Freethought Today · January / February 2015

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Meet a member: James Downard

Name: James Downard.

Where I live: Spokane, Wash.

Where and when I was born: Spokane, Sept. 22, 1952.

Family: Two sisters and a brother still living, plenty of nieces and nephews far and wide.
Education: B.A. in history, Eastern Washington University.

Occupation: Former inventory/supply worker, now retired (on extremely inadequate Social Security).

How I got where I am today: Muddling along one day at a time as best I can, trying to enjoy myself but not making a nuisance.

Where I'm headed: In my TIP (Troubles in Paradise) anti-creationism project, I hope to help limit anti-evolutionist popularity. The initial PDFs and links are online at www.tortucan.com, a very much no-frills page so far.

The TIP project is a methods-based ("follow the sources") approach that bypasses the usual and often distracting "religion vs. science" fistfight in order to to pull the rug out from under the anti-evolutionists. Sound documenting of sources is something they can't do at all, let alone well enough to win, so it seems a good idea for us to play those cards right off the bat.

Person in history I admire: Stephen Jay Gould, as prickly a "paying attention to details" guy as ever there was, and whose ideas (from spandrels to NOMA) have sparked my and others' thinking. For example, my pocket definition of religion ("a neotenous spandrel sustained as a Scorched Earth defense") owes a lot to Gould's concepts and terminology.
A quotation I like: William James, sent a questionnaire in 1904 about religious beliefs of prominent persons and their dependence on "the authority of the bible," replied succinctly: "No. No. No. It is so human a book that I don't see how belief in its divine authorship can survive the reading of it."

These are a few of my favorite things: Music (classical and otherwise), movies (and their music), studying science and history in many forms, designing an amusement park (my grand and obviously unbuilt "Nat Park" plan that had as brief blip of "fame" in our local KSPS public TV's 1990s documentary "Memories of Natatorium Park.") They still air it around the Fourth of July.

These are not: People who seriously think things like anti-evolutionism are good science and the people who (knowingly or not) elect them to boards of education or state legislatures or Congress. I devised the "Tortucan" concept to account for how people can so easily do those sorts of things (search on youtube.com for "tortucan" videos).

My doubts about religion started: I was raised in a family of very much ex-Mormons, where there was no religious upbringing or discussion of religious matters whatsoever. My mother (very politically conservative but also very nonreligious) went ballistic when she found out that our first-grade class was marched once a week to religious instruction at a Spokane church. She thought public school was where you were supposed to get educated, not indoctrinated, and pulled me out immediately. I spent the time reading on my own at school while the class dithered away the hour at the church. But she did send us all to Sunday school, just so we'd be exposed to it and could make up our own minds (none of us became converts from the experience).

We were living in California by the time I was dispatched to Methodist Sunday school in the early 1960s, which didn't last long. I was summarily asked to leave (much like Carl Sagan's fictional Ellie Arroway in Contact) for asking too many questions about the biblical flood (my dinosaur collecting and encyclopedia reading having had its baneful influence on me already).

The big mistake they made at Sunday school, though, was giving me a nice Revised Standard Version of the bible, complete with a plethora of bottom-of-the-page cross references. That's how I first spotted that the Davidic genealogy of Joseph listed in Matthew didn't match the one given in Luke. I notice that not all bibles make the mistake of putting cross references right there for people like me to follow up more easily!

Before I die: I would like to enjoy at least a bit of whatever posthumous fame I may have earned.

Ways I promote freethought: Over the years, I've become active in the Spokane Secular Society and the Inland Northwest Freethought Society, the latter now an FFRF chapter. I've helped organize and staff the annual Darwin Day display at the downtown RiverPark Mall. I'm also the atheist blogger on the award-winning Spokane Faith & Values website (www.spokanefavs.com) where my "Ask an Atheist" button gets plenty of traffic.

The big thing on my plate is the online anti-creationism project, which has expanded to cover over 35,000 sources (including over 13,000 technical science works aimed at "flattening" over 6,000 anti-evolution sources). Nothing on this scale has existed before. Those who want to help the TIP baby grow and thrive can find a link at www.tortucan.com/ because I can't quite do it alone (it takes a secular village sort of thing).

I'm also on Facebook and Twitter, where I've been usefully applying TIP methods to short-circuit anti-evolutionists.

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