Interview with Frank Zindler

By: Enki, February 14th, 2010

Frank Zindler "Frank Zindler is an editor of American Atheist Magazine and Director of American Atheists Press. A former university biology instructor, he is also a professional linguist with a specialty involving ancient languages.
Mr. Zindler is the author of numerous articles and several books on Atheism and related history, including a special annotated edition of Part Three of THE AGE OF REASON by Thomas Paine. He is a member of several learned societies including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, New York Academy of Science, Society of Biblical Literature and the American Schools of Oriental Research. Mr. Zindler is also nationally recognized figure in the ongoing debate over creationist pseudoscience and evolution."

I have contacted Mr. Zindler and asked him about creationists tactics, atheism, and his personal life.

1- Thank you again for allowing us this opportunity. The war against creationists seems endless as they deceitfully flip the very evidences for evolution around to make them look like the inevitable end of “Darwinism” and its “evil cult”. How are we supposed to win a war against such cheaters?


The disinformation churned out by creationists and "intelligent design" advocates is just a special case of the disinformation spewed out by religious apologists in general. Creationists are, after all, just a special type of religious apologist. I have been debating creationists for over 50 years now, and it is interesting to note that their arguments continue to evolve, even if they deny the reality of evolution. They started as strict Biblical creationists, denying even the reality of microevolution. Then they became "scientific creationists" who, eventually, accepted the reality of microevolution but claimed it was unimportant. Then they became scientific creationists when it was clear that out-and-out religious dogmas could not be taught in the public schools. When scientific creationism was exposed for the religious fraud that it is, it evolved into "intelligent design," (ID) which fraudulently claimed to avoid religious arguments altogether. Of course, it does nothing of the sort. The "Intelligent Designer" of the would-be theory is clearly a supernatural being. The famous trial at Dover, PA, found that "intelligent design" also was religion, not science. Never relenting, ID advocates continue to attack science itself, seeking to permit supernatural causes to be admitted to scientific reasoning! Like other creationists, they claim that science/evolution theory is also a religion.


In America, it is impossible to turn on the radio without being inundated with religious programming and propaganda. Television too is saturated with religious propaganda. Churches are everywhere, while schools are few in number and many of the schools are religious institutions. For every institution committed to learning and discovery of new information in America, there are at least three others that seek to block the new discoveries and undo the learning of old discoveries that have been taught.


In America, churches and other religious groups such as the Creation Museum in Kentucky are tax-exempt. That means that they do not have to pay taxes on their properties and incomes. It also means that people who donate money to such institutions can deduct the amount of their contributions from the amount of their taxable incomes. As a result, religion is the biggest business in America and commands immense wealth. It can buy out all the broadcast media and most of the print media. Genuine information is being drowned in a flood of religious disinformation in all the media.


If religion were to be taxed like other businesses it would, I think, be quickly reduced in size and power and it would be much easier to combat the lies of creationists and others. Unfortunately, the grip of religion on the throat of society is so tight and powerful that it seems hopeless ever to be able to tax church wealth in America.


2- It must have been quite unique an experience being the most religious member of your family during your early life; I’m interested in knowing what and when was your very first brain’s spark that made you go like: wait! This is ridiculous, this can’t be true.


It is quite true that I became the most religious person in my family when I was eleven years old, immediately after my father was killed in an electrical accident. At the age of twelve I was offered an eight-year scholarship to attend a Lutheran seminary in Wisconsin--four years of religious high-school seminary and four years of college-level seminary to become a Lutheran pastor. I wanted to go, but my mother (who 30 years later herself became an Atheist) wouldn't let me go. She claimed (falsely, it turned out) that I was needed where I lived to work on my grandfather's farm in Michigan. She said that if, after graduating from the public high school in my home town, I still wanted to be a preacher I could do so with her blessing.


I had turned thirteen by the time I started public high school and dived into my courses with excitement. I had resolved to do not only the courses in the public school but also would try to learn all the subjects I supposed my cohorts at the seminary would be doing. So, I enrolled in Latin, but also was polishing up my family's native language, German, and studying Greek. (One year later I began to learn the rudiments of Hebrew.) Both Greek and Hebrew would be needed for serious study of the Christian Bible, you see.


In my first year of high school I also studied biology--the dreaded course in which evolution might be taught. Evolutionary theory was, of course, condemned by our fundamentalist form of Lutheranism. I had no way to find out what the "biology" course was like at the seminary. In any case, I loved biology and ultimately became a biologist. More of this shortly.


While I tried to take all the courses that might parallel the courses at the seminary, there was nothing I could do about the many Bible courses that I imagined must be part of the curriculum at the seminary. All I could do, therefore, was to read through the Bible on my own at home on the farm. Bible study proved to be a disaster that sowed the seeds of doubt that would grow into the tree of skepticism that would ultimately blossom into Atheism. By the time I reached the book of Exodus (the second book of the Christian Bible) I was troubled. After reading through the books of Numbers, Joshua, and Ezra I was horrified by the morally outrageous behavior of Jehovah (Yahweh), who commanded the Israelites to commit genocide over and over again. I went to my Lutheran minister in distress over the relevant passages in the Bible, and he rather disingenuously tried to explain things away.


Shortly after I had reached the morally upsetting passages in my Bible, I came home one day from school rather frightened by something that had happened in biology class that day. I told my mother that I thought that the teacher shortly would start teaching "that evolution junk" very soon. I asked her what to do. She flattered me as being an extremely intelligent boy who should be able stick up for the "truth." She suggested that I go to the city library and check out Darwin's "On the Origin of Species." Surely, I would be able for myself to see what was wrong with Darwin and explain it to my teacher when he started to teach about evolution. So, I had an aunt who lived in town who sponsored me to get a library card at the public library. I checked out Darwin and began to read. To my astonishment, Darwin made his case so thoroughly that I became an evolutionist.


Thus, before I had turned fourteen I had become an evolutionist and had rejected--on moral grounds--the so-called Old Testament, the Hebrew scripture part of the Christian Bible. I still thought of my self as a Christian, albeit a "New Testament Christian." Obviously, I had not read the New Testament very carefully! I pretty much quit going to church. This was very distressing because I had been assistant organist and I loved to play the pipe organ. Churches are about the only places you can find pipe organs. This was also distressing because at that stage in my life music was my greatest interest and everyone rather assumed I would be a professional musician or composer some day.


By the time I graduated from high school at age sixteen I was an Atheist in all but self-recognition. I started college at Kalamazoo College, a small, scientifically-oriented college fifty miles from my home. Throughout the first year there, I tried to defend Christianity against seemingly everyone. Practically everyone there was an Atheist or Agnostic. It was a daunting task, especially since I found it increasingly more difficult to defend even the anemic, watered-down version of Christianity in which I believed at that point.


Then, early in the second year of college it happened. In an all-night "bull-session" in the dormitory, it was as usual me arguing against five or six other people. My best friend then asked me (more in jest than in seriousness) "Can God build a wall so strong that he cannot tear it down?" That did it! In an instant I realized that the concept of the Christian God was "incoherent," that is it carried within it the seeds of self-contradiction. If God was infinite, he was everywhere, including inside the devil. He was inside the people telling me he does not exist! Ridiculous! While most people just laugh off such a question, I had had to take it seriously. I was at the time trying to develop a system of propositional calculus and had to take every word of every question or proposition seriously in order to determine its logical meaning.


In a trice, like a seed crystal dropped into a supersaturated solution of sugar or salt, full-fledged Atheism crystallized out of the stew of facts, questions, and thoughts that had been brewing since the age of thirteen.


3- Did atheism change your views? What would you describe as the most important difference between Frank Zindler: the theist and Frank Zindler: the atheist?


Ethically and intellectually, Frank the Theist and Frank the Atheist are pretty much the same persons. The major difference is that both ethical and scientific reasoning have become much easier. I no longer have to try to reconcile the ethical needs of real life with the requirements of a capricious Bronze-Age god. I am free to seek truth wherever the evidence may lead. I do not have to try to fit it into a book written by men who thought the heart is the seat of consciousness.


4- As an active proponent of evolution and critical thinking, what do you think we, as Middle East atheists, should do to promote science and reason? What should be our first baby step giving that our hands are chained and some of us have received death threats?


Although I too have received many death threats in the course of my long career, I think your condition is much more perilous than mine. I do not know which countries you are living in, and so I don't know specifically what to recommend. I am aware that things are much more dangerous in Saudi Arabia than in Jordan, for example. There are too many unknowns here for me to try to give advice.


5- I’m interested in knowing where we can find you online, do you have a blog or a website that you constantly publish to? hey! I promise I won’t use the information to stalk you.


Many of my essays are available on the Web-site of American Atheists and also on Internet Infidels and Talk Origins. I am hoping soon to get more of my writings posted on the American Atheists site. I do not have my own blog or Web-site.


6- Can you tell the readers about your role and involvement with the American Atheists? And what are you seeking to accomplish through that?


I have been a member of American Atheists since 1977, when I joined Madalyn Murray O'Hair in the effort to separate state and church in America. In 1963 I became the American Atheists State Director for Ohio and was very active as a speaker, debater, and organizer for the cause of Atheism. For ten years I had a cable TV program called "American Atheist TV Forum" in which I criticized religion and tried to educate the public about science and Atheism. Over the years from then on I have served on the national board of directors of American Atheists. In 2008 I briefly served as an interim president of the organization.


After the murder of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her son Jon (then the president), and her granddaughter Robin in 1995, I have served as managing editor of American Atheist press, publishing books, newsletters, and magazines. At present my main activity is in printing books. I am trying to publish new books that advance the cause of reason and to reprint old books from the Atheist classics. This is both expensive and time-consuming. Unfortunately, even though I am going to be 71 years old in a few months, I still have to work for pay as a linguist and biochemistry editor for a scientific publishing society in Ohio. All my Atheist activism must be done in my "spare time."


7- How would you describe the followings in one word:


a. Jesus


Fictional.


b. Mohammad


Frightening.


c. Aristotle


Admirable.


d. Ray Comfort


Despicable.


e. Richard Dawkins


Wonderful.


8- How do you spend your free time? What do you do for fun?


Learning is the greatest entertainment in my life. Like Aristotle, I have always wanted to "take all knowledge as my province." Since the advent of "Great Courses" on DVD, I have been devouring masterful college courses on just about everything: economics, biblical criticism, ancient history, literature, modern history, linguistics, mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, geology, brain physiology, game theory, origins of life, dark energy, etc.


Related to learning is research--learning completely new things. I am presently doing research (when there is time) on which characters in the Bible might have been real and which ones (like Jesus of Nazareth) are fictional.


Through most of my life, music was my greatest pleasure and entertainment, whether performing it, hearing it, or composing it. Unfortunately, for several years now I have not been able to "work out" on any of my many musical instruments and have not been able to go to many local symphony performances. Recently, however, since the Metropolitan Opera of New York has been broadcasting live performances in HD video, my wife Ann and I have been attending many operas being screened at a nearby movie theater. I do hope, however, before I "cash my chips in," that I will be able to get back to playing the cello and piano and some of my wind instruments. Possibly I will be able to write a bit of music also.


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Frank Zindler, thank you again for your time.