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Why are so many theology schools asking their students to pass out questionnaires?

Just now I rejected three identical comments to three different blog posts from the same person. The text read as follows:

Hello and to all atheists concerned:

I am currently pursuing a masters in theology and this week’s class project requires that I interview 3 middle/high school candidates concerning a particular set of questions (If you are in your twenties that’s okay even if the requirement is middle school or high school age-this class is about youth ministry). Candidates must be “unsaved” (Their words-not mine) but preferably they once attended church and had some idea as to the concept of “God” and what that means.

This is not a troll, a trick, or some sneaky method to get unsuspecting atheist youths in my spider’s web of church deceit. I just have several questions that need to be answered by 3 candidates that match the aforementioned profile. NO CONVERSION ATTEMPTS! I just need these questions answered that are enumerated below:
a. How do you describe your religious background and church involvement if any (past and present)?
b. To you, what is God like? Describe God or at least the concept of God if you believe this entity to be a myth.
[...]

I’ve omitted six additional questions because I’m not posting this so that people can answer the questions. I’m just curious.

This is actually a surprisingly frequent type of message. A theist writes to us asking a laundry list of apologetics questions, but couching these questions in the context “I need your answers for a class.”

To be blunt, despite the repeated assurances that this isn’t a troll, a trick, or a conversion test, I am hyper-skeptical about the legitimacy of these questionnaires. At the very least, if this is really for a class then it seems somewhat equivalent to going on a math forum somewhere and posting “Hey, I was just wondering, if the shortest sides of a right triangle are length 3 and 4, how long is the third side?” It’s lazy and possibly cheating, the people who are able to answer the question don’t have any real incentive to do so, and it’s not clear what the poster could possibly be “learning” by asking for popular opinions.

As this is an unspecified theology class in an unspecified (and quite possibly unaccredited) school, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that some teacher actually assigned this homework. But why? What are they hoping to teach their students? If questions such as “What is God like?” are objective questions with correct answers, why not teach the reasoning behind those answers instead of offering a survey? If it is a sociology experiment, why are they not setting it up as a real experiment with appropriate controls? If they’re not out to find better ways to convert people, why are they picking on middle school kids, who are not at all likely to have the most useful and philosophically sound answers? And if they are out to find better ways to convert people, why would they make the extra effort to lie about the purpose?

I’m emailing the URL of this post to the commenter. I’m very interested in hearing the answers to my own questions. What’s the school, who’s the professor, what’s the name of the class, and what is the stated purpose of this survey? What are you supposed to be learning from it? I invite you to participate in the comments.

Comments

  1. Ebeneezer Einstein II says

    Well, that’s interesting. I can assuage any concerns you may have. There is no attempt to deceive anyone here. I am not attending a church currently and I am rather reclusive. The project inists that I interview three groups and one is parental groups and another is three persons who have left the faith. When I saw that requirement I thought: “How am I supposed to find three people who have left the church? Am I to just walk up to these strangers on the street? Hey, I know! I’ll go to an atheist blog and post these questions and hope somebody answers. Surely amongst this group there are some who have left the church.”

    I am required to write an addendum or commentary related to the quotes so hopefully I am hardly being “lazy.” This is for YOUT 510-a class on Youth Ministry- at a very conservative university (Liberty to be precise) and it is accredited. Yes, this is the university that believes teenage dinosaurs were escorted to drier places in Noah’s Ark. Please don’t ask.

    Now that being said, it would not surprise me at all if you have encountered some unscrupulous evangelicals attempting to snare some unsuspecting youths, but that’s definitely not me. At this point you can do whatever you like-post or not post. You can follow whatever dialogue that may ensue even though that is not my intent. My intent can be taken at face value-I simply need these questions answered and I would appreciate your help. Otherwise I’m forced to stand in a line at Burger King and hit on young people there at risk of being carried out in a paddy wagon. And I don’t care how the questions are answered. Whoever wants to answer can hit me with the most hate-filled response they can muster. If they think faith is stupid and Jesus is some ancient Jim Jones who was a megalomaniac foaming at the mouth, all the better! That should stir things up at Liberty…don’t you think?

    Hope you can help

  2. brucegee1962 says

    And if they are out to find better ways to convert people, why would they make the extra effort to lie about the purpose?

    It isn’t necessarily lying. It could be market research. When I get a phone call from someone who wants to give me a survey about what kinds of commercials for pants I’ve seen recently, and what do I think about when I think of different pants. they aren’t trying to sell me pants at that time*. They are, however, trying to figure out how they can best sell me pants at some future date. That sounds like the kind of data they’re trying to gather here, in order to formulate the best way of reaching out teenagers in the future.

    * Yes, I truly did spend the better part of an entire hour on the phone once answering questions about pants advertisements. I need to get more of a spine about hanging up sooner.

  3. says

    If it is a real assignment, it could be that the theists are asking the particular questions to gauge what it is former theists think about religion and their former deity to assess a better way of preventing “deconversion” and to bring people back into the fold.

  4. Courtney Lynn says

    This is actually genius. Let me explain! lol

    If this is for a Christian college, they are either

    A. using un-expecting students to conduct research on how best to combat the atheist or anti-theist mentality.

    B. The students are very well aware of the research and they know their research will be given to the “higher-ups” of the school.

    or C. They are trying to convert people by being prepared for their responses.

    Churches are very slick and methodical with their conversion process. They prey (or pray) on the weak minded or the young who have minds ripe for learning new things. If they come across a strong mind or a free thinker, they try and convert in other ways. i.e. a college paper, a psychological experiment, etc. They make you start to question yourself and your decisions. They bring about “evidence”, which eventually may make some question their decision to be a free thinker, etc.. It really is quite genius if you get into the nitty-gritty of it all.

    A lot of the Christian colleges have connections with someone high up in the church or someone like Pat Robertson or Joel Osteen. With doing this kind of research (especially MIDDLE SCHOOL!) they are able to say to the masses “See, this is how deluded the atheist mind works! We must help fight this sin!” Or something to that effect. Their followers in turn go out into their communities and “bully” others.

    I am quite disgusted, though, that they are focusing on such young minds. Indoctrination is child abuse as far as I am concerned.

  5. smrnda says

    I got questionnaires like this all the time during college from the various Christian ministries, with the same bland, dull, questions over and over again. It seems to be part ineffective marketing survey and part shoddy sociology research (if it can be called this.) From what I understand, people who make these questionnaires are sure that they’ll either succeed in getting to the heart of why some people don’t believe in their religion, or else they want to see what people think about their religion and whether they feel it’s accurate. It seemed like busywork or a type of activity designed to falsely inflate the sense that religious people have made an attempt to understand the rest of the world.

  6. Alverant says

    If such questionares were honest they would present the information up front and not lie by omission.

  7. Lord Narf says

    I’ve gotten similar things in my local atheism groups. I’ve been in conversation with a theology student.

    His approach was less mechanical, though. He didn’t have a questionnaire, although the bit with the reassurances that he wouldn’t be proselytizing was very similar. He was at least honest, in that respect.

    As near as I can tell, the churches have noticed the trend towards atheism in this country, and it scares them. Perhaps some of them are realizing that attacking straw men of atheism to their congregations isn’t sufficient, and they need to train prospective pastors in what atheists really think.

  8. Lord Narf says

    FYI, the part about middle school and high school students comes across a little creepy, and I don’t just mean from a sexual predator perspective. To me, it sounded like you’re trying to convert people to Christianity while they’re still in their formative years. I realize that’s probably not what you have in mind, but that’s the first impression I got.

  9. Alberto says

    Obviously, this guy wants to catch somebody “off guard” to start preaching him about god and “convert him” (Which only meant that the respondant was an atheist after all). I can smell it miles away!!

  10. Lord Narf says

    “Hey, I was just wondering, if the shortest sides of a right triangle are length 3 and 4, how long is the third side?”

    Is it sad that my immediate response to reading that question was to quickly do it in my head, before I could continue on with the paragraph?

  11. Lord Narf says

    If it is a sociology experiment, why are they not setting it up as a real experiment with appropriate controls?

    Ummm, dude, going with the hypothesis of an unaccredited theological college, would you really expect better experimental procedure than that? :D

  12. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    I would certainly be skeptical as to the intent, but this is a fairly common phenomenon as well. I see this sort of thing a lot from IT students in IT forums.They show up out of the blue asking lists of questions for their project. (Frequently, many at the same time, apparently from the same institution.)

  13. ibbica says

    You might have started by asking in an appropriate place, instead of spamming the comment sections of someone’s private blog. Some blogs have ‘conversation’ threads, for example, where that sort of thing might be welcome/tolerated, or try one of the many atheist discussion forums.

    You might also try asking whether your questions might be (un)welcome, before asking them.

    I have yet to see a questionnaires or survey conducted by a student for coursework that might be at all useful for anything at all. You’ve pre-emptively shut down any ‘conversation attempts’, so it’s certainly not to be exposed in any meaningful way to other perspectives. I’d question any teacher insisting their students subject people outside their class to a survey/quesionnaire, as to the specific goal of the exercise. There’s almost always a better way to accomplish any goal worth pursuing in such a class.

  14. Lord Narf says

    If they’re not out to find better ways to convert people, why are they picking on middle school kids, who are not at all likely to have the most useful and philosophically sound answers?

    This jumped out at me with a huge red flag in the back of my mind, too. The guy I’ve been in conversation with, locally (we hang out at a coffee house for 3 or 4 hours and shoot ideas back and forth), had no such requirement. I have no idea why this guy’s class would specify that age group.

    And if they are out to find better ways to convert people, why would they make the extra effort to lie about the purpose?

    I see no conflict with this part. They’re trying to find out better ways to convert people. That statement is not in conflict with his claims that he’s not trying to convert us. I took that part with the assumed conditional that he’s not out to convert people directly with this message. Later on is another situation entirely.

  15. meow meow meow says

    I have a question: Am I the only one who thinks that the idea of a Masters Degree in Theology is retarded?

  16. Lord Narf says

    And I don’t care how the questions are answered. Whoever wants to answer can hit me with the most hate-filled response they can muster. If they think faith is stupid and Jesus is some ancient Jim Jones who was a megalomaniac foaming at the mouth, all the better! That should stir things up at Liberty…don’t you think?

    Nah, you generally get what you give, here. I get aggressive with plenty of religious sorts, when it becomes obvious that they’re trying to ask leading questions and aren’t being honest. If someone is asking questions with the honest intention of getting real answers, my response will be much different than with someone who asks questions and ignores my answer, because they’re only interested in getting to their next leading question.

  17. Psychopomp Gecko says

    As someone who was once saved, I may not qualify. I was young and impressionable, it happens.

    We’re all just so used to religious people distorting what we say or putting words in our mouth due to their own ignorance that we’re cautious. Plus Liberty University works with Answers in Genesis. AiG just lies professionally. Just look at their response to the question of male nipples. Or don’t look at their male nipples, whatever floats your boat.

  18. Yellow Thursday says

    I don’t blame you for leaving out the additional questions. Even if we get past the objections people have already described, the second question of the survey is problematic.

    b. To you, what is God like? Describe God or at least the concept of God if you believe this entity to be a myth.

    How does one answer a question like that? With the generally accepted definition of “God”? With the definition one was raised to believe in? I’m not just an atheist with regards to the god that I was raised with, but also WRT every other definition of “god” that I’ve ever had described to me. To ask this question is to attempt to shift the burden of proof.

  19. Kazim says

    As I mentioned in the original post, we do seem to receive a lot of these surveys for class — very likely the same Liberty University class, for a few years. I didn’t mind it when it was only one or two, but I draw the line at helping students do their homework every semester; especially since, as you’ve stated, the purpose is to help you learn to proselytize better. Why doesn’t your professor just collect some of the best answers himself and then ask you to critique them, instead of gathering the same information from the same people over and over again? Or instead of “man on the street” interviews, why doesn’t he take some good examples of arguments from prominent atheist books and ask you to critique those?

    Who’s the professor? Can you give us his contact info so we ask him these questions?

    If you wish, feel free to write a report on how the atheists were cranky and testy with you over the assignment, and then make wild generalizations about that. I’m sure your professor would love that.

  20. annabucci says

    I wonder if I would be able to answer the survey, since I’m no longer christian, but also not an atheist.

  21. No One says

    I’m forced to stand in a line at Burger King and hit on young people there at risk of being carried out in a paddy wagon.

    I’d go to burger king to see that.

    To Meow x3 @14: that’s pretty much a given.

  22. badgersdaughter says

    When I belonged to a major atheist chat room, we had several students from a missionary class at the Dallas Theological Seminary come in (one at a time) and ask questions and incidentally try very hard to convert us. I did manage to winkle the professor’s name out of one of the students; it was actually a real class. It got so bad that I actually personally e-mailed the teacher (a very calm, professional e-mail) and asked him if he did actually tell his students to approach us, and whether he sanctioned the nasty talk his students engaged in. He graciously apologized and told me he understood our position and would speak to his class about it. Since then I am pleased to say we never had trouble with that class as long as the chat room was still active.

    On the other hand, a private Christian school north of Houston invaded our atheist chat on the school computers and accidentally left their webcams on. Much hilarity ensued.

  23. Liquid Logic says

    I answered a survey somewhat similar to this a couple years ago. A friend of mine who was also attending “Liberty” “University” (I use the terms loosely) at the time gave me a survey with questions about how old I think the earth and universe are etc. He said that it was for a paper about how to respond to various answers to these types of questions for an apologetics course. (All students at LU are required to take various basic apologetics and theology courses no matter their major.) I think he was supposed to survey a Christian, an atheist, and possibly others. I was his atheist respondent, naturally.

  24. jacobfromlost says

    Rather than having atheists answer a rather thoughtless set of questions, why not have the students actually engage in a dialogue with atheists? Socratic questioning would be a great framework, and the dialogue could start with Matt’s starting questions: what do you believe, and why do you believe it?

    Oh yeah. That would require critical thinking, and teaching critical thinking has “the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” Or so claimed the Texas GOP last year. Can you imagine? Trying to blog the teaching of critical thinking in school?

    What’s the purpose of school, then? To have students ask questions of people while never really caring what the responses are, or how to analyze or evaluate them? To never question your own “fixed beliefs” to see if maybe, just maybe, you might be mistaken?

  25. Liquid Logic says

    Rather than having atheists answer a rather thoughtless set of questions, why not have the students actually engage in a dialogue with atheists?

    Because when they respond to the answers in class or in their papers, there aren’t any actual atheists present to object to their responses. It gives the appearance of giving a damn about what we actually think, without all the problems that arise for them from actually having a conversation about it. The friend I mentioned above (#20) just asked me the questions and had me write down my answers; I never heard about the survey or his paper again.

  26. Lord Narf says

    Hey, I know someone who got a Bachelors Degree in hiking. You’d be surprised how many jobs care more that you have a 4-year degree than what the 4-year degree is in.

  27. Lord Narf says

    Yeah, that one made me laugh when I first read it, too. I was raised Catholic. Do you want me to define the Catholic deity for you? Go ask the freaking Pope … well, except you can’t, right this second, since there isn’t one.

    The concept of God that I always had, growing up, was this made-up guy that the silly adults seemed to expect me to believe in. My concept of God hasn’t changed since then.

  28. chakolate says

    Considering it’s a Pythagorean triple and doesn’t even take any calculations to do, not sad at all. The sad thing is that most people won’t be able to immediately supply the answer. (I’m a math tutor, and I find it very sad that the majority of students in the USA don’t know how much fun math is.)

  29. Lord Narf says

    Well, yeah, since it popped out a perfect square, it took all of a second to do in my head. I forgot that it was a triple, for some silly reason. Probably just short on caffeine.

    The part that amused me was the need to do it. I’m OCD, but that’s not usually part of my pattern.

  30. qbsmd1 says

    “Otherwise I’m forced to stand in a line at Burger King and hit on young people there at risk of being carried out in a paddy wagon.”

    I bet that’s part of the intention: I’ve seen evangelists trying to start conversations or hand out pamphlets on campuses or busses or sidewalks, and it’s akward and weird. Interactions involving asking a stranger about their religious beliefs falls outside of social norms. It must take a lot of practice to be comfortable with that level of akwardness and people’s reactions to it.

  31. arbor says

    Easy.

    Don’t study theology.
    Don’t take courses on the corruption of the young.
    And never, ever, have anything to do with “Liberty University”.

  32. ah58 says

    I had the same reaction. I’ve yet to hear any definition of a god that makes consistent, logical sense. I also like how this question simply assumes it’s the xian god we’re talking about.

  33. says

    I have an answer: no, you are not.

    I also think degrees with titles like Master of Divinity are about the silliest thing ever. What’s next? Doctor of Dungeon Mastering?

  34. Lord Narf says

    Well, they are looking for people who were members of a church and have since left. They just don’t grasp how incoherent it is to ask someone who thinks the Christian god is a myth to define the Christian God. It’s one of those areas of fundie blindness.

  35. Lord Narf says

    Heh. Yeah, I hadn’t read his statement about it being Liberty, at the time I wrote that. The statement still works, though.

    Do you really expect Liberty to have any better experimental procedure than an unaccredited college of dog washing, either? ^.^

  36. Lord Narf says

    Oooooh, I want one of those. Just have to find someone who will accept it for more than a paper route …

  37. Lord Narf says

    Damn, now I need to decide my major, between that and Dungeon Mastering.

    Say, is a Masters Degree in Dungeon Mastering redundant?

  38. Lord Narf says

    Heh, I love Google Ad Services. I’ve seen an impressive variety of seminary scholarship ads on this page.

  39. Lord Narf says

    Ah, cool. I hung out with a few local Pagan groups, in my late teens. I never actually believed any of the stuff, though. I was just checking out a few alternate religion concepts, before chucking the idea completely.

    Well, and it was useful for annoying my Catholic mother.

    Good way to meet girls, too, although I understand if that’s not an interest of yours, assuming you’re straight. Of course, that’s a very bad assumption to make, judging by the handful of Pagan girls I dated. Pagans tend to be a bit more relaxed about their sexuality than most other religious groupings.

  40. Danny W says

    Personally I’m not so skeptical here. It’s quite common for masters courses to require work based on real data and often that comes from public surveys. I work in a maths department and we do have students who need surveys from certain types of people for things like decision theory.

    On the one hand, it’s perhaps clear that the answers will be used to write apologetics essays outlining the flaws in our position. On the other, it is a good chance to make that position clear. It’s not like atheists should be afraid of apologetics and I would think we would welcome the chance to engage with someone who, perhaps as a result of attending a conservative college, has only been exposed to a strawman version of our ideas.

    As for the concern regarding the target age group, I think we are demonising a little too much here. Isn’t the most likely explanation that statistics show larger and larger percentages of young people do not prescribe to any religion and that an “interesting” (for theists at this college) subject is “why?”. That would seem like a perfectly reasonable basis for an assignment to me.

    The only real issues seems to be the ones that Russell brings up, i.e. is it not rude to simply hijack a blog post and spam them with the questionnaire? and we can’t answer the questions of an entire class every single year.

  41. bluentx says

    Martin @ 14.2:

    Say it ain’t so…
    You’re not dissing your TAE bro Jeff D. (of D& D fame ) are you?
    Nahhhhh…didn’t think so. : )

  42. disposable monicker says

  43. Lord Narf says

    As for the concern regarding the target age group, I think we are demonising a little too much here. Isn’t the most likely explanation that statistics show larger and larger percentages of young people do not prescribe to any religion and that an “interesting” (for theists at this college) subject is “why?”

    I was thinking more along the lines of … well, you know priests and altar boys.

    The only real issues seems to be the ones that Russell brings up, i.e. is it not rude to simply hijack a blog post and spam them with the questionnaire? and we can’t answer the questions of an entire class every single year.

    Yeah, the guy I’ve been talking to has a much more decent and honest approach, with his classwork. Spamming a questionnaire at people won’t give you a good understanding of people who hold a completely opposing worldview. You need to at least sit down and spend a few hours talking about random things.

  44. Hermes says

    The goal of these types of surveys isn’t to gain adherents, it is to keep the adherents they already have. In this case, the adherents are the students asking the questions.

    So, the youth minister, teacher, or professor gives an assignment. The student gains experience talking with non-Christians. The answers are discussed, and pat responses are given. The student is engaged in the process and feels that by doing the work of the survey they are gaining some insight into how other people think and why they are wrong. This strengthens the student’s own commitment to being evangelical.

    So, what if someone gives an answer to a survey question that is philosophically difficult? A slight nudge by the teacher, and the student learns the dogmatic response to the answer. Since the religious group already has the one and only correct conclusion, the need to actually analyze the issue(s) raised in the difficult response drop away.

  45. jacobfromlost says

    Dan Dennett has a cool presentation called “The Evolution of Confusion” that touches on this. The entire talk is WELL worth the time (it’s on youtube).

    At a certain point, he asks, why does theology exist? (who uses it?) Dennett says leaders in the religion use it to help them answer “What do we tell the parishioners?”

    In other words, he says, theology consists of ways of “not coming clean about the whole enterprise”, and theologians “are religion’s spinmeisters.”

    What is good spin (ie, theology)? This is what Dennett says:

    * It’s not a bare-faced lie.
    * You have to be able to say it with a straight face.
    * It has to relieve skepticism without arousing curiosity.
    * It should seem profound.

    This section is at around 29:00 in the video (but I highly recomment watching the entire thing).

  46. says

    …What is god like?

    You mean that you don’t know?

    Seriously something wrong with the theology schools today.

    My answer, of course, is “totally imaginary. A fiction made up by primitive men who did not understand the weather.”

    Later co-opted as a convenient method of crowd control and a source of income for smart guys who didn’t want to work in the fields, but who weren’t related to the ruler.

  47. grumpyoldfart says

    It’s a role-playing exercise designed to reinforce the “us and them” mentality that has kept submissive Christians loyal to their religion for the last 2,000 years.

    The kids are being sent out into the big wide world to confront the unbelievers:

    (1) It’s dangerous work, but the students, like all those glorious missionaries before them, will bravely face the danger, no matter what the cost.

    (2) When their advances are rejected (as they surely will be) the students will get an opportunity to pretend that they are martyrs in the service of the lord.

    (3) And when all the results are in, they can analyse the responses and marvel at the naivety of the unbeliever’s answers to their questions: “See, the poor things just don’t understand. If only they could see the world as we see it – they could be saved and come to heaven with us. What a shame that they are going to hell instead. What a blessing that we are not.”

  48. jaranath says

    I have also seen this before. I do think it is at least sometimes “legitimate”, in that it is not always intended as a means of proselytizing to unbelievers. But I do think it is used to create some false impressions. I can can be used to claim students have experience engaging with nonbelievers or have even “studied” them (with one questionnaire!) It can also provide fodder for criticism of unbelief or competing faiths; the responses can be scrutinized for logical flaws, or flaws can be interpreted into them, and then used to further rationalize faith. It may be similar to Rumspringa; ostensibly encouraging students to challenge their belief, but in reality being a ritual in a controlled setting, intended to reinforce their beliefs.

    I would make one suggestion to Mr. Einstein: Don’t be quick to dismiss what you hear from nonbelievers. Give it more serious consideration than your professor likely expects you to. Even if he has some reasons why we’re wrong that seem logical to you, there are probably some fundamental assumptions about standards of evidence he and we differ on (and if he’s a presuppositionalist, may your god help you!)

  49. freemage says

    Ebeneezer: I will reiterate that that second question is nonsensical when asked of atheists. To an atheist, “What is your concept of God?” is like asking, “What is your concept of Aflekinstanosia?” The last word in the question has literally no meaning, because an atheist doesn’t just disbelieve in a particular idea of God–they disbelieve in pretty much every concept of God that’s been put forth. At most, some will acknowledge the possibility of a strictly deistic God that set things up or otherwise triggered the inception of Creation, then sat back and watched, like a kid playing with the biggest set of dominoes, EVER.

    Heck, to the average atheist, the Biblical “God” isn’t even a particularly consistent fictional character–alternating at whim between nasty and nice, fallible and infallible, omnipotent/omniscient and weak/fallible. Jehovah tells the Jews to smash the heads of infants born to their enemies upon the rocks and take their virgin young women as rape-concubines–but then Jesus (who is supposedly also Jehova’s son, and Jehova himself) says that however one treats children is how they treat Him. Which suggests that he ordered the Jews to smash his head against the rocks. I suppose that does go a long way in explaining the RCC’s current difficulties.

  50. Kes says

    People who have left “the church”? Just this one phrase betrays your MASSIVE bias. Which church? Even if we’re being charitable and assume its understood that you mean Christian churches, you do realize there are dozens of Christianities in the US alone, and a plurality of US Christians AREN’T Protestant, let alone Evangelical.

    Being as you study at Liberty, we all know you mean the Southern Baptist Church of a Falwellian persuasion. While that particular denomination is rather popular in the US, it is almost exclusive to North America, and doesn’t account for even a tenth of Christians worldwide.

    The premise of these questions seems entirely based on the presumption that any “atheist” you may come across is in fact a former Southern Baptist (or Protestant of some kind) and will be discussing god from a formerly Christian point of view. This is just so massively ignorant I guess I can’t be surprised that it is a product of Liberty “Scholarship”.

  51. notmyrealnick says

    I’ve never heard apologist arguments (never watched any video, never read any blogs). Now I’m a bit curious what they are. A bit.

  52. says

    In short, you accept as axiomatic that God (not god) exists, Jesus Christ is Lord, and only through Jesus’ salvation are we saved and granted eternal life. Apologetics is the game of twister you trot out to explain any contradictions you encounter down the road.

  53. Psychopomp Gecko says

    Notmyrealnick, if you’re worried they might make a good case, don’t be. The big name apologists like Ray Comfort and William Lane Craig really have some simplistic arguments that aren’t all that difficult to deal with.

    Maybe debating with them would be a different issue given the audience’s religious makeup, the inability to smack down their arguments with a google search, and their skill and experience at speaking in front of large crowds, but the arguments they employ aren’t anything mind blowing.

    They lie like a dog that is lying, though. Some of what they say can’t be attributed to ignorance.

  54. Parse says

    Ebeneezer,
    There’s two things that you should probably realize.
    The first is that, extrapolating from the two given, chances are most of these questions are the wrong ones if you want to have a conversation. As you probably haven’t dealt with them before, or dealt with them as ‘legitimate’ questions from an earnest evangelist, you don’t realize this. For example, if I would answer your second question, it generally leads to a game of whack-a-mole (Strike down this definition of a god! Now this one! Now this one!). My inner conspiracy nut is saying that the questions are deliberately phrased this way, so that the surveyed read them, say “Geez, not this shit again,” and treat you like just another write-only evangelist. (Y’know, the ones who go into a conversation, asking that the nonbelievers consider changing their minds, while refusing to consider changing themselves.)
    The second, more important point is that you’re showing a metric fuckton of unconscious privilege here. What does your survey have to do with any of the posts you replied to? Did you check to see if it would fit in with the tone of the conversation, or if there was a more appropriate location for you to ask? Did you consider asking where you could ask this to get a better response? Did you consider that pasting the same comment indiscriminately would be seen as spamming? From our perspective, your actions are those of yet another Christian who comes in to demand our time and attention and doesn’t realize how rude they’re acting. (To draw an analogy, imagine you’re chatting with a friend at a party about last night’s game, when a stranger interrupts you to say how great an impact acupuncture has had on their life.)
    Some suggestions for you:
    Read first, find the appropriate place to ask, and ask there. If you can’t find it, ask about it. (“I’m taking a class, and the teacher is asking us to survey some atheists. Where can I ask my questions?”)
    If you’re going to commit a faux pas, acknowledge and apologize in advance, and describe what you’ve done to avoid it. (“I’m sorry if this isn’t the right place for asking this; I’ve looked through the last few entries and I don’t know where the right place is.”)
    If you don’t know a right way to approach atheists, ask your teacher! That’s what they’re there for!
    And finally, asking to shunt a public discussion into a private medium (such as email) is a glaring red flag for most people. Don’t do that.

  55. Lord Narf says

    Ummmm, dude, you do know that spambots skim blogs and sites like that, right? Your spam count is about to go freaking nuts.

  56. says

    Maybe the only honest opinion of the concept of God would be to characterize it as a Rorschach test. Someone’s interpretation of God says more about themself and the culture of the times than anything else. I have few issues with my friends who have cherry picked the bible and have arrived at a workable philosophy that approaches the asymptote of humanism, but someone who actively opposes marriage rights afforded to gay couples while citing the bible as the justification is clearly using apologetics as a crutch. Naturally we know the bible forbids a lot of things, but see, those were different laws for different times, except for gay marriage because.. you know… apologetics.

  57. Lord Narf says

    Rumspringa?

    As for the presuppositional apologetics, I’d refer him to the debate between Stephen Feinstein and Russel, on this blog. That’s was a rather good demonstration of how fucked up the argument is.

  58. says

    I’ve seen these questionnaires pop up all over the place online as well and I don’t assume any malice in them, I think they are genuine. The religious really don’t understand why religion is failing across the board and more and more people are rejecting religious belief. The Catholic Church held a conference on the same weekend that the Pope stepped down to deal with the problem of young people walking away from Catholicism. They don’t get it either. In fact, they don’t even understand the problem, they think that if they just dress up their beliefs, add more colors and a few new songs, young people will flock to their message. They seem oblivious that the problem *IS* their message.

    That’s why I answer these questionnaires when I see them. Maybe the religious will get it through their heads that it’s not how they say things, it’s what they say that is driving people away.

  59. Lord Narf says

    Apologist arguments are basically the crap that Christians tend to bring up on the show. The first-cause argument, the watchmaker argument, the ontological argument, the Kalam Cosmological argument, the argument from prophesy, the argument from trees and clouds …

    Basically, go back and watch the Atheist Experience archive, if you’ve got a whole lot of time on your hands. You’ll hear pretty much every apologetic argument out there.

    Essentially, apologetics are an attempt to shore up the many obvious conflicts and nonsensical bits in the Bible, Koran, or whatever. Some of them take the form of (horribly flawed) logical arguments. Those are the most commonly known, but there are other sorts.

  60. jdoran says

    I’ve come to realize that every apologetic argument I’ve encountered can be trimmed down to the axiomatic/presuppositionalist assertion “God exists”. Once you’ve hammered their argument into a coherent form, you’re left with an argument that implicitly assumes a god exists. That’s a circular reasoning fallacy, but the reason they make it is because they’re starting from that axiomatic claim, though they often don’t realize it.

    Take the “standard” cosmological/first cause argument, for example: it fails because the apologist forgot to include “God always existed” in the premises. The Kalam version “fixes” that oversight by implicitly including God in the premise “everything that began to exist had a cause”. They’re attempting to smuggle God into the premises with wordplay*.

    Once you’ve cut through to the heart of their argument, you realize they’re not offering any proof for their claim at all. They’re just making an axiomatic claim. You just need to work out where they assumed God’s existence, point it out, and the argument is done.

    * What else are they proposing didn’t begin to exist, besides God? Nothing? Then the phrase “everything that began to exist” is equal to “everything except God”.

  61. Lord Narf says

    Some are honest, yes. I see plenty of similar, dishonest questionnaires, though. The ones on YouTube are usually a little more obvious: 10 Questions an Atheist Must Answer. I’ve seen people turn those sorts of lists of bullshit questions into proselytizing tools, apparently not realizing how asinine they are.

    The Catholic Church held a conference on the same weekend that the Pope stepped down to deal with the problem of young people walking away from Catholicism.

    Children, don’t walk … run! The priests are coming from behind!

  62. Barefoot Bree says

    … and weren’t cut out for the military (you forgot the third major route to power in medieval times).

  63. Lord Narf says

    Yeah, I wouldn’t mind answering a list of questions like these, although I imagine that most of the answers would involve explaining why it’s a stupid question. The problem involves how to establish private communication with him.

    I guess I could create a throw-away e-mail address or something, and once that’s been used for initial contact, we could switch off to real e-mail addresses. But that’s … you know, work … and I’m lazy.

    I’d rather have an actual conversation, anyway.

  64. Barefoot Bree says

    I think you’re closer than most others on here.

    It was for a Youth Ministry course, after all – that’s why the students are charged with finding young recent deconverts to question. They are trying to figure out why they left. The first couple questions as Martin reprinted here are getting at whether the young deconvert’s conception of God was the problem (according to the church) – if the problem was that their church was unsuccessful at getting their preferred (and to them, persuasive and undeniable) concept across. I’m confident the rest of the questions were aimed at other possibilities they had thought of for reasons why kids are leaving.

    But again, a survey with preconceived questions just isn’t going to get at the real, underlying root reasons a person leaves the faith. For that, you need to have a real, in-depth conversation.

    And in fact, I’d bet real money that a large part of the time that IS the main problem: that the young person is looking for real answers, as complicated as they might be, and not the quick, pat platitudes that are hinted at in the very questions being asked on the survey. When the simple, shallow certainties just don’t cut it any more, throwing more at the doubter won’t help bring them back.

  65. says

    Very good talk. It’s also got a bit on deepities and use-mention errors; something I was familiar with, though I didn’t know the term. The use-mention error is basically at the core of the ontological argument for god; equivocating between the concept and the reality.
    And best of all, at one point Dennett is booed for saying that the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist :)

  66. DW says

    The easiest way to find atheists to interview is to go to Meetup.com and look for atheist groups in your area. You might have to drive a little though, it looks like the nearest group is in Roanoke.

    I know that both the University of Richmond and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville have active atheist organizations. Try looking them up on Google or Facebook and go to one of their events.

    I think it would be much better to get an in-person conversation rather than through email, where it is difficult to convey tone and easy to misunderstand intentions.

    Hope this helps!

  67. Snoof says

    I will reiterate that that second question is nonsensical when asked of atheists. To an atheist, “What is your concept of God?” is like asking, “What is your concept of Aflekinstanosia?” The last word in the question has literally no meaning, because an atheist doesn’t just disbelieve in a particular idea of God–they disbelieve in pretty much every concept of God that’s been put forth.

    I’m not sure the question is nonsensical. I’ve flirted with ignosticism, but frankly all my experiences with religion have given me the impression that when someone[1] talks about a god or deity, they’re talking about an invisible magic person of some kind, and that’s a perfectly reasonable definition.

    [1] Sophisticated Theologians don’t count. As far as I can tell, they’re not actually saying anything at all, and trying to disguise the lack of content with more words.

  68. says

    I agree. “What is your concept of God?” is really more like “what is your concept of the Easter Bunny.” The fact that I don’t believe that any such being exists is quite beside the point. I certainly have an idea about what sort of thing the term is supposed to refer to.
    The biggest charge you can level against the god concept (in its various forms) is that it’s actually multiple different, contradictory concepts that the believer switches between to sit the needs of the discussion of the moment.
    When looking for comfort, god really is a big hug-able teddy bear in the sky. When somebody raises philosophical questions, suddenly god is “the ground of being” or “the first uncaused cause”. Then, when you need to feel superior to someone, god transforms into the universal judge, wagging his finger at you. Any one of these concepts have huge problems and will break down into incoherency is seriously investigated, but they cover that by switching to a different concept before the flaws get too glaring.

  69. freemage says

    The point is, no matter how the question is answered, the next response is, “Oh, well, that’s not how I define God, so clearly your atheism doesn’t apply.” The entire concept is an invention, though, and one that shifts and dances like a moonbeam off a disco globe rolling down the side of a mountain. Sure, you can find two people whose definitions happen to mostly match, but there’s no guarantee of that. The question itself is inherently designed to trap you into saying what you don’t believe in, so they can argue that that’s not what they’re talking about.

  70. jacobfromlost says

    He has another called “The Magic of Consciousness” that is great also (and on youtube). I could have sworn they took it down a couple months ago…but I just searched it, and it’s still up.

  71. Lord Narf says

    Hmm, I’d think something more in the realm of writing or game theory would be more useful.

    And yes, I know that’s not what game theory is. :p

  72. Lord Narf says

    Yup. In a real conversation with theists, we don’t take the definitional side. You believe in the silly crap. You define it, and we’ll discuss what you think.

  73. says

    Oh, quite. It’s basically a way for the theist to avoid committing to any particular god concept, so the atheist can’t criticize it. In that way, it’s analogous to shifting the burden on proof or the kind of annoying debater that wants to ask all sorts of questions of you, but refuses to answer any in return.

    Since I’m an atheist, I don’t operate with any single god concept. They’re all nonsense, so none of them takes priority. If I were to honestly answer the question about my concept(s) of god, it would probably take me an hour or two to lay out all the options in any detail. Why go to all that trouble when, as you point out, in the vast majority of cases, the theist is simply going to say “well, that’s not what I believe”?

    I think it’s quite reasonable to simply point out that discussing god concepts that neither of you believe in is a waste of time. Either the theist says what concept they believe in or the discussion is over, since there’s nothing on the table to discuss.

  74. Lord Narf says

    So, Ebeneezer, you getting anything useful out of the rambling conversation that you’ve inspired?

    Also, FYI, by using the name Einstein, you’re grouping yourself in with Ray Comfort, in my mind. He has a particular love of claiming Einstein as a theist, despite Einstein’s explicit statements to the contrary … not that it would matter even if he had been a theist.

    It’s a two-flaws-in-one problem for Ray. First off, it’s a bullshit Argument from Authority of the most stupid sort (Do you think you’re smarter than Einstein?), and second, he’s just wrong on the basic facts. Do you really want to lump yourself in with a moron like Ray?

    That’s all assuming that your last name isn’t actually Einstein.

  75. says

    Ironically I was raised fundie–Church of Christ. And I can’t answer this question, either. I left after learning the history of how the Bible was compiled, and then spent the next decade trying to figure out “what” god was to me. In the end, I was not able to find any meaningful definition outside of the set of existent items, and that’s when I became an atheist. So, ironically it was my search to figure out the answer to the question “what is god?” That led me to the answer “nothing demonstrable, reasonable, or real.”

  76. says

    Yes, you’re right on. It is about the ‘appearance’ of consideration of opposing ideas, without really considering them. Fortunately–that’s to our advantage in the end. What happens then, is exactly what happened to me when I began to meet non-Christians at college: You engage the strawmen you’ve been inoculated against, but they give you responses that are “off script.” This throws you for a total loop and you get flummoxed because you weren’t ever prepared for this part of the conversation, because you only had fantasy “arguments” in your apologetics course. It works…as long as you never engage a real skeptic in a real dialog using what you’ve “learned” in class.

  77. says

    That’s a fair point. Their product is inherently nonsensical, but they need to “dress it up” as though it makes sense. It’s a lot like what the GOP has to cope with. They have to *seem* friendly to immigrants, without compromising their racist values…*seem* friendly to women, without compromising their “traditional family roles” values…and so on. “How do we look like we give a sh*t?”…without really giving one? And religion is in that boat…how do they appear to be intellectually valid…and still keep the crazy?

  78. says

    >they’re talking about an invisible magic person of some kind, and that’s a perfectly reasonable definition.

    Until you think “wait…wtf is an invisible magic person?”

    I’ve done this on the show before. Part of the attributes of a “person” is that they aren’t invisible and they aren’t magical. Magic, itself, is incoherent, if we’re talking about “real” magic…WTF is “real magic”? How does it work? Oh, wait, if we knew, it wouldn’t be magic! And the person is “invisible”? So, are they made of…what are they made of that is invisible but still yields a brain that can give rise to thoughts…and…?

    And in the end, you’ve found your back in crazy world, where the very high level “invisible magic person” that *sounded* like a solid concept, has really fallen to pieces in a puddle of incoherency. In the end “WTF are you trying to describe, because it makes no sense…?”

  79. Lord Narf says

    I forget the chronology of your background. Was it during that search when you discovered all of the stuff about the Ugaritic pantheon, which you shared in that one awesome series you did? Or was that later?

    I always feel kind of left out, with this sort of thing. I was raised Catholic, by very observant parents (went to church every … single … week), but I have memories of disbelief extending back to the age of 5 or 6. I can’t honestly say that I was ever a believer.

  80. Snoof says

    I don’t know if I’d consider “visible” and “nonmagical” to be necessary components of a person. My working definition is roughly “an entity which possesses self-awareness and other internal (subjective) states, such as desires, emotions, memories, sensations, etc”. By that standard, Zeus, Quetzalcoatl and Yahweh are definitely persons, at least as they’re traditionally described.

    I don’t agree that an invisible person is incoherent as a concept. Neither the definition of “invisible” nor “person” as I have defined it contradict each other. It’s certainly a counterfactual concept – to the best of our knowledge, all persons are made from matter, and (baryonic) matter interacts with the EM spectrum, hence it is visible, but I don’t think these additional facts are necessarily part of the definition of “person”.

    As for magic, that’s pretty much shorthand for “has capabilities beyond that of humans, and possibly beyond their comprehension”. Yes, that can end up putting all kinds of things in the “magic” category, but I’m OK with that. To a lot of people I know, microwaves are magic.

  81. says

    I’ve been trying to write a response to this, but I keep getting tripped up. It seems to me that we need to make a distinction here. I want to separate clarity and coherency.

    A concept is clear if each of its constituent parts is an understandable concept in itself. E.g. “invisible person” is clear because we know what “invisible” means and we know what “person” means.

    A concept is coherent if all the constituent parts come together smoothly without contradictions and these parts are themselves coherent. E.g. “invisible person” is not coherent because “invisible” and “person” are mutually exclusive. The qualities necessary for invisibility tend to make personhood impossible, since persons have to have bodies and bodies require matter and matter absorbs and reflects light.

    Many god concepts are fairly clear, but not coherent. This has the effect that on the surface they seem quite sensible (i.e. “Invisible person? Yeah, ok.”), but the more you think about them, the more they fall apart (i.e. “Wait, exactly how does that work?”)
    We can compare that to much that falls in the category of magic or even superheroes. Take Superman. Each individual ability is fairly clear, but once you start thinking about how to join them all together with a human-sized person who lives a relatively normal life in a relatively normal world, you get into trouble.

    E.g. if superman is to be indestructable, he has to be incredibly dense. At the same time, he has super speed. Moving that much mass that fast must take a lot of energy, so where does all that energy come from?
    Then there’s the flying. Seems simple enough until you wonder how exactly he creates momentum. And how does he carry Lois along with him, just holding her by the hand? Shouldn’t her arm be ripped off?

    Anyway, the point is that coherency, as defined here, is not necessary for a concept to be discussed. In fact, only through discussion (or individual analysis) of a concept can we establish whether it is coherent. In order for us to ask questions about it and discuss it, only clarity is required.

  82. Snoof says

    since persons have to have bodies and bodies require matter and matter absorbs and reflects light

    Thing is, many theists will disagree with you there. As far as they’re concerned, there’s no requirement at all for a person to have a body – consider the doctrine of the soul, for example.

    In any case, I see the main point of contention is that I’m using “coherence” in the context you’re using “clarity”. I’ll modify my vocabulary accordingly. :)

  83. says

    Thing is, many theists will disagree with you there. As far as they’re concerned, there’s no requirement at all for a person to have a body – consider the doctrine of the soul, for example.

    And when they give me some evidence for that, I’ll be happy to change my mind.

    If we allow people to simply define a concept as not being self-contradictory, despite having qualities that all the available evidence says are contradictory, then I don’t know how rational a discussion we’re going to be able to have.
    If all they’ve got is the unsubstantiated claim that in some, undefined, hand-wavy way, you can have a person without a body, I don’t think I’m being unfair in disregarding it. I think the soul is another one of those clear, but incoherent concepts.

    In any case, I see the main point of contention is that I’m using “coherence” in the context you’re using “clarity”. I’ll modify my vocabulary accordingly. :)

    Well, my problem was that I kept getting confused about what I meant by the word. If I don’t know what I’m saying, what hope does anyone else have? That’s a good sign that it’s time to go back and get some clear definitions.
    These discussions often end up bogged down in the mire of vocabulary disagreements. After all, what else is there when discussing things that don’t exist?

  84. escuerd says

    I could tell you the email (it was posted elsewhere online and was almost certainly in the original comment) and isn’t too hard to find, but I’m not sure if that would be disrespecting the hosts, who have seen fit not to include such information. Then again, I guess I sort of just did.

  85. Lord Narf says

    Did they let any of the original comments through? I was under the impression they blocked them all.

    I just tried pasting his message into a Google search, and the only thing I’m coming up with is this blog post. Where did you get it from?

  86. escuerd says

    On second thought, what the hell. I rather doubt that the hosts will care, and obviously the person who emailed them doesn’t.

    If you feel like establishing private communication, I believe his username is charlevoixatthelake, and it’s a gmail account (posted elsewhere by the same person). Hope for their sake that that’s not their actual normal address. Then again, if it is, they’re already asking for spam anyway, and the worst this will provide is a temporary bump of easily ignored replies.

  87. escuerd says

    Oh, and I did exactly what you did (with a quoted portion of the questions) and found they had posted in another FTB.

  88. Lord Narf says

    Hope for their sake that that’s not their actual normal address.

    Well, he posted it elsewhere, on his own. Also, I don’t think a spambot sniffer will pick it up with the format you used. If you don’t put it in the e-mail address format, they miss it entirely.

  89. escuerd says

    Well, he posted it elsewhere, on his own.

    Oh, I know. That’s mostly what I meant (since it was in an easily auto-detectable format on the other blog). The worst thing that will be my fault will be that he’ll get more of what he’s asking for than he wants. And that will likely be short-lived at best.

  90. Lord Narf says

    Wow, I just looked up the rest of the question list. Those are some inane questions. Most of them are just stupid, meaningless questions, and G is so freaking open ended. How do you even begin to answer that broad of a question? You need some better parameters.

  91. escuerd says

    Yep, it’s pretty much what you’d think. Silly questions that aren’t much worth answering. Basically a market research survey for the youth demographic.

    What are kids’ perceptions of our product? What do they associate it with? What would they like to see in our product? In fact, what do they want out of life in general? Whatever it is, I’m sure we can brainstorm ways to convince them that buying our product will help them to attain it.

    And it’s really true because with our product, all things are possible!

  92. Lord Narf says

    It’s not even that good. Half of the questions are almost incoherent. They’re so vague that I can’t think of much that’s useful to say in response to them.

  93. escuerd says

    There’s your problem. You’re trying to think instead of feel. ;)

    In all seriousness, I agree with you. Strictly speaking, there’s no way an honest and skeptical atheist could give answers to some of these questions. But their goal is to figure out how to appeal to softer targets on an emotional level. It’s still not a particularly focused survey, but that seems like the direction they’re going with it.

    I think that Barefoot Bree had the right idea that whoever wrote this wants to figure out why they can’t always hold onto young people. And they’re digging for emotional reasons, because that’s all they seem to understand. Do they have some other (wrong) conception of God that doesn’t appeal to them? Are they not satisfied with youth ministries or churches? What are they doing to turn people off?

    They seem to assume that recent apostates will be operating with definite ideas about what “God” means, and that they’ll be rejecting a very specific concept of it, and won’t be able to conceive of any others. I guess that’s what they mean by “preferably they once attended church and had some idea as to the concept of ‘God’ and what that means.” They don’t want people who will express genuine skepticism and insist that theists define their own terms. They want someone who’s stuck in some Christian framework and thinks there’s a correct meaning of the word “God” even if they don’t believe that the thing that word refers to exists.

  94. Lord Narf says

    Do they have some other (wrong) conception of God that doesn’t appeal to them? Are they not satisfied with youth ministries or churches? What are they doing to turn people off?

    Yeah, that one question was kind of asinine:

    f. From your perspective, what are some of the major problems you see with churches and youth ministries?
    They’re spreading lies. That’s the big thing.

    They go out looking to query atheists, and then they ask them questions that are more appropriate to simply lapsed Christians. They truly don’t understand what they’re dealing with, do they?

  95. Barefoot Bree says

    Our friend Ebeneezer put the whole list of questions in a comment over on the Million Gods blog. It is an interesting list, and points to what I said earlier: this is trying to get into the minds of young people who left the church, to figure out how to keep them.

    a. How do you describe your religious background and church involvement if any (past and present)?
    b. To you, what is God like? Describe God or at least the concept of God if you believe this entity to be a myth.
    c. If there were this hypothetical God, what would you think would be important and/or not important to God?
    d. Describe what the term/name “Jesus Christ” means to you?
    e. If you were to attend a church or youth group, what would be important to you?
    f. From your perspective, what are some of the major problems you see with churches and youth ministries?
    g. What is important in life?

    Although I must admit, I don’t think the instructor who gave the assignment really thought it through. I’d love to know his rationale, and what they (his students) do with the information when they bring it back.

  96. Corvus illustris says

    “Interactions involving asking a stranger about their religious beliefs fall outside of social norms.”

    Haven’t visited the US of A recently, eh?

  97. Yellow Thursday says

    I once (about 5 years ago) had a woman come up to me at a McDonald’s, throw her arm across my shoulders, and say, “isn’t this a beautiful day the Lord has given us?” (You could practically hear the capitalization of “Lord” in her voice.) So, yeah, evangelizing at fast food restaurants seems to be pretty common.

  98. says

    That’s precisely what this is: A customer survey form designed to help refine a sales pitch to reluctant consumers. It’s no different than “What do you consider the most important ingredients when choosing which bar soap to buy?”

  99. jaranath says

    Well, at least in the pop-culture sense–I’m not sure how common this version is or what variations there are–Rumspringa is a practice some Amish groups have concerning adolescents. The young adults are traditionally allowed and even encouraged to explore the world outside their community…to taste the forbidden fruit, as it were. This includes violating a lot of their cultural taboos, like dress and drinking. Some leave home during this period. But the vast majority return home, settle down and are fully confirmed in the church.

    In some ways it could be a neat idea, but it practice I think it tends to be abused as a sort of straw man. They can now claim that they tried the Ways of the World and rejected them, and nevermind things like culture shock and their established, familiar culture and home support network. It’s a sham ritual that reinforces the faith and culture by pretending it withstood serious challenge, and weeding out those few who were likely misfits from the start.

    Like I said, I’m not sure how prevalent this version actually is…I know some dont take it that far and consider the term to be more like general tolerance of teen rebellion within some limits.

  100. rowanvt says

    They would hate my answers, if I gave them. The reason why I left christianity behind was because I found their deity to be absolutely evil. There are NO answers or apologetics they could come up with that would change my mind on that front.

  101. Liquid Logic says

    This throws you for a total loop and you get flummoxed because you weren’t ever prepared for this part of the conversation

    Yes! I have had this same experience with the same person. I think I was asking him about why god created physical bodies for us if we’re just going to end up dying and “crossing over” to the spirit world in the end. It seems like that just adds a lot of unnecessary suffering. Somewhere along the way, he mentioned that god doesn’t really care about physical flesh.

    So naturally I asked him, “Then what’s the big deal about Jesus dying on the cross?” He just about lost his mind. He screamed at me to stop talking, and then claimed that he “misspoke.” We don’t really talk about religion anymore :)

  102. says

    For rational people at least, we know why they leave the faith, because the faith is ridiculous. However, the church simply cannot accept that answer, they must think there is some entirely external cause that leads people away from their religious beliefs that has nothing to do with the beliefs themselves. It’s like people doing online research to find out why people aren’t going to see a particularly bad movie, but can’t accept that the movie is bad. They have to rationalize some other cause for the behavior because the real cause for the behavior falls outside of their realm of possibilities.

  103. says

    Here’s what I wrote back in response to the questionnaire.
    ____

    I didn’t get the attachment, but one of our commenters has located a series of questions you posted on A Million Gods blog, and so I assume this is what the questionnaire consists of:

    a. How do you describe your religious background and church involvement if any (past and present)?
    b. To you, what is God like? Describe God or at least the concept of God if you believe this entity to be a myth.
    c. If there were this hypothetical God, what would you think would be important and/or not important to God?
    d. Describe what the term/name “Jesus Christ” means to you?
    e. If you were to attend a church or youth group, what would be important to you?
    f. From your perspective, what are some of the major problems you see with churches and youth ministries?
    g. What is important in life?

    My overall impression of the questions is that most of these really aren’t relevant or even useful questions to ask atheists. In fact, they seem mostly geared towards an audience of lapsed Christians, to find out what about the church has disenchanted them so they can be brought back into the fold. It isn’t so much a questionnaire as a customer survey, not unlike “When choosing a brand of bar soap, what is most important to you?” The goal is in fact to evangelize, or more precisely, to learn how to refine the evangelical (advertising) message.

    So on that score, questions C, D and E just aren’t for atheists at all. Pretty much any atheist will likely answer F with some variant of “Churches promulgate myths and lies,” with further explanations that churches also foster a climate of anti-intellectualism (which creates distrust and ignorance of science) and xenophobia (which creates bigoted attitudes toward such “out groups” as unbelievers, members of competing religions, gays and lesbians, and so on). In the worst cases — like the Roman Catholic Church with its pedophilia scandals or Islamist madrassas where they train terrorists — churches are openly criminal organizations designed to place a few men in power and then protect them from the consequences of the most evil deeds they commit in abuse of that power.

    If an atheist ever was once a churchgoer, like I was, they’ll answer A with “I used to go to church at one time” and that’s about it. I actually don’t have many unpleasant memories at all of my church experience in my youth. I went to camp, did all kinds of activities, and generally had fun. But it’s a fact that how much fun something is has no bearing over whether what it’s teaching you is actually true. And what I think distinguishes atheists is that we are people who, at a crucial point in our lives, decided that it really mattered whether what we believed was true, and not just comforting or pleasant or “fun.”

    Many would not see a reason to elaborate upon B beyond “God is a myth,” except that I would add that God is, in most cases, the believer’s projection of himself (in particular an idealized version of the “himself” he would like to be) upon the universe. God always seems to agree with whatever particular views the believer holds. A racist’s God will be racist. A liberal’s God will believe in the stewardship of the Earth and love of all humankind. A jihadist’s God will want the jihadist to blow up whomever the jihadist has decided needs blowing up. A libertarian’s God will believe in ruthless, unregulated free markets. Atheists are ironically often accused of believing we are gods. But that assessment clearly applies more accurately to believers.

    What is important in life? Well, I wish to be happy and content and successful, and I am happiest, most contented and most successful when I see other people and the world around me in a happy and contented state. I also think that happiness can best be found in a rational approach to life. I wish to do no harm and do much good, and whatever positive impact I can make in my short time on this planet will be time well spent. Beyond that, what does anyone really need?

  104. Lord Narf says

    Well, not always an accurate analogy. The movie industry often knows that they’re dumping pure shit onto the market. Any time you see a movie that has no reviews before the release date, because the studio didn’t do a pre-screening for the reviewers, that’s generally a bad sign.

  105. says

    I once spent $250 to get my horse, P-nut, certified as an equine massage therapist. It turned out, though, that he had no marketing skills at all and never got any clients.

  106. says

    You attend Liberty University, yet you express some degree of disdain for the Noah’s Ark stuff that your school espouses. Why would you attend a university (and I use that word EXTREMELY loosely) that you (apparently) think is proclaiming things that are untrue?

  107. says

    By “equine massage therapist” do you mean a massage therapist who’s a horse or a massage therapist that massages horses (and only incidentally is himself a horse)?

  108. Liquid Logic says

    Why would you attend a university (and I use that word EXTREMELY loosely) that you (apparently) think is proclaiming things that are untrue?

    Obviously only he can answer for himself, but as someone who does have a little familiarity with that school in particular, I believe that I may be of some assistance.

    Some people are forced to go to a place like that because their parents are paying for it and that’s where their parents want them to go. There are gay people who attend Liberty. Now why in the hell would any of them want to go to a school that preaches that being gay is evil?

    It’s probably more complex than just the money, though. Some people probably feel like it’s good for them to go to a Christian school even if they disagree with its theology in some ways. Liberty isn’t as theologically homogenous as you might expect, though I would argue that most of their students and faculty probably do agree with their dogma regarding most things. Whatever they might disagree with, they can just ignore it or go along with it until they get out of school. Christians ignore large parts of the bible all the time right?

  109. says

    I m fairly sure that the folks who granted my horse the qualification understood things very differently from how my horse and I did.

    The certificate is hanging up over his stall. So far nobody has enquired about his services, they just shove carrots in his maw.

  110. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Sounds a bit like what Ben Goldacre did with an alt med college in the name of his dead cat! :-D

  111. hexidecima says

    Being that there seems to be no YOUT 501 class at Liberty in any form, I rather think that this Ebeneezer lying about things.

  112. rikitiki says

    a. How do you describe your religious background and church involvement if any (past and present)?
    – Raised as a Roman Catholic, stopped going to church when I was 19.

    b. To you, what is God like? Describe God or at least the concept of God if you believe this entity to be a myth.
    – God(s) = myth(s), but the ‘concept’ = self-absorbed, narcissistic, genocidal, obsessed with controlling and
    judging our personal lives (especially sex), contradictory in both commands and statements…basically
    sociopathic/psychotic.

    c. If there were this hypothetical God, what would you think would be important and/or not important to God?
    – what we eat, what we say, who we have sex with (as well as which sex acts), controlling EVERY
    aspect of our existence and then frying us eternally for even minor fuck-ups.

    d. Describe what the term/name “Jesus Christ” means to you?
    – “Jesus Christ” (nicely done, I agree with the quotes around that) = supposedly historical figure since
    there’s no historical evidence for his existence. “Jesus Christ” is and amalgam cobbled together
    from too many years of oral traditions (read “Who Wrote the Gospels” to find out that the 4
    stated “authors” did NOT).

    e. If you were to attend a church or youth group, what would be important to you?
    – the comedy/irony value; they’re so amusing.

    f. From your perspective, what are some of the major problems you see with churches and youth ministries?
    – training minds to see fantasy as true, indoctrinating minds in denial of reality, teaching inhuman
    principles of bigotry, injustice, and lies.

    g. What is important in life?
    – Life! (duh!) – oh, and by Life, I mean the same thing as stated throughout the
    Bible: with the first breath, of course.

  113. Lord Narf says

    The impression I’ve gotten of him is that he’s barely Christian, if at all. He’s definitely a theist, but he seems a bit of a fuzzy one, somewhere on the agnostic side.

    He was probably forced to go there or to some other very Christian school. Given the choices, at least he’s chosen an accredited one. The degree might be worth a little more than some of the unaccredited ones.

  114. sonorus says

    it’s obvious from the questions that they don’t understand what an atheist is or how nonbelievers think. The survey isn’t going to help. If their objective is to find ways to convince atheists to believe not only in the supernatural but that their particular religion is the correct one, they have to provide evidence. So far I’ve seen none.

  115. sonorus says

    They have that on The Atheist Experience every week! Callers seem completely thrown off that someone has a comeback for Pascal’s wager or one of the many easily discounted apologetic nonsense.

  116. Psychopomp Gecko says

    a. How do you describe your religious background and church involvement if any (past and present)?
    I used to be the pope until all the scandals got out of control, so I resigned recently.

    b. To you, what is God like? Describe God or at least the concept of God if you believe this entity to be a myth.
    Voldemort, but without the redeeming qualities or the entertaining book series.

    c. If there were this hypothetical God, what would you think would be important and/or not important to God?
    To crush his enemies, see them driven before him, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

    d. Describe what the term/name “Jesus Christ” means to you?
    The illegitimate lovechild of the New Jersey Governor with a latino woman.

    e. If you were to attend a church or youth group, what would be important to you?
    At the time I did so, a Star Wars podracing game.

    f. From your perspective, what are some of the major problems you see with churches and youth ministries?
    Too much competition for sex with my fellow youths from the counselors.

    g. What is important in life?
    Being the best person you can be for yourself and for other people. We’re just a single sentient species on a small world around a tiny sun in the middle of a universe that is billions of years old and mind-bogglingly huge. If we let the innocent go hungry and diseased their whole lives, then their one guaranteed shot at happiness was taken away by natural conditions that many of us have conquered. If we let the truly bad people go unpunished, then they get away with it since there is no reason to believe they’ll be punished after they die. And even on the off chance that I am wrong, any god worth worshipping wouldn’t send me to hell for giving someone who deserved heaven a better day on Earth or someone going to infinite torture a worse one with my meager mortal abilities. And if I go to hell, at least I would get a chance to meet George Carlin, Kurt Vonnegut, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Mark Twain.

  117. Psychopomp Gecko says

    Correction, D’s answer should be the former governor of Florida, not the current governor of New Jersey. Some of these politicians’ names all sound alike to me.

  118. Dark_Monkey_316 says

    At least the ones on Olympus make more sense. They aren’t all knowing or all powerful (but powerful) which fixes most of the problems with monotheistic gods. Plus with so many of them and being related and having their rivalries, it would kind of explain the mess that we are in down here.

  119. Andrew EC says

    Wait, YOUT-510 is a *graduate-level* class in theology? The requirements of the class include: (a) a 400-word post and two 200-word replies on a message board; (b) four 4-5 page papers, three of which are book reviews and one of which summarizes the interviews discussed in this thread; and (c) a 5-6 page final paper. Seriously, that’s it.

    Forget the content — just on requirements alone, this would be a joke of a course at a reasonably sophisticated middle school. Seriously, a four-page book report? That’s the kind of assignment I expect my ten-year-old to bring home.

  120. Lord Narf says

    You expect better from Liberty University? Just because they’ve bribed their way to accreditation doesn’t mean that they should suddenly be taken seriously.

  121. says

    They can ignore it until they get out of school, but then every potential future employer would be right to NOT ignore it. Nobody, ultimately, is forced or in any other way powerless to attend any particular institution. If this person has any intellectual prowess, he/she can get a job, student loans, and an education at a real university. Hell, Randolph-Macon is less than 10 miles away from Liberty. Here’s my suggestion to this person attending Liberty: RUN LIKE YOUR ASS IS ON FIRE. Hie thee to Randolph-Macon, get a job, get student loans, get whatever grants you can, make every impassioned plea to the deans of whatever department from which you’d like to get a legitimate education, and get your ass matriculated and the fuck out of what qualifies as the educational laughingstock of the nation (also recognized internationally as the most bass-ackwards retarded “educational” institution in the history of ever). Whoever the Liberty student is, please watch these, and please, PLEASE go down the road. It will improve everything in your life. Literally everything. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe7yf9GJUfU and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR_z85O0P2M

  122. Liquid Logic says

    Nobody, ultimately, is forced or in any other way powerless to attend any particular institution.

    True as that may be, many people feel powerless in a situation like that, which has the ultimate effect of making them so. Not wanting to disappoint your family, or worse: being afraid of losing them altogether, can be a powerful force against you making your own life decisions.

    With regards to the video, I love how the LU people feel like they have to gather up an army to “challenge” Dawkins. It’s really pathetic. Must be pretty exciting for them to have the devil himself in town. “Oh, but what if you’re WRONG?!” He must have been quaking in his loafers when he heard that doozie.

  123. postwaste says

    When I was in Preaching School (Church of Christ) we had to go to different churches and do this sort of thing. Officially it was supposed to prepare us for defending the faith. Unofficially, it was an opportunity to prevent the “false” religion from spreading their lies. Politely (passively-aggressively) interfering with their Bible classes was considered a good thing.

    Years later when I was in a humanist student group in college, some students from the same preaching school dropped in to our meetings. Since I knew their script I was able to provide a nice verbal smackdown. Good times.

  124. hoary puccoon says

    If there is such a thing as a god, it would have to be an entity who could override the laws of physics at will. If such an entity does exist, it’s shown precious little interest in the planet earth.

    If I were to attend a church, the main thing I would be looking for would be a polite excuse to leave.

  125. says

    “Oh, but what if you’re WRONG?!” He must have been quaking in his loafers when he heard that doozie.

    Yeah, I bet he never heard that before. I mean, it’s not as if that question is the foundation for the scientific method or anything.

  126. Robert Olesen says

    OK! Been lurking for a whole six months and just now registered.

    Probably the wrong place to post this, but I just wanted you guys to know what a great resourse TAE show and FTB blog has been for me in my progession from accepting the possibility of some vaguely defined, fairy-godfather type “God” to the realization that such a being is practically impossible and its worship actually quite harmfull to the all the citizens of this planet . Tracie, Matt, Russell and everbody here really helped me clarify and articulate the anti-theist beliefs I already posessed.

    Plus, the aurguments with appologists are absolutely and hilariously entertaining!

    Thanks for all you do and keep up the good work. I so look forward to Sundays now and for all the right reasons!

  127. says

    I know a couple of computer simulation PhDs who spend a lot of time planning red-team exercises for defense and counter-terrorism war games. Does that count?

  128. Lord Narf says

    I’d mention that in a particular episode thread, but besides that, this is as good as any other place.

  129. Lord Narf says

    And that content of that video can’t be composed into a text format? What’s the great truth that it explains to us?

    I’m not familiar with the domain, so I’m a little leery.

  130. Yellow Thursday says

    What does a video entitled (from the url) “Britain’s 10 Worst Violations of Religious Equality” have to do with “the truth about the existence of jesus”? Or the subject of this thread?

  131. mike says

    That’s when you grab them right back and say as loud as you can, “Yes it is a beautiful day, Praise ALLAH!”

  132. Lord Narf says

    Asshole update. Here’s the last e-mail from Ebeneezer Einstein II, in the e-mail exchange I had with him. He may write back again, to my last response, but I’m through with him and am done responding. I’m following some advice I heard from Russel, in an old episode of NPR: “Why are you still arguing with this asshole?”

    He’s a dishonest douche bag who kept misrepresenting half of what I said. For example, his bitching about me telling him not to quote William Lane Craig was in response to me telling him to give me a real argument for the existence of God, instead of quoting a third-hand argument. What he quoted from WLC was a response of WLC to a rebuttal by Rebecca Goldstein, of a third person’s bad version of the Cosmological Argument.

    I specifically told him that the problem I had was with the third-hand argument, and he attacked me for telling him not to quote people. The rest is similarly bullshit.

    It’s all so old and I swear I’ve heard it all. I could give a rebuttal to everything here but it will be rebutted itself and on and on…..so tiring and pointless. NOTE: You dodged the question about what would make for evidence for God which is 100% in step with atheists’ responses. Truth is, they can’t give an answer to that one because they know that if they did they would realize they have already been given the evidence. It would show they only reject the evidence for emotional reasons. I also read this study that showed the pleasure centers lit up whenever an atheist thought there was no God-to them, a universe without a God is emotionally satisfying. Just think of God as fundamental mind or causal information (much like a probability wave) if you need a definition to go by. A god of meaning and purpose. And to suggest that atheism and nihilism do not contribute to the mindset that makes men committ atrocities then look to Poll Pott and Stalin and others. And that makes sense as atheism cannot reasonably agree that morals are grounded in some absolute truth. Ethics are evolutionary spin-offs and thus men are morally flexible making morals objectively meaningless. Men are nothing more than animals and justice is a fiction and there is no accountability. Without God all things are permissible. Why then should we be surprised that the greatest losses of life can be connected to those without a faith system. Think about it-in your emails you carried on like a guy who revels in whatever he does for pleasure and even at the expense of unsuspecting women. My conscience will not allow me to do that. For me, there is accountability and justice and meaning in how I treat my fellow human.
    This back and forth argumentation that never ends is exactly how it was meant to be-just enough evidence given to separate those who want to know God from those who do not. And you never said why Craig’s argument was drivel, you just asserted that. And what does it matter if I quoted Craig? Are you getting your information from a void? I read all of Sagan’s books and love dthe guy. I didn’t appreciate his antispiritual rhetoric but I liked his science and spirit of exploration. In fact, in his Cosmos book, he said the universe had somehow found a way to look inward upon itself through us and then he turns around and rejects a God. I saw a huge contradiction there-he first acknowledges purpose in the universe and then denies it. Weird. As for my experiences that have been dated following news stories, that’s already been done by others and rejected by dogmatic materialists like yourself. So what’s the point? Since that defies brain anomilies as an explanation you’ll resort to a Shermer style explanation like “coincidence”-we have thousands of experiences and some will be right and will misleadingly convince someone it was real and meaningful. Right? Isn’t that what you were thinking? It’s like a broken record with a scratching sound. And that Freudian argument goes both ways. You believe people believe in God because they’re afraid to die. But we have samples like the Sadducees who believed in god but not an afterlife which goes to show you can believe there are solid reasons for believing in God without presuming any benefits. And what of hell? Does that sound like Disneyland? Of course, I’m not on board the hell schtick but it does represent much of theistic belief.

    So you are not asserting there is no god? That means then that you don’t believe in your atheism? Look up atheism in the dictionary and maybe we’ll be on the same page.
    a·the·ism
    /ˈāTHēˌizəm/
    Noun
    The theory or belief that God does not exist.
    The Matt Dillihunty dodge has grown quite popular as it hides behind that idea that you don’t really have a belief system and yet all the while making the argument for atheism which IS a belief system is disingenuine. You want to have your cake and eat it too. That is devised to dodge burden of proof but only an agnostic can claim that they have no burden of proof. Are you an agnostic? If you are not a theist or an agnostic; all that’s left is atheist (see above). Playing with words doesn’t change any of that.

    You haven’t addressed even one of the phenomenae which sugests the power of subjective states on the material world. And I hope I don’t have to explain what this has to do with God-use your imagination and some common sense.

    Check these out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xKUass7G8w

    You can debate with Johanan who does have a degree in physics.

    Also, check this out and tie this in with Hameroff’s and Penrose’s conjecture concerning larger space-time geometry and quantum consciousness embedded at the Planck scale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jepgOQEvWT0&list=PLaPWgTCFh2OSVg9yMXwyiXtcVPSwwma2n

    Why evil? (Euthyphro dilemma resolved here) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eKG_OZuAkw

    Quantum consciousness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crzgOuUtvrg

    If you want to argue quantum hypothesis as it applies to God, do it with a person who has a degree in physics. Youll find him as the man posting these videos.

  133. Lord Narf says

    Oh, and he didn’t start proselytizing. I instigated that, with a few prodding questions. He was honest about that part.

    It’s after that discussion started that he demonstrated himself to be profoundly dishonest. I’m still waiting for the valid and sound argument for the existence of God, which he promised … or at least I was, before I decided he wasn’t worth talking to, anymore.

  134. Lord Narf says

    Oh, and the question he’s referring to, which I “dodged”, from my previous e-mail:

    Just tell me what would constitute evidence for God. You must have something in mind. Something reasonable.

    For which concept of God? Are you talking about a theistic god, like that in the Bible, Qur’an, or Bagavad Gita? Are you talking about some sort of deistic god? Are you talking about some new-agey god that hasn’t made himself known to humans through any previous holy book? The necessary evidence relies on the claim. Within which parameters are we working here?

    You claim to believe in some sort of non-Abrahamic god, yourself, right? That presents so many problems that I don’t think you can resolve. Clearly, some nonexistent god (many versions of him, actually) has usurped the true god, in most of the world.

    Clear up these last few paragraphs, if you would. I find that last question more interesting than any of the rest of the nonsense, further up in the e-mail. Hell, I’d be fine with it if you just wanted to respond to the last bit here, since I think it will be more useful.

    Clearly, he didn’t comprehend my request to clarify and focus on that part of the argument which he claims will be most devastating to the atheist position, and to which we can’t give an answer. I don’t know how much more clear I could have made it than explicitly asking that we focus on that question.

  135. ebeneezer einstein says

    Yeah, the questions are hardly profound but I didn’t write them. In fact, I’ve been in a pissing match since day one with this professor. I have made well supported argumentation against his prescribed literature with real sources to discredit some of the bogus material and ended up paying the price. I even went to impartial government sites to get the real stats that conflicted with their biased stats. I am 3/4ths the way through this program and never got less than an A on any paper and when I decided to speak my mind and refused to be brainwashed I became the proverbial liberal monster with all of Liberty chasing me up the castle hill with flaming torches in hand. It’s disheartening to say the least. It’s a good thing I don’t premise my faith on books or dogma or I’d be without any.

  136. Pete Luzzi says

    it’s 5. Thats how we used to get square on our footers or wall in construction 3′ 4′ =5′ 90deg we called it 3 4 5

  137. Yellow Thursday says

    I decided to respond to the survey, and I’ve had several back-and-forth emails with this guy now. He’s produced arguments from authority, arguments from incredulity, and arguments from “I’m a talented and successful artist.” He also seems to be making an argument that science isn’t the only way to know things, although he hasn’t posited a “better” method of learning things, so I’m not sure. He also seems to be making an argument from the unlikelihood of the universe existing in its current state, but he hasn’t said “therefore god,” so that’s muddled, too. He is also trying to shift the burden of proof.

    I paraphrased Tracie’s often-used statements about what the believer means when they say “god exists.” This guy has only vaguely defined what he means by “god” nor has he explained why Christianity meshes most closely with his beliefs.

  138. Lord Narf says

    Sounds similar to my experience. In my case, he made claims about these great scientists he’s in correspondence with, one of whom is apparently one of the three most respected scientists in the country … or something to that effect. That sounds like a classic William Lane Craig bullshit claim, whom he quoted at great length. I didn’t bother looking into it.

    He also said something about religious and spiritual people having a higher I.Q. on average, which goes against everything I’ve ever heard on the subject, from respectable surveys. When I challenged him and asked for a survey that says that, I didn’t get any response to that point.

    The fact that you got a “science isn’t the only way of knowing things” argument, I’m inclined to believe that he was making up pretty much all of the semi-scientific shit he was piling into his e-mails to me. He’s probably not a talented and successful artist, as he claimed to you, either. He claimed science credentials to me and artist credentials to you. He’s probably just some pathetic theology student with no professional credentials, spinning lies like his mentor, WLC.

    Also, he kept throwing out non-stop assertions that I was making some fallacy or other. When I said that I don’t buy that some point came close to demonstrating a god, he said that I was making an argument from ignorance … often after he had just committed an argument from ignorance. No, rejecting a claim is not an argument from ignorance, you asshole.
    He was very dishonest in his arguing.

    I slapped my last substantive e-mail from him up here as comment 50. Does that look anything like your experiences with him?

  139. says

    Also, he kept throwing out non-stop assertions that I was making some fallacy or other… No, rejecting a claim is not an argument from ignorance, you asshole.

    I find that to be a very common problem. It’s as if they know how to mimic style, but they don’t understand the content. So, they know the name of the fallacy and a rough outline of what it looks like, but they don’t actually understand what’s fallacious about it and as a result they don’t know how to properly gauge whether a given statement is a fallacy or not.

  140. Lord Narf says

    Hell, this guy wasn’t even demonstrating an understanding of the rough outline of most of the logical fallacies. If an argument can’t be broken down to something very similar to “I can’t imagine how else X happened, so Y must have done it,” then it’s not an argument from ignorance.

    We’ve got a guy over in the comment thread of the current show doing the same thing with the Appeal to Nature fallacy. He’s labeling all sorts of things that, when they’re not even close. Don’t do that. It makes you look like an ignoramus.

    One of the things I brought up was psychology. We know that people can seem to talk to gods and demons, and can appear to be possessed, all because of brain chemistry and assorted brain malfunctions. It’s therefore stupid to accept a claim that someone is actually talking to God or is possessed, without a hell of a lot of evidence … which they never seem to have, and they fail tests.

    He called that an argument from ignorance, too. He’s a fucking moron.

  141. Lord Narf says

    Here’s one particular gem:

    Him:
    But I have noticed we are all guilty of that-including the atheists. For example, if I ask an atheist if it seems likely there is a God, the obvious retort is, “hell no!” Whether he knows it or not, that is also argument from personal incredulity.

    Me:
    Actually no, that’s not an argument from ignorance, or whatever you want to call it. Atheism is the default position. The rational stance to hold about something that is not demonstrated to be true is to reject it until it’s supported by the preponderance of evidence.

    Him:
    I hope you’re not suggesting atheists know everything. Until they do, it’s argument from ignorance. Welcome to the club. That is, they presume the absence of God by a limited source of knowldge no less than the theist with a limited source of knowledge-both assuming conclusions premised often on the same knowledge with opposite interpretations.

    He doesn’t seem to know what the argument from ignorance actually is.

  142. Yellow Thursday says

    Lord Narf: Yes, that’s similar to my experience.

    I have no way of knowing if he is who he says he is, but the name he gave was the name of a talented and successful artist. Then he essentially said that I should listen to him because of that, making a sort of argument from authority using himself as the authority. He also said, essentially, that I couldn’t argue with him about biology because he had a “science degree” (he never said what field) and I don’t.

    He also argued from bad definitions of “atheism” and “agnosticism,” like he did in the quoted piece with you. And I got the same bit about pleasure centers lighting up in atheists who were thinking about the non-existence of god, and how that meant any reason an atheist gives for rejecting god is an emotional reason. WTF?

    He didn’t respond to the points in my latest email. Instead, he accused me of “splitting hairs,” apparently because I was trying to explain the difference between referring to scientific consensus and the argument from authority. Or maybe it was because I was trying to explain that another method of knowing things, if it could prove that it worked as well as or better than science, would rightly be added to the methods we call science. Or maybe it was because I tried to explain the atheist position and where the burden of proof actually lies.

  143. Lord Narf says

    Yeah, looks like a comic book artist. He never mentioned any of the art stuff to me.

    That e-mail of his that I posted just came completely out of the fucking blue. We had barely had any discussion of morality, except for a brief bit of bullshit about Mao and Stalin. The next thing I know, he’s describing how I abuse women and have no sense of accountability or justice. It’s one thing to pull this sort of shit in a public forum. When you do it in a one-on-one situation, all you’re doing is exposing yourself as an asshole who makes crazy assumptions based upon nothing.

    For someone pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy, he has no freaking grasp of philosophy. It’s not an argument from authority when you’re talking about a scientific consensus of people who are authorities within their fields. What the hell?

    According to one of the websites that came up in the search, it’s just a generic Bachelors of Science, focusing on art, education, and natural sciences. What the hell kind of science degree focuses on art? I think it says something about the rigors of his study, that he chose Liberty University to pursue his later degrees. What a joke …

  144. Yellow Thursday says

    I agree that it says something about him that he chose to go to Liberty University, even though he says that he doesn’t agree with much about their theology.

    At one point, he basically conceded that his God was cruel for allowing children to suffer and die. That the reason God allows children to suffer is so that others can learn from it. (Learn what? He never said.) But that it was ok, because he believes that suffering is temporary, and even Hell is temporary, and everyone goes to Heaven eventually. As if that makes everything better.

    I forgot another agrument he made: the argument from fulfilled prophesy (fulfilled in the Bible, mind you). I tried to explain how Biblical prophesies fulfilled in later books of the Bible were no more convincing than foreshadowing from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone being fulfilled in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. It’s a consistent fiction. (Leaving out that neither the Biblical fiction nor the Harry Potter fiction are completely internally consistent.)

  145. says

    I tried to explain how Biblical prophesies fulfilled in later books of the Bible were no more convincing than foreshadowing from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone being fulfilled in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.

    That’s a great comparison. It makes the point very easy to relate to. I’ll have to remember that one.

  146. Yellow Thursday says

    Thanks, LykeX, although I’m pretty sure I’ve heard other atheists, including folks from Axp, say similar things before. I wasn’t surprised to hear an agument from fulfilled prophesy; the part that surprised me was that he was trying to claim that Biblical prophesies were fulfilled in the Bible. Ok, so? Did he think the writers of the gospels didn’t have Hebrew scripture to refer to? Very little that he’s said has been very well thought out.

  147. Yellow Thursday says

    I’m done trying to get through to this guy. I held on for a couple more emails than I probably should have. I tried to explain how he was misunderstanding the words “agnostic” and “atheist,” but he obviously wasn’t reading what I wrote, based on what he said in his last email:

    Probably the thing that upsets me most is unmerited certainty. … I resist those who “know” things thay cannot know.

    I never claimed to know there wasn’t a god. In fact, I explained to him twice that I identify as an agnostic atheist. He must have trouble with reading comprehension.

    He also accused me of being paranoid. So I’m done.

  148. Lord Narf says

    Heh, yeah, I was pretty much done with him, after the response I got from him, which I posted up there. I sent back one more, shorter e-mail.

    I want my time back that I wasted on that guy. I didn’t learn a damned thing from it, and he just kept making stupid arguments like the morality bullshit. And I never did get the logical argument for God that is both valid and sound, from him, as he promised from the beginning. If we had been talking in person, I would have just stopped all of his other crap and demanded that argument, which he lead with, then evaded like mad.

    Most of his responses, while we were responding inline, point by point, were the most incredible non sequiturs.

    It’s not like he was on a script, but e-mail is really not the best format for dealing with this kind of guy. It just lets him spew too much wrong bullshit without interruption.

  149. Nice Ogress says

    Well if you just stop with a Bachelor’s degree your players won’t respect you.

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