has become about far more than just not believing in God: today atheism aspires to a moral system too. It comes with an idea of how to behave that's really very close to traditional secular humanism, and offers a sense of community and values. Atheism has crept so close to religion these days that it's de rigueur for political atheists like Ed Miliband to boast about a dual identity: a secular allegiance to a religions tradition, in his case Judaism. They don't of course believe any of the mumbo jumbo about God, prophets and angels.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ten Tips for Atheists to Consider This Easter

from John Dickson:
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As an intellectual movement, Christianity has a head start on atheism. So it's only natural that believers would find some of the current arguments against God less than satisfying.

In the interests of a more robust debate this Easter, I want to offer my tips for atheists wanting to make a dent in the Faith. I've got some advice on arguments that should be dropped and some admissions about where Christians are vulnerable.

The ten tips and commentary on them can be found here.

And no doubt there are atheists who would like to offer tips for believers. That's fair enough. Perhaps if there were more true, honest, and respectful dialogue there wouldn't necessarily be agreement, but a better understanding of each other's views that might help to avoid the caricatures offered of the other on both sides.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Is Atheism Irrational?

Is atheism irrational?

by Kelly Clark at Big Questions Online:
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We know well atheistic attempts to explain religion away. Marx, for example, claims that religion is the opiate of the people. Religion, Nietzsche contends, is weakness lying itself into power. According to Freud religion is a defensive illusion created in the face of "the crushingly superior force of nature." As influential as these ideas are, they are little more than guesses based on utter speculation.

Times have changed.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The God of the Bible Is Not Afraid to Get Human on Him*

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." --Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

"Jesus is Santa Claus for Adults" --Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great

The sentiments above have gained much traction with people and it is understandable why more than a few, and not exclusive to atheists, have drawn such conclusions about the God of the Bible. It has long been noticed that the Old Testament is quite violent in many places, and there's a whole lot of sexual escapades taking place as well that do not fit the traditional "biblical" understanding, of sex, so to speak, even among the people God has called. Indeed, at certain places in the biblical narrative, there is so much sex and violence one gets confused on who's doing what with whom and who's gruesomely spilling the blood of someone else.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

America Is Losing Religion, But Is It a Religion Worth Recovering?

A new Gallup poll reveals that 3 out of 4 Americans surveyed believe that religion is losing its influence in the United States, and nearly the same percentage think that is not a good thing.

But my question is what kind of religion are we losing, and is it worth recovering? I will let Stanley Hauerwas speak for me.
Even if more people go to church in America, I think the US is a much more secular country than Britain. In Britain, when someone says they do not believe in God, they stop going to church. In the US, many who may have doubts about Christian orthodoxy may continue to go to church. They do so because they assume that a vague god vaguely prayed to is the god that is needed to support family and nation.
Americans do not have to believe in God, because they believe that it is a good thing simply to believe: all they need is a general belief in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists in the US. The god most Americans say they believe in is not interesting enough to deny, because it is only the god that has given them a country that ensures that they have the right to choose to believe in the god of their choosing. Accordingly, the only kind of atheism that counts in the US is that which calls into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty, and happiness.
A people so constituted will ask questions such as "Why does a good god let bad things happen to good people?" It is as if the Psalms never existed. The story that you should have no story except the story you chose when you had no story produces a people who say: "I believe that Jesus is Lord – but that is just my personal opinion."
Jesus did not die on the cross and walk out of the tomb simply to make us nice and decent people. Those who think that Christianity is basically about being nice and upstanding citizens can keep that version of Christianity as far as I'm concerned. If that is the kind of religion we're losing in America, then I say good riddance.

Nice and decent are OK, but cross and resurrection point in a different direction. Nothing less than renovation and new creation will do.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Fruitless Quest to Create Meaning

For postmodern people, the universe is not inherently enchanted, as it was for the ancients. We have to do all the "enchanting" ourselves. This leave us alone, confused, and doubtful. There is no meaning already in place for our discovery and enjoyment. We have to create all meaning by ourselves in such an inert and empty world, and most of us do not seem to succeed very well. This is the burden of living in our heady and lonely time, when we think it is all up to us.--Richard Rohr, Falling Up: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, p. 93.
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I love this quote by Richard Rohr, though I think modernism suffers from the same problem. C.S. Lewis said that he abandoned atheism not only because it was intellectually unsatisfying, but also because it had no answer for the human need to imagine and wonder. If the universe is not "inherently enchanted" then we must create our purpose, which is not only a fruitless quest, but if we are not careful, it can turn us into our own gods, our own deities where the universe and all that is in it has accidentally come into existence to serve us. We become like the prodigal who goes off on the journey to find himself only to discover that the identity he already had was lost to him as he traveled on the fruitless quest to create meaning. It is interesting to note that when the young man finally decides to return home to his father, Jesus says that "he came to himself" (Luke 15:17). The great irony is that in seeking to find himself, the prodigal son lost himself. He had lost his identity. His fruitless quest was motivated by a self-imposed amnesia. In a divinely created enchanted universe meaning is not created, it is discovered.

Perhaps no one spoke more eloquently of this quest to discover our identity than the fifth century Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

On Making Atheism Easier

One of the challenges Christians confront is how the politics we helped create has made it difficult to sustain the material practices constitutive of an ecclesial culture to produce Christians.

The character of much of modern theology exemplifies this development. In the attempt to make Christianity intelligible within the epistemological conceits of modernity, theologians have been intent on showing that what we believe as Christians is not that different than what those who are not Christians believe. Thus Alasdair MacIntyre's wry observation that the project of modern theology to distinguish the kernel of the Christian faith from the outmoded husk has resulted in offering atheists less and less in which to disbelieve. (Stanley Hauerwas)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Atheist Chaplains?

by Nanette Asimov, SF Gate:
Updated 11:26 am, Saturday, December 22, 2012
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Chaplain John Figdor has a divinity degree from Harvard. He counsels those in need and visits the sick. And he works with Stanford students under the Office of Religious Life.

So Figdor is the last guy you'd tag with the "A" word.

But, yes. The chaplain is an atheist.

"People are shocked when I tell them," Figdor said. "But atheist, agnostic and humanist students suffer the same problems as religious students - deaths or illnesses in the family, questions about the meaning of life, etc. - and would like a sympathetic nontheist to talk to."

Figdor, 28, is one of a growing number of faith-free chaplains at universities, in the military and in the community who believe that nonbelievers can benefit from just about everything religion offers except God.

Monday, October 08, 2012

An Atheist Goes to Synagogue

From TheBlaze:
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It's not everyday that one meets a non-theist who differentiates himself from the outspoken atheist activist community. It's even rarer to locate a non-believer who actually attends a house of worship on a regular basis.

However, these are exactly the attributes, among many others, that TheBlaze encountered in Dr. Jacques Berlinerblau, the director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and the author of the new book, “How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom.”

To say that Berlinerblau's views are unique is an understatement. While he is Jewish in heritage, the professor considers himself an atheist. When asked to recap when it was that he realized his lack of a belief in a higher power, Berlinerblau said that there was no "epiphany moment."

On a grander scale, he provided a fascinating background as to why he believes some Jews found themselves, particularly in the post-Holocaust generation, having difficulty embracing God. Considering his own Jewish upbringing with parents who were a part of this cohort, his explanation was fascinating.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

From Belief to Unbelief, From Unbelief to Belief

The Christian Post has a story on an ex-pastor who has lost her faith and became an atheist. The former Rev. Terea MacBain states in reference to her journey from belief to unbelief:
 ...it was very, very gradual. Actually there's not really one single moment where I can look back and say ah, that was the moment. It was kind of a slow progression"....
"It's just theological. I had no problems with the church or the structure or the organization. There are basically four steps that occurred over a long period of time. One was the contradictory nature of the Bible; the lack of scientific or historical foundation or accuracy, which took me a very, very long time to come to terms with. That was the starting point I guess when I realized that that wasn't true, that the Bible wasn't true. From there I moved to thinking about all of the religions in the world and how people basically associate, in most cases, with one religion or another based upon their own culture and how they were raised"....
In timely fashion, Christianity Today Online posted an article by Alister McGrath, a scientist and theologian who rejected his atheism and embraced Christianity. McGrath writes about his movement from unbelief to belief:
Had I read [C.S.] Lewis at that stage, I would have known that he once shared my dilemma as the imaginative deficiency of his youthful atheism began to dawn on him: "On the one side, a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other, a glib and shallow rationalism." Yet even without Lewis, a seed of doubt had been planted within my dogmatic mindset. I could not have known this, but within a year, such doubts would overwhelm me and lead me to rediscover Christianity.
My own conversion was intellectual. I didn't need a quick spiritual fix. Instead, I encountered a compelling and luminous vision of reality so powerful and attractive that it demanded a response. Christianity made more sense of the world I saw around me and experienced within me than anything else—my earlier atheism included. I discovered the sheer intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith—its remarkable, God-given ability to offer us a lens through which we can see things, bringing everything into a sharper focus. It's a light that illuminates the shadowlands. That's why I've come to love Lewis's great one-liner: "I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not just because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." Although my journey of faith started with reason, it did not end there. The novelist Evelyn Waugh once wrote of the "delicious process of exploring" that he experienced upon converting to Christianity in 1930. I know just what he meant. Everything is new and exciting. It's all too much to take in at once. You have to keep coming back, going deeper each time around. That's what I found with the Resurrection.
The post on MacBain can be read here, and McGrath's article can be viewed here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Atheism in the Age of Unreason

Atheists don’t own reason

By Tom Gilson

The new atheists--participants in the contemporary anti-religion movement led by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens, among others--are working overtime to tell the world that reason favors atheism, and atheism alone. Richard Dawkins leads his Foundation for Reason and Science. Sam Harris is founder and chair of Project Reason. The upcoming March 24 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. is the new atheists’ latest and most visible attempt to send the message that reason belongs to the atheists.

For years, though, knowledgeable critics have been calling attention to new atheist' rational fallacies, emotionally loaded rhetoric, and illegitimate, selective use of evidence. It's time now to add that up together and recognize what it means: the new atheists have no business proclaiming themselves the defenders of reason, simply because they don't practice it competently.

Of course that's not what the new atheists want us to believe. It is religion, they say, that is the antithesis of reason. Sam Harris assures us in "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" (p. 55) that "faith is what reason becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse-constraints like reasonableness, internal coherence, civility, and candor."

What happens, though, when we examine the new atheists' own "reasonableness" and "internal coherence"?

In his best-selling "The God Delusion," Richard Dawkins devotes an entire chapter to unscientific anecdotes supporting his belief that a religious upbringing is abusive to children. (See also "Religion's Real Child Abuse.") Actual science shows exactly the opposite: spiritually engaged teens are healthier than others on multiple dimensions. Such abandonment of science is surprisingly irrational for the man who was formerly Oxford University's Professor for the Public Understanding of Science.

But rational and logical errors are pervasive throughout "The God Delusion," so much so that University of Florida philosopher Michael Ruse, an atheist, would endorse Alister and Joanna Collicutt McGrath's "The Dawkins Delusion?" by saying, "'The God Delusion' makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why."

These are, unfortunately, not isolated examples....
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You can read the entire post, here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

For Nietzsche, Christianity Kept People Down...

... and according to Giles Fraser, he would have loathed the high priests of the new atheism as well.
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Nietzsche's case against Christianity was that it kept people down; that it smothered them with morality and self-loathing. His ideal human is one who is free to express himself (yes, he's sexist), like a great artist or a Viking warrior. Morality is for the little people. It's the way the weak manipulate the strong. The people Nietzsche most admired and aspired to be like were those who were able to reinvent themselves through some tremendous act of will.
 
I have never seen anything to admire in Nietzsche's view of morality or immorality. He was badly interpreted by the Nazis. But his ethics, if one can call them that, are founded on the admiration of power as the ultimate form of abundant creativity. His hatred of Christianity comes mostly from his hatred of renunciation and the promotion of selflessness. Jesus was a genius for having the imaginative power to reinvent Judaism but a dangerous idiot for basing this reinvention on the idea that there is virtue to be had in weakness. The weak, Nietzsche insists, are nasty and cruel. They take out their frustration on those who have the power of genuine self-expression.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Facing Death While Living Life: Some Thoughts on the Life and Death of Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday from complications of esophageal cancer. In some ways Hitchens and I are far apart. He was an atheist; I am a Christian. Nevertheless, I appreciated his incredible intellect, his total commitment to his convictions, and how he pushed me to reflect upon my Christian faith. In some way, Christopher Hitchens has made me a better Christian. If he knew that he was an individual who strengthened my faith, he might be disappointed, though I guess he likely would tell me that if my Christianity was bolstered because of him, I hadn't done a very good job of reading him.

I have read just about every editorial Hitchens wrote. I have not read any of his books, but I am thinking of reading his memoir, Hitch 22. While there are plenty of individuals with superior intellect, there are not too many whose powers of reasoning surpass the superior. Hitchens was one of those persons.

As impressed as I have been with Christopher Hitchens the intellectual, there is something about him that I have admired even more-- that he faced his death in the same way as he lived life. In the past year and half following his cancer diagnosis, Hitchen reflected on life and on death in the kind of personal way that only one facing his own death could do. His words were classic Hitchens-- eloquent, thought-provoking, and written from the perspective of his own clear convictions. And while he said in an interview that it was OK for believers to pray for him if that brought them comfort, he went to his grave with his atheism intact, a disappointment for those of us who believe, but not surprising to those who knew him. Hitchens faced death as he lived.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Twenty Percent of Atheist Scientists Attend Church With Their Families

The Director of the Christian Humanist Association is not surprised by this study. Are You? Why or why not?
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By Michael Gryboski of The Christian Post

A recently published study found that nearly one in five scientists who consider themselves atheists nevertheless bring their children to a church service one or more times a year.

Printed in the December edition of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the survey had a sample of 275 university-level faculty members.

"Our research shows just how tightly linked religion and family are in U.S. society," said Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University, lead investigator for the study, in a statement.

"[S]o much so that even some of society's least religious people find religion to be important in their private lives."

The study stated that the main reasons were related to social and personal matters, including attending at the behest of a Christian spouse or catching up with friends.

Roy Speckhardt, executive director for the American Humanist Association, told The Christian Post that the study’s findings were not surprising to him.
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You can read the entire article, "Study: 1 in 5 Atheist Scientists Attend Church With Family," here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

C.S. Lewis: The Myth of Myth As Myth

One of the themes that looms large in the writings of C.S. Lewis is myth. As a young atheist, Lewis assumed that the Christian story of Jesus was just one more religious myth (a fiction) among others. But, as Lewis continued to think and reflect and journey toward the Christian faith, he began to ponder instead of how the significance of myth might make a case for Christianity.

Lewis struggled with all the various myths, from different times and places, of a dying and rising god. Initially, he took a history of religions approach to Christianity, using these myths as proof that the story of the dying and rising of Jesus was just one more fiction. But then, he began to wonder if such an approach to myth was in actuality getting at the problem from the wrong direction. What if these various dying and rising god myths were in actuality "unfocused revelation," a kind of vague divine truth placed upon the human imagination? What if such unfocused revelation were one way God was preparing the world for myth to become fact in the coming of Jesus Christ?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Ten Commandments for Atheists

Penn Gillette, an atheist, has developed ten commandments for atheists in his new book, God, No. He writes that he came up with them after being challenged by radio and TV personality, Glenn Beck, to do so.

I list them below. I am curious as to what you think about these ten commandments for atheists. All are welcome to comment.-- (be civil).
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1. The highest ideals are human intelligence, creativity and love. Respect these above all.

2. Do not put things or even ideas above other human beings. (Let's scream at each other about Kindlversus iPad, solar versus nuclear, Republican versus Libertarian, Garth Brooks versus Sun Ra— but when your house is on fire, I'll be there to help.)

3. Say what you mean, even when talking to yourself. (What used to be an oath to (G)od is now quite simply respecting yourself.)

4. Put aside some time to rest and think. (If you're religious, that might be the Sabbath; if you're a Vegas magician, that'll be the day with the lowest grosses.)

5. Be there for your family. Love your parents, your partner, and your children. (Love is deeper than honor, and parents matter, but so do spouse and children.)

6. Respect and protect all human life. (Many believe that "Thou shalt not kill" only refers to people in the same tribe. I say it's all human life.)

7. Keep your promises. (If you can't be sexually exclusive to your spouse, don't make that deal.)

8. Don't steal. (This includes magic tricks and jokes — you know who you are!)

9. Don't lie. (You know, unless you're doing magic tricks and it's part of your job. Does that make it OK for politicians, too?)

10. Don't waste too much time wishing, hoping, and being envious; it'll make you bugnutty.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Kingdom Without King, Kingdom Without Church: Manipulating Jesus to Serve Our Agendas

It's been a problem almost since the inception of Christianity-- the rejection of Jesus' agenda for us and the twisting of Jesus' message and ministry so that he might conform to our easier more palatable way of life. In a recent post, Carl Olson quotes atheist, Richard Dawkins who states that as intelligent as Jesus was, if he were here today, knowing what we human beings now know in the 21st century, Jesus would be an atheist.

Now, it is not the purpose of this post to respond to Dawkins' assertion. Olson does that quite well. What I want to highlight is the continual practice of Christians twisting Jesus to fit their particular political and social agendas. Since Dawkins is an atheist, he can be excused; but what is the excuse for those who claim to follow Jesus, those believers that insist Jesus follow them in support of their pet projects and sacred cow issues? There are those who think that if Jesus were here today he would be a conservative Republican and a Tea Partier. Others assume that since Jesus was concerned for the poor that automatically means he would be down on Wall Street with the Occupiers, as if there is an automatic straight line from one to the other. Yes, I have heard and read pastors say just that. I have to say that it is hard for me to understand the reasoning of any persons who believe the above. Apparently I must be reading a different New Testament.

Years ago I was at a church dinner during a presidential election season. I was sitting at one table with parishioners who were talking politics and like-mindedly saying that they could not understand how a good Christian could vote for the Democratic candidate for president. A few minutes later I was at another table as I was making my "pastoral rounds" that evening, and those folks, also talking politics, were having the same conversation... but they couldn't figure why any caring Christian would vote for the Republican.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Secularism as a College Major

From The New York Times:
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Pitzer College in California Adds Major in Secularism

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Published: May 7, 2011

Starting this fall, Pitzer College, a small liberal arts institution in Southern California, will inaugurate a department of secular studies. Professors from other departments, including history, philosophy, religion, science and sociology, will teach courses like "God, Darwin and Design in America," "Anxiety in the Age of Reason" and "Bible as Literature."

The department was proposed by Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist of religion, who describes himself as "culturally Jewish, but agnostic-atheist on questions of deep mystery." Over the years he grew increasingly intrigued by the growth of secularism in the United States and around the world. He studied and taught in Denmark, one of the world's most secular countries, and has written several books about atheism.

Studying nonbelief is as valid as studying belief, Mr. Zuckerman said, and the new major will make that very clear.


"It's not about arguing 'Is there a God or not?'" Mr. Zuckerman said. "There are hundreds of millions of people who are nonreligious. I want to know who they are, what they believe, why they are nonreligious. You have some countries where huge percentages of people — Czechs, Scandinavians — now call themselves atheists. Canada is experiencing a huge wave of secularization. This is happening very rapidly."

"It has not been studied," he added.

The percentage of American adults who say they have no religion has doubled in 20 years, to 15 percent, according to the American Religious Identification Survey, released in 2008. The survey was conducted by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford, which houses the Institute for the Study of Secularism, Society and Culture but does not have a distinct major in secular studies.

Barry A. Kosmin, the director of the institute, said Pitzer College would be the first to have such a major. The institute hosted a conference for academics in California a few years ago on how to develop courses on secularism, which Mr. Zuckerman attended.

Initially, Mr. Zuckerman said he found some skepticism on campus about a secular studies major.

"I had to convince them that this is not an antireligion degree, any more than a religion department exists to bash nonbelievers," he said.

Pitzer, founded in 1963, is known as a liberal college that emphasizes community service and environmentalism, and its students receive an inordinate number of Fulbright fellowships for study abroad. It is one of the seven Claremont Colleges, neighboring campuses where students may take courses at institutions other than their own.

On April 28, Pitzer faculty members on the College Council voted unanimously to approve the secular studies major, subject to review in four years.

Laura Skandera Trombley, the president of Pitzer, said in an interview, "It's a serious area of scholarly endeavor, and Pitzer College has a tradition of doing really exciting, cutting-edge intellectual work, so this really fits into the ethos of the college."

Mr. Zuckerman said he immediately heard from three students interested in the major. One of them was Kiley Lawrence, a freshman from Mission Hills, Kan., and a pre-med student at Scripps College, one of the seven Claremont Colleges.

Ms. Lawrence attended an Episcopal school through eighth grade and was well versed in the Bible, but she said she became a skeptic early on. Now she plans to declare a double major in biophysics and secular studies, because, she said, “each enhances the other.”

Ms. Lawrence, 19, said, "I feel as though I'm being included in something really exciting and innovative, and perhaps even historic."