Our Local Meetup Group Makes the Local Paper

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, the Antelope Valley Freethinkers had Dr. Matthew Rainbow present an overview of evolution for our members. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend due to an unforeseen family issue. The Antelope Valley Press covered the meeting and wrote an article about our group. I don’t normally post an entire article, but the paper usually removes the web version after a week, so I’m posting it before it is removed.

Locals look at Darwin’s book 150 years on

This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press
Monday, November 23, 2009.
Valley Press Staff Writer

LANCASTER – This year marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. November also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species.” The book introduced the theory that organisms evolve over the course of generations through the process of natural selection.

To celebrate, the Antelope Valley Freethinkers group scheduled a Darwin discussion and luncheon on Sunday for their monthly get-together. Club president David Dionne said they chose to celebrate the anniversary because Darwin’s book is one of the most important and influential scientific works in history.

Club member Matthew Rainbow, an AVC biology professor with a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry, was the featured speaker. Rainbow said that in the history of science, Darwin is even more dangerous than Nicolaus Copernicus and the even more dangerous Sir Isaac Newton. He noted that Copernicus removed man’s home – Earth – from the center of the universe.

“Darwin ratcheted it up a little, he did an even more serious thing,” Rainbow said. “What did he remove from the center? Man himself.”

Rainbow said that Newton, who believed in God, reduced astrophysics to a series of laws, whereby God works through laws.

“What did Darwin do?” Rainbow said. “Darwin basically took the most important question in biology – how did living things get here – and reduced that to laws … Darwin explained how the origin of species themselves can occur through laws.”

Rainbow said the origin of life itself is misunderstood. The professor, who described himself as a card-carrying, flag-waving evolutionist who is an agnostic half the time and an atheist the other half, said that even he believes the first cells may have been intelligently designed by what could be called a creator.

“I think that if this creator exists, he or she or whatever it is, obviously wants to remain unknown, if he exists at all,” Rainbow said. “The evidence now tends to suggest that they were intelligently designed.”

But Rainbow said that everything else in evolution, such as fish into amphibians, amphibians into reptiles and ape-like creatures into humans, is all well explained by evolution. There are three steps to evolution: mutation to DNA of organisms; altered embryological development; and natural selection.

“Darwin knew almost nothing about the first step … much less what DNA was,” Rainbow said. However, Darwin figured out the third step, that organisms constantly change. They pass on their traits to offspring and organisms exploded in growth.”

Dionne said the Antelope Valley Freethinkers is a diverse group comprising agnostics, atheists, secular humanists and other religious nonbelievers. The club began as an affiliate of the Los Angeles-based Atheists United and became a local, independent nonprofit organization this spring.

There are currently about 60 members.

Dionne said the group’s diverse membership includes independent thinkers from all different backgrounds and occupations.

“I really like finding interesting stuff for us to do and to talk about,” he said. “To connect and build friendships with people with the same world view I have.”

Dionne said the evolution of the club has been organic in the sense that it grows based on what members want. For the Antelope Valley Freethinkers, Dionne defined a freethinker as someone who bases their world view on reason, objective evidence and compassion, and who tends to be skeptical about supernatural things such as the existence of Gods, angels and demons, and the afterlife.

Dionne said that they strive to make their meetings interesting and entertaining. Past events include barbecues, picnics, movie viewing, board games, karaoke, and presentations on science and history. Members also volunteer in the community by participating in events such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. They also raised more than $300 for multiple sclerosis.

Antelope Valley native Erik Gunderson, the group’s secretary, said he became involved with a similar group when he lived in Knoxville, Tenn., a few years ago. He joined the Antelope Valley Freethinkers when he returned to the Valley about three years ago.

Gunderson said that he enjoys the social aspects of the club in that he looks for a combination of fellowship and something interesting to think about.

“You get out of your brain what you put into your brain,” he said. “We have a group where you have interesting, educated, smart people to talk with, sharing their knowledge, sharing their ideas, (it) makes you more interesting, smart and educated yourself.”

Johann Olivier, the group’s treasurer, said that he enjoys the intellectual stimulation you get as a member of the group.

“People are not constricted by dogmatic ideas of how the world should operate,” he said.

For details, e-mail the group at avfreethinkers@yahoo.com.


I bolded part of the story above where there port quotes Dr. Rainbow saying “said that even he believes the first cells may have been intelligently designed by what could be called a creator.” I hope the reporter is misquoting Dr.Rainbow because I can’t see how someone who describes himself as an agnostic atheist believes in intelligent design. Perhaps Dr. Rainbow was describing Darwin’s views rather than his own and the reporter misunderstood.

Other than this nit, an excellent article about the Antelope Valley Freethinkers. Way to go Dave, Kelly, Eric, Johann and everyone.


2 Replies to “Our Local Meetup Group Makes the Local Paper”

  1. Well, when interpreted literally, believing in intelligent design doesn't necessarily mean you have to believe in a deity: Raelians, for instance, are atheistic but they believe humans were created by extraterrestials.

    Maybe Dr. Rainbow was thinking along the same lines as Richard Dawkins when he was asked if he could conceive of any way that Intelligent Design could be true:

    WARNING: Ben Stein is in there: lock up your children and protect your braincells!


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