Jerry Bergman on Jim Lippard

A response by Jim Lippard

Jerry Bergman is an unusual creationist who I've written about in "Jerry Bergman and Racism" on www.talkorigins.org.

He has written a response to this, http://www.rae.org/racistresponse2.html, in which he writes about me based on what I wrote in my chapter in Ed Babinski's 1995 book, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. Unfortunately, he has misrepresented what he read there in a number of respects, including misquoting or generating typographical errors from the text he has cited. The quotes below are from the version of this document on the web on 4 February 2005; Bergman may revise in response to this.

Bergman writes:

Lippard states that he made a public profession of faith, but “never felt any magical feeling of conversion” and that his knowledge of scripture is minimal, stating that “I was really not all that well-versed in the Bible.” He also concluded that “many of my fellow Sunday school classmates seemed to be ignorant hypocrites.” No doubt, many of them that he encountered were in exactly the category that Jim Lippard admits he himself was in – he was involved in church because of social pressure (in Lippard’s case, his parents) and had minimal commitment to Christianity.

Bergman says "his knowledge of scripture is minimal" (emphasis added), when what I wrote was past tense, referring to the time before I started investigating the Bible. Although I had studied the Bible earlier, my knowledge was very selective, based on what had been presented as significant about Christianity by pastors and Bible study leaders. In my opinion, the vast majority of Christians are not well-informed about the contents of the Bible or the history, philosophy, or even theology of their religion. Bergman should have noted that the very sentence he is quoting begins with a statement that I found myself to be one of the best able to answer questions in Sunday school class. The full sentence is: "I found that I was one of those best able to answer the Sunday school teacher's questions, despite the fact that I was really not all that well-versed in the Bible" (p. 323).

My subsequent investigation included reading the Bible cover to cover (and reviewing multiple translations), reading numerous books and articles by Christian apologists, engaging in extensive discussions, debates, and correspondence, and taking college courses in philosophy of religion and history and formation of the Christian tradition, as well as religion courses in high school. I did not describe all of this in the chapter, though I allude to some of it on pp. 323, 325, and 326.

My "born-again" conversion occurred in 1975 [correction added 21 February 2012: June 1977] while visiting my grandparents, and my initial experience with church was voluntary, and in many respects I enjoyed it. I also voluntarily attended a Jesuit high school (although I was never Catholic, Brophy College Prep has very high academic standards and that's where I wanted to go even though my views were Protestant evangelical and fundamentalist). The parental pressure to participate was in high school (which I began in 1979). It is not accurate to say that my commitment to Christianity was minimal until after I began questioning.

Bergman goes on to write:

Sunday school he befriended “a guy named Steve” who also shared the same doubts that Lippard did – he had doubts just like his friends that he criticized. Lippard notes that by the time he graduated from high school in 1983, he had stopped attending church (p. 324). Lippard specifically mentioned his “delusion with fundamentalism” occurred when he encountered Darwinism (p. 323). The creationism that he was taught at church was confronted by Darwinist who “offered objections” that he was “unable to answer” (p. 323).

Bergman writes "delusion" where I wrote "disillusion." He writes of "Darwinism" and "Darwinist" when I made no such statements. I did write that bogus creationist arguments which I had bought into was a major factor in my disillusionment with fundamentalism--that's correct.

Bergman goes on to write:

A major concern is, how can a high school student who admittedly had little knowledge of the scriptures, religion or creationism, make his mind up at such a young age and reject the Christian worldview on informed, valid grounds? The questions Lippard had have been the subject of intense research by scholars for generations. After being disillusioned by his inability to defend creationism, he then began to immerse himself in atheist reading material. Lippard states that he read books such as Johnson's The Atheist Debater's Handbook and George Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God--and by the time he finished this book he "was a conformed [sic] born-again atheist" (p. 324) Now a very active creation opposer, especially in defending Darwinism and attempting to attack creationists, he made some interesting statements, such as: "I've come to find many so-called 'believers' are less dogmatic and more inquisitive than many 'skeptics.' There are distinctions to be drawn from different kinds of claims and claimants, and it is a mistake to class all 'believers' as suckers who will believe anything in the world weekly news" (p. 321). Obviously, Lippard has thought more about the issues and has concluded that there is less reason to be committed to his original militant atheist inquisition.

Bergman apparently misses the point that this rejection occurred over a period of years, during which I was grappling with the issues and discussing them with my youth pastor and others (specifically mentioned at top of p. 324). I spent about ten years researching the creation/evolution controversy as a major hobby (today it's still a minor one).

Bergman wrote "conformed" where I wrote "confirmed." He wrote "world weekly news" where I wrote "Weekly World News."

Bergman is incorrect that I am "now a very active creation opposer," though I have been in the past. I would say I'm at best semi-active, as can be seen by the frequency of my publications on the subject. (I published numerous articles and letters between 1989 and 1995, only occasional letters since then.) "Attempting to attack creationists" (as opposed to creationism) has not been my modus operandi. For Bergman, who publishes a huge quantity of poorly researched and poorly written material and regularly misrepresents his sources, I am willing to make an exception, however.

Bergman is correct that I've concluded that there is "less reason to be committed to [my] original militant atheist" position. ("Inquisition" is a grossly inaccurate term--I'm not forcing people to answer questions, let alone using torture to do so. My previous position would have been more accurately described as atheist evangelism.) But that is as much or more about how I think people should behave and what attitude they should have to metaphysical questions as it is about what positions I hold or answers I think are the best.

Finally, Bergman writes:

He now states that he presently has “an increased tolerance for those with views other than my own in the religious, political, and scientific realms. I think the existence of God, for example, is something that rational people can disagree about.” Unfortunately, this new attitude is not reflected in his paper about me, but rather a very different attitude is shown there. An introduction to creationist William Lane Craig caused him to conclude that “evangelical Christians need not be stupid. Craig and Moreland ‘another creationist’ appear to me to be very intelligent despite my extensive disagreement with their religious beliefs” (p. 326). He adds that his study of various issues concluded that “skeptics are just as susceptible to error and feelings such as ‘group think’ as believers are” (p. 326). Of course Lippard, a philosophy student, likely is surrounded by atheists in academia and, therefore, no doubt reflects this worldview because this is part of his social and academic environment. Thus, in spite of the above admissions, it appears that he has a commitment to a belief structure that may be based on some mildly negative experiences with his church and high school.

Bergman fails to realize that he's quoting from a document that was published in 1995--I'm no longer a philosophy student nor in academia, and haven't been since 1994. He also is incorrect that I was surrounded by atheists in academia--several of my fellow graduate students (including a few of my best friends at the time) as well as a few professors were Christians. (And, ironically, some of the best atheist graduate students from the University of Arizona have ended up in the philosophy department at Notre Dame with Alvin Plantinga!)

Bergman's final statement completely misrepresents the overall content of the chapter I wrote for Babinski's book, by disregarding everything I wrote about the multi-year transition I made from fundamentalist, to theist, to militant atheist, to open-minded atheist/agnostic (depending on notion of "god" in question).