In Memoriam: Jeff Lucas (1956 - 2013)
In 1993 I was in Boulder, Colorado, just up the road from Colorado Springs, where Jeff Lucas lived. At the time I was taking computer science classes at the university and hanging out on the alt.security Usenet group. There I immersed myself in "cypherpunk" issues like encryption, privacy, and whether Big Brother would one day have the computing power necessary to harvest and crack millions of PGP-encrypted emails. It turns out that those concerns weren't necessary; people eagerly handed them over in the clear without a second thought.
Eventually, I drifted over to alt.atheism, where soon enough I met Jeff Lucas along with Jeff Lowder, Clark Adams, Bill Schultz, Jim Lippard, and about a dozen other folks whose names I've since forgotten. I was becoming increasingly interested in biblical studies and spent ungodly amounts of time in the library researching and writing. I would post my thoughts on alt.atheism and discovered a whole new world of criticism, questions, arguments, more research, and eager discussion. And this is when I really got to know Jeff Lucas. Sometime around 1995 or 1996, Jeff Lowder organized us around the idea of building a web site to publish secular content. Eventually, Internet Infidels was formed as a nonprofit group to organize the effort. Jeff Lucas did everything from formatting HTML tags to making strategic decisions about how to move forward. Soon he became indispensable. He would go on to become our Secretary, Treasurer, and later served as President. I can't imagine Internet Infidels without thinking of Jeff's steady hand at the wheel.
Jeff had a good sense of humor. He seemed to know every novel written by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and dozens of others. He was also competent and patient. He was just the sort of man that you would want in charge of a missile silo, the job to which he was entrusted when he was a commissioned officer in the Air Force. He also had a rigorous way of presenting ideas that led logically to solid conclusions. He never overstated his case. More importantly, he was always willing to reexamine his ideas when someone pointed out a weakness or flaw in his argument. I always chalked it up to humility. Later, when we met and I got to know him better, I realized that it was something else entirely. He firmly believed that scientific inquiry led to truth, and that everyone should focus on discovering truth rather than winning debates or proving preconceived notions. He told me once that this was what separated fundamentalists from secularists. The fundamentalist receives his truth from Scripture and sees it as his duty to explicate and defend it without question. However, the secularist tries to assume nothing and goes where the evidence leads him. I always remembered that distinction after Jeff explained it one day. And I remind myself of it now and then in those moments when everyone seems to have segregated themselves into like-minded camps, reading only those web sites or books which support their preconceived ideas. Jeff was an eternal optimist who believed that the truth was bigger than all of us, and that it would one day prevail. That is his legacy in my mind.