What type of Theistic Skeptic are you?

I’ve obviously spent a lot of time on this subject and this will be a much shorter post. I’m simply going to categorize, for clarity, the different types of skeptical theists. I’ve named them after individuals who all self-identify as both skeptic and theist (some as a specific subtype, like Christian) and as skeptics.

The “Lee Strobel”

This individual is convinced that the proper application of skeptical principle actually confirms their theistic beliefs.

The “Pamela Gay”

This individual is convinced that their theistic beliefs are beyond the critical eye of skeptical principles, often asserting that skepticism only applies to testable claims.

The “Martin Gardner”

This individual acknowledges that they’re not being skeptical of their theistic beliefs and that they have some emotional reason for believing. Often they’ll acknowledge that their beliefs most probably would not hold up under the critical evaluation of skepticism.

I’ve covered the difference between the “Pamela Gay” and “Martin Gardner” types in previous posts. In short, neither is applying skepticism to their theistic beliefs and one is claiming that it shouldn’t apply. The assertion that skepticism can say nothing about untestable claims is one that I think is demonstrably absurd.

But what about the “Lee Strobel” type?

I’m pretty sure that if we polled skeptics at a convention like TAM (and I think we should), an extraordinarily high percentage would claim that the “Lee Strobel”-type is simply not a very good skeptic. Some of them, might even flatly claim that the “Lee Strobel”-type simply isn’t a skeptic, despite using the label.

Is Lee Strobel a skeptic? How about Kent Hovind or Duane Gish or Ken Ham or Deepak Chopra or Sylvia Brown? I’d be willing to bet that most of them would self-identify as a skeptic because most of them think that they have evidence (or perhaps pretend that they think they have evidence, if they’re simply dishonest) and that the evidence confirms their beliefs. They, like most people, recognize the value of evidence in understanding reality and I’d bet that most of them (hell, most anyone) would say, “Yes, I’m a skeptic and I value skepticism” once they’ve had it explained to them.

(The explanation, by the way, could simply be: a skeptic is a person who strives to accurately understand reality by accepting only those things that are supported by the evidence.)

But are they really a skeptic, just because they call themselves one? Would you consider them to be a good skeptic? Is their usage of skeptic consistent with your own…is it consistent with the larger skeptical community? If any of those people were invited to speak on behalf of skepticism, would you object?

Let’s not pretend that legitimate, skeptical questions about this subject can be answered by accusations of a “no true Scotsman” fallacy if we’re really trying to determine whether or not someone is conveying accurate information about Scotland.

Let’s not pretend that we’re somehow rude for questioning or correcting misinformation or that there’s no problem with letting some misinformation slip by.

If we wouldn’t pretend that the “Lee Strobel”-type has any more knowledge about Scotland than one might obtain after watching a special on the Loch Ness monster…then let’s not pretend – at all.

More tilting at windmills?

There’s a new reader rant over at Skepchick and I have questions:

Where are these people?
Where are the “Atheists who proclaim no one with a religious belief should have anything to with Skepticism“?
Where are the people who think, “That person is a Christian, he can’t think critically.“?

Holy crap? Exaggerate much?

Where are these people? I have yet to run across one. Nearly every skeptic I’ve met has encouraged everyone to get involved with skepticism. That’s the whole point of advocating skepticism. Nearly every skeptical atheists I’ve met has not only acknowledged that Christians can think critically, they simply aren’t convinced that they’ve applied this tool to their religious beliefs…and this would be a trivial thing to rebut, if anyone bothered (or could).

I am one of those who question how one can subscribe to the principles of skepticism and still justify theistic beliefs – but it’s a question and it’s one that has yet to be satisfactorily answered. I’ll keep asking it, no matter who gets irritated, because I feel it’s important and some people seem to be working overtime to protect the subject from critical inquiry.

I’m not saying that theists don’t belong in the skeptic movement or shouldn’t be allowed to call themselves skeptics. That’s absurd. I’m saying that theistic beliefs aren’t immune from skepticism and questioning and I’d love to know how someone could claim that their theism is supported by the proper application of skepticism. I’m saying that there is, or should be, some value to calling oneself a skeptic, something to distinguish the title beyond “selectively skeptical”.

Yet I continue to read about this grand threat that risks unfairly excluding people from skepticism and whenever they manage to expand on this idea it is always about one thing:

Theism.

And the manner in which they address the subject is so… unskeptical.

Won’t anyone address this issue with something beyond “don’t be a dick” or “STFU” or “you’re just as bad as fundamentalist Christians”? Won’t anyone defend the theistic skeptic viewpoint with something more than assertions and whining and deflection?

Here’s the scenario, it’s really simple:

John identifies as a skeptic, advocates skepticism and is active in the skeptical movement. If John believes something (gods, ghosts or garglstropism) that can’t be supported by a critical examination of the evidence, isn’t it definitional to acknowledge that John has not properly applied skepticism to that issue? Isn’t that the point – distinguishing which beliefs are rationally justified and which aren’t?

This isn’t about kicking John out of a movement or telling him he’s not a “true skeptic” or that he shouldn’t use the “skeptic” label…that’s absurd. It’s about acknowledging that John’s view isn’t properly consistent with skepticism. That’s it. It’s what we’d do for ANY claim…right?

If John continue to hold that belief, that’s his prerogative. We believe what we believe.

If John claims that his belief isn’t within the purview of skepticism, isn’t that a claim he should have to successfully defend before others should accept it?

If John claims that his belief is actually supported by skepticism, isn’t that a claim he should have to successfully defend before others should accept it?

I’m not demanding that John defend anything. John can believe whatever his conscience dictates. John doesn’t have to explain himself to anyone, ever. I’m also not saying John is necessarily being a shitty skeptic on that subject. I have no idea whether or not he’s being a shitty skeptic until he actually defends his belief. (Depending on the subject, I of course may well believe that he’s being a shitty skeptic – but I’m willing to defend that belief.)

What I’m saying is that anyone who accepts Johns assertions before they’ve been successfully defended is being a shitty skeptic on that subject…and that’s what’s going on. Those who uncritically accept John’s claims and those who attempt to shield John’s views from critical thinking are being decidedly non-skeptical.

What I’m saying is that the problem in the skeptic community doesn’t seem to be on the side of those who are skeptical of theistic claims (testable or not), it’s on the side of those who don’t think we should be.

Less speculation, more testing…

In keeping with the discussion about whether or not ridicule or insults hinder the process of educating people:

(This is presented as a rebuttal to accusations, not as an argument to engage in more ridicule or insult. Yes, it’s one study, but it’s better than the anecdotal opinions we’ve seen bandied about…)

Journal of Educational Psychology

Abstract of (doi:10.1037/0022-0663.73.5.722):

“Tested the proposition that ridicule is an effective educational corrective by including 1 of 3 motivators (ridicule, insult, gentle reminder) or 1 of 3 controls in a handout of course reading assignments. Sex of Ss was included as an independent factor; 180 undergraduates participated. Scores on an unannounced test on the assigned readings, administered during the next class, provided a measure of information acquisition. Although the gentle reminder and insult increased test scores somewhat, relative to the controls, only ridicule produced a significant increase on information acquisition. Sex differences were found for the insult vs ridicule conditions: Males scored higher than females when insulted; females scored higher than males when ridiculed.”

Don’t be a dick?

I wasn’t able to attend TAM8, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time at TAM7 and fully intend to attend future Amaz!ng Meetings. With any luck, Beth and I will be at TAM9. Every year, there are a great many people I respect and admire and that, coupled with the opportunity to socialize with other skeptics, makes it an event I’d like to regularly attend. Phil Plait is among those I respect and admire…but that doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything.

I’ve been asked what I thought about Phil’s comments. To be clear, I have no reason to think that Phil has any idea who I am and I have no idea who he’s talking about (partially because he’s not very specific about that)…but I suspect that, on more than one occasion, I might qualify as a “dick” by his definition or that of other people. Fortunately, the evidence about the impact of the much reviled “new atheists” isn’t good for the “harming the cause” doom sayers.

But let’s get to the point.

During Phil Plait’s talk at TAM 8, he took an informal poll:

Let me ask you a question: how many of you here today used to believe in something — used to, past tense — whether it was flying saucers, psychic powers, religion, anything like that? You can raise your hand if you want to. [lots of hands go up] Not everyone is born a skeptic. A lot of you raised your hand. I’d even say most of you, from what I can tell.
Now let me ask you a second question: how many of you no longer believe in those things, and you became a skeptic, because somebody got in your face, screaming, and called you an idiot, brain-damaged, and a retard? [Very few hands go up]

First of all, who is Phil talking about? This seems a bit quixotic and exaggerated to me. Where are these people who scream in your face on behalf of skepticism? Where are these people whose primary tactic is to yell at someone and call them a retard? Since Phil didn’t provide any examples to support the claim, we can only guess.

Secondly, this is a prime example of a straw man argument – setting up an issue that is easily toppled instead of the actual issue. Not only has he not provided specific examples, or demonstrated that this is a significant problem, he seems to be engaging in an extremely flawed informal poll (read: emotional appeal) to get his point across. The first question is a fair skeptical inquiry (have you changed your mind about something?). The second question is about as far from it as one can possibly stray.

Of course most people don’t simply abandon their beliefs because someone got in their face and called them names. Better questions would be:
- how many of you changed your position after having your beliefs challenged by someone else?
- how many of you changed your mind after having heated discussions?
- how many of you changed your minds after being offended?
- how many of you were prompted to be more skeptical of your position after seeing other people embarrassed by their attempts to defend a view you accepted?
- how many of you have only changed your mind as the result of people treating your beliefs with kid gloves?

Interestingly, some hands still went up for his ill-formed second question (which sort of refutes his larger point) and I wonder how many more hands would have gone up if we actually addressed the issue fairly instead of poisoning the well.

In times of war, we need warriors. But this isn’t a war. You might try to say it is, but it’s not a war. We aren’t trying to kill an enemy. We’re trying to persuade other humans. And at times like that, we don’t need warriors, what we need are diplomats.

What an odd argument…I almost can’t tell where he’s talking about a metaphorical war and where he’s being literal because he seems to shift between them without missing a beat. Of course we’re trying to persuade other humans, of course we’re not trying to kill an enemy…but if Phil doesn’t think that skeptics are struggling against the enemies of reason in a way that is occasionally a metaphoric war, then I think he’s lost sight of what’s actually going on.

It’s a false dichotomy that one is either a warrior or a diplomat and an unfounded assertion that there’s only room for one or the other in changing people’s minds. When superstitious beliefs are killing people or doing serious harm and some in the anti-science, anti-reason crowd refuse to respond to diplomacy, what do you do? Shrug your shoulders and agree to disagree? Write it off as a difference of opinion? Aren’t we, on occasion, actually going to need to do something…including things that might shock or offend? Isn’t that one of the things that would distinguish a ‘skeptics movement’ from ‘people who are skeptical’?

Find me a skeptic who starts off with insults and name calling and I’ll agree with Phil: those people are dicks who are most probably doing more harm than good. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I haven’t seen much of this. I’m sure they’re out there, but are they really a significant problem?

What I’ve seen are people expressing frustration, on occasion. What I’ve seen are people passionate about the truth. What I’ve seen are people who are unwilling to compromise and unwilling to give certain categories of credulity a “get out of skepticism free” card…

…and I see some skeptics who seem willing to compromise while chastising those who aren’t by telling them they’re hurting the cause.

What I see [in the skeptical movement] is that hubris is running rampant. And that egos are just out of check, and sometimes logic in those situations falls by the wayside.

Agreed, but the egos going unchecked might just be the egos of those who think that challenging people’s beliefs should be avoided if there’s a significant risk of offense or hurt feelings – the ego that thinks their way is the only viable path to change (despite evidence to the contrary). The logic falling by the wayside may be demonstrated by dishonest, exaggerated, emotional arguments that misrepresent and oversimplify the situation (as if skeptics are running around shouting at people and calling them names as a primary debate tactic).

And maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t Phil basically calling those who disagree with him, “dicks”? Granted, he’s being very polite about it, but that seems to be what he’s doing.

He took a flawed poll, in order to lend emotional support to his position and the goal seems to be to chastise some unspecified segment of the skeptical community who he thinks are being dicks, because they’ve engaged in name-calling…by calling them “dicks”.

I agree with him on many of the points he made and I’m not faulting him for trying to convey his opinion or convince people to agree with him. What I find most amazing, though, is this…

A former president of the JREF and perennial icon of the skeptic community presented a blatant emotional appeal with quite a few logical fallacies tucked in, to a crowd of skeptics at the premiere skeptic event…and it seems the majority of attendees lapped it up (or that’s the impression I was left with based on reports).

Why?

Perhaps it’s because Phil’s a genuinely nice guy. I like him and I don’t take any pleasure in ripping apart his speech. Hell, I have no idea whether he’d consider me a dick or not and it wouldn’t change the fact that I like the guy and we agree on most things.

Perhaps it’s because the underlying message was not only positive, but one that we basically agree with: don’t be a dick. Don’t scream at people and call them names. Attack the issues, not the person. Let’s try to avoid unnecessary and unproductive conflicts.

It would have been very easy to write a speech that conveyed that message in a way that almost everyone would agree with and I suspect that Phil probably thought that’s the speech he wrote…but it’s not the speech that some people heard/read.

Why not?

In addition to the problems noted above, I think part of the reason is that the atmosphere of the day seemed thickened by what many people perceived to be yet another attempt to erect a skepticism-free barrier around theistic beliefs. It’s a recurring theme and it was reportedly more pronounced this year than last.

An attempt to avoid conflict actually created conflict. Is anyone surprised?

When are we going to actually act like skeptics and address this subject openly?

Atheism and Skepticism

I’ve talked about the Skeptics’ Schism before…and I’m sure I’ll talk about it again. Here’s today’s take on the subject.

I’d recommend reading D.J.’s post at the JREF site, and PZ Myers’ post that it links to.

Seriously. They’re good posts and provide the needed context and background for this quote from Pamela Gay:

 

“To me, skepticism applies to testable parts of my life. Through science, I can test ideas and make predictions. As a skeptical thinker, when I’m confronted with data I have to be willing to change my ideas about reality, and if the predictive powers of science fail me, I have to admit my science is wrong. A belief in God is a belief in something frustratingly untestable. I can make no testable predictions using religion, but instead find myself faced with having to make an opinion-based judgement. I have made the choice to believe. I admit I have doubts – I am not so strong a person as to say my faith is complete and that in the dark of night I don’t worry that I’m wrong. But in the absence of data, I have made the choice to believe in a God.”

Here are the questions I’d like to ask:

1. If something isn’t testable, how do you justify believing it?

2. How is this not simply a shifting the burden of proof – accepting an answer, without data to support it, and holding that position until data is presented to contradict it?

3. What makes you think belief is simply a choice? Did you really consciously choose to believe a god exists in the absence of supporting evidence or was there more? Isn’t it more accurate to say that you’ve become convinced for reasons that are admittedly not rational or supported by evidence…reasons of which you may not be full cognizant? Was it a choice or is there some underlying presupposition that you’re not recognizing?

4. Do you care whether or not your beliefs are justified?

5. Is it hypocritical to selectively apply skepticism?

I’m not picking on Pamela here – these questions are for any skeptic that identifies as a theist. They’ve been asked before and I have yet to hear any satisfactory answers. Pamela is simply the most recent, relevant example. And, while I shouldn’t have to say this, I’m not raising this to attack her – I’m addressing the claims.

Anyone can be skeptical of something. It’s probably the case that every sane person is skeptical of many things. It’s natural for us to be curious and skeptical. But when someone identifies as a skeptic and we identify others as a skeptics, we’re not talking about “natural skepticism” or being skeptical, we’re talking about “applied skepticism” – the conscious application of skeptical ideals as tool for evaluating claims.

How skeptical do you have to be in order to qualify as a skeptic?

Skeptics strive (even if they fail) to be skeptical of all things, don’t they? That, to me, is what skepticism is. If it’s nothing more than picking and choosing what you’ll be skeptical of, where is the usefulness? How can you criticize untestable claims while holding your own and claiming they’re immune? When I hear that people like Paul Kurtz are claiming that we shouldn’t be skeptical of everything, I have to wonder exactly what’s going on.

Don’t misunderstand, I agree that we can only adequately investigate testable claims – but we should be skeptical of all claims. What would we say if James Randi, for example, stated that he received an applicant for the Million Dollar Challenge who presented a claim that was untestable but that he was going to go ahead and “choose to believe” this untestable claim (though not aware the prize) despite the lack of supporting evidence?

Pamela writes:

“Someone who compartmentalizes their life – placing religion in one box and skepticism in another – is tearing themselves apart”

… yet she tries to claim that her religious beliefs are untestable and immune from skeptical examination. How is that not compartmentalization? If her beliefs are untestable, why believe? If her beliefs are not untestable, why claim they are…and why believe? How is this different from someone who makes any other untestable woo claim?

None of us are perfect in our application of critical thinking and skepticism, we’re all going to make mistakes. We’re going to accept bad evidence. We’re going to allow our emotions and desires to color our evaluation of evidence. We’re going to show a little special treatment for the things we treasure.

But shouldn’t skepticism be about recognizing those errors and striving to overcome them? Shouldn’t it be about a diligent pursuit of the goal to hold the best possible understanding of reality? When confronted with an error like this, wouldn’t we expect a good skeptic to acknowledge the error and change their position? Isn’t that the hallmark of skepticism?

I’ve said, many times, that I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. Both sides of that coin are critical. If you’re only concerned with believing as many true things as possible; believe everything. If you’re only concerned with believing as few false things as possible; believe nothing.

Skepticism shuns both of those extremes (credulity and cynicism) and cares solely about serving as a filter to separate information into piles marked ‘reliable’ and ‘unreliable’. It is an ideal predicated on the desire to have the most accurate understanding of reality that we’re capable of.

Pamela even notes this when she writes; “the natural outcome in skepticism is acknowledging doubt”. That’s true and beautiful but it’s only part of the story. It’s not simply about acknowledging doubt (because that allows people to misrepresent the burden of proof), it’s about attempting to doubt appropriately – to discover which bits of information are reliable enough to be believed and which are not.

There’s a difference between being skeptical and being a skeptic – or there should be. If someone claims to be a skeptic, yet believes in god or auras or ghosts without presenting supporting evidence, is that a problem? Not so long as they recognize that on that particular subject, they’re not properly applying the skepticism they advocate. Essentially, they’re hypocritical in their application of skepticism.

Does that mean they’re a lousy skeptic? On that subject, yes. Overall? That depends. Some skeptics will recognize and acknowledge that they’re not properly applying skepticism. Others will claim that skepticism isn’t relevant to that subject. I’m having a really difficult time deciding which of those is more dangerous and which represents the greatest hypocrisy.

Is the willful rejection of skeptical values in order to cling to a cherished belief more or less detrimental if that rejection is acknowledged? Is it better to say, “Yes, I’m not being skeptical about this – because it makes me feel good” than to say “Skepticism simply doesn’t apply here”?

I’ve got to think that the latter is a gross conceptual error about what skepticism is, if we’re going to distinguish it from simply “being skeptical”.

It’s very likely that each individual case is different. It’s a complicated landscape and this isn’t about assigning people a score, as though I’m 92% pure skeptic and they’re 89% or 96%. There are plenty of things that I’ve been insufficiently skeptical of – but when I’ve been challenged on those things, I’ve acknowledged it and reevaluated my position. I’ve never said or implied that I hold some belief that is beyond the realm of skeptical inquiry.

It may be the case that some of these willful rejections of skepticism amount to no more than traveling slightly over the speed limit, but if you’re part of a movement that encourages people to adhere to the speed limit, you don’t get to willfully ignore it without being called out for hypocrisy.

I like Pamela. She seems to be a nice person, she’s smart, she’s probably a good scientist and, apart from her religious views, she seems to be a pretty good skeptic. I not only don’t object to her speaking at TAM 8 (The Amaz!ng Meeting), I was happy to hear she’d be speaking. Unlike some people, I actually hoped that she’d be specifically addressing theistic skepticism – as that’s a subject that I find fascinating (if not frustrating). I also don’t object to Hal Bidlack (another skeptical theist) serving as MC for TAM. Hal’s someone I liked, despite the fact that we may disagree about the relationship between skepticism and theism.

What I object to are the attempts to curtail discussion on this subject. What I object to are the attempt to portray some skeptics as troublemakers, negatively affecting the whole, simply because they’re not hesitant to say that they’re skeptical of the claim that “theistic skeptic” isn’t oxymoron.

Pamela writes:

“There is currently a philosophy that “skepticism is a proper subset of atheism: that is, not all atheists are skeptics but all skeptics are atheists.”” [snip] “This is false logic. Being a skeptic does not preclude a belief in a God. Being a skeptic simply means I have to admit that there are things I know are scientifically true and based on evidence (such as the age of the universe), and there are things that in the absence of sufficient data I may choose to believe in or not believe in (such as God).”

D.J. agrees with Pamela (in part):

“I do not believe that skepticism is a subset of atheism. I believe, and I wonder why it isn’t obvious to everyone, that atheism is a subset of skepticism.”

It’s true that skepticism is not a subset of atheism, in that context. I agree with D.J. that this should be painfully obvious. Atheism deals with a single claim and that is insufficient to serve as a superset for skepticism. But we’re talking about ‘isms’ in that context. Skepticism could include a bunch of “isms” under its umbrella…that tells us nothing about whether or not skepticism supports or precludes theism.

Pamela, though, shifts scopes – both from ‘skepticism/atheism’ to ‘skeptic/atheist’ and also from ‘is’ to ‘ought’. Of course there are theists who identify as skeptics – that’s not in question.

Here’s the simple question that seems to be avoided like the plague:

Does the proper application of skepticism support theism?

Anyone who thinks the answer is “yes”, please defend that position – just as someone who felt that their belief in ghosts was supported by the proper application of skepticism.

If the answer is “no” – then it is clear that the proper application of skepticism supports the atheistic position, in the sense that (skeptical) atheism rejects theistic claims as unbelievable due to insufficient evidence. Read that twice. Insert the word “nontheism” for “(skeptical) atheism”, if it makes it more clear. (I’ll bet I still get someone e-mailing about middle ground…)

That’s what we’re really discussing here: Is theism consistent with the proper application of skepticism?

Pamela would like to have us believe it is and she attempts to do so by claiming that her theism is untestable and claiming that “Being a skeptic does not preclude a belief in a God.”

That, though, is a dishonest shifting of the burden of proof. She might as well have said “Being a skeptic does not preclude a belief in the supernatural/ghosts/auras.” It’d be just as true and just as irrelevant. Skepticism does’t preclude belief in anything provided that you assert that your belief is justified until disproved. Skepticism is about investigating all claims to discover truth. It’s about discovery, not just debunking.

Isn’t it one of the core principles of applied skepticism that if something is untestable, then belief is unjustified? How can one justify belief without supporting evidence?

I’m baffled by the unwillingness of some skeptics to state the obvious when it comes to religious claims: they haven’t scratched the surface of meeting their burden of proof. Some act as if honestly acknowledging that someone’s beliefs are not rational and not consistent with a skeptical assessment of the evidence is somehow a disservice; as if we don’t want to hurt the feelings of our skeptical friends who have bought into a particular brand of woo. What sort of friend are you being when you do that?

It’s not as if we’re trying to kick people out of skeptic groups or exclude them from meetings and events. It’s not even as if we’re unwilling to consider their case – but pretending that there isn’t a dilemma here that should be defended? That’s a disservice.

If there’s a theistic skeptic who would actually like to defend their views, why not encourage that? Why not arrange for a public debate or panel discussion at TAM9? I suspect that the answer has more to do with image and the perception that such a discussion might alienate people that are otherwise supportive. Honestly, though, I think it probably has more to do with finding a skeptical theist willing to publicly defend that position.

If anyone needed evidence of the pernicious, nefarious, deleterious effects of religious beliefs and their ability to protect themselves while affecting their surroundings; they need look no further than the collection of otherwise committed skeptics who not only shy away from the subject but encourage others to do the same.

Mailbag

Posted without comment (other than the implied one…and that one…and that one….)

Dont use all Gods blessing and say you dont believe him.

You think you dont need him, but you live on His dependency. That is
hypocrisy.

In next tv show, i would like that all of your members, create a sun
and give to all people that believes what you believe. Or create the
air, and give to them. Or create a land, and plant and give food for
them. Not just plant, but create a land where you can plant and give life.

If you dont believe him, dont use air, dont use food that come from
land you dont create. Dont use your car, or ur home, because man uses
raw material they didnt create.

We all depend on Him. We cant create air, or sun, or anything.”

More mail…


Left “as is”…and anonymous:

“hey, Matt or whoever is reading this I recently stumbled onto your videos on you tube and I don’t know if you still remember a video of where you and a gentlemen who was Christian. were going back and forth over how you say your morally supine than God.”

I may not remember the specific instance, but I’ve said this on many occasions – because it’s true. Also, you should stop watching short clips on YouTube and start watching full episodes at our archive, you need more than just the McNuggets.

I’m proud to say im a Christian and I believe in god, and thought I do not agree with your choice to be atheist im not going to try to change you mind. but going back to the conversation you had with that gentleman you said and I quote ” that the lord condone’s slavery ,genocide,sodomy, and a lot of more unethical things.”

I won’t waste time explaining why the phrase “choice to be atheist” is wrong, we’ve got bigger problems to address. Yes, I pointed out that the Biblical god condones those things…it’s true and you agree. Your argument is that it’s morally correct for that character to condone those things because…

but when god first created man he made us with free will and he only set one rule. do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. when Adam and eve did this god punished them by evicting them from the garden of edam forever,which is not understandable there was 1 and only rule don’t eat from the tree. so in my opinion I agree with God for what he did.

Which makes you just as immoral as the god you worship. If you think it is morally correct to permit one human being to own another human being, you’re immoral. If you think, as you apparently do, that this is justified by the argument that one man broke one rule about what to eat – then you’re just as immoral as the god you worship and neither you nor the authors of the book you’re supporting have a proper understanding of justice or morality.

The doctrine of original sin is immoral. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is immoral. Rather than realizing this, you’ve take the lazy route out and allowed someone else to do your moral thinking for you – and you’ve picked a collection of dead people who managed to get it horribly wrong.

Your position is that there was just one simple rule, Adam broke it and that suddenly means that slavery ‘becomes’ a morally correct act and that genocide is “OK” as long as it’s God killing off sinners (you’re about to say this almost word for word)…

“but you also comparing the old testament and the new testament which both had two separate ideas. the old testament men had to lay sacrifice for our sins to be forgiven and God allowed a lot of unethical things. and as the bible states when he had enough of it he rid the world of sin with the flood.”

How’d that turn out? Oh yes, it failed. The Bible is a comedy of errors. God creates the world with only 1 person…and that turns out to be a mistake, so he makes a companion. Two people in the world, one rule…whoops, that failed. Let’s kick them out and make life more difficult, in the hopes that this will work…whoops, that failed. OK, let’s drown everyone on the planet except for the one most righteous family…whoops, that failed. Let’s confuse their languages…fail. Let’s pick just one small group as the chosen group…fail. Let’s ignore them for a while…fail. Let’s pick and guide one king…fail.

Let’s send ourselves down and take human form in order to sacrifice ourselves to ourselves as a loophole for a rule that we made…epic fail.

The god of the Bible has no better understanding of morals, human nature or reason than the backward band of bronze-age buffoons who wrote the book. Curious, that.

“also in the book of Kings it talks about mostly slavery/war/genocide all in which god was riding the world of the worst sinners.”

I’m sorry that your religion has so severely poisoned your mind that you’re able to construct that gross rationalization. This is exactly the reason that I do what I do.

“yes at first when I studied the bible at school it was confusing to me on how a God could have a double standard. how in the old testament he let all this immoral things happen; by sending his only son to die for our sins. when Jesus died on the cross all the our sins were forgiven if we except Jesus as our savior for the sins. ( and yes I know you don’t so you don’t need to state that :) ) but in doing so he also knows man are flawed and we cannot live a life without doing thing immoral. which then reverts back to the fact Jesus died for our sins and all we have to do is ask for forgives..”

When you started reading the Bible, your brain hadn’t been poisoned and you still retained some humanity. You sacrificed your humanity on the altar of servility. Someone convinced you that you are a reprobate, deserving of punishment and you became a “battered housewife for Jesus” who now runs around telling people “no, no, he really loves me…I just drive him to this because I’m so wretched.”

“and to bash on my beliefs saying im a moron and everyone who believe in God is just not able to make decision on their own is doing exactly what every atheist ive meet has cried about for years on how Religious people force their religion onto them.”

Bashing someone’s beliefs isn’t the same as objecting to them; and neither of these is the same as attempting to legislate or force beliefs onto someone.

” I respect your choice if your Life and you have free will and you choose not to believe.

and before you say well if I believe your going to hell, I honestly can’t say that the Bible also says do not pass judgement onto others for if you do it will be dealt back onto you ( I once again im flawed so ive done this also)”

Yes, I’m aware that you are unable to think for yourself…curiously, I think you’re aware of that as well, as that’s one of the points that bothered you enough to mention.

The secret, though, is that you can think for yourself again, just as soon as you give yourself permission and start doing it. You can say, “No…there is no moral justification for slavery – ever” and “No…original sin is not a moral doctrine” and “No…I do not have a rational, evidence-based justification for my religious beliefs”…

You can stop living your life out of fear and self-loathing and start living a better life.

“But I would rather believe in something and be wrong than not believe and it comes out to be true.because if I die and God doesn’t exist im going to be fertilizer for some cemetery lawn. but if he does im going to be judged and sentenced to either eternal damnation or a eternal life in the pressance of God.”

Pascal’s wager. Worst. Argument. Ever.

I hope to hear from you soon with a response. and your opinion on what dive wrote.

and please if you respond do so kindly :)

I think I’ve been more than kind, though I don’t expect you to see that.

Draw Muhammad Day…

I support the efforts of Draw Muhammad Day. I took a few minutes and made a quick drawing and posted it to Facebook…and that was going to be the extent of my participation.

Fortunately, our local religion reporter made a blog post and she couldn’t have managed to misrepresent the subject more, if she’d tried.

I took the opportunity to correct her…and I was sufficiently irritated that I thought I’d copy that correction here. As next Sunday’s show is cancelled, consider it a replacement rant.

“Again, I thought this would fizzle out, but apparently it’s become all the rage to make a spectacle out of demeaning Muslims.”

How does this demean Muslims? Be careful you don’t break your back while trying to twist this issue to portray the Muslims as the victims…

The fact is that some Muslims have repeatedly demonstrated remarkable and violent hypocrisy when it comes to free speech. They demand that their views be respected by everyone else in society – and anyone who offends them may well suffer a violent response.

“If it’s true that the Prophet Muhammad is not drawn or depicted by Muslim artists based on Islamic beliefs, why revel in ignorance? In other words, if it were considered heathen-like behavior to draw Jesus, would that be tolerated with the same level of revelry – or is there something else at work?”

Of course it would be tolerated. What sort of journalist doesn’t grasp the basics of free speech and expression?

There is no right to not be offended. There is no right to impose your ignorance, fears and superstitions on the rest of society.

Why do you think this is happening? If there had never been a gross over-reaction to cartoons, do you think anyone would have organized people to draw Muhammad?

Do you really suspect that the individuals drawing and encouraging others to draw Muhammad are simply cruel-minded bigots poking a stick at the poor Muslims?

This is not only about free speech, it’s valid social commentary and a serious issue. There are people who travel with bodyguards and live under constant threat of violence or death for exercising basic freedoms that we should all support. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie and Lars Vilks.

What a staggeringly myopic perspective one must have to shrug this off as someone else demeaning Muslims.

Muslims, on this subject, have demeaned themselves.

A response to Ravi Zacharias’ “Six Questions to Ask an Atheist”-

Someone sent me a link to this via Facebook and after spending some time addressing it, I thought I’d post it here. It’s another long (though not insanely long) post, but it addresses the “questions” of a popular apologist that is often cited in e-mails from Christians.

Zacharias’ original text is in black and my responses are in red.


Many times, as Christian theists, we find ourselves on the defensive against the critiques and questions of atheists. Here, then are six key questions you can ask of atheists as you engage them in honest conversation about the trajectory of this worldview:

First, we need to clarify that atheism isn’t a worldview. There are no tenets, dogma or edicts because atheism isn’t an “ism”…it’s simply the label we use to identify a position on a single question; do you believe a god exists? If the answer is yes, you’re a theist, if not, you’re an atheist.

Atheism can be the result of a worldview and it is certainly consistent with a number of secular philosophical worldviews, so for the sake of this discussion I’ll address the questions without quibbling over that detail but it’s essential to point out that there’s an underlying misconception that tends to encourage theists to frame their questions in a way that doesn’t really make sense.

1. If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Where did everything come from, and why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life? Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end? How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier? If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, where do we look to determine what is good or bad, right or wrong? If you are content within an atheistic worldview, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?

The entire paragraph is an implied argument that if we haven’t yet explained the big questions (without making an appeal to the god hypothesis) that we’re then justified in accepting that a god exists. This is a thinly-veiled argument from ignorance, a classic logical fallacy.

In addition to that problem, the god hypothesis has no explanatory power. Explanations increase our understanding and we tend to explain things in terms of other things that we already understand.

Attempting to ‘answer’ the big question by appealing to the supernatural doesn’t accomplish this because it’s an attempt to solve a mystery by appealing to another mystery. That’s not an explanation; it’s a gap-filler. It doesn’t solve a mystery; it obscures it in an attempt to assuage our discomfort with the unknown.

How do we answer the big questions? The same way we’d answer any other question. First, we acknowledge that we don’t have an explanation and then we investigate until we do. The time to believe a proposed explanation is after it has been supported by argument and evidence – and not a moment before. Explanations are supported by evidence; they’re not supported by a failure to come up with a better response.

In the end, this question isn’t an implied argument for the existence of god; it’s an implied argument for belief as a means of placating curiosity and xenophobia. Accepting a pacifying non-answer retards progress toward discovering the real answer.

2. If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists taking their worldview more seriously like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault? These three atheists recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes. The experience of atheistic meaninglessness is recorded in Sartre’s book Nausea. Without God, these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.

The implication in this question is that if there is no transcendent, ultimate, externally imposed meaning that there can be no meaning. That’s a bit of an equivocation fallacy – conflating “meaning” and “transcendent meaning” and then spinning it into “atheistic meaninglessness”.

I have no crisis of meaning. A secular worldview doesn’t result in meaninglessness. My life has whatever meaning I attribute to it, and this would be true whether a god existed or not. Value is the result of desire and while he’d like to dismiss our “selfish interests, pleasures, or tastes” as negatives, that’s not the case. Our selfish interests can result in benefit or harm, all with respect to the things we value. He dismisses the very foundations of meaning in order to claim there is no meaning… that doesn’t sound like the “honest conversation” I’m looking for.

The broader, implied argument is that one should believe in a god because it’ll prevent you from feeling as though your life has no meaning. This is not an argument for the existence of a god; it’s an argument for belief which has no dependency on the object of that belief being true. It’s like arguing that one should believe that they’re holding a winning lottery ticket if it makes them happy.

The problem, of course, is that our beliefs inform our actions and our actions have consequences for ourselves and others. The person who sincerely believes that they hold a winning lottery ticket may well take actions that prove devastating when they discover they actually don’t have a winning ticket.

3. If people don’t believe in God, the historical results are horrific, so how do we deal with the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it? Countless millions lost their lives under these godless regimes, regimes more influenced by Nietzsche’s concept of the ubermensch (superman) than they were by transcendent morality.

Once again, we have an implied argument that has nothing to do with the actual existence of god but rather on the purported benefits of believing that a god exists; if people stop believing in gods, bad things will happen, so don’t stop believing.

The assertion that atheism leads to horrifying atrocities is simply not true. It’s a vile, slanderous charge, rooted in ignorance and deception that isn’t the slightest bit softened by Zacharias’ stylish, questioning form.

In the case of the examples given, atheism is neither necessary nor sufficient to be identified as the cause of the actions taken. In truth, the atrocities were the result of belief systems which, while consistent with atheism, are not caused by atheism. You simply cannot draw a causal chain from “I do not believe a god exists” to “I’m going to destroy religious organizations and religious people” without an additional belief — and it is that belief that would be the cause of the atrocities.

To claim otherwise is to claim that atheism necessarily leads to horrifying acts (which is what he’s trying to do) and there are millions of secular people who testify to the false nature of that assertion every single day.

Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot took actions based on beliefs that are akin to religions. They were powerful
zealots of socio-political ideologies and a belief that the opposition must be eliminated. To claim that those beliefs were caused by atheism is as much a non sequitur as claiming that they were caused by a stomach ache.

Hitler, on the other hand, gave conflicting reports about his beliefs. He publicly and privately identified as a Catholic, yet there’s also testimony that he was anti-religious or anti-Christian at times. If he had done great work, I suspect that the Christians would claim that he was opposed to organized religion, but a devoted, personal believer. Because of the atrocities he committed, they take a different tact, labeling him an atheist.

We can no more know Hitler’s true beliefs about the existence of gods than we can know the mind of any other. What we can know, though, is that even if he was an atheist, that wasn’t the cause of the actions he took. As Zacharias points out, it was the ideology of the Übermensch (among other beliefs) that encouraged those actions.

While that ideology is consistent with atheism (everything except for a belief in a god is consistent with atheism) it is not caused by atheism nor is it necessarily connected with atheism. It is not, though, consistent with modern secular humanism.

4. If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer? Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of it being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable, since no interventions in this life or reparations in an afterlife are possible. It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort. There is only madness and confusion in the face of suffering and evil.

His claim is that suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, if there is no God. This is another roundabout way of saying, “Hey, you might as well believe, you’ll be no worse off” — another argument for belief with no ties to the truth of the proposition one is being asked to believe. It reminds me a bit of the people who try to claim that atheism is “just another religion” without realizing the implication of what they’ve just said.

I disagree with his assessment, though, that suffering is just as or more tragic if there is no god.

If there isn’t a god, then suffering isn’t the result of original sin or impious thoughts and it isn’t a test from God or a torment from demons and devils. If there is no god, then suffering is a natural part of reality and that means that we can equip ourselves to alleviate unnecessary suffering by learning more about reality. We can also take comfort in knowing that the unavoidable is actually unavoidable and not punishment.

If there is no god, then those who blame natural disasters on immodest women, abortionists, homosexuals and atheists are simply arrogant bigots and not the voice of a deity. That’s no small comfort and, since we’re talking about the impact of suffering, that’s a valid point.

We do not require a god for comfort, we can reach out to other people and we can reach within, to the confidence and security that is bolstered by the understanding that one is not simply a plaything of a transcendent being.

5. If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most? Whose voice will be heard? Whose tastes or preferences will be honored? In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway? Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong — really wrong? Where do those standards come from? Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy. Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.

This is simply false. The standard by which I critique religion and religious people is not contingent upon the existence of a god. This is a thinly-veiled claim of “no moral authority” and it’s a bit like saying that a room full of people can have no opinions or shared principles without someone outside the room telling them what those views should be.

Secular morality is superior to religious morality in every regard, save one; religious morality is simplistic. Secular morality requires thought and effort, religious morality is for the lazy and the thoughtless — those who would be duped into thinking that something becomes ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for them, simply because of an edict attributed to some other being.

Religious people already intuitively recognize the superiority of secular morality and they’ve been adopting the moral views of the secular societies that surround them.

The Bible, for example, clearly and explicitly endorses slavery. For those who believe that the Bible is the ultimate source of moral law from the ultimate lawgiver, there is no moral justification for opposing slavery — yet that’s exactly what some of them did and what most of them continue to do. Nowhere does the Bible denounce slavery, it’s supported in Old and New Testaments; so why do Christians generally oppose slavery?

It’s because we live in a cooperative society which helps form and shift our values. While dogmatists were blindly proclaiming their god’s endorsement of slavery, freethinking people (religious and non-religious) were actually considering the subject and evaluating its impact on the health of society.

It was the application of reason that changed the moral landscape, not the God of the Bible.

6. If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent? How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why I am so unfulfilled or empty? Why do I hunger for the spiritual? How do we deal with these questions if nothing can exist beyond the material world? Atheists, particularly atheistic scientists go way beyond their scientific training when they depart from the “how” questions to prognosticating about the “why” questions. Even terms like “natural selection” seems a misuse of words, since only an intelligent being can assess options and choose. How do we get laws out of luck, or predictable processes out of brute chance? If all that makes us different from animals is learning and altruism, why do the brutish still widely outnumber the wise in our world?

He’s basically arguing that his desire for the transcendent can only be explained in a case where the transcendent exists. This is an obvious fallacy. If there are no aliens, why do people long for alien encounters? Does their desire only make sense if aliens are beaming messages to their brains?

More importantly, I have no longing for the transcendent and no hunger for the spiritual. If Ravi’s desire is sufficient to support the existence of the supernatural, then is my lack of desire sufficient to refute a claim of existence?

Finally, there are no “how” questions or “why” questions
— you can form the questions either way:

Why is the sky blue? How does the sky appear blue? What makes the sky appear blue? Where does the blue in the sky come from? When…well, maybe we can’t use every interrogative.

What he means by “why” would be better labeled “for what transcendent reason…”, but if he says that, he exposes a flaw that we can expose with another “why” question: Why do you think there must be a transcendent reason?

His answer to that question is obvious. He thinks there must be a transcendent reason because he can’t imagine that there couldn’t be and wouldn’t want to live in a world where there wasn’t a transcendent reason… yet another argument for belief or against the consequences of disbelief, with no bearing on the truth of the issue.

His claim that “natural selection” misuses words is a bit obtuse when you realize that the term is a metaphoric response to unsupported claims of supernatural mechanisms. Only someone unfamiliar with evolution or willing to misrepresent it to make a point would claim that this is a misuse. Would he object to someone claiming that something was “decided by a coin toss” since only an intelligent being can “decide”?

In the end, this is really the same as the first question: if there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered…

I think “does some god exist” qualifies as one of the big questions. If Zacharias was as interested in examining the truth of his religious beliefs as he is in defending his belief with appeals to the fictitious consequences of disbelief, he might see that.

We’ll have a hope of answering those big questions when curious thinkers, dissatisfied with appeals to mystery, question the claims of religion and investigate with any eye toward truth, rather than comfort.