Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ex-Atheist Professor Now a Pastor

Why is shit like this news? I don't get it. It's not like I write a little editorial every time a theist becomes an atheist. It's not that newsworthy. So, let's see what this article has to say, shall we?

A student ambled out of the University of Toledo's Driscoll Alumni Center
auditorium the other night and noticed a plaque on the wall that honors Dr.
Julian Davies, distinguished professor of chemistry and medicinal chemistry.
He turned to the Rev. Julian Davies, pastor of University Church, and said,
"Wow, look, there's a guy here with the same name as you!"

Ugh. $20 says this will be glurge in my in-box within two weeks. Any takers? Of course, by the time it hits glurge status, Davies will have saved an atheist student who was about to get hit by a bus or spit out a piece of bread during communion or something.

Mr. Davies said he smiled and said, "Yeah, that's a real coincidence."

What? That someone can read or that you're a scientist and a pastor at the school?

Truth is, Julian Davies the distinguished professor and Julian Davies the United
Methodist minister are one and the same person, separated by a few years and a
calling from God.

OMGZ NO! *rolls eyes* I hate to be cynical, but I'm going to be. The author of this article should go work for Focus on the Family. Already, we've seen a bunch of logical fallacies. I hate it when people have to use a huge set-up to make their point and this guy's doing it in spades. I get it. He's a theist who is also a scientist. Are they going to put him in a carnival freakshow and charge $5 to see him? That this is the cause for a news article sort of shoots their "well, there are a lot of scientists who believe in God argument" in the foot. For, if that were the case, it wouldn't be newsworthy. But, let's move on.

Mr. Davies, 53, a native of London, came to Toledo to teach chemistry in 1981
and moved swiftly up the ranks of academia.

Ahhhhhhhh!! England! Stop sending your smart scientists here. I think there's something in the water!

He earned full tenure, earned honors for outstanding teacher and outstanding
researcher, was named one of only 10 distinguished professors on the UT campus,
and served as an associate dean of natural sciences and mathematics.

"See! He's smart! REALLY!" *rolls eyes* If I didn't live with a professor, I'd probably be more impressed by the outstanding teaching and tenure. As it is, I'm not. That's your job! That he does it well should have no bearing on how we see him as a scientist. These are the same people who won't give Dawkins the time of day, but I'm guessing Dawkins has received way more accolades than just doing his fucking job! Do I sound angry? Perhaps. I'm sick and tired of the double standard.

In addition, Mr. Davies was a lifelong and rather smug atheist.

Who decided he used to be a "rather smug atheist"? Davies himself? Let me guess. It's a self-awarded description, rendered AFTER his conversion?

"My parents and the rest of my family, we grew up entirely outside the life of
the church. I had literally never been inside a church other than maybe a
wedding or two all the way through to my adult life - ever," he said in an
interview this week. "So I was an atheist and actually a pretty serious atheist.
I quite enjoyed baiting Christians about their faith."

NO! NO, NO, NO! Simply not participating in religion does NOT make you an atheist! Not participating in naked unicorn sex makes me an a-unicornist. Not going to a mosque doesn't make me anti-Muslim. That he uses this as part of his argument makes me pretty damn sure he has no idea what atheism is. His self-description as a "serious atheist" is hanging just as tenuously as his self-description as a "smug atheist." Engaging in debates with Christians about their religion doesn't necessarily make you an atheist.

But after 23 years at UT - two years before being eligible for retirement - he
quit his professorship in 2004 and enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary in
Wilmore, Ky., where he received a master of divinity degree.

And? In addition to being completely irrelavent and stupid, that's an awfully long time not to vest in your retirement.

Today, Mr. Davies is an ordained United Methodist minister and pastor of the
fledgling University Church, which he founded to meet the spiritual needs of
UT's 21,000 students as well as alumni, faculty, staff, neighbors, and friends.

The path from atheistic chemistry professor to Christian believer and pastor did
not take a straight line, nor did the journey occur overnight.

So...he figured out that bilking theists out of their dollar to start his own church is easier than bilking a bunch of scientific boards out of grant money. I don't know that that's true, but it wouldn't shock me. If you got $10 a year from every parishoner, then you've likely doubled or tripled the salary of a professor. Perhaps he's not stupid after all? How does not going to church make him an "atheistic chemistry professor"? And, what the hell is an "atheistic chemistry professor"? Chemisty is chemistry. It has absolutely nothing to do with anyone's higher power or belief in God.

Mr. Davies, interviewed in his sun-dappled office at UT's Interfaith Center,
adjacent to the campus, speaks enthusiastically and articulately, with a
noticeable British accent.

Well, now that you've told me he has a British accent, he must be right.

He said the start of his spiritual journey began when he met his future wife,
Dr. Mary Kay Smith, a psychiatrist at UT's medical college.

AHAHAHAHHA!! Sorry. I shouldn't laugh. But, do you think they really thought about that line when they wrote it? It doesn't say WHERE he met her. "Doc...I've been a little depressed lately. I can has the Jesus?"

"Mary Kay had grown up in a little United Methodist church in Pemberville, which
was sort of the center of village life," he said. "And when we decided to get
married, Mary Kay always thought she'd get married in that church, which is
where her sisters got married. And I would have nothing to do with it. I said,
'Thank you very much but it's a deal-breaker for me. I can't do that.'•"

Wow. Not only was he not an atheist. He was also a jerk! How did that "deal breaker" not come up before they started planning the wedding?
The reason, he said, was that he felt it would be hypocritical for an atheist to
stand up in church and recite vows that meant nothing to him.

See above. I'm getting tired of repeting myself. And, what the heck does any of this have to do with him being a scientist?

"I felt the last thing we should do is go in and pretend. That seemed to me to
be wrong," he said.

And, here...ladies and gentlemen is where we know he wasn't an atheist. If he were, then standing in a church and saying a few words wouldn't have been "wrong". He would've had no moral judgement about it. What is wrong, in the atheist view, of standing in a BUILDING made by MAN and saying a few words to satisfy your partner? You're not doing anything wrong. This is akin to saying it's wrong to write to Santa Clause if you don't believe he exists. Or, it's wrong to go sit on Mall Santa's lap if you're an a-Santa-ist. It's not. You could do those things out of tradition or just to make your loved one happy. The desire not to get married in a church does not an atheist make.

"But I did make her a good counter-offer, though. We flew to Maui and got
married on a beach."
They were wed 22 years ago, and Dr. Smith said she
asked Mr. Davies if he would go to church with her on her birthday. He declined,
but went a week later

What a jerk! I'd go to Church with Pdaddy if he really wanted me to. He wouldn't even have to beg.

The couple attended Epworth United Methodist Church, a prominent, 1,500-member church in West Toledo.
"It was my first experience in a church and I can tell you, if you've never been
to church before, church is really strange," Mr. Davies said. "There are people
standing up and sitting down - the people know to do things at certain times and
you don't. It's very, very off-putting." Being an academic, he
said, he naturally had questions. During service, he tugged on the sleeve of the
man next to him and asked why everyone said "Amen" at the end of a

Oh for the love of Christ!! This man got a degree in chemistry? He's an idiot! He grew up British for the love of all things non-holy! Isn't a morning prayer pretty standard in most British schools? My four year old, who's really never been to church, knows what "amen" means and why people say it.

"The person just pulled away and said, 'I don't know, we just do!' And I said,
'Well that's strange to do something without knowing why you do it.'•"

I agree. That's why it wouldn't make me a theist.

Another time, he said, he wanted to raise his hand and ask the preacher a
question during the sermon. The person next to him gasped and urged him not to
do it.

I agree. That's why it wouldn't make me a theist.

"On the way out, the same man said to me, 'You know, we do have classes in the
church for people who want to learn more.' … It had never occurred to me, having
never been inside a church before. I didn't know that churches had classes."

This guy is full of shit or mentally challenged. Not paying attention your entire life doesn't make you an atheist!

Mr. Davies signed up for every class Epworth offered, and read a stack of books
on every topic. "It didn't take long before people said, 'Well, you could
teach this!' So I started teaching classes." He was still an atheist, he
said, but "I was fascinated" by his studies. It opened his eyes to new views
of Christianity.

An atheist started teaching classes in a church program?'s not okay to stand in a church and say a few words to make your future wife happy, but it is okay to stand in front of a congregation of students and pretend to believe in what you're teaching them? Seriously - show me any church in North America that allows someone to teach without said person claiming to believe, at the bare minimum, in God.

The article is really long, but you get the general picture. You can go read it using the link. I'm going to skip down to the bottom.

"We were convinced that this was the right thing to do. I wanted to be able to
ask the sort of questions you don't ask in a chemistry lab, and to do the sorts
of things, interacting with students, that you don't do in a chemistry
classroom. And that's proved to be very rewarding," Mr. Davies said.

No sheet, Sherlock. Why would you ever have cause to bring up religion in a chemistry class?

Dr. Smith said that while she never anticipated her husband's spiritual journey
and his career path - or that she would be a pastor's wife - in retrospect
everything has lined up perfectly.

Why do I picture his wife as Mr. Burns? Exxxxxxx-celent.


Milo Johnson said...

Wow, I guess he finally stopped hating god...

c said...

Arrrrrrrgh. As someone who went the other way, from fundamentalist to atheist science professor, I say... arrrrgh. Thanks for fisking it so well.

Anonymous said...

As a Journalism student, this article makes me want to cry. David Yonke needs to go back to freshman level Journalism classes to learn some rules in writing.

paul [silentsanta] said...

[silentsanta, NZ]

By Yonke's very act of deeming this newsworthy, he is obliviously conceding that the great majority of educated people see the religious as of their goddamned minds...

lumberjackninja said...


Seriously, s/christianity/Islam/i and see what you get. I expect to read this kind of stuff on the Onion: Random Asshole Decides to Change Religious Preference, Despite Years of Education.

I mean, really? Why are these stories so prolific? My mother tried to get me to read one the other day. Why is this so surprising? Humans are almost invariably people first, and rational thinkers second. Part of being a person is the need for social interaction; being an atheist is a very lonely proposition, both spiritually (no, there is no sky-daddy looking over your shoulder to help you if you fuck up) and socially. I have yet to find a congregation of Atheists that get together for the sole purpose of not-worshipping, much thought I've tried.

I can't count the number of otherwise sane individuals I know who still maintain a belief in something, whether it be the Christian god or the goddess of Wicca, because they are simply unwilling to take the next logical step and categorically deny the existence of an observable deity. I guess it comes as no surprise that, if this man was motivated by something other than a true spiritual revelation, it was the longing for a sense of community and empowerment.

Clearly, he's smart enough to master the fairy tales that form the basis of his new-found religion. If you've got the brains to be the shepherd, why be one of the sheep?

But seriously, let's get back to the naked unicorn sex.

Martin said...

So... what made him believe in God? What's the big proof that converted him? Did I miss something?

I'm a former Baptist, now atheist. Big fucking deal.

Baal's Bum said...

Some things here don't quite ring true. Mr Davies is apparently 53 yrs old. This makes him a few years older than me. All through my school life,because of my stepfathers work, we moved house alot. I attended all sizes of schools,small village schools with one classrooom for all ages and huge city schools and everything in between. One thing remained constant... School Assembly a ritualised gathering at the beginning of each day for the whole school, started and finished with a prayer. No British child of his age would not know about saying Amen at the end of a prayer.
My guess on his "conversion" is that when he moved out to Toledo he was homesick,unsure of his situation and lonely. The church was more than likely the first place he found companionship. Surrounded by the church doctrine with their cheesy smiles and hugs he would have to be a very strong person to resist being caught up with it all.

Sean Wright said...

One would think that being a pastor is a little less taxing than being a chemistry professor mentally and financially.

Quite frankly if Dawkins turned around tomorrow and said he believed in god it wouldn't change my mind, because I would have to be convinced.

Unknown said...

Church service should have a Q&A session at the end, I'm sure it would fill up the pews with quite a few atheists :-)
Classes are not the same, they don't have that openness as a walk-in mass.
I would not be so quick to go to church with my wife like you Pmomma, I like to sleep in on Sunday morning!

Baal's Bum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baal's Bum said...

I was not saying classes were the same as church but stating that a man of Mr. Davies age that had gone through the British education system would be familiar with prayer having indulged at least twice a day on every day of his school life.
My 17 yr old daughter tells me she had to indulge in prayer until senior school. My point was that I don't believe his statement he had to ask "why Amen"
Sorry for the confusion.

Anonymous said...

Certainly sounds like revisionist history to me.

Erp said...

A few points

1. Someone British of his age not knowing about 'amen' is odd though he might have ignored it when young and forgotten about it after he was out of the system. He might have gone to a private school which tried ignoring the Religious requirements.

2. The Unitarian Universalist churches don't require a belief in God. However this is United Methodist which is split between progressives and conservatives (theologically) and does require a statement of belief in God. Some United Methodist churches are probably openminded enough to invite an atheist to speak. Given the reading list posted on this particular church's website, this church is not in the Bible literalist camp or probably in the conservative camp at all though the reading list doesn't contain some of the more radically progressive theologians.

3. Financially he probably isn't getting more than he had as a professor. The Methodists are a fairly well established church and know better than have the pastor (or any one individual) being the only one overseeing the flow of money. They also have annual audits and a hierarchy that can interfere if things look odd. Methodist Bishops have a set salary of $120,942 plus use of a house (there are 50 United Methodist bishops in the US, some cover several states and some cover only part of a state). Median salary in the US for a Senior Pastor is $51,973 and for a regular minister $38,442 (I'm not sure whether this includes use of a house or not). This would also vary from region to region in the US. (google search on united methodist salaries). Average salary for a tenured professor at University of Toledo is $89,000; however, a distinguished professor in science probably earns quite a bit more than average.

4. Some churches do have question and answer sessions after the service (my local private university church usually does which I discovered when the minister has a sermon series on what atheists got right).

VAMP said...

ERP, that was certainly "enlightening"!

PM, be careful your eyes may roll to the back of your head...all kidding aside, great post.

A MASTER OF DIVINITY DEGREE???? Sounds important, NOT.

And I loved your line, ala I can has cheezburger: "Doc...I've been a little depressed lately. I can has the Jesus?"

U crack me UP!

Some of this smacks of a "Desperate Housewives" (blog link to story about the episode) when Lynette goes to Bree's Presbyterian Church and holds her hand up in church and starts asking questions...

Hey PM, off topic, but, have you seen "There will be Blood" yet. It's fascinating, I totally recommend it.

Baal's Bum said...

As I sdaid I went through the same school system as Mr Davies. In the state school system you did not get the option to ignore prayer it was compulsory with the threat of violence.Being swiped to the floor for not showing the appropriate respect was not uncommon in many of the schools I ayttended.
In a public school(what you would call private)I am told it was worse,with thrown golf balls to encourage you to give grace to god.

Baal's Bum said...

attended not ayttended.
Also it is not something you forget.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhhhhhh!! England! Stop sending your smart scientists here.

We dont. QED.

Erp said...

Baal's Bum,
There are actually a few secular non-theistic 'public' schools in Britain (and even those have to nod a bit in the direction of religion though nowadays I think it is learning about different religions not indoctrination in), but, I agree the chance of him getting through the system without knowing a few basics about Church of England style liturgy seems a bit odd (if nothing else English TV tends to have enough comedy shows and skits about vicars and religion to give one an idea).

This particular pastor seems to have never thought much about it before coming to the US. It is certainly not much of a story except possibly for the U. of Toledo.

Anonymous said...

"Ahhhhhhhh!! England! Stop sending your smart scientists here." -

I've worked in english university science departments for getting on for a decade. I remain to be convinced that this isn't a contradiction in terms.

Erp, I think the two classics are The Vicar of Dibley, where Dawn French stars as a chocoholic vicar and the Frankie Howard doing a sketch as a vicar giving a sermon (chock full of double entendre, as you might expect), only to reveal on his walk back at the end that the back of his robes were missing.

Baal's Bum said...

There may be a few secular schools now but I doubt there were any in the 60,s when Mr Davies did the majority of his schooling.
In those days virtually all students attending University would have gained their entrance qualifications via Grammar schools or Public schools.A very small number came through the secondary schools with any possibility of going on to higher education. This only began to change with the introduction of the comprehensive system. Back then no English students escaped without daily christian prayers.That's without the Easter and Christmas specials Any other religion or no religion was unthinkable. No English child could escape it so I do not believe the man did not know about prayer.Which begs the question if he is not telling the truth about that what else is he not telling the truth about.

we don't send our best scientists over there and when we send any scientist over there it raises the average IQ of both countries.

Mephitis said...

While I agree that the parts about claiming to have no knowledge of prayer etc beforehand sound well dodgy, I think you're wrong about the bit where refusing to say wedding vows in church is where it definitely shows he was not an atheist.

I'd certainly make a moral judgement about that. When I married, I wanted to say words that I agreed with, not add in a whole lot of nonsense that I didn't. I didn't want to be thinking to myself, "no no no, what a lot of hooey!" :) as I made that commitment. Even if it would have satisfied my spouse. (It would have pleased my family, at least).

Refusing to do that was not about secretly believing or fearing a deity, it was about being who I am, no pretending. The most important thing in my life is my family, who & how I am to them, so I'm not about to make promises to them while feeling a phony.

Speaking a few words it may be, but it also would set a precedent for the rest of the marriage. Why would I then have any objection later on to christening any children we might have or getting them confirmed - it's just words?

I'm not sure about the "he wasn't a true atheist" thing as something worth pursuing anyway. It reminds me strongly of when a Christian is confronted with the likes of Fred Phelps and argues they aren't true Christians. Or when they dismiss the experiences of atheists who were previously believers and claim that they could never have truly believed.

I'm perfectly prepared to accept this guy used to be an atheist or agnostic, it's a big "so-what if he was?" Proves nothing.

Unknown said...

What did he un-learn? How do you supposedly go from knowledgeable person to believing in myths?

Maybe Alzheimer's?

Also, where do sign up for the classes in kinky unicorn sex?

Anonymous said...

I think you're wrong about the bit where refusing to say wedding vows in church is where it definitely shows he was not an atheist.

Noted. ;)
I don't think it's the ONLY thing that "proves" him an atheist (though, that's how it came off).

Refusing to do that was not about secretly believing or fearing a deity, it was about being who I am, no pretending.
That's a good point. I think my objection to Mr. Davies' claim is because he's basically using his not wanting to marry in a church as "proof" that he was an atheist. I know many people who've wed outside a church, but you can't judge their religious beliefs or philosophy by that.

I'm not sure about the "he wasn't a true atheist" thing as something worth pursuing anyway. It reminds me strongly of when a Christian is confronted with the likes of Fred Phelps and argues they aren't true Christians. Or when they dismiss the experiences of atheists who were previously believers and claim that they could never have truly believed.

I have to disgaree, but I do see your point. This guy is trying to use atheism to bring people to Christianity. If he'd said, "Yes...I was an atheist." and then proved his atheism with logical and reasoned statements, then I probably wouldn't have cared about the article. But, as it is, this guy was claiming to be an atheist out of ignorance. It's not the same as one of us being judged as never being a "real Christian" - I know what "amen" means. I spent a shit load of time in church, on my knees, praying to a deity. This guy is saying he was an atheist when I think he was apathetic. My point was: not participating in a religion isn't enough to make you an atheist.

Anonymous said...

It's cruel to pick on a chemist they do have strange minds.

Only old ladies and immigrants went to church when I was young. At school There often was little more than a mumble for a prayer and no enthusiasm.

I can well imagine he (especially with a chemist's brain)daydreamed/ignored the very brief morning prayer, we did.

Oh, and has any Englishman ever thanked you and your country for taking all our dreary christians all those centuries ago.

Milo Johnson said...

"Oh, and has any Englishman ever thanked you and your country for taking all our dreary christians all those centuries ago."


Perpetual Beginner said...

Australia got the criminals and we got the Puritans.

Why does Australia get all the good stuff?

Anonymous said...

I can immagine the scenario.

The puritan ships leaving port, a crowd of drunken ye olde Anglo-Saxons staring incredulously...

"have they really gone?"

"..and the're not going to return?"


"what should we do now?"

"..maybe we should go to the pub"

"ok, but then what?"

"how about an industrial revolution and then create an Empire."


"'cos then we can travel the world and everyone will speak English!"

"That should keep us busy for a couple of hundred years."

Giggles all round and everyone sings joyously whilst dancing to the pub...

Sean Wright said...


Damn straight. Though I can't claim convict heritage.

Anonymous said...

Simon, your scenario is completely ridiculous. At "Let's go to the pub", they would've accomplished that before having the rest of the conversation.

And, lest anyone think I'm being unkind to Brits, when I was a young software engineer in the U.S. I had the privilege of being on a troubleshooting team with a couple of expat Brits. We'd take two-hour lunches, they'd drink two pitchers of beer, cover half the paper napkins in the restaurant with scribbles, and dream up remarkably clever solutions to whatever technical problems were plagueing us. My job was to keep their glasses full, listen, and then go back to work and implement the solutions. I wish I were half that clever sober.

Last I'd heard, they'd both become Silicon Valley startup successes.

paul [silentsanta] said...

[silentsanta, NZ]

Karen, you've overlooked something.

Anonymous said...


your being unfair, I declared that the crowd was already drunken!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

[I just noticed your "No anonymous comments" notice. Reposting.]

FYI, I think Richard Dawkins would disagree with your statement that "not participating in a religion isn't enough to make you an atheist." He's referred several times to children as atheists, and tries to emphasize that 'there is no such thing as a Christian child, only a child of Christian parents'.

But I agree that the article is a pretty weak case of "I used to be anti-religion, and now I am for it".

Berlzebub said...

@ NG:
Thanks for taking the time to repost. It makes things much easier for us admins.

I consider children, and all of those who haven't considered the arguments for and against the possibility of a supernatural being, as agnostic. I.E. that god(s) are unknown or unknowable. I expect that our "pastor", prior to becoming exposed to Christianity, would have had the same understanding of God as my 4 y/o daughter.

Aquaria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aquaria said...

I don't think it matters whether or not he wanted to get married in the church. I've known methodists who wanted to marry someone "outside" the faith, and some of the ministers are hardline enough that they will not perform an interfaith service, much less a service between a church member and an atheist. So it's get the nonbeliever to convert, or you're not officially married, at least not to that church. That might have been distressing to one of the parties. Guess which one?

I smell the wife pushing something here, and he's selectively revised the history to make himself look less like a sex-starved wimp.

The urge to merge has caused plenty of people to make tremendous fools of themselves, far too often.