Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Friend the Pastor

As an atheist my wife thinks I’m absolutely nuts when I listen to religious broadcasting on the radio. I’m pretty sure she’s not worried that I will convert; I once told her that after I’ve learned what I’ve learned and know what I know that if she sees me crossing myself before dinner that my mind is probably going. But I do listen to a couple of Christian radio stations that air out of Chicago. Originally I liked to listen the political opinions (seemingly homophobic rants in the guise of the protection of the institution of marriage, incredibly cynical and suspicious vitriol directed against candidate and later President Obama) and opinions on evolution, which unless these people are total idiots they must be knowingly distorting the record of 150 years of scientific research. As a biologist and a progressive, I am somewhat concerned what our religious brethren are up to. But on the evening drive home from work, I ran into the sort of Christian that defies stereotype casting.

Gregory Dickow is the pastor of Life Changers International Church based in Hoffman Estates, IL. He has a daily broadcast Ask the Pastor that airs in the early evening. I have listened to this radio call-in show for over a year, and have participated in the show by asking questions on subjects like evolution, different rewards in heaven for Christians with differing levels of good works, and other subjects. Mr. Dickow is always very cordial to me in spite of my handle, Chuck the Atheist. He should know that I don’t go around introducing myself as such, but thought that would be a good way for the Pastor to remember who I was. I’m by no means a vicious, spitting atheist of the Dawkins or Hitchens type (although I highly respect these individuals for other reasons). I think that evolutionists and atheists can have interesting and enlightening conversations without animosity. Gregory Dickow is one such Christian that does not make an atheist like me feel uncomfortable. I have to say that I am impressed by his more progressive stance that seeks to diminish the guilt that Christians might have about the normal contradictions in their lives in comparison to the ideal of a Christ-like existence. No sin is better or worse than an as Pastor Dickow relates, and the guilt that most Christians feel seemingly emanates more from other Christians who chastise them for their homosexuality or adultery while not seeing that their own vindictive, gossipy ways are just as much an affront to their god or religion.

Also interesting to me is that Gregory Dickow used to be a pastor with Maranatha Christian Ministries, which was a pretty fundamentalist Christian denomination from the 70’s and 80’s. This group was often the subject of suspicion from mainstream denominations and the press for its cohersive practices and close control over members dating lives and marriages. It wasn’t uncommon for ex-members to report that they were told implicitly or explicitly that their salvation was in jeopardy for leaving the church. MCM dissolved in the early 90’s. I have first-hand experience of this group from my early college years at SIU; I was a member of that church for a year and a half, and experienced some of the same things. I think that my path towards atheism was aided by my experience with Maranatha, although that was certainly not the only decisive factor. I suppose that makes me mildly suspicious of Gregory Dickow, but not overly so. I think he is a dynamic speaker, and has made a positive impact on his listeners. If anything he doesn’t seem horrified to speak with atheists or condemn anyone that doesn’t agree with him. A pretty interesting character. I wouldn’t mind writing a book with him, something along the lines of what questions atheists might have answered by the Pastor. Could be an interesting project.


  1. Hi Charles
    Finally had a break to take a look at your blog. Interesting stuff you are writing.

    I especially liked the Personal Note entry on Darwin. Those of us on either side of the religous aisle- (well there are three aisles- Theist, Agnostic and Atheist, I suppose in the way that I mean it) All three sides tend to want Darwin to fit neatly into a nice box and support our view of the world.

    Box 1 A man who was very respectful of religous views and in some ways devout but misguided (Theist view)
    Box 2. A man who only spoke about his observations and and theory and let speculation about God and the "unknowable" outside his theory take care of itself (Agnostic view)
    Box 3. A rebel who used his Theory to shake the foundations of Victorian Faith and Religion- being one of the first to insist that data and material observations are all that matter (Atheist)

    Of course non of us can be put into a simple box like that. Nor, as you point out could Darwin. My own view of Darwin is that he was a product of the Newtonian/Victorian World view but that we must also accept him as no more and no less and a man of contradictions, just like any other man.

    As a Reformed Christian with an engineering degree, heading up a medical device business that relies (or tries to rely) on data and clinical studies... how would one define me? An engineer?, a scientist? and Christian? A father of twins? The answer is that I neither want to be defined by my reliance on Science or by my faith. But rather as a person no better and no worse than anyone else (I could actually accept the argument that I am worse than many- but that is the darker Reformed side of me who believes that evil is resident in man).

    Than I enjoyed your thoughts on Darwin and your discussion with the former MCMer (who I remember). Balanced,cogent and interesting.




  2. Charles
    Thanks for the reply comment on my blog. No offense was taken at all. There is a former's page on Facebook if you want to go there (Former Maranatha Members). Unfortunately it is run by some kool-aid drinkers- but still some interesting dialogue.

    With regards Greg Dickow if memory serves me he was either an associate or one of the Evangelists at SIU or one of the fellowships in the Little Egypt area. I think he imbibed some of what all of us did from Rice Broocks and Bob Weiner with regards to preaching and certainty. However he was not, if I recall, one of the MCM monsters (perhaps that is to harsh a word but it is one that comes to mind) like Rose, Mark Cauk, Joe Smith, Walter (?) in MS. Probably no more or no less misguided than many of us 20 something crazies were.

    I am a voracious reader and enjoy trying to puzzle out some of the guys who "tipped" history whether it is Lenin, Darwin, Jesus,Marx, Stalin, Lister (fascinating person to read about especially in your field- anyone who initially subscribed to his theory of Germs was pretty much thrown out on their ass in the Medical Field).

    Darwin was one of the greats.

    Of course most of his initial observations have been disproved (for example his observation on black moths in England- now there are no black moths only white so his observations proved nothing more, or less, than it is easier to eat black moths on a white background and white moths on a black background...there is no evidence of macro evolution there).

    I am a convinced micro evolutionist btw, on the macro level I see too many disconnects to fully accept his theory. Well of course his original theory is pretty well shot what we now have posited is Neo Darwin...but you know that I am sure.

    That is why I view Darwin as a Newtonian Victorian- one who believed that through scientific theory we can achieve a unified understanding and model and understand anything in nature given enough time, data and observation.

    As an engineer and a scientist I am now an "agnostic" regarding ANY unified theory.

    Perhaps it can be done- but I see no way to do so and no indication that we will ever understand through our rational minds the structure of life and the universe. We can describe it (although not very well) and model it (pretty rough and crude models) and even predict SOME things- but understand it in the way that Darwin attempted- not so sure about that.

    I put Darwin in the same category as Marx (who was an incredible social scientist driven by data) who was very much a product of the Newtonian/Victorian culture that if we observe and quantity then we can qualify.

    I think Einstein shattered that.

    Another interesting "fact" is a study done on the acceptance of Macro evolution as fact among scientists and engineers. The "soft' scientists(biologists chemists etc) are four to five more times as likely to accept macro evolution as fact than the hard scientists (engineers, physics, etc). What amazed the researchers (and I will point you to the study when I get a chance) was the relatively high number of scientist and engineers (most of these were the "hards")that did not accept Macro Evolution as fact. (I think it was almost 40% who considered themselves Evolutionary agnostics).

    As far as God and creation is concerned- we both (at least I think we both) know that this outside the scope of Darwins hypothesis and theory. When I see people (usually well meaning Christians) confusing Darwin's theory with "how the universe began I want to either laugh of cry! Oh well!

    Thanks again- look forward to hearing more about your thoughts on your blog.

    All the best


  3. Thanks Tikie for info that you provided. I really appreciate it. You did make a couple of points that I'm going to take up in my next blog entry. I think it will be really instructive for the topic of evolution in general, so I hope you don't mind using your comments as a spring board of sorts.

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