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Apr 02 2008

Closed captioned for the humor impaired

Yes, that was a joke yesterday. No, the show isn’t going away. And no, this blog has not been renamed to “The Rhology/Dan Marvin Apologetic Power Hour.”

It’s important to emphasize this point, because when our regular commenter Dan Marvin saw the altered title of the blog yesterday, he appeared to just about blow a gasket with excitement. He spent a large part of yesterday using the existence of his new pretend TV show as a reason to just burst forth with the preaching to the unwashed masses, in a completely un-ironic way that was also not particularly funny (at least not intentionally so). I would have answered him then, but I wanted to stay “in character” for April Fool’s Day. Luckily, that’s over now.

Personally, I don’t despise Dan in the way that Martin seems to. Maybe it’s because I’m particularly susceptible to implied flattery. A few weeks ago, I casually mentioned that Dan should watch the movie “Memento” in order to get the point I was making about using not personal experience as a substitute for evidence. Then he made a point of posting a reply in the comments on Kazim’s Korner and saying that he did watch it, and liked it. That goes a long way toward making me feel charitable toward a person. (Well, he also called Martin a rude name, but that’s par for the course.)

Dan, now I know that you sometimes sincerely listen to me, and I appreciate that. So please understand that I’m posting this in the spirit of brotherly love and harmony, because frankly, your apologetic style sucks. Very much. You may not believe me, but it’s true when I tell you that I’m trying to help you — and other apologists who might be reading — do it better.

Here’s my first point: learn how to make your own damn arguments, and lay off with the wall-to-wall Bible quotes.

Let me explain.

I am not unfamiliar with the Bible. I went to Jewish Sunday school and covered a lot of old testament material. I played Haman in a Purim play. I did my bar mitzvah speech on “an eye for an eye.” I took two separate college level humanities classes that used the Bible as source material. I have my own Bible. I’ve read it. I’ve read it to my kids. I’ve read CS Lewis and Lee Strobel. I listen to Christian radio, although not as much as I used to, because after many years it gets extremely repetitive.

You may think that when you start quoting the Bible by chapter and verse, you are causing us atheists to take a surprised pause and reconsider our place in the universe. In fact, we’re not doing that. Have you ever seen this Far Side cartoon, where the man is scolding his dog Ginger, but all the dog hears is “blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah GINGER”? That’s pretty much what atheists hear when you start quoting the Bible: “blah blah blah.” To be perfectly honest, I don’t even read that stuff anymore. My eyes just slide right over those paragraphs as I skim down to try and figure out if you have a point buried in there somewhere.

Now you’re probably already snickering “Hee hee, Kazim just admitted that atheists are as dumb as dogs!” Nope, that’s not it. Think of it like this. Imagine you’re trying to have a conversation with some guy who really loves Star Trek. Every time you try to discuss something with him, he suddenly perks up and babbles random Star Trek references. He’ll say: “You know, in episode 45/4211.4, Captain Kirk said ‘The only solution is…a balance of power. We arm our side with exactly that much more. A balance of power…the trickiest, most difficult, dirtiest game of them all. But the only one that preserves both sides.’” Sometimes the Star Trek quotes make sense in context, and sometimes he just says things that appear to be a complete non sequitur. But he always quotes them with great significance, as if the words of Captain Kirk are the greatest pearls of wisdom that have ever been offered to the world.

After a while, wouldn’t you stop paying attention to what this guy says? I mean, not that there’s anything particularly wrong with Star Trek, but it is, after all, a fictional story written by some guys in Hollywood in order to make a paycheck.

That’s what we think of your Bible. Wait, you’re about to argue and tell me why the Bible is the greatest book ever written. Shut up and listen. I’m sure there’s an argument to be had about why the Bible is important to you and why we should pay attention to it. But the important thing to realize is that we haven’t accepted the Bible as true yet. Maybe you can change that, but you’re never, never, EVER going to change our minds by quoting from the Bible. It’s like trying to prove that Star Trek is true by quoting from Star Trek. It doesn’t work. It’s annoying. You’re wasting both your time and ours. I mean it.

In fact, let’s henceforth refer to this as the Star Trek Rule, and I will try to remind you of it in future conversations, to make sure it sinks in. The Star Trek Rule is this:


Before quoting the Bible to atheists, always ask yourself whether the same statement would be just as effective in your mind if you were quoting Captain Kirk.


If the answer is “yes,” then you may be making a good point that people will listen to. If the answer is “no,” then you are probably trying to rely on the Bible as something that people will regard as credible in its own right… and atheists, because we are blind to the merits of the Bible, will miss the point.

So I’m going to repeat the words with which I started: learn how to make your own damn arguments. Just figure it out. If CS Lewis and Lee Strobel can do it, then you can too. It’s not some magical superpower, it’s just putting your own thoughts in order and then explaining them. If you must quote from the Bible (and frankly I haven’t seen many situations where it makes any difference) then at least use your own words to tell us why we, who believe the Bible is no more credible than Star Trek, should give a hoot about that particular chapter and verse.

And I have just one more point to make: You never change anyone’s mind by personally insulting them. It’s just a fact. Take, for example, the verse you used yesterday… all together now: “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.” Ha ha! Zing! We’ve never heard THAT one before! Your fictional book about God says that we’re fools not to believe in the fictional God!

See, this is a doubly bad way to preach effectively, because first it breaks the Star Trek rule (“Captain Kirk says you’re a fool”); and second it makes you sound like a dick. Is your goal to make all the Christians reading the thread chortle with merriment and glee at your wit? Then by all means, be a dick. Doesn’t matter to us. But is your goal to persuade the foolish atheists to accept Jesus as their savior? Then stop being a dick. People don’t listen to dicks. You will get way more positive response by being personable, charming, and interesting. I promise.

Those are my suggestions… take them or leave them.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    B-rad

    The whole “fool in his heart” verse always seemed so absurd to me. Much like the Doubting Thomas story it always read to me like nothing more than a built in defense mechanism by the authors. Oh someone might criticize our book, better head them off at the pass and say they are automatically a fool before they have a chance to point out the flaws! Ha ha!

  2. 2
    Martin

    I had to think about this after I read it, and I don’t think I could really say I despise Dan, though it may seem that way because I smack him around so harshly every time he comes by. But he does sadden and frustrate me, simply because he is such a depressing exemplar of the brainwashed religious mind. He’s a fellow so completely programmed to be an obedient little Godbot that he simply can’t think very well, or at all. And, in the way I described in an earlier post of mine where I talked about the way Christianity allows its believers to flatter themselves with a sense of faux-intellectualism, his very blindness to reality is what gives him his sense of smug self-satisfaction. He’s a walking example of ignorance (and I’m talking 100% ignorance of virtually every subject that isn’t Jebus-related) congratulating itself with arrogance. Anyone who’s the sort of person that cares passionately what the truth really is simply cannot help feeling a roiling combination of pity and contempt for such an individual. It’s like seeing those homeless panhandlers on street corners. There are any number of ways they could pull themselves out of their dead-end situation, but in many cases, they’re just losers who have decided that they’re fine just being bums and don’t really wish to exert the modicum of real effort and hard work it would take to be anything else. So I both feel sorry and disdainful of them. I don’t really think I despise Dan, though I certainly don’t like him. Mostly I think he’s plain sad. I mean, just a real waste of human potential.Your overall post here was entirely on point and better than I could have written.

  3. 3
    Mike S.

    Ha I like the Star Trek rule. Yeah it sorta does make sense sense we atheists think the Bible is rubbish so why quote it. I will come back and read more. Best wishes..

  4. 4
    Alex Gryson

    That “Star Trek Rule” is GENIUS. Succint, relevant, perfectly analagous. I’m adding it to my lexicon as I type…

  5. 5
    MR. X

    I think the ‘Captain Kirk’ phrase just summed up organised religion. Maybe in two-thousand years the gospel of Shatner will be revered. If anyone is interested my blog is at:www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/

  6. 6
    Matt D.

    While not quite as cool as “fractal wrongness” or “Schrödinger’s Jesus”…I’m now an official fan of “The Star Trek Rule”.Well said.

  7. 7
    Thomas

    If Kirk said “the fool says in his heart there is no god”, then would I believe it?You may want to modify the rule slightly so that Kirk must always be talking about vulcans. (Some bible verse may apply to Klingons)

  8. 8
    Phewd

    Matthew 5:22 – ’nuff said. See you hell…

  9. 9
    Matt D.

    What does GOD need with a starship?Another example of a god vanishing in a puff of logic…

  10. 10
    Tommykey

    Speaking of Star Trek, sometimes I compare the god of the Bible to the character Charlie X.If you remember, Charlie was incredibly powerful but extremely thin skinned. Whenever he felt someone was making fun of him, Charlie would hurt that person or make him disappear.

  11. 11
    Tom Foss

    That was, I think, the whole point of the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” with the omnipotent little kid. Also, phewd, thanks for illustrating the point!

  12. 12
    D.A.N.

    phewd, if I were to say Adolf Hitler said “all Jews should die” then you would be wrong to go around saying Dan Marvin said all Jews should die. You are taking things out of context so your Matthew 5:22 reference/example was incorrect and you will not see me in hell.Kazim,Thank you for your civility and I always have understood completely that you think that the Bible quotes are useless to you. But your reasoning is flawed I believe and I will get back to that later.As far as the psalm quote goes I wasn’t preaching at the time I was just pointing out in a strait forward way the book you despise and have pent up anger for is calling all Atheists plain fools. Please understand that I am not here to win a popularity contest or earn points from the AE crew either. I am doing everything I can to get you out of the flames that are coming your way. Here I will quote movies instead of the Bible to make a point:Remember in Pulp Fiction when Vincent (John Travolta) said to Wolf “A please would be nice.”Wolf said “Get it straight buster – I’m not here to say please, I’m here to tell you what to do and if self-preservation is an instinct you possess you’d better fucking do it and do it quick! I’m here to help – if my help’s not appreciated then lotsa luck, gentlemen.”Vincent: “I don’t mean any disrespect, I just don’t like people barking orders at me.”The Wolf: “If I’m curt with you it’s because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast and I need you guys to act fast if you wanna get out of this. So, pretty please… with sugar on top. Clean the fucking car!”and scene.So if I am curt with you all it’s because time really is the factor and you could die tomorrow. So pretty please with sugar on top, seek Jesus.Kazim, it’s your civility that gets my ear and I take you seriously and I hope to do the same to you. I emulate Martin to get him to understand his plight. I love Martin but I am afraid his pride and self esteem and anger is so lofty that he can’t listen to reason. If I have offended anyone I apologize. Martin is a clasic bully with high self esteem, and I have met many in my day, and the only way I feel to deal with a bully is punch him in the nose and watch him cry to his mommy. So I am curt at times, guilty. I do all things with love so if I felt that my gentleness with Martin would help get him saved, I would and I have many times in the past.Now let me get to the point that you made that I said was flawedYou don’t like when I quote the Bible and I always have understood that point, though I ignored it. The Bible is historical accounts of events in mankinds past, present and future. It is a truly relevant Book in these discussions because that is what the discussions are about are they not? The only way me and you can communicate to each other, hopefully, is that words have meanings and context. That is what scripture is, it’s words that have meaning and context and the way God has communicated to us all. To be so “Martin Lofty” and think that things that I say would miraculously change all of your minds, like yesterday, is preposterous. I only add things to help place God’s word in context of the discussion. Understand?I understand that most atheists I know probably know more about the Bible then I, in a possible cold intellectual way, but they don’t understand the living word. I only try, in my feeble attempt, to wake up the words in your heart. I think long ago I related it to a 4 year old Chinese boy reading a Chinese book easily, where someone who isn’t Chinese has a difficult time understanding that book. I am only trying to act as a translator for you that is all. Now I can back up all of my reasoning with scripture, but I will spare you. Captain Kirk 39. “No more blah, blah, blah!” — Kirk, Miri, Ep 12/2713.5

  13. 13
    D.A.N.

    Kazim “To be perfectly honest, I don’t even read that stuff anymore. My eyes just slide right over those paragraphs as I skim down to try and figure out if you have a point buried in there somewhere.”BTW shame on you Kazim for saying you don’t read what I write. I am not doing it to build up myself but to get you to understand Him. You casually mention a movie and I listen, I mention God and you ignore it…sigh.

  14. 14
    NAL

    Dan: BTW shame on you Kazim for saying you don’t read what I write. I am not doing it to build up myself but to get you to understand Him. You casually mention a movie and I listen, I mention God and you ignore it…sigh.Write? Or did you copy and paste the quotations? Kazim said he skips the parts of your post that you’ve copied, he didn’t say he skips the parts that you actually write. Captain Picard was way better than Kirk.

  15. 15
    D.A.N.

    Nal after looking back I see your point “he skips the parts of your post that you’ve copied, he didn’t say he skips the parts that you actually write.”You’re right, he did say that I misread it. I was wrong

  16. 16
    Rhology

    Dang! I missed it ’cause I didn’t come here on Tuesday. Shoot.I would’ve laughed. I wouldn’t have thought you’d become Christians alluvasudden.Strange, though – you named it Rhology/Dan Marvin Power Hour or whatever and then didn’t mention me the rest of the post. Where’s the love, people?!?!?!

  17. 17
    Martin

    We were just having fun playing with Dan.

  18. 18
    Kazim

    Dan,As far as the psalm quote goes I wasn’t preaching at the time I was just pointing out in a strait forward way the book you despise and have pent up anger for is calling all Atheists plain fools.Correction: We don’t have any pent up anger for the Bible. We simply don’t regard it as a source of correct information. So being called “fools” by the Bible does not anger us or even hurt our feelings. When you come in here saying “You’re all fools! My book says so!” that is simply regarded as your opinion. And you calling me a fool is about on the same level of maturity as me calling you a dick. Do you get the connection?Please understand that I am not here to win a popularity contest or earn points from the AE crew either. I am doing everything I can to get you out of the flames that are coming your way.We don’t run any “popularity contests” around here. No prize has been offered for winning one. I was simply under the impression that you want people to listen to you and be swayed by your words. Perhaps I was wrong.Do you REALLY want to get people out of these flames that you imagine they will wind up in? Then why is it that you don’t seem to care whether you talk in a way that will make people interested in you? That makes me think that you don’t really care whether people burn in hell or not; you just want to put on a good show in order to trick god into THINKING you tried to save people.Please think back and answer this question honestly. Have you been successful in saving anyone by posting on this blog? Has anyone written to you who was not already a Christian, and said “Thanks a lot, reading those Bible verses was just what I needed to convert me to Christianity”? Only you can answer that question, but my wild guess is that they have not.Assuming that this is the case, a smart guy like you should recognize that your preaching has a 0% success rate, and then ask yourself why. In your position, I would be saying: “Gee, I genuinely want to save these poor atheists from hell, but what I’m doing isn’t working. How can I do it better?” That would be where people skills comes in. It’s not a contest — it’s just that in real life, having people skills generates practical results.Regarding your Pulp Fiction quote: actually this is not all that different from what you’ve been doing already. When you quote Pulp Fiction, you’re reciting from an imaginary story with an imaginary threat offered in the plot. But at least the threat is real to the people IN the story.In this case, I haven’t even seen Pulp Fiction, so I don’t know the context of the quote. But I gather from internet summaries that Wolf is a big, tough, experienced motherfucker with a gun, and Vincent actually called him and asked for help. So I guess Wolf has some leverage in ordering Vincent around.As far as I know, you are not a big tough motherfucker. You don’t have a gun, or if you do, you’re not scaring anybody by waving it around, because we all know that you’re sitting in your house typing at us from a different state. And most importantly, nobody asked you to come here and help them. You are, in fact, a guest on this blog, and your posts remain in the comments section at the pleasure of the moderators.Last time Martin deleted your post, you called him a crybaby. But in fact, this is only one of many legitimate means by which people elect to ignore you when you act rude. Is that what you want? Or do you want to actually save people from hell instead of just talking about it? Wolf gets respect because he at least gives the other characters a REASON why they should listen to them, which they accept. If he didn’t earn that respect, the other characters would just laugh at him and then ignore him.So if I am curt with you all it’s because time really is the factor and you could die tomorrow. So pretty please with sugar on top, seek Jesus.Thanks for asking so nicely. The answer’s still no. I don’t believe in Jesus or hell.Now let me get to the point that you made that I said was flawedYou don’t like when I quote the Bible and I always have understood that point, though I ignored it. The Bible is historical accounts of events in mankinds past, present and future. It is a truly relevant Book in these discussions because that is what the discussions are about are they not?No. That is what YOU want the discussions to be about. But first you have to make people agree with you about the Bible being an important book. Until you’ve done that, you’ve got no leverage at all. The only way me and you can communicate to each other, hopefully, is that words have meanings and context. That is what scripture is, it’s words that have meaning and context and the way God has communicated to us all.No again. That’s what YOU think the Bible is. But since I don’t agree that the Bible is God’s word, surely you can see that it literally makes no difference to me whether your quotes come from the Bible or Pulp Fiction. To be so “Martin Lofty” and think that things that I say would miraculously change all of your minds, like yesterday, is preposterous. I only add things to help place God’s word in context of the discussion. Understand?If you really don’t think you can change anyone’s mind, then why are you here? Is it just an ego trip for you? The Bible already exists and is available to read. Why even post if you don’t think that your “translations” will be persuasive?Captain Kirk 39. “No more blah, blah, blah!” — Kirk, Miri, Ep 12/2713.5Whoa, that’s a real quote? That was actually a witty reference to make!That Kirk, he does have some sensible advice to offer sometimes.

  19. 19
    Tom Foss

    One thing I think deserves a little more attention is this: I am doing everything I can to get you out of the flames that are coming your way.The problem here is exactly what Russel was talking about in the original post. When you say “believe in Jesus or you’ll go to Hell,” we hear “believe Capt. Kirk or you’ll be disintegrated by cloaked Klingon Birds of Prey.” You’re telling us to believe the words of a fictional character in order to avoid a fictional fate. I know you don’t see it that way, but that’s how we see it. I think I can speak for the majority when I say that we’ve already read much of the Bible, we’ve already heard the major apologetic arguments, and we have rejected them. We’ve already seen what they have to offer, and we’ve decided against believing them. So pulling quotes and stories and whatnot from the Bible and from common apologetic arguments does nothing to convince us, because we’ve already seen them and already haven’t been convinced. On the other hand, most of us have decided what kind of things we find convincing: evidence, reason, etc. If you offered some of that, some of what we’re specifically requesting, we’d be much more likely to accept your claims. This should be basic, but I’ll stay it anyway: if you want to convince someone of something, you have to give them evidence that they’ll find convincing, not just evidence that you find convincing. The Bible may be convincing to you, because you’ve already decided that it’s an important authority with good things to say. We haven’t made that decision, and we won’t until you give us good reason (i.e., evidence) to feel that way. When we ask for evidence, and theists respond instead with Bible quotes or common apologetics, that doesn’t help us avoid Hellfire. On the contrary, it hurts the theist’s cause. If I ask you for evidence and you respond with a Bible quotation, my conclusion is that you have no evidence, which only strengthens my conviction in my disbelief. In short: if you want to save our souls, quoting the Bible is one of the worst ways to do it. We’ve already decided that the Bible is unbelievable; if you can’t provide anything else, then our apostasy only grows stronger. If you’re trying to save souls, then your current style of evangelism is only hurting your cause.

  20. 20
    Tom Foss

    And I just realized that I consistently left an “l” out of Russell’s name. Many apologies, Mr. G.

  21. 21
    Kazim

    Common mistake, for some reason; I’m used to it.Also, you should hear how many people insist on pronouncing my last name as “Glazer”.

  22. 22
    Buffy

    Heh heh. My GF and I quote the Blah, blah, blah, blah, Ginger! cartoon to each other so often it’s now a running joke. I chuckled when I saw it in your post. Great use of TFS and Star Trek as analogies, and excellent piece overall!

  23. 23
    Bronze Dog

    Got directed here by Tom with a comment he left on a post of mine comparing theology to speculation on how Heisenberg compensators work. Excellent post, and don’t be surprised if I drop links to the rule. :)…Verification word: muleduch

  24. 24
    Simon Howard

    Reminds me of when the Rational Response Squad debated Ray Comfort. They agreed beforehand that the debate would not involve any Bible quotes, then half-way through the debate, what happened? The answer should be no surprise.

  25. 25
    D.A.N.

    Ahh good times from the past.Actually Martin secretly wants me to be his boyfriend although I have told him numerous times that I am straight. I still love him though, just not in the way he wishes. Its sad to see a man beg. :7) As far as not wishing we use Bible verses:"When an Atheist makes a moral judgment, for instance, and the Christian asks that he support his claim, is he denied the use of his system of thought for discharging that burden? No. In fact, that is the very means by which we prove the bankruptcy of the Atheist’s argument. What about the reverse of this scenario? When a Christian makes a moral judgment and is asked to support it, does the Atheist deny him the use of his Christian system of thought (e.g., the norms of Scriptures) for discharging his burden? Yes. In fact, he is told that the Scriptures are not any sort of evidence, a conclusion that is produced by the Atheist’s own presuppositions and criteria.Hence, the arrogance of Atheism." ~The Arrogance of Atheism

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