The TV show gets fan letters at a volume I certainly never experienced in the years before the internets became the distribution channel it is today. When I was host up until early March of 2004, we had set up the address (tv [at] atheist-community [dot] org) already. But with the only people watching the show being those with nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon than tune in to Austin Access, a good week of letters might be one or two letters, tops. Now they flood in at dozens per day, it seems.
Here are a couple of emails that give a flavor for the kinds of questions people have who write in. It’s great to hear from so many atheists, from all over, who never hesitate to express their gratitude for the work Matt and the whole team does. (And yes, we get letters from Christians, too, more of which is friendly and not of the “I’ll pray for you!” stripe than you might think.)
A fellow named Alexander Altaras asks, in his subject line, a straightforward question: “We don’t trust the Bible as an accurate source, why do we trust the news or any other historical document?” A good question indeed. I answered: Whatever the source of information you’re referring to, you should only find it trustworthy to the degree its claims can be independently confirmed or corroborated. Historians are usually expected to cite their sources, and the good ones do. News reporting has gotten more difficult to trust, because so much of it today is tainted with one type of political bias or another. It’s always a good thing to see if the information being given to you is well supported by facts. It’s why science is trustworthy where religion is not. In science the process of peer review is set up so that scientists can independently check each other’s findings without favoritism tainting the results. Religion has no such self-correcting tool in place. Another point is that religious claims are doubly hard to trust at face value because, unlike history, for example, the people promoting religious claims are doing so in order to defend or proselytize the belief, an agenda that isn’t as often applied when dealing with purely secular matters. So in short, consider the source, consider their reputation, and consider their sources most of all.
A fellow identifying himself only as Bobby, and informing us he’s a 38-year-old Marine and plainclothes narcotics officer (I’m assuming ex-Marine, if he’s a cop now), wants to know “what is the root of [believers’] hatred for the theory of evolution?” Bobby writes, “Why do theists get so offended by the theory of evolution? It is a basic question. I do not understand. I am an Atheist. I do not get offended by religion until it is forced upon me. I do not actively attack religious concepts until I am provoked. Theists behave as if the very IDEA of evolution insults them. They act as if the theory was created to specifically offend them. Why?”
I think much of it has to do with the fact that evolution seems to deny religion’s great promise to them: that they are special creations of a loving god, imbued with souls, which to go on to live in eternal paradise after their bodies die. By treating the development of life as a purely natural process, theists are afraid that evolution denies the divine and thus the chance they’ll get to go to Heaven.
Thing is, I happen to think (and Ken Miller would disagree) evolution does deny this. But it’s hardly the fault of nature, or of science’s methods of learning about nature, if people choose to retreat from reality and embrace irrational beliefs out of fear and wishful thinking.
Now keep in mind that everyone on the TV crew gets these emails, and the above answers to these questions are only my own. The good questions usually spark a stimulating discussion, with some of the other cohosts, like Tracie, offering such beautifully written and thought out responses that I can’t help gritting my teeth she doesn’t get a chance to post here more often than she does. But however the discussion threads turn out, it must be said that we really do have a fine and engaged audience out there, and we’re grateful to the lot of you. Keep watching, and keep the emails coming.