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Nov 28 2010

Open Thread – AE #685: The Leavers

The information I presented on tonight’s show came, in part, from an article published in Christianity Today. You can find that article at this link.

One thing I didn’t mention on the show was Drew Dyck’s comment on the last page of the article that most young adults who leave Christianity do so because of moral compromise. What he means by this is that they’re doing something that is inconsistent with Christian values, and they drop their faith as a means of resolving the internal conflict. He then goes on to imply that those who don’t admit that this is why they’ve left Christianity are not being honest. Is it just me or does this sound like the “you just wanna sin” pronouncement we hear from Christians sometimes?

Anyway – open thread on the show topic and callers. Have at it.

49 comments

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  1. 1
    Paveway

    Have to agree Jen, it's exactly the "you just wanna sin" line. I've gotten it and so many other atheist friends I know have gotten in.It's nice to see Christians becoming more and more aware of the fact that people are leaving, hopefully it will provide an outlet for people who are on the edge of leaving to say "you know, maybe I'm not so alone if I leave". It's tough to say if leaving Xianity because of internal moral conflicts is a good thing though. I could see how it could be good if it starts the deconversion process and leads them to really think about the truthfulness of the religion. But I could also see it backfiring, where some way down the road the person feels even more guilty because they gave up what they thought was their morality to pursue "sinful" things.Think the show went ok. I do think the second overseas guy (the one talking about indoctrination in schools) went on a little long. I would have liked Matt to have taken a hard line and said something like "we really don't have time, I can't give you a last 2 minute speech". That last caller, I just had to say WTF to that. You could probably have turned that call into a much better one by asking him "what are you talking about specifically?"He was obviously beating around the bush about something, but didn't have the balls or something to come out and ask a specific question.

  2. 2
    Cafeeine Addicted

    Regarding Damon, who called about the conditions in Greek schools, I think he should pass by the greek atheist forum at forum.atheia.gr While I went to school in Greece, my situation was nowhere near as bad as his.

  3. 3
    J Newbs

    I was thinking about the "atheists just want to sin" argument at work today (Uh oh! Working on Sunday, looks like I've already admitted to breaking a commandment). The thing I realized about it is that they are right, if you are willing to grant them certain notions of sin. The more important fact is that most atheists are not willing to grant them all of their notions of sin. It seems that to use this type of argument, one must make the unstated assumption that their understanding of the morality of their religion is the correct morality. If they actually tried to establish this assumption explicitly, they could run into many challenges that have been brought up by the hosts of the show many times: multitude of religions, no clear guide to explain which scriptures are literal and valid and not metaphorical or corrupted, etc.It's another one of those theistic arguments that loses a lot of weight when you identify its hidden assumption.(Sorry for the duplicate posts, made a mistake)

  4. 4
    optifaster

    Asexual reproduction is a kind of sexual reproduction.Anyone want to guess whether he thinks atheism is a religion?

  5. 5
    a.fenton-ham

    Heaps of problems with the stream today, so I missed a good chunk. I understand what the Greek guy was saying, but I think he probably could have summed it up a little less ramblingly.Really, for me, the frustrating thing about the "atheists just want to sin all the time" concept is that because my bisexuality was a catalyst for me to start investigating my religion, I get so easily shoved into that category. It's as though as soon as I say, "Well, the idea that a god of love would be against something so harmless and loving is confusing to me, so I wanted to investigate it further," I start seeing the knowing nods from the theists, pity in their eyes, and they begin to explain that it's very common and natural for we corrupted mortals to confuse god's will with "what feels good" and reject god because of it.It feels dishonest to leave that out; it was a genuine part of my life that led me to atheism in the long run. Unfortunately, there are people who just refuse to hear anything but the words they like.

  6. 6
    JT

    When you take evolution into account, the question "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" is non-sequitur.It really does boggle my mind, for a lot of these people, that when they have error after error in their beliefs/assertions pointed out, that they don't think to themselves "What's going on here? Why am I so wrong about these things? Maybe I should investigate and re-evaluate my beliefs". Nope, they just excuse themselves, somehow.

  7. 7
    Donovan

    The "just want to sin" argument wouldn't be quite so grating if most atheists I know didn't still follow the "rules" of their church after deciding the god or gods weren't real.I was raised Catholic and thought there was still value in most of the rituals well into my atheism, only giving up on "church morality" after reason was directed at all of the cases.Now I'm more of the notion that any "morality" the church teaches that isn't part of secular, reasoned morality as well, is dangerous to society and the individual and causes inexcusable harm, that is, the church teaches excuses sin, not morality. These sins are degrading non-believers or other-believers, ignoring reality, blaming Adam and Eve or similar for one's own lack of self control, declaring one's self forgiven for hurting others by mumbling something about an ancient Palestinian woman, and so on.

  8. 8
    dc1983

    @JEN: "He then goes on to imply that those who don't admit that this is why they've left Christianity are not being honest. "Grrrrrr. I would unleash a round of obscenities but I don't want to get banned!I was one of the most open, truth-seeking, honest, tow the line Christian out there. My struggles in Christianity were for just a little evidence of God being real and being a part of my life. Maybe he could even fulfill a few of the "biblical" promises made in the Sermon on the Mount and in other places in the gospel!But NO! Just crickets chirping in the middle of long sleepless nights, wondering where God was. I didn't even care about inconsistencies in the Bible or the problem of good and evil. Just "Where are you god!"Eventually, I concluded that the best explanation was that there was no god.There was no secret, besetting sin involved. The jerk who wrote that article doesn't want to know the truth about atheists. He doesn't want to dialog with ex-Christians and come away with the actual reasons people leave the faith.He just wants a convenient way to stick us in a slot where he can feel smug and not have to struggle with the fact that people leave his precious religion for valid reasons.

  9. 9
    dc1983

    Now that I've read the entire article, it seems to me that the author was reporting "moral compromise" as the common churchgoers impression of those who leave the faith during their 20's and 30's. But Dyck seems to think this is the most common reason with his remark :"I think there's some truth to this—more than most young leavers would care to admit. The Christian life is hard to sustain in the face of so many temptations. Over the past year, I've conducted in-depth interviews with scores of ex-Christians. Only two were honest enough to cite moral compromise as the primary reason for their departures. Many experienced intellectual crises that seemed to conveniently coincide with the adoption of a lifestyle that fell outside the bounds of Christian morality."Note how he said "only two were honest enough. . ." He implies the real reason (moral compromise) is much more wide spread.He is also quick to use a version of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. "Again, the reasons for departing in each case were unique, but I realized that most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith. "Of course Dyck does what a lot of evangelicals do: blame the church for not doing a good job at making true disciples. But it is still a veiled "No True Scotsman" fallacy. "Leavers" leave because they weren't true Christians AND it's the churches fault.This is just the same old b.s. Christians leave the faith because they want to sin. And they never really were true christians to start with.

  10. 10
    Curt Cameron

    I think there really must be a fair number of youngsters who drift away from their parents' religion because it interferes with their new-found lifestyle.The problem is that since they didn't arrive at their disbelief through rationality, they're subject to being pulled back into religion without evidence or reason, as soon as their lifestyle settles down.I really think this is the basis for all those folks we hear who say "I used to be an atheist but…" like Kirk Cameron (no relation) and Lee Strobel.Paveway (above) considers the question of whether leaving Christianity because of morality conflicts is a good thing. I think it may be a good thing but in a very small way. For me, the most important thing is to examine your beliefs and to use reason and evidence to come to a conclusion that you're able to defend. If people can do that without tripping over fallacies, then that's the goal. Leaving Christianity is just a collateral side-effect of achieving that goal.

  11. 11
    JT

    Only two were honest enough to cite moral compromise as the primary reason for their departures.… the hell?So, because people didn't comply with your a priori conclusion that everyone leaves because they want to sin, then clearly they're lying?I'm sorry, but investigation doesn't work that way. No wonder he's a theist.

  12. 12
    Wasder

    Apparently, Christianity sometimes comes with the ability to read people's minds. Or the guy is just an arrogant asshole.

  13. 13
    Martin

    Gee, you think?

  14. 14
    gregory30de

    Great show again. Just a small comment on the guy from Scotland who went to school in Greece. I am from Greece too and i finished the school there. Evolution is taught in the Greek schools in the last class of High school or Lyceum how its called in Greece. He must have missed it since he said he was in Greece till the age of 16, though it must have been propablz taught earlier. Other than that, all that he said was quite accurate from my experience also.Keep up the good work guys.

  15. 15
    Felix

    As long as smug bullhawkers like this author refuse to consider that there may be totally different and much greater reasons to drop religion than his assumed, conveniently self-validating, and completely baseless one, the number and rate of deconversions will rise constantly.The more they play dumb, the faster they lose.

  16. 16
    Craig A. James

    Coincidentally I wrote a blog about this same Drew Dyke article, Is Christianity Dying? Who is that guy hanging on the plus sign?Dyke, like many Christians, seems to be longing for a return to "real" Christianity, and lamenting that young people just aren't willing to forego hedonistic pleasures in order to be good Christians. But the real story is that Christianity, in addition to being a myth, is becoming irrelevant. The Christians just aren't seeing it.

  17. 17
    ddyck

    I just stumbled across this string. Thanks for engaging my article, and even scrutinizing my conclusions. I'll quickly respond to just a couple of the points made above.First, I didn't mean to assert that most young people leave because of moral compromise. I think a careful reading of the article will show this. Yes, I assumed that it played a part in many of the departures, which I believe is a reasonable assumption given that a lot of typical youthful behaviors don't exactly jibe with Christian morality. In my book, I identify six broad reasons (and yes, I'm sure there are more)and the moral compromise category is just one, and not even the biggest.Second, I don't think I resorted to the No True Scottsman Fallacy. The foremost authority on the spiritual lives of young Christians, Christian Smith, describes the fabric of teen spirituality in this country as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." MTD is a radical departure from historic, orthodox Christianity in many ways. So I don't think it's fallacious to examine this disconnect as a possible reason for the exodus. Keep in mind, a debate about God's existence / non-existence was beyond the purview of my article; I wasn't disavowing contemporary Christians' behavior to side step an argument against theism or Christian faith in particular. I was merely examining possible explanations for a trend.Finally, I find the atheism-is-conquering religion triumphalism evidenced in these comments strange. Yes, atheism has made progress in the western world lately, but religion is surging in the most populous places on earth: China, S. America, Africa. These are also places that are rapidly industrializing and have high birthrates. I wouldn't pin my hopes on western trends, where populations are stagnant or declining. That's not to say that the west isn't important, it is. But it may not be as determinant as it once was in shaping the future. Not only that, I'm not convinced that religion is dying in the U.S. Yes, Christian congregations have seen decline, and as I wrote, young people are dropping faith. But assertions that they're turning to some form of atheism is a classic false alternatives fallacy. In fact, the famous "nones" that Pew identified are more likely than their religious counterparts to believe in things like ghosts, psychics and reincarnation. Anyway, no doubt the war of words (and hearts) will continue to be waged between the religious and non-religious, but it's certainly too early for either side to be sounding trumpets of victory.

  18. 18
    Martin

    Welcome to the blog, Drew.I think where people are seeing a No True Scotsman coming up is in this passage, but I see something more: Again, the reasons for departing in each case were unique, but I realized that most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith. This statement more or less implies that there is an "authentic" faith, that others are inauthentic, and that there is a way to tell the difference. On the face of it, that is the N.T.S. "Oh, they just haven't exposed to the right Christianity."But the deeper issue is this. You mention "authentic" faith, but then do not define it, nor do you explain how one goes about discerning it from inauthentic faith and assuring that they're practicing the right one and none of the others.I'd suggest a reason you're seeing so many leavers among Christian youth is that a lot of them are recognizing a basic fact about religious faith, but are unable to articulate what it is, only that it troubles them. And it's this: Christianity and other religions do not provide believers with the cognitive tools to discern whether their beliefs are real or simply imaginary. This is why you see so many kids, as you point out in the article, trying out buffet religions, a little Jesus here, a little New Age mysticism there. Epistemologically it's all the same, so why not tailor your beliefs, not to stuffy old Sunday School lessons, but to your own tastes and ideas of what's cool?You're probably right in that it's too early for atheism to do a victory lap. After all, it's much harder work to be a skeptical thinker on matters that are, after all, designed to plug right into the limbic system. Without proper training and encouragement in critical thinking, most people aren't cut out for it. But I think you'd do well to disabuse yourself of the comforting thought that religious skepticism is nothing more than "the tortured language of spiritual longing." Ask anyone here and you'll discover it's the optimistic language of intellectual emancipation. The whole question of whether a God exists may have been beyond the purview of your article, but it's exactly the question many young people on the cusp of losing their religion want answered. You may find it will take some hard evidence, not merely the consoling words of prayer and scripture, to "light the way home." Because what some of your leavers are learning is that the light of reason is brighter.

  19. 19
    dc1983

    @ddyke: "So I don't think it's fallacious to examine this disconnect as a possible reason for the exodus."You're basically saying that these teenage adherents to so-called "Moralistic Therapeutic deism" should have been exposed to "authentic Christianity." I think Martin's critiques of your use of the word "authentic" states well the problem with trying to uphold a religious doctrine as "authentic." "Traditional," maybe. "Historically held by the majority of christian cultures over XXX number of years, " maybe. But "authentic" is such an ambiguous and prejudiced term.There are plenty of strains of traditional protestantism that teach or at least have a culture producing the impression that God is distant, unknowable and may, from time to time, "bless" people for being good. Out of this ethos came the Protestant work ethic which tied moralistic achievement to material prosperity. One of the few ways you could know you were one of the elect was if you had been "blessed" materially.So while you may believe you have a deeper , more nuanced spirituality to teach to young adults today, you really are implying that your system is effectively different than the strain of "Deism" with which you want to label these "leavers." You really do think that you have the "true christian faith" and they do not. And as such, you are engaging in a No True Scotsman tactic.There are elements of a "Moralistic Therapeutic Theism" that can be taken from the bible.I don't think young adults are necessarily leaving their Christian faith because they are "superficial" in their spirituality. It just may be they recognize that all you propose is to heap thousands and thousands of multisyllabic words on top of a perspective that does not work for them any longer. This heap of excuses, moving goal posts, doctrinal strong-arming and ad hoc answers is what you call "discipleship."They just may realize that some people are good and suffer for it. Others are good and prosper. Yet many are "bad" and suffer and others are "bad" and never experience a day's anxiety or suffering.These young adults may see this as evidence that anything can happen in life and nobody is in control of it. The world acts just like a world where there is no god, at least not the all powerful, personal god who loves people that most christians try to communicate to the world.So, in light of this experience, what will you really offer them? What is the "authentic" difference that you have to give that other "inauthentic" approaches do not have?

  20. 20
    ddyck

    Re: No Scotsman Fallacy charge, this probably entails a short discussion of our perhaps differing philosphical assumptions. I'm not a relativist, either when it comes to morality or epistemology. And neither are most of you atheists, which is one of things I really like about you. Generally we're not content to throw up our hands and say, "Who can really know anything, bedevilled as we are my frail human perceptions?" In other words, I have what you might call a high epistemology. Sure, recent developments in philosophy, and in linguistics, have made us rightly suspicious of the sort of one-to-one correspondence our perceptions have to reality. Still, I'm optimistic, comparatively, about what the human mind can apphrehend. So when people say, "Well you say Xianty is X and someone else says it is Y, therefore it can't really be known," I disagree. We can know with reasonable certainty what true Christianity is. Not completely of course, but we can adjudicate intelligently between different incarnations of it. For instance, I could make a compelling case that the faith practiced by Deitrich Bonhoeffer is truer to Jesus' teachings and example than the faith of say Fred Phelps. And I could employ some great tools to do that when I came to the biblical texts: historical criticism, authorial intentionality, etc. Yes, I'll never arrive at what a perfectly pristine faith, but I'll get closer to the faith modeled and taught by Jesus.In the comments above Curt intimated that folks like Kirk Cameron and Lee Strobel were never true atheists in the first place (which I suppose is evidenced by the fact that they became Christians). That may be true, but I haven't heard anyone of accusing him of a No Scotsman Fallacy. And maybe no one should–I don't know enough about their "atheism." Perhaps it was of a superficial variety that made them vulnerable to defection. The weird thing is, I think we're on the same page philosophically when it comes to epistemology. Atheists generally aren't shy about truth claims and the ability of the human mind to apprehend them. However, when I make a statement or assumption about true faith, you seem to switch epistemologies and take the "who can know anything" tack, which I find confusing.

  21. 21
    JT

    Looks like blogger just yoinked ddyck's post.

  22. 22
    Martin

    Drew, please try reposting your second comment if you can. If you don't have it saved somewhere, I have it in my email and can repost it myself.

  23. 23
    ddyck

    Crap. And that was the one that was going to convert you all. : )

  24. 24
    Martin

    D'OH!

  25. 25
    ddyck

    I'm afraid I didn't save it, so if you do have it in your email, I'd be very grateful if you could post if for me.

  26. 26
    Martin

    Drew's second comment:—————-Re: No Scotsman Fallacy charge, this probably entails a short discussion of our perhaps differing philosphical assumptions. I'm not a relativist, either when it comes to morality or epistemology. And neither are most of you atheists, which is one of things I really like about you. Generally we're not content to throw up our hands and say, "Who can really know anything, bedevilled as we are my frail human perceptions?" In other words, I have what you might call a high epistemology. Sure, recent developments in philosophy, and in linguistics, have made us rightly suspicious of the sort of one-to-one correspondence our perceptions have to reality. Still, I'm optimistic, comparatively, about what the human mind can apphrehend. So when people say, "Well you say Xianty is X and someone else says it is Y, therefore it can't really be known," I disagree. We can know with reasonable certainty what true Christianity is. Not completely of course, but we can adjudicate intelligently between different incarnations of it. For instance, I could make a compelling case that the faith practiced by Deitrich Bonhoeffer is truer to Jesus' teachings and example than the faith of say Fred Phelps. And I could employ some great tools to do that when I came to the biblical texts: historical criticism, authorial intentionality, etc. Yes, I'll never arrive at what a perfectly pristine faith, but I'll get closer to the faith modeled and taught by Jesus.In the comments above Curt intimated that folks like Kirk Cameron and Lee Strobel were never true atheists in the first place (which I suppose is evidenced by the fact that they became Christians). That may be true, but I haven't heard anyone of accusing him of a No Scotsman Fallacy. And maybe no one should–I don't know enough about their "atheism." Perhaps it was of a superficial variety that made them vulnerable to defection.The weird thing is, I think we're on the same page philosophically when it comes to epistemology. Atheists generally aren't shy about truth claims and the ability of the human mind to apprehend them. However, when I make a statement or assumption about true faith, you seem to switch epistemologies and take the "who can know anything" tack, which I find confusing.

  27. 27
    ddyck

    Oh, and Vladimir, above you wondered if I could read minds or if I was just an arrogant asshole…it's the latter, I'm afraid.

  28. 28
    dc1983

    @ddyke: "So when people say, "Well you say Xianty is X and someone else says it is Y, therefore it can't really be known," I disagree."@ddyke: "However, when I make a statement or assumption about true faith, you seem to switch epistemologies and take the "who can know anything" tack, which I find confusing. "Drew,Were the excerpted comments in an email conversation between you and Martin?I'm not sure who in this thread you are referring to. Who is saying, "you can't know?" I think it is more accurate to say , "There are many disparate strains of Christianity. Their views clash and there is no need to try to blend them all together using theological filler words to make it seem like there is one true, coherent Christianity. In fact, there is no one true, coherent view of the character Jesus Christ."

  29. 29
    erauqssi

    @ddyck I would first like to say that I appreciate the fact that you're posts here are quite calm, and well written. Many religious folk who post on atheist blogs tend to be quite confrontational, and I appreciate the effort on your end to dispel that stereotype.I would like to say that I'm not quite following the intimate details of what you mean when you're talking about epistemology. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're contrasting claims of (close to?) absolute truth with claims that "we just can't know". I'm going to continue assuming that I've understood, but if not, please correct me.If I'm following correctly, you're saying that you think/see that many atheists are quite sure of themselves on many subjects, and the only thing is that, while you claim to have reliable knowledge of God/Christianity, atheists will selectively turn off their agnosticism inhibitors (I made a funny!) and claim "well how could anyone know X about God"If this is what you're saying (I don't want to mistakenly straw man your position), I think you've either had bad experiences with the atheists you have encountered, or you have mistakenly interpreted what you have seen/heard.When atheists (or, at least, when I) make a statement along those lines, I am making two complementary comments. The first comment I'm making is somewhat along the lines of what you're saying, except that you're reading it wrong. The point I would make is that, since A) Christianity claims to possess an unerrant, absolute truth; and B) This unerrant, absolute truth is incredibly important, and has grave consequences if you get it wrong;, it is incredibly the-opposite-of-confidence-inspiring that so many people seem to be so bitterly in disagreement of what that truth is. I would hope that you would be able to see our perspective on this.The second comment I'm making is something that, in my experience, many christians (whom I have encountered, anyawy) either don't understand or willfully ignore. And that is that Christians and atheists tend to have different standards of evidence that they're willing to accept. As a Christian, you read your Bible, you see that it says X (for whatever definition of "says" you're willing to take; I don't know if you're a literalist, or what have you), and you accept that X is true, because you Bible, your religion, and by extension your God has said that it is true. However, *many* (but not all) atheists are also empirical skeptics, in that they require physical evidence proportional to the implausibility of the claim before they will accept it as true, and when they do this, they do it only provisionally, pending refined evidence. I don't want to lecture your ear off on the scientific method (mostly because Matt could do it better anyway), but I feel that this is the crux of the disconnect. An atheist says "how could you know that?". You say "see, it says in this book". An atheists says "I don't care what the book says, I want evidence". You say "But how could you have any better evidence than this book", and the cycle of talking past each other continues.

  30. 30
    erauqssi

    @ddyck I would also add that the easiest way to avoid being accused of the No True Scotsman fallacy, is to do the following three things before starting your arguments:a) Define what a true Christian is. Specifically. Detailed. b) Explain _WHY_ your definition is a true Christian, *and* why all other defintions are not. If other defintions are partially or completely correct, explain why as well. c) Explain how other people (most notably 'untrue' christians) could be reasonably expected to recognize your true christianity from all other untrue christianities. This is, strictly speaking, not necessary for your argument, but as a matter of practicality, if you've got the true christianity, and _nobody_ else does, it's really not going to do you much good. An idea you can't effectively communicate, is useless.

  31. 31
    erauqssi

    I made a first comment before the one displayed above, and it appears to either have been eaten up by your blog, or deleted by the mods. If the blog made it disappear, could one of you please work your crazy email magick to restore it? And if it was deleted, I'd love some feedback as to why.

  32. 32
    JAFisher44

    Well, if I were asked, I would answer honestly. Unfortunately the author of this article would likely spin my answer to fit his conclusion.I have to admit that one of the major shakers of my faith was the sins I couldn't stop committing. But I didn't leave because I wanted to keep sinning. I could have stayed and done that. I started questioning my beliefs in part because I couldn't understand why God would intentionally create us with biological imperatives to do certain things, then outlaw them. This opened the door to questioning all sorts of other "victimless sin."

  33. 33
    Jeremiah

    Drew, One problem with your parallel is that atheism has the advantage of being extremely well defined. There is only one atheism; it means you don’t believe in god(s). Period. When you tackle religions you quickly run into literally countless variations and interpretations.Reading Curts comment above I don’t think he was implying that Cameron and Strobel were not ‘true atheists’, just that it is possible to arrive at atheism different ways and that arriving at it some ways would inoculate you against future belief better than others. I can understand how you could draw the parallel that certain kinds of Christianity could similarly inoculate a person against disbelief. I would even say you might be right on that count, that certain types of fundamentalism can make it almost impossible to ‘convert’ someone to atheism so to speak. Where we differ of course is that you see that as a good thing, whereas most of us would see it as a bad thing. We would say that evidence is on our side and that inoculating people against reason for the sake of faith is tantamount to brainwashing. Of course you see it differently and that is really where the rubber meets the road in the differences between us.

  34. 34
    Jeremiah

    Cont’d I actually think you are almost on the right track in your article, at least in so far as identifying a decrease in religiosity in the US. You speak of this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and what I really identify that as being is simply a lack of religious indoctrination. In a religious society there are the true believers of course, but there are many more who are simply believers by circumstance. They believe not on any theological grounds but cultural ones. As secularism grows and religious pressures are eased (by removing religion from schools for instance) the believers of the second category dwindle. This is what I think you are labeling as your exodus. The point that I think you might be aware of, but skirted around in the article, is that hip catchy pastors aren’t the solution because the problem isn’t marketing, it’s religions waning cultural dominance. Of course few believers want to just come out a say that what their religion needs is a good theocracy, but really that is the truth of the matter. That without that theocracy (either explicitly or culturally) all you are left with is a minority of true believers.That IMHO is what the current battles are all about. Creating a culture where being an atheist is okay, where there are not pressures to conform, and by simply creating such a culture religion will naturally wilt like a plant without sun or water.One final point is that you say: De-converts reported "sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers."As an atheist of course I would argue that these kind of responses happen because Christianity simply has no answers to give. ~_-

  35. 35
    Martin

    erauqssi's comment that got eaten by Blogger:—————–@ddyck I would first like to say that I appreciate the fact that your posts here are quite calm, and well written. Many religious folk who post on atheist blogs tend to be quite confrontational, and I appreciate the effort on your end to dispel that stereotype.I would like to say that I'm not quite following the intimate details of what you mean when you're talking about epistemology. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're contrasting claims of (close to?) absolute truth with claims that "we just can't know". I'm going to continue assuming that I've understood, but if not, please correct me.If I'm following correctly, you're saying that you think/see that many atheists are quite sure of themselves on many subjects, and the only thing is that, while you claim to have reliable knowledge of God/Christianity, atheists will selectively turn off their agnosticism inhibitors (I made a funny!) and claim "well how could anyone know X about God"If this is what you're saying (I don't want to mistakenly straw man your position), I think you've either had bad experiences with the atheists you have encountered, or you have mistakenly interpreted what you have seen/heard.When atheists (or, at least, when I) make a statement along those lines, I am making two complementary comments.The first comment I'm making is somewhat along the lines of what you're saying, except that you're reading it wrong. The point I would make is that, since A) Christianity claims to possess an inerrant, absolute truth; and B) This inerrant, absolute truth is incredibly important, and has grave consequences if you get it wrong;, it is incredibly the-opposite-of-confidence-inspiring that so many people seem to be so bitterly in disagreement of what that truth is. I would hope that you would be able to see our perspective on this.The second comment I'm making is something that, in my experience, many Christians (whom I have encountered, anyway) either don't understand or willfully ignore. And that is that Christians and atheists tend to have different standards of evidence that they're willing to accept. As a Christian, you read your Bible, you see that it says X (for whatever definition of "says" you're willing to take; I don't know if you're a literalist, or what have you), and you accept that X is true, because you Bible, your religion, and by extension your God has said that it is true. However, many (but not all) atheists are also empirical skeptics, in that they require physical evidence proportional to the implausibility of the claim before they will accept it as true, and when they do this, they do it only provisionally, pending refined evidence. I don't want to lecture your ear off on the scientific method (mostly because Matt could do it better anyway), but I feel that this is the crux of the disconnect. An atheist says "how could you know that?". You say "see, it says in this book". An atheists says "I don't care what the book says, I want evidence". You say "But how could you have any better evidence than this book", and the cycle of talking past each other continues.

  36. 36
    Kyle Howard

    I have been trying to make some of the same points all week long that were made brilliantly on this episode.(the detrimental effects of religion on intellectual development & societies values) Perfect timing for me & these topics! Much Thanks!

  37. 37
    Afterthought_btw

    The interesting thing about the Moral Compromise idea, is that I would argue it makes more sense if viewed the other way around: i.e. rather than it being 'I want to sin', it's rather: 'I find these commands in the Bible morally repugnant'. As an aside, the 'I want to sin' idea is one of the more perplexing I've ever come across from theists. Are they really claiming these people have consciously decided to send themselves to infinite torture after they die so they can do a finite amount of sins? I just really struggle to get my head around that claim.Now, granted, growing up in a largely secular country, and never having been indoctrinated as badly as some people I've heard of, I had it relatively easy in my journey to atheism. However, one of the things that sparked off my eventual disbelief were things like the concept of heaven and hell. I have no qualms saying that I find the idea of a hell abhorrent, and I really wasn't comfortable when I was a Christian either. So I had a moral dilemma:I could stick to my morals, and conclude that the Christian god was a horrific character, and stop worshipping it, or I could compromise my morals and remain a Christian.(I admit, the fact I was starting to doubt that god's existence made it easier to stop worshipping it – it's easier to stick to your beliefs when you don't believe the threatened punishment of eternal torture is real… But you get my point.)The thing is, that's the one option that a theist trying to work out why people are leaving are likely to come to last (if at all) – namely that their god's commands/actions are not moral. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the possibility that de-converts are making the correct decision seems to never be mentioned by people wondering why they left their faith.

  38. 38
    JT

    Are they really claiming these people have consciously decided to send themselves to infinite torture after they die so they can do a finite amount of sins?I concur. Those types of atheists would be sort of… dumb.The irony is that as a staunch atheist, I find myself being more moral on a more regular basis then basically all theists I know.Some of the most vocal christians I know do things like pirate movies/software like crazy. They cheat and lie on taxes, and otherwise are manipulative.I decided to be good because I want to be. Because I care about my fellow humans. I need no other motivation. It's just that some things that christians would claim are immoral… aren't. They can't even justify why these things are immoral, other than that some book says so for unknown, and apparently arbitrary reasons.That's one of the benefits of secular morality… it can be analyzed/discussed so that we can validate whether a claim of morality is actually valid.

  39. 39
    JT

    @ddyckOh, and Vladimir, above you wondered if I could read minds or if I was just an arrogant asshole…it's the latter, I'm afraid.You're a PsiCop.

  40. 40
    Mark B

    @ Afterthought:"Are they really claiming these people have consciously decided to send themselves to infinite torture after they die so they can do a finite amount of sins?"There are such people. They're called Christians, and they're banking on Salvation.What people need to remember is that ANY little sin is enough to damn you forever. The Moral Compromise theory is flawed in that Christians themselves believe they're all sinners too, they're just forgiven. Are you gay? God still loves you, and you'll get Salvation through Christ's love. Promiscuous? Go for it; Christ hung out with all sorts of sinners and as long as you're right with God when you die you'll be OK.Atheists have to live with the consequences of their "sins". If they harm anyone, we have to fix things with them. If not, why is it a sin at all?

  41. 41
    erauqssi

    @markbGays are sinful, but forgiven through God's love?I always thought that christians started to sound gay when they professed their undying love for jesus. Reminds me of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrhJT98IoaQ&t=2m27s (nsfw audio)

  42. 42
    Mark

    First off, I would like to say that I enjoy listening to your show because it gives me a different perspective on faith and the atheist point of view. I enjoy the opportunity to have my faith challenged and to dissect not just what I believe, but also why I believe it.It is not my desire to to cause any amount of arguing or "heated debate" – just intelligible conversation.I just wanted to comment on a quote from this specific show that took place at the end of the discussion about sexual re-production (I for one did not see where the guy was trying to come from or what point he was trying to make. He definitely did not have something strong to stand on.) Anyway, that quote is "the width and breadth of what we don't know is staggering".If there is in fact that much that is unknown in the universe, how can the atheist perspective know for sure that we crazy Christians are completely wrong? I know that the point can be turned around and directed at me, and I certainly do not claim to have all the answers or know everything there is to know about the universe or God – all I can say is that my experience (not indoctrination, environment, or social group) tells me that God is real and that everything about Him in the Bible is true. I don't want to shift the focus onto my experience who is right and who is wrong. I just wanted to bring up the thought that if a person can only come to a limited amount of knowledge about all that is in the universe, how can they take a stance that specifically declares that there is no God? I look forward to any future discussion from this post and related to future broadcasts.

  43. 43
    JAFisher44

    Skeptical atheists do not know for sure that there is no god. We simply do not think that there is any evidence that there are gods so we do not believe in any. Sure, it is possible that there is some sort of a "prime mover" type god who started everything and stepped back, never to be seen again, but that isn't the kind of god most theists believe in.

  44. 44
    Afterthought_btw

    Mark said:If there is in fact that much that is unknown in the universe, how can the atheist perspective know for sure that we crazy Christians are completely wrong?First off – welcome! I'll do my best to answer; obviously I don't want to cause any heated discussion, either, but it's my experience that 90% of arguments and flame wars on the net are caused by misunderstanding through text, so I'll just get this disclaimer out there just in case! :) I think the quoted text above is the crux of what you're saying, so I'll try to deal with it below.Anyway, I think you're misunderstanding the atheist position. An atheist merely does not believe in gods, he or she doesn't claim that a god or gods do not exist.Well, atheists can believe that, but they don't have to.Most atheists are what we call 'agnostic atheists' – that is, we do not believe in the existence of a theistic deity, but we do not claim to know for certain whether or not such a god exists. A 'gnostic atheist' would both not believe in a god or gods, and claim certainty as to knowing it doesn't exist.(Incidentally, (a)theism deals with belief, and (a)gnosticism deals with knowledge – it is a common misunderstanding that 'agnosticism' is a separate answer to both theism and atheism on the god question, it isn't – it answers a different question, a theist is either gnostic or agnostic, as is an atheist)That being the case, there is no responsibility upon the atheist to show absolute cast iron proof that your god does not exist (they aren't claiming it!!). The ridicule that some atheists may give theists is rather like the ridicule people might show to people who believe in the Loch Ness monster, or the Tooth Fairy, or Santa, or any other creature that is proposed without good evidence backing it. We have as much proof that these mythological creatures do not exist as we have proof that your god does not exist – in all those mythological cases, the proof they do not exist is the lack of proof that they do exist. From an atheist's point of view (obviously not from a theist's, but we're talking about atheists here), a theistic god is just as much of a mythological being: an atheist doesn't (necessarily) claim any more certainty for one than the other.Now, it's certainly true that some atheists in fact do claim absolute certainty that your god does not exist – in fact, I would possibly go as far to say that I am certain that your god does not exist. However, I would have one caveat (so not absolutely certain ;)) – that being that both our understanding of logic is an accurate representation of reality, and also that your god is subject to the laws of logic.As far as I understand, you see, the attributes of your god are incompatible with logic, so either your god does not (and can not) exist, or else is not bound by those laws. Without going into great depth (because there are a number of reasons I find the definition of god incoherent), I would contend that any being which is proposed to have an 'infinite' amount of anything (be it power, knowledge, goodness, or anything else) can not exist since infinity is not an amount, but rather the concept of a never ending sequence of amounts. (You can't have infinity of something.)Hence so long as I am given a god with 'infinite X' amongst its attributes, I'm going to discard it unless there's an argument with some serious welly behind it which changes my understanding of the terms involved!(And if god is not bound by the laws of logic, then things get very, very messy when you continue that train of thoughts to its 'logical' conclusion.)

  45. 45
    Neato Spiderplant

    "if a person can only come to a limited amount of knowledge about all that is in the universe, how can they take a stance that specifically declares that there is no God?" My stance isn't that there is no god, I say I see no evidence that there's a god therefore I don't believe one exists. Just because "the width and breadth of what we don't know is staggering" doesn't mean that I should assume a god into the staggering portion of what I dont know when what I DO know doesn't point me in that direction at all.

  46. 46
    Jeremiah

    @MarkAfterthought_btw did a pretty good job of explaining the atheist stance but I would like to add one other bit to it that kind of expands on what kait82 said. How much we do know honestly doesn't matter. I've said before that the atheist position was as justified 2000 years ago as it is today despite all the knowledge we've gained over that period of time. That is because what we believe should be based not on what is possible to know but on what we actually do know. Whether that is a lot or a little it doesn't matter. If our current circle of knowledge (whatever it's size) happens to include evidence of a god then we should believe in it, if does not we should not, regardless of what possibilities may exists outside our circle of knowledge.That is why I, and I think many atheists don't find the argument that somewhere there might exist an as yet undiscovered god very persuasive.

  47. 47
    Curt Cameron

    Mark wrote:> If there is in fact that much that is unknown in the universe, how can the atheist perspective know for sure that we crazy Christians are completely wrong?The point is that we atheists are not asserting that there is no god, we're simply observing that since there is no evidence for any god's existence, any belief you have is unjustified.> …all I can say is that my experience (not indoctrination, environment, or social group) tells me that God is real and that everything about Him in the Bible is true.While we can't say what experience you've had, the experience that most theists claim as their demonstration of a god's existence is better explained by simply how the brain works. I used to be a theist and had experiences too; it's just that after I learned more I realized that they weren't actually evidence for any external reality, just my brain doing normal brain stuff.And everything about him in the Bible is true?!? Like he has a physical rear end that humans can see?

  48. 48
    erauqssi

    Mark wrote:> "my experience tells me… that everything about HIm in the Bible is true".No it doesn't. I'm at work so I can't come up with proper examples and references, but, off the top of my head: God refers to himself many times as an "angry god", a "jealous god", a "vengeful god". Do you believe he is this? Then how can you believe that he is all-good? Unless these are actually good adjectives.

  49. 49
    Ing

    "my experience tells me… that everything about HIm in the Bible is true"Then I assume you're pro-abortion. Considering how often God kills children and babies after all.

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