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.

[Read more…]

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.”

FTBCon 2 round up

For those of you who weren’t able to watch the live panels this weekend, here are all those in which ACA members participated.

Beth Presswood and Martin Wagner joined in the “Artistic Secularism” panel, with Amy Davis Roth, Ryan Consell, Ashley Hamer, and Lauren Lane.

Jen Peeples and Russell Glasser did a parenting panel with Dale McGowan and Elyse Anders.

Russell and his son Ben, a three year veteran of Camp Quest, briefly dropped in on the Camp Quest panel with David Diskin, before it was cut short by technical difficulties.

Russell was in a “Counter-Apologetics” panel, with Justin Schieber of Reasonable Doubts, and Dan Linford.

A few other panels you might enjoy checking out:

There are plenty more, so please check out the full schedule for many other great videos.

Fair representation of competing doctrines

So we got email taking us to task for an argument made on the show. I am copying it with some minor edits.

I am a Christian who has been listening to your program for about a year now.  On the whole, I enjoy your programs but I have a problem with you on this issue outlined below.

I have heard you say that in Christianity a person can do ANYTHING they want – steal, rape, torture, murder – and still get in Heaven on a last minute Death-bed confession, and that Salvation is based ENTIRELY on Faith, IRRELEVANT of actions or deeds.

I am sorry but this is absolutey UNTRUE.

(Continued below)

[Read more…]

Evolution question

Email:

Hello, I am from Dallas and I go to a southern baptist school. Recently I had a project in my Logic and World Views class were I had to debate with another classmate on a controversial topic in today’s society, I choose the existence of god because I am an atheist and I wanted to try to convince my classmates that there is not supernatural being. After my debate my schools head master asked me “since evolution proposes that the fittest will survive and the week will die off, is it a good thing if a bigger boy was beating up a small boy?” I responded with no and said that his question was not relevant. But what is the right answer to this question or is there one?  Thought you could help,  Thanks!

Reply below.

[Read more…]

Is atheist activism counter-productive? (Spoiler: No.)

This post is a response to an email I received concerning an argument between two friends, both atheists. One of them is presenting the other’s claim that it’s not worthwhile to actively promote atheism, because even though religion may be false, it gives people comfort and motivates them to work towards worthwhile social causes. My response is below; first, the argument in full.

[Read more…]

Proving light exists to a blind man

Email:

How would you respond to a Christian who says “Just like light cannot be proven to a blind man, God must be experienced to believe.”?

I feel like I’ve already addressed this question before, at least on the show, but I can’t find it on the blog. When I googled the question, I found many, many examples of Christians asking this question as if it were a knock down argument. It’s not, so here we go.

[Read more…]

Apologists: only dudes can have good reasons to be an atheist

A few weeks ago, Hemant Mehta hosted a guest post on his blog: “The Atheist Daughter of a Notable Christian Apologist Shares Her Story.” The post was by Rachael Slick, daughter of radio host and CARM founder Matt Slick. Viewers of our show may remember that both Matt Dillahunty and I, in two weeks running, spoke directly to Matt Slick about his pet topic, the Transcendental Argument. (Episode 592; episode 593).

I found Rachael’s story very moving, myself. As a lifelong atheist with a supportive family, I have never had to actually fight very hard for my atheism except in circumstances of my choice. Stories of deconversion are interesting to me as they recount an experience I’ve never had, and it must have been doubly challenging to shed a faith that is hammered home by a strict religious upbringing. This is an excerpt from her post.

[Read more…]