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Creationist Matt Powell asks AAPN Founder Daniel Fisk Bennett Questions, Here’s His Response.

Debunking pseudoscience

Creationist Matt Powell asks AAPN Founder Daniel Fisk Bennett Questions, Here’s His Response.

Young Earth Creationist and controversial preacher Matt Powell recently reached out to me (Daniel Fisk Bennett) asking if I would be willing to have a sit down interview for his documentary that he is creating. Admittedly I actually didn’t even know who this individual was until I asked Hemant Mehta who this person was. Obviously I approached this with caution and asked for this to be as scripted as I could possibly achieve as I didn’t want to ad lib and risk any out of context quotes. We have agreed to meet on Friday (29th of May ) for the sit down.

After some time waiting, I finally received an email from Mr. Powell with his questions. This is a direct excerpt from his email:

On Wed, May 27, 2020, 11:36 AM Matt Powell OFFICIAL
Hi Dan,
Here are the questions we will ask you during the interview.  Once again, thank you for being willing to come on!
1. Why did you choose to be an atheist?

2. Before becoming an atheist, were you religious? 

3. What is the name of the organization you founded?  Please tell us more about yourself.  (feel free to plug your materials)

4. What is it like being a state director for American Atheists?  Are there any outreaches that you do in the community?  

5. As an atheist, how do you find your morality?

6.  Do you believe the Bible has authority?  What are your thoughts on the Bible?

7.  What is your #1 argument against Creationism?

8.  Do you believe that Noah’s flood was factual, or a myth? 

 9.  How long ago did dinosaurs die out?  

10.  Is it possible that dinosaurs and man lived together?  

11.  Do you think abiogenesis is possible? 

12. Do you think we were created fully human, or that we evolved from primates?
That’s all the questions I have for you Dan.  Let me know if you have any other concerns.  Thanks again!
-Matt Powell

Granted, this was not the first time I or many of you who are reading this have had these questions asked of us before by hard-line fundamentalist Christians. So I spent a little under an hour and prepared my response to his email which read as follows:

Prepared response:

1. Why did you choose to be an atheist?


I don’t know if using the word “choose” would be a correct way to phrase this. Granted I was born into a secular family that does not espouse any higher power or superstition. I’m a person who bases my decisions and worldview via empiricism, deductive reasoning, and evidence. As it stands, I have not seen any evidence to lead me to a conclusion that there is any particular higher power. If profound evidence that could be independently replicable could be produced, my opinion would change. But I also know that if such evidence would present itself, that would change the entire opinion of just about every scientific establishment as well.

2. Before becoming an atheist, were you religious? 


As I said in the first question, there wasn’t really a “before.” I just lived my life like any normal person, just free from the burdens of superstition. I would suppose it’s made me a rational person and provides a rather logical outlook on life.

3. What is the name of the organization you founded?  Please tell us more about yourself.  (feel free to plug your materials)


I founded the Atheist Against Pseudoscientific Nonsense community (also referred to its acronym as AAPN), a science and critical thinking organization that doesn’t gracefully tiptoe around religion like a lot of science organizations do. The reason I created this organization was the realization that just because you were an atheist, doesn’t mean you necessarily had critical thinking or scientific literacy skills. There are a lot of atheists and non-atheists alike that believe in some rather unfounded pseudoscience (ie: chiropractic, homeopathy, alternative medicine, acupuncture, astrology, unfounded conspiracy theories, etc.). In this era of fake news, there is never a shortage of something to talk about. So, it just took off from that point and we now have actual scientists, doctors, scholars, and other educated individuals that are now an integral part of the organization. When I founded it, I used to joke that I was the least qualified person on the team before I started going to college.

4. What is it like being a state director for American Atheists?  Are there any outreaches that you do in the community?  

Being the assistant state director has some responsibilities, mainly issues that concern the separation between church and state. But also I tackled other issues like human rights, and backing bills that helped vulnerable adults and children in ways that you think most people would agree with. I do host events; provide support to other organizations; people do email and call me; and I do help them as much as I can with their issues. I helped create a food bank that is open to anybody, unfortunately due to the pandemic we have not been able to do that but hopefully come fall I will be able to resume that. 2020 so far has been a rather unfortunate year and has hampered a lot of social justice and outreach programs throughout the state. I’m hoping that 2021 will have a much better outlook and that a vaccine will be available soon.

5. As an atheist, how do you find your morality?


That is an interesting question, and I almost feel like I would answer that question with questions: is the only reason you act with compassion and dignity towards your fellow man is fear of reprisal from a higher power? If so that would make you divisive and selfish; if not potentially dangerous.

Is the only reason you do charitable and kind acts are out of obligation that you feel towards that higher power? If so, then you aren’t really doing it because you want to help, you’re doing it because you feel obligated. But even more concerning, you could be doing it because you were selfish, you’re doing it in hope of a reward.

When it comes to morality, for one I do not base my morality on copper aged reasoning as it’s barbaric and can be reasonably argued as absolutely immoral and indignant.

Morality mainly is based on culture, any anthropologist or sociologist would tell you that. What is seen as immoral to one culture can be completely moral to another.

If you need to simplify it, basic empathy is the foundation that you need. Helping others because you know that if you were in their situation it would hurt. You don’t do kind things because you want something out of it, you do kind things because it’s the right thing to do.

I also reject the pseudomorality that especially Abrahamic religions espouse; as by modern definitions they would be considered barbaric, misogynistic, inhumane, and wholeheartedly unjust.

6.  Do you believe the Bible has authority?  What are your thoughts on the Bible?


I do not believe the Bible has any authority nor applicability to modern society. I do see value in it as an anthropological insight into primitive copper age and iron age cultures, customs, mythology, and perspective. All cultures have myths and legends: stories that were passed down from one person to the next; each as fascinating, terrible, and/or insightful as the next.

7.  What is your #1 argument against Creationism?

It can really be summed up into ignorance (willful or not) of the preponderance of scientific evidence. I have yet to see a single shred of compelling evidence towards the creation mythology and so far the evidence to the contrary is rather spectacularly overwhelming.

8.  Do you believe that Noah’s flood was factual, or a myth?  


As written in the Bible, obviously it is absolutely unsubstantiated and physically impossible on many accounts and fronts, both scientifically and through reasonable deduction.

But like many folktales and mythology that culture’s passed down, some of them are actually grounded in a grain of truth. A primitive individual during the copper age had a rather limited scope of what the “world” truly was. If there had been a massive flood in their area that went as far as the eye could see: in their naive assessment, they would deduce that the whole world had been flooded. The story of Noah is a reiteration of an even older mythological story call the epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Mesopotamia. There are a lot of areas in North Africa and the middle East that have vast floodplains. There are also remnants of ancient civilizations on the bottom of large lakes. The earth is a dynamic environment that is constantly changing; nothing is truly permanent. So it should be no surprise such myths were created.

9.  How long ago did dinosaurs die out?  

According to radiological and archaeological evidence, the non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out some 65 to 66 million years ago when an asteroid struck the chickalube area of Mexico. Along the iridium rich KT boundary line, no new fossils can be found of non-avian dinosaurs that succeeded that point in history.

But this question highlights a fundamental misunderstanding of taxonomy. Not all dinosaurs (by definition) went extinct though. We refer to modern dinosaurs as birds. They are a variant member of theropod clade that originated from the dromaeosaurid family lineage. Their fossil record has been remarkably well preserved and has been demonstrated in great detail. Archeopteryx is probably one of the most well-known of these remarkably well adapted creatures.

10.  Is it possible that dinosaurs and man lived together?  


All scientific and archaeological evidence points to no. It would also be reasonable to deduce that people wouldn’t even stand a chance if dinosaurs were roaming the Earth at the same time humans were. Have you ever seen Jurassic Park? Granted a lot of that is sci-fi, but there is still a grain of truth to it.

11.  Do you think abiogenesis is possible? 


At some point around 4 billion years ago during the Hadrian era, possibly around or shortly after the late heavy bombardment period, chemistry became biology. We are learning more and more about the subject everyday and it is absolutely fascinating when you find out how complex chemistry really can be. It is fully conceivable to see how complex amino acids and other organic chemistry can form naturally. Being that a lot of time had passed since we can determine life first appeared on Earth up until now provides a lot of time for natural processes to occur. Complex life didn’t really start to take off until 500 million years ago, so a lot of time passed since life first started and more complex life came on the scene. It is reasonable to assume that life would not be complex in any way and be very rudimentary. DNA would likely be rather rudimentary, and even possibly it could have been RNA. We can replicate and even see in natural settings complex amino acid chains forming so it is not absolutely unreasonable for this to happen. Being that it happened so shortly after we believe the Earth had cooled enough for solid surfaces and liquid water to form, it is possible that life can be all over the universe. And to be clear, I’m not talking little green men. It took a long time for complex life to develop on earth; so “pond scum” like life could be commonplace throughout the universe.

12. Do you think we were created fully human, or that we evolved from primates?


Evolutionary processes are rather well-defined. Although there are plenty of differences between other great apes and humans, take a look at a skeleton of a chimpanzee or gorilla next to a human… There’s a lot of differences but a lot of similarities. It’s funny that people don’t argue that their cat is related to lions or tigers. But for some reason people have a cognitive dissonance when someone makes the same distinction between other great apes and humans. There is ample genetic, fossil, and physiological evidence to point at when it comes to the human story. We like to think of ourselves as being absolutely special, (and we are at least to ourselves), but on the time scale of the Earth, we are just a blip.

People have emotional attachments to their beliefs, true or not. In the psychological field we know there is what’s called the backfire effect. When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger. And unfortunately religion capitalizes on this. It may be nice and comforting to think there is something out there looking after our better interests instead of us being alone on this planet. But sadly the evidence does not show that… we are most likely on our own. But that doesn’t mean we are absolutely helpless either. We are the smartest species that has ever lived on this planet, and we are the first species to have the power to shape it. So in a way, we are very special in that; and I think we can all appreciate and take consolation in knowing this.

-Daniel Fisk Bennett

One Response

  1. Ed Woodard says:

    Why should you believe the bible – because the bible says you should. Classic circular argument. Everyone fall prey to confirmation bias but some people recognize it and try to counter it.

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