Pascal’s Wager … again

P.S. @ Matt Dillahunty._ You are going to die sooner or later_That is a natural fact. What you assert is there is no God; the God of Bible because He cannot be proven_ Is a fact. You are “Gambling” that there is no God; the Christian God of the Bible_Is a fact. By your own admission the Christian God of the Bible does not exist, therefore you would reject that you possess a soul that is eternal, that will either go to heaven or hell._Is a fact.
FACT_you are going to die someday; are you willing to take that GAMBLE that you do-not have a soul that will live forever either in heaven or hell?
P.S. _ I really believe that Matt Dillahunty is Demon possessed, and anyone that would argue with a Demon will get no-where because it is a slippery slope because Demons are masters of deviation

We get e-mails like this all the time. Matt has answered more than his fair share of these, so I’ll take one for the team. This person singled out Matt, but he (she?) might as well have written it to any AE host, or any atheist for that matter. I’ll refrain from commenting about writing style as that’s just too easy. The e-mail above is unedited.

First, atheism is the lack of a belief in a god. Check the front page of the ACA’s web site. Mankind has invented tens of thousands of gods and there is no reason to believe that any of them are real. Christians are atheists, too, with respect to most gods, but they think their god is special. Is it? I can’t think of a reason. Is it because there are a lot of Christians? There are a lot of Buddhists too, does that make their religion true? Is it because there’s more evidence in support of Christianity? Nope. I don’t know of any solid evidence for the claims of Christianity. Is it because they believe passionately? Would anyone say there’s a Muslim afterlife with 72 virgins just because the 9/11 attackers believed so passionately enough to kill themselves for martyrdom? Of course not.

In nearly all forums where I interact with believers, I ask for good evidence for the claims the believers are making. I’m usually disappointed in what I get. Let me be clear on what I’m looking for. There are lots of bald assertions that believers give, usually claiming this or that about their god. If you don’t have evidence to back up those claims, then please forgive me if I just ignore them. “That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” (Christopher Hitchens) Beyond bald assertions, I’ll also disregard falsehoods, deception, logical fallacies, and emotional manipulation. These seem to be the primary tools of apologists. If you have to lie to me, trick me, or manipulate me to believe something, what does that say about that thing you’d like me to believe? It says that even the theist can’t think of a good reason to believe in their god, so what’s left are bad reasons.

I’m pleasantly surprised that you admit that your god can’t be proven. Starting from there, the conversation should go like this:

  • Atheist: Do you have any good reason to believe in your god?
  • Theist: No.
  • Atheist: Thank you for your honesty. Please understand if I don’t believe.

End of story. But in their desire to market their religion, theists go on to give bad reasons.

Yes, we are all going to die. And we’ve heard “Pascal’s Wager” a million times. It’s a really bad argument with at least a dozen flaws. I’ll answer it, though in my own words. I personally have no fear of your god, or any god for that matter. As near as I can tell, the god of the Bible is fictional and I can think of no reason to fear fictional characters. But let’s pretend for a minute that gods are real. Is the goal to choose the one that offers the best afterlife, or perhaps save you from the worst hell? Isn’t that exactly like being a hedonistic toady, or perhaps sucking up to a monster so that you will be spared eternal torments. Maybe it’s both: you can even get to watch the torments of others while basking in eternal bliss. This seems rather sick to me, yet it seems to be what Christianity is promising.

Do you follow the most noble god? The god of the Bible blames Adam and Eve, indeed the entirety of humanity for his mistakes. Later, Yahweh orders Abraham to kill his own son. That story reads to me like a gang initiation ritual. In New Testament mythology, the same god kills his own son because there had to be a blood sacrifice due to a rule he either made up or given to him by some other more powerful god. Appeased, by his actions, he then allows the Jews to take the blame for his alleged sacrifice? Every story about the god of the Bible paints him as a monster. Even if he were real, I wouldn’t follow him.

I’ve made the decision to live my life as if there are no gods. I’ve looked at god claims, and I find them all to be without merit and most likely derived from human imagination. So how will I respond if, after my death I find out there’s some god that wants to torture me? I may not be happy, but I will have a lot of things (assuming “I” continue to exist) that will never be taken away. I’ll have the satisfaction of having lived my life in a sensible and kind manner. I will have the solace of knowing I’ve taken responsibility for my actions and that I will forever be more moral than the monster who is torturing me. In short, I will have my integrity. My integrity is not something I’m going to bargain away for vague promises from an invisible monster.

What will be your legacy when you die? From my perspective, perhaps the biggest claim you could make is that you tried your hardest to be a vector for a disease that has stifled progress, caused untold human misery, and murdered millions. From my perspective, you have hitched your wagon to a delusion. You’ve already pissed away your integrity. How sad.

I wonder, too, if you really believe your afterlife claims. If you’re going to go on to some perpetual orgasm, why hang around only to make the world a worse place? Please don’t let me stop you. I suspect you too have your doubts. If you don’t believe in Jesus why should I?

As for demons, atheists think demons are at least as silly (and unlikely) as gods. Be sure and check for monsters under your bed and sleep with your lights on. Boo! Maybe your invisible friend will protect you.

Now let me respond to the subtext of your letter. If you actually had good reason to believe in your god, you would have presented that. Since you didn’t present a good reason, it seems clear you have none. We both know prayer is a failure or you could have prayed for one ahead of time before writing. Next, if Christianity had any positive value, you could have pitched that. Again, it seems there is no positive benefit. You did offer threats (emotional manipulation). While Islam’s main tactic is murdering those who disagree with them, Christianity relies on lies and thuggery. Death threats are a common Christian tactic to get their way. Lies, like the “Christian Nation” propaganda only show how much a fraud the religion is. With threats of hell, there is usually caveat by the threat giving Christian that he has nothing to do with the threat; they’re just passing it along from on high. Yet I have yet to meet two Christians who can agree on the nature of their god, and as you admit, there is no good evidence to believe in such a good. People like you choose to believe in a clearly evil god. I can only imagine you do so because you identify with that aspect of his storied nature. Ultimately the threats are coming from Christians who believe themselves to be good. This is part and parcel of an evil delusion.

Years ago, Christians actually tortured non-believers, with the idea that coercing them to “believe” was a kind of mercy. Converting them here through torture was thought preferable to the “loving” justice of eternal torment. Fortunately, secular morality has made torturing heretics an anachronism. Christian torture and holy wars have just made more atheists. Regardless, the subtext of your note tells me that Christianity has no merit (you seem to admit that) and you still want me to join you. You want me to shut off my brain, give up my integrity, and become a wannabe thug that excuses the atrocity of the Bible and the murderous fruits of Christian belief. Yet the only think you’re offering is some idea you have in your head that I might get to look down from heaven in a blissful amoral stupor and enjoy watching the torments of my fellow human beings in hell. Wow. What a steaming pile of shit.

I want nothing to do with your religion.

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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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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