Advice for kids coming out to their parents

This is a response to a 16 year old living in Florida with his creationist parents. He’s recently decided that he is a closeted atheist, partly as a result of watching the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate. He wants to know if/how he should come out to his parents. This is advice we’ve given several times on the show, but I like to lay stuff out in a blog post I can refer back to.

Our standard advice for teenagers telling parents they’re atheists is be really really careful. Your parents control many aspects of your life, and it’s not completely unheard of for parents to disown their kids over an issue like this. That means the worst case scenario is losing your home, or losing financial support for college if you’re planning to go that route.
That doesn’t mean that you definitely should not tell them. They’re your parents, so you know them better than most people. How religious are they? Are they pretty level headed? Do they love you unconditionally? These are all factors you consider in deciding how safe you feel in telling them. I wouldn’t want you putting your well being at risk for the sake of expressing yourself.
If you do decide to tell your parents, and you don’t know for sure how they’ll react, you’d best have a backup plan. Think about people you know and trust among your friends and extended family. Would any of them be more understanding if you told them first? Would they be willing to take you in if necessary? You might want to ask.
Finally, remember that since your parents have such unique power in your life, you shouldn’t view it as your job to change their minds. If you can get them to accept you and keep loving you, that’s a win even if they never agree with your point of view. So have arguments about the existence of God with other people as much as you like. But if you’re getting in a fight with your parents, sometimes the best you can do is to stand your ground and let them know that you may disagree with them, but you will always be a decent and ethical person who loves them.

On Sye Ten Bruggencate’s response to Islam and the Outsider Test

Twice during the debate between Matt and Sye, audience members asked Sye a good question that is reminiscent of John Loftus’s “outsider test.” The first questioner comes up at 1:18:30 in the video and asks if Sye agrees with “God’s word” as represented by a passage in the Quran. Sye says no, because the Quran is not God’s word, and then he goes on to give a “proof” that Islam cannot be true.

In a nutshell: The Quran says that the Bible is handed down by God; the Quran also says that God’s word cannot be corrupted; but later the Quran also says — as most Muslims argue — that the Bible is corrupted. If you want a more detailed version of this argument, including verse citations, you can visit this Matt Slick post at Carm.org.

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Some recent and future Russell related events

As I mentioned on the show, I’ll be doing a talk in Abilene next month. Here are the details I have so far. The event is being hosted by the Abilene Atheist Alliance. It will happen on Saturday, July 26, at 1:30 PM. It will take place at the Abilene Public Library Auditorium located at 202 Cedar St., Abilene TX, 79601. The room can seat up to 140 people, Christians are expected to show up, so your presence is welcome and appreciated.

Last night I followed in Martin’s footsteps and appeared on the new video chat show, Atheist Analysis. We had fun despite some early problems centered around me having an extra window open like a fool. :)

Before doing Atheist Analysis, I also did some Twitch streaming. What I really wanted to do was make myself finish watching the debate between Matt and Sye, so I picked Diablo 3: Reaper Of Souls as a game that doesn’t require much thinking, and streamed myself playing while watching and commenting on this video. I had a lot of fun, got a pretty good audience chatting about the experience, and encouraged people to tweet with hashtag #ReaperOfSyes. A couple actually did, but it was mainly a joke.

It’s split up into three videos because of the way that it’s recorded, but I may jam them together into one big YouTube movie later. Unfortunately if you want to actually watch the game, you will have to skip to the third video. A glitch caused the video screen to stay locked on a menu for some reason, so it looks incorrectly as if I’m just clicking on static buttons for 40 minutes. But the Sye video and my talking head are fine, so feel free to go throw the whole thing if you just want an alternate take on the debate.

Part 1 (5 minute intro)

Watch live video from rglasser27 on TwitchTV

Part 2 (40 minutes of debate commentary with not much visible gameplay)

Watch live video from rglasser27 on TwitchTV

Part 3 (The other 80 minutes with everything working.)

Watch live video from rglasser27 on TwitchTV

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How To Logic

I don’t go into a lot of detail about my work on the show, because it doesn’t necessarily interest everyone. But I do occasionally mention that I’m a software engineer, and work it into my discussions here and there. I had to take a break from the show for a year or so while I finished my Master’s Degree at UT in 2008. I have a second blog for writing thoughts about my profession; it’s called Castles of Air.

Occasionally people ask a question like the following: “I like your show. I’m a young skeptical atheist and I’m trying to decide what to do with my life. What should I study in school?” Some common answers are: Go into science. You will learn how to study the world in a naturalistic way and be better equipped to answer questions without resorting to supernatural answers. Or: Try politics. You can work to reinforce separation of church and state, and use your influence to advance causes you care about. Or: How about religious studies? You can get a real handle on how major world religions developed, and promote skepticism from the inside.

Those are all good answers, but I’d like to take a minute to speak in praise of the career track I picked.

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On maintaining passionate intensity

I want to say something witty and interesting on the subject of confidently presenting your point of view… but I’m not sure I have the confidence in this view, so I’m just going to throw some stream of consciousness at you.

It’s no big secret that I think “Faith” in general is a problem. By “Faith” I mean the religious variety, where you fervently believe in things which you have no reason to accept as true. I don’t think one set of doctrines is necessarily more problematic than another — i.e., I don’t think Mormons or Muslims are inherently more scary than Christians, but I do think that believers become scarier as you slide from the “vague spiritualist” end of the spectrum to the “ardent fundamentalist” end of the spectrum. That’s why I don’t object to atheist churches and atheist rituals. But I do object to what I call “arrogant certainty” of all stripes — the practice of bluntly asserting a position and sticking to it in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

But there’s an inverse problem, which is the problem of being too timid about things that you pretty clearly do know. I like people who understand that all knowledge is tentative, and recognize that they could be wrong, but all the same… good grief. There is a certain style of presentation that I struggle to avoid, which is to make every point of view you hold sound like an apology.

Sye Ten Bruggencate likes to play on this trait with his signature question: “Can you be wrong about everything you claim to know?” An intellectually honest person would say “Yes, but it’s extremely unlikely.” Sye takes any “yes” answer as an opportunity to say that since you are uncertain and he is certain, he must be right. You see what Sye did there?

Ray Comfort uses a similar approach, saying “Do you know for certain that you are right? No? Well I do.”

Being certain doesn’t mean that you are right in reality. In fact, often it can simply demonstrate that you are not intellectually honest. But sometimes, faking certainty can be a shortcut to gaining an audience’s trust without actually earning it. People aren’t inclined to look things up in a spoken argument, so they may just think to themselves, “Well, that one guy sounded like he knew what he was talking about, so I guess he was more convincing.”

There’s a fine line to walk here. I don’t necessarily want to say that atheists should present that same kind of fake certainty that evangelicals seem to be so good at. On the other hand, there is a kind of confidence in your own point of view that you should be willing to present when you state your positions, because it is a good tool.

There’s a poem by William Butler Yeats called “The Second Coming,” and yes, it is a Christian narrative, so it may not necessarily be the ideal model for atheist discussions. Nevertheless, these lines have always struck me as significant:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

This is a real problem. If people give weight to the opinions they hear based partly on the passionate intensity of the speaker, then someone who is right, but boring and apologetic, will generally lose to someone who is just making stuff up, but blustery about it.

So this is a fine line to walk. Not only is unjustified arrogant certainty annoying to people who care about the truth, but also, being certain of your own opinions can actually make you, yourself, more likely to be wrongThe more confident you feel about what you think, the less likely you are to catch genuine errors in your own thinking.

Nevertheless, I feel like people standing up for the truth should strive to err a little more on the side of sounding authoritative and not apologizing for it. Yes, it can be an uncomfortable place to stand, stating that you are right when you know that you “could be wrong.” But listen to people like Ray and Sye, remind yourself: “I am damn sure that I know more than they do.” With that in mind, it should be easier to aggressively push back on their certainty.”