On the origin of a name: Darwin Soder

Name: Darwin Soder

Where I live: On Florida’s West coast in Sarasota since 1980.

Where and when I was born: Wichita, Kan., in 1943.

Family: I am the oldest of four brothers. Two of them became devout Christians while my youngest brother followed me in nonbelief. We all grew up in a traditional Midwestern household where we attended church every Sunday.

Education: My parents preceded me by attending college and were able to enter the surging middle class at the beginning of WWII. As a result, I was afforded the opportunity to attend Kansas State University, where I earned an undergraduate degree in economics. I then completed a master’s degree in economics and secured a job teaching in a small Kansas college.

Occupation: After getting a second master’s degree in labor statistics and industrial relations at Michigan State, I breezed into a job as an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C. Two years later, I relocated to the U.S. Maritime Administration. Living in a houseboat on the Potomac River, I began my life-long love of boating and sailing. In 1979, I departed Washington and sailed to Florida, where a few years later I started a firm managing other people’s money in the great stock market boom of 1983-1999. After a lucrative career, I retired in 2003.

How I came to be called Darwin: I am the grandchild of a horticulturalist, Albert Soder, who lived in rural Iowa at a time where there was no electricity, no running water, no radio and no entertainment. He didn’t attend college, but educated himself by intensive reading from the greatest books written in the late 1800s. One of those books was Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man. Albert was so inspired by this groundbreaking publication that he and his wife Nellie agreed to name their second child “Darwin.” That revered name was passed on to me. Albert also purchased Robert G. Ingersoll’s Prose-Poems and Selections (1884), Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason (1794) and John E. Remsburg’s The Bible (1903). I still have Albert’s books and owe much of my own conversion to nontheism to my grandfather, who was an active member of the International Congress for Progressive Thought. He attended its 27th National Convention in St Louis in 1904. He was a skeptic ahead of his time in rural Iowa.

Where I’m headed: At age 74 and never married, life has been really good and just too easy. I have no children, so my living expenses have been minimal.

Person in history that I admire and why: I have always admired Carl Sagan and particularly relish his book, The Demon-Haunted World. Sadly, he died in 1996 at age 62, but he authored 30 books, and though a closet humanist who cautiously avoided questioning the deeply held faiths of the general population, he fostered a love of scientific thinking over myths and superstition.

A quotation I like: “I no more believe in the biblical God than I believe in Zeus, Isis, Thor and the thousands of other dead gods that lie buried in the mass grave we call mythology. I doubt them all equally and for the same reason: a lack of evidence.” (Author unknown)

These are a few of my favorite things: Sharing a weekly 12-mile ride with my partner Susan on our low-slung recumbent trikes that combine joyful exercise and no worry of falling. In addition, we sail her 18-foot Hobe Mirage trimaran on the warm green waters of Sarasota Bay all year long. At an earlier age, Sunday motorcycling with other riders was a great way to avoid road congestion and church attendance. Finally, I’m learning a new outdoor activity — sporting clays and trap shooting.

These are not: Continuous blather by radio and television newscasters about the president-elect and his entourage. Along with many like-minded individuals, I “cut the cord” following the election. I don’t like seeing the voluntary display “In God We Trust” on many Florida license plates. This phrase is also displayed on our state seal in government offices statewide. Should we sue to remove it?

My doubts about religion started: I was raised in a family of religious moderates who belonged to a unique Congregational church ministry, which proclaimed that members could accept Jesus as the son of God and the savior of humankind, or as a natural-born human being who taught us how to worship God and to respect each other. By my late teen years, I was inclined to be skeptical of the Christian bible and of supernatural entities, but still liked the deist inclination of our Founding Fathers. I became much more skeptical in my sophomore year at Kansas State, when I enrolled in a philosophy class. While the professor was careful not to reveal his own beliefs, he selected a textbook which included a full chapter on the existence of God. I was shocked to read that there were valid reasons to challenge the very existence of a God. I am fortunate to be a close acquaintance of Barbara G. Walker, who has authored several persuasive articles in Freethought Today. Her many carefully researched histories of biblical mythology have persuaded me to reject Christian dogma regarding the “life” of Jesus.

Before I die: I am a life member of Final Exit Network, a national organization devoted to helping people die a good death. FEN evaluates members’ requests for education and even assistance in facilitating their own death. If they are of sound mind, but unwilling to endure severe pain, or to waste family financial assets by a prolonged stay in a nursing home, an exit guide will come to support their Final Exit. I hope that I will die suddenly, but if that good fortune is denied, I am prepared to employ fast and mostly painless alternatives.

Ways I promote freethought: For at least a decade, my car’s license tag has read “SKPTIC.” My motor home also displayed the name “APOSTATE” on its front bumper. I loved that word because most people had to ask me what it meant. I have always mounted a Darwin fish symbol on my vehicles, along with a smaller evolve fish holding a wrench. In 2000, I became an early member of the first nontheist group in Sarasota — the Humanists of Sarasota Bay (HUSBAY). When I told the club’s founder that I had just retired from a career in financial services, he asked me to be its treasurer, a post I held for 10 years.

We now have almost 130 active members. In 2008, I gathered several of my fellow humanists together to adopt one of our county’s largest parks. The county erected a permanent sign with our association’s name near the park entrance. Finally, in 2010, I created a public Facebook page called Sarasota Humanists. I serve as the administrator and we have nearly 100 followers, many of whom are HUSBAY members, too. The site is packed with humorous nontheist cartoons, photos and member comments. I am proud to be a Life Member and After-Life Member of FFRF in support of its outstanding achievements.

Freedom From Religion Foundation