There’s probably no bus


Oxford Christians tell Dawkins where to get off.

In 2009, atheists in London paid for 200 adverts on the city’s buses, declaring: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Now Premier Christian Radio has paid for its own version on Oxford buses, after the distinguished evolutionary biologist turned down the chance to debate with Christian philosopher William Lane  Craig when he visits the city later in the month.

The new advert reads: “There’s probably no Dawkins. Now stop worrying and enjoy Oct 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre.”

The trouble with that as a witticism is that it isn’t true. It’s as if X taunts Y by saying “You flunked out of high school!” and Y returns the favor by saying the same thing, when in the first case it’s true and in the second case it isn’t. That’s one of the first things you learn as a child: when exchanging taunts with a sibling/cousin/friend/enemy you have to avoid that particular trap.

There are good reasons to think there is a Dawkins. I’ve seen him myself, I’ve exchanged a few words with him. I know other people who have talked to him. I’ve seen him on DVDs and YouTube, I’ve heard him on the radio and in podcasts, I have books he’s written. I don’t think Oxford University is deceived about his reality. That’s just a few of the good reasons to think there is a Dawkins.

God is very different in this respect. I’ve never seen God or exchanged words with it. I don’t know anyone who has. I don’t know of any reliable accounts of anyone who has – not one. All the purported information about God that I know of is in the form of stories or apologetics. I’ve never seen God on tv or You Tube or heard God on the radio or in podcasts. I have no books that God has written, though I have one it’s purported to have written (but is obviously written by a number of human beings). There are good reasons not to think God exists, and no good reasons to think God does exist. There are good reasons to think God doesn’t exist.

So the two ads are asymmetrical, you see. Because there are good reasons to think God doesn’t exist, the sentence “There is probably no God” is not a daft sentence, while because there are good reasons to think Dawkins does exist, “There is probably no Dawkins” is a daft sentence.

Comments

  1. Kevin Anthoney says

    They’re not saying he doesn’t exist. They’re saying he won’t be at the Sheldonian Theatre on the 25th.

  2. Moewicus says

    There was probably no Canaanite genocide.

    Stop worrying and enjoy William Lane Craig’s justification of it.

  3. Scote says

    I’m with Kevin Anthoney on this. It’s actually a reasonably funny play on the fact that Dawkins declined to debate WLC and won’t be at the event. (And a way to say “Richard Dawkins! Richard Dawkins!” to promote the event even though he has nothing to do with it.)

    Premiere Christian Radio is actually pretty good in terms of debate. Their radio show/podcast “Unbelievable” regularly has excellent non-Christian guests like Bart Ehrman, Stephen Law and many more, debating Christian guests. Of course the show isn’t perfect, they also regluarly stack the deck by having two Christian debaters (and the Christian host) vs. one non-Christian. And they support creationists and think William Lane Craig is worth listening to. Even so, the show is worth checking out.

    I think you are being way to fussy and literal on this one.

  4. says

    I have no books that God has written, though I have one it’s purported to have written (but is obviously written by a number of human beings).

    Just one? How about the Koran and the Book of Mormon?

    (And, of course, to be pedantic, the Bible really isn’t one book; it’s an eclectic mix of 66 different books – more, if you count the Apocrypha – written by a bunch of different people in different time periods, some of them originating as oral histories and only written down much later, edited in unknown ways over the centuries, and selected and compiled as a canon by different people centuries later for various reasons of their own. And most of them contradict one another. As a friend of mine once observed, believing in the literal and inerrant truth of the Bible is a little like believing in the literal and inerrant truth of the New York Public Library.)

  5. says

    Scote, I’m always fussy and literal. I do that. There’s nothing unusual about this one.

    Walton, true, I have the Koran. Two books then. I don’t have the Book of Mormon.

  6. Jason Dick says

    The second sentence is also utterly nonsensical. Stop worrying? About what? Why would stopping the worry have anything whatsoever to do with going to this theater?

  7. Scote says

    I think people are taking this way too seriously.

    I guess priming is part of the problem with a cute ad that uses shorthand and allusions. As a listener to the Premiere Christian Radio “Unbelievable” podcast I know that they had really wanted Richard Dawkins to debate WLC. Dawkins presence would give their event loads of status and publicity. But Dawkins declined, as per his policy regarding debating. In that context it is kind of a cute ad.

    “There’s probably no Dawkins (at the debate). Now stop worrying (that WLC won’t get to debate Dawkins) and enjoy Oct 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre.”

    It is tongue in cheek.

    I think WLC is an odious sophist who specializes in glib rhetoric rather than actual facts and sound reasoning and I’m glad Dawkins doesn’t debate such people, but I don’t think the ad is a bad one. I think getting upset over it makes people look a tad foolish.

  8. says

    There’s probably no way Craig is going to say anything a) particularly novel, nor b) at all true. So in the unlikely event anyone was actually worrying about this, I guess they can stop*.

    (*/Yes, we might have to use slightly smaller type for this ad**.)

    (**/Or a longer bus.)

  9. Gingerbaker says

    “Dawkins presence would give their event loads of status and publicity. ”

    So too even his absence! Particularly damning because WLC (William who??) is not even mentioned in the ad.

    Maybe WLC will offer convincing demonstration that Dawkins IS there because he MUST be there, after all.

  10. shatterface says

    If God actually got off his arse and turned up to his own meetings there would actually be a symmetry here, but he doesn’t, presumably because he’s too busy moving in mysterious ways.

  11. Aliasalpha says

    The problem I have is that they could VERY easily have made it coherent statement with a bit more thought simply by saying “There’ll probably be no richard dawkins” making it about whether he’ll be there rather than whether he exists.

    It’d still say the same thing which seems to boil down to “Dawkins won’t be here, so you can stop worrying about being proven wrong, hooray!!”

    As a vaguely related link, The Now Show piece on the original bus

  12. Scote says

    ““There’ll probably be no richard dawkins” making it about whether he’ll be there rather than whether he exists.”

    Yeah, they could have done that but then it wouldn’t have been as funny. The joke is in using the phrasing of the atheist bus campaign.

    I think the better criticism is the one Gingerbaker noted, which is that the appearance of WLC is such a non event that they have to promote it by who *isn’t* going to be there.

    I think Ms. Benson is off on this one because she wasn’t accounting for the context or the humor of the ad. I think it is an Emily Litella moment. :) (and, yes, just to anticipate any unfounded criticism, I would say the same regardless of age or gender of the OP–my comment is one based on analogy to mistaken situations, not of age or gender).

  13. says

    Scote, I’m not “upset” about it for fuck’s sake. I just felt like taking it literally and saying what was wrong with it as a literal claim.

    The Emily Litella thing is just adorable, especially with the disclaimer.

  14. satan augustine says

    I’d give them credit for a clever turn of phrase were it actually clever. It’s simply not funny in my opinion. I’m not saying it’s offensive or anything of the sort, but rather really, really silly…in a distinctively non-humorous way.

  15. Scote says

    @Aratina Cage:

    The thing about humor is that it is 100% subjective. I think it is funny you don’t. We can both be right even though we disagree about whether it is funny. (I’m also guessing that you aren’t a listener to “Unbelievable”…which is where the context comes from.)

  16. says

    @Scote:

    The thing about humor is that it is 100% subjective.

    Yes, I didn’t mean for you to think I thought otherwise. It’s just that from the moment I read about that ad, I thought it was a failure both of imagination and as a retort to the atheist ads. Does that group of theists really think that the atheist ads were denying the existence of something as tangible as Richard Dawkins? Are they that unaware?

    Knowing that the ad is a harassing taunt for Richard Dawkins to debate William Lane Craig only makes it worse in my opinion. They’re always so obsessed with having popular atheists debate Craig that it has become highly annoying. That alone is enough to suck any fun there might have been out of it.

  17. Bruce Gorton says

    One of the problems I have with the article is it presents the original atheist bus campaign as having been started in isolation – whereas it was a response to a Christian bus campaign.

  18. Sarah says

    “Scote, I’m not “upset” about it for fuck’s sake. I just felt like taking it literally and saying what was wrong with it as a literal claim.”

    Just like your usual ‘analysis’ and ‘understanding’ of religion! Heyooooo!

    *leaves*

  19. says

    Subjective, is it, Scote? Yet your first comment about it said: “It’s actually a reasonably funny play on the fact that Dawkins declined to debate WLC and won’t be at the event.” A factual assertion, not a statement of taste.

    Plus you apparently missed the ironic tone of what I said. (The laborious citations of Dawkins-sighting etc.)

    Emily Litella yourself.

  20. says

    Sarah – yes, exactly like it. I do insist on taking religious claims literally, because they don’t function in the world the way genuinely metaphorical or fictional discourse does. I think the “metaphor/narrative” claims are much more of an evasive technique than they are genuine claims.

  21. Scote says

    I’ll meet you part way, Ophelia, and update my claim to say ““I’d say it is reasonably funny play on the fact that Dawkins declined to debate WLC and won’t be at the event.” What it isn’t, except to the most willfully pedantic, is a claim that Richard Dawkins doesn’t exist.

    However, if you are going to point out that my claim of the humorous nature of the ad is subjective and not fact, then, too, is your claim that your OP is of “ironic tone”. I don’t really see the irony since, IMO, the ad isn’t a serious claim, just a tongue in cheek ad.

  22. vicarofartonearth says

    Christian Radio has refused to debate me, are they to scared?

    Every good non believer should challenge Craig to debate them. Anyone have the email to publish.

    Dear Mr. Craig

    We have determined that you are a silly person and it would be a waste of first rate talent to debate you so you can sell your books with bad ideas and claim public relations martyrdom from the godless.

    If you want to debate, we have some new intelligent leadership who need practice. As Christians have not come up with any new argument since Alfred Whitehead, all the arguments are on youtube.com today, unless you have something new besides your ego.

    Yours truly,
    Fans of Richard Dawkins, a braver man than you.

  23. Birdieupon says

    I think you’ve missed the point. It’s not so much to joke that Dawkins doesn’t exist, but rather that there will probably be no Dawkins engaging in the dialogue he helped to create.

  24. Sarah says

    Sarah – yes, exactly like it. I do insist on taking religious claims literally, because they don’t function in the world the way genuinely metaphorical or fictional discourse does.

    [Citation needed]

    I think the “metaphor/narrative” claims are much more of an evasive technique than they are genuine claims.

    Hey! Lookitthat. You can read religious people’s minds. They say they believe one thing, you say that they are lying and being evasive because you know they actually believe it literally.

    Either provide evidence they are lying or address their beliefs as they claim them to be. Anything else is intellectual cowardice.

  25. says

    Heh. Ms. Christina had a nice piece on the whole ‘religion as metaphor’ thing:

    http://www.alternet.org/story/144070/?page=entire

    I’ll add a few things: first, it’s demonstrably true that lots of folks don’t treat their religion as metaphor. They say stuff like: ‘god commands this and if ye do otherwise he shall smite you’. Even in the modern age, yes. Of course, in fairness, these ones don’t generally even claim it’s a metaphor, either. In those circles, I expect it’d get ya kicked out the prayer breakfast, even using that word in public.

    Second, historically, it’s pretty clear there was little ‘metaphorical’ about most authoritarian state religions, to put it gently. Folk weren’t running around burning people at the stake ‘cos they differed on the meaning of this apparently entirely fictional illustration of how one lives the good life. They were clearly saying stuff just like that sentence in the paragraph above. You’d rather have to read between the lines to imagine this was, actually, just some oddly heated difference of opinion on how one best interprets a text it was understood was mere ‘metaphor’ and ‘narrative’…

    (Arising, perhaps, in a first year lit class during a particularly emotional reading of a book report? After which, presumably, the burning bundles of sticks were just some terribly unlikely pratfall, perhaps? Clumsy guy with a lantern in some kinda Chaplinesque slapstick comedy of flammable errors, and it went downhill from there? Anyway…)

    Third, even if you were to take them at their word and treat these things as narrative/metaphor, they’re mostly pretty awful metaphors, awash in rather sadistic outgassings of toxic, violent authoritarianism. And even where they’re not so awful, they’re too frequently pretty vapid. Seriously, even if you pick and choose (ah, cafeteria religion, quelle bliss) and just stick to the warm ‘n fuzzy love they neighbour stuff, really, what has Christianity, to take the prominent example, actually have to offer the world as deep wisdom that you can’t pretty much stencil on a Hallmark card?

    Fourth: I think Ms. Christina mostly has it right. Folks I meet and read and hear regularly don’t act like it’s ‘metaphor and narrative’, whatever they might like to claim. They might say that, but beyond this paper facade, they act like it’s received wisdom, and when you tell ’em it looks rather not so wise and you won’t be receiving, thanks, they do tend to get so huffy about it, y’know? Oh, no no no, you must listen to ’em, it’s so terribly important, the ‘wisdom’ they glean from this stuff. Not ‘cos the god commands, oh no, let’s not be jejune… but ‘cos, umm, it’s such a rich source of wisdom, that’s the ticket… Yeah, even this story here about how if you don’t do just what the god says he’ll fucking smite you… That’s… Umm… Well, that’s just a terribly useful metaphor for how you should handle a mean drunk, see?

    But hey, Sarah, if you’re one of those ‘it’s all metaphor and narrative’ thingies, yourself, I’m sure therefore you’ll have no real problem with my telling you I probably won’t be bothering reading from whichever comic canon is your current favourite source of allegedly useful metaphors at all anymore, unless maybe I’m looking for a rueful laugh. As the odds are decent I’ve considered it rather at length, over time, already, and my considered opinion is: it’s really pretty stupid shit, taken as a whole, y’know? Take either the Christian Bible of the Muslim Koran, and it seems to me both have clearly had way too much time and attention already, far out of proportion to their really quite laughably slim merits. Terrible writing, frequently incredibly improbable character development where they even bother with it at all, the plots are frequently incomprehensibly hackish and self-contradictory even by George Lucas’ standards, and seriously, Jesus is a fucking Mary Sue if ever there was one… (And, honestly, a Mary Sue for an amateur author who was apparently more than a bit dim.) And indeed, beyond my not reading it myself, I’m going to point this out, vocally, to anyone who is reading it, whatever they might claim about ‘metaphor’ or whichever rot: that this book actually contains vast, vast tracts of rank, utter stupidity, in between these alleged bits of ‘wisdom’…

    … but hey, this is all ‘metaphor’, anyway, right? We’re all agreed there’s no magical sky muffin gonna strike us all down for pointing this out? As that muffin guy, he was just a metaphor, too. This fictional construct, intended, perhaps, to illustrate the perils of hanging out with people with anger management issues. And it’s just one more book of half-baked notions dressed up as stories, possibly as cracked as anything else humans write, agreed? Possibly, indeed, somewhat more cracked than average, since it did spend some centuries in the care of mad slimeballs who were claiming it was an inerrant and unquestionable basis of and justification for their frequently rather vicious hierarchy? And when we point out the many, many, many bits that are, predictably from this, noxious hogwash about deferential obedience to a cruel and dictatorial authority (quelle surprise, in the books of former state religions), this is fair game, as it would be with all such human-created bits of ink and paper? And hey, it’s totally cool if I point out what a bizarre, disjointed mess is the Christian resurrection story and speculate profanely and expansively on just how the ancient wanks who put this thing together wound up with that dog’s breakfast of a yarn, in the end? You’re going to be entirely cool with all this, too, I presume?

    (/Good to hear, that. So eminently sane, clearly. Nice to have you with us.)

  26. Sarah says

    Thanks for that long screed. I’ll be sure to read it.

    Your problem appears to be that you can’t seem see any option inbetween ‘always literal all the time’ and ‘just a narrative and metaphor’

    Sadly you wasted your time attacking something nobody here believes. Um, I guess you did well. Whoever believes that nonsense got served.

    Your only interesting point was: “it’s demonstrably true that lots of folks don’t treat their religion as metaphor”, and indeed the answer is to treat their religion as literal when they do and only then.

    Unfortunately that doesn’t justify Greta’s bit of intellectual abdication: “I do insist on taking religious claims literally”. That is only a logical response when they are making the claims literally.

    Basically you can have it one of two ways:

    1) Religion is true and one particular literal interpretation is true and everything else is false religion. It is reasonable to take religious claims as literal.
    2) No religion is true and no particular interpretation is any more true than any other (they are all false), therefore religious claims have to be evaluated on a case by case basis and taken as literal only when they are meant literally.

    Greta is trying to take a little from column A and a little from column B. This is not possible as “Religious claims literal when they claim they are and metaphorical when they claim that” follows as a logical necessity from the premise “No religion is true”

    The only way to claim that it’s reasonable to “take religious claims as if they were literal” is if a) One religion is true and it’s commands are all literal, or b) You can prove that regardless of intention or belief or whether they say they believe it non-literally all religious people act in ways that demonstrate they actually believe it literally.

  27. Sarah says

    I a word. That should be “Religious claims are literal when they claim they are and metaphorical when they claim that”

  28. says

    Scote –

    What it isn’t, except to the most willfully pedantic, is a claim that Richard Dawkins doesn’t exist.

    Except to the most willfully pedantic and anybody who doesn’t already know about Christian Radio and WLC and the debate-refusal and the Sheldonian – which will be most people who see the ad.

    However I’ve already agreed that I am willfully pedantic; it’s what I do; if you don’t like willful pedantry I can’t imagine why you’ve ever bothered to read B&W.

    However, if you are going to point out that my claim of the humorous nature of the ad is subjective and not fact, then, too, is your claim that your OP is of “ironic tone”. I don’t really see the irony since, IMO, the ad isn’t a serious claim, just a tongue in cheek ad.

    The two are not symmetrical. My claim that the post contains irony is about what I wrote; your claim that the ad is humorous is about what someone else wrote.

  29. Lars says

    After all the jokes about the empty chair–that is, the nonexistent Dawkins–it’s rather amusing how atheists still refuse to understand the point of this ad and pretend it’s about something entirely different.

  30. says

    Your problem appears to be that you can’t seem see any option inbetween ‘always literal all the time’ and ‘just a narrative and metaphor’

    Ah, but actually, I can see many, many such options. And so, clearly, can you…

    And, see, that’s just the thing…

    You aren’t claiming your religion is purely narrative/metaphor. But you’re going to be conveniently slippery about exactly where and when it is and is not, just as soon as you start getting criticism of any of it.

    See, it really strikes me how rarely believers tell us things like: metaphor for what? Metaphor how? And how entirely? Oh, and which part’s metaphor? Which part’s literally true? Shall we pin anything down, or shall we leave it all conveniently unspecified?

    Is the god really there, Sarah? Or not? Does it have agency? Does it have authority? Does it have consciousness? Does it intervene in the universe? Does it bleed when the Romans crucify it? Or is it the pure neo-Deist clockmaker abstraction so conveniently insulated from any requirement for positive evidence or vulnerability to evidential or logical refutation? Or does your god hear your prayers and intervene sporadically on behalf of your favourite sports franchise? Please specify, as we’d like to know which mockery to apply, and it’s so difficult, otherwise…

    … and that’s just the thing. See, soon as you do that, you have to answer for it, actually defend it. Which is inconvenient, isn’t it?

    So, yeah. I’m perfectly aware of that, see…

    Indeed, very aware. Which is exactly why we’re having this discussion, I’d expect. The typical atheist who’s ever dealt with the typically (and typically slippery) apologist knows perfectly well how they’ll leave that sort of specification out, when it serves them. Indeed, they’ll say this thing that doesn’t quite say anything, imply by the very position in the conversation that it’s some kind of an answer to what went before, and you have to point out, specifically, if you’re going to have any kind of conversation: ‘umm, ‘kay, cute, but not an answer, just so we’re clear… You do know that, right?’

    Which is all Ophelia is doing above, the way I read it. Yes, she and we get it was meant as a play on words–thin as it is, in that department, fortunately, the joke was explained–which always helps a joke, absolutely*. But she’s pointing out: just so we’re clear? ‘There’s probably no God’ and ‘There’s probably no Dawkins’ do not really stand on the same footing, quality of evidence-wise, so let’s not imagine that’s really any kind of answer to the previous sign’s modest lil’ pointing-something-out, whatever on Earth else it might be, whether or not it’s actually vaguely chuckle-worthy.

    … as to your demanding under what circumstances things may be taken literally, well, see, apparently this process is frustrating for you, but it seems to me it’s ever so interesting what believers say about it, when you do, or play at doing so, or even do so for argument’s sake, as I sorta figured Ophelia B. did above. Ya get ’em talking, they actually open their mouths and tell you these interesting little things. Like those other points they do see on the line between ‘always metaphor’ and ‘always literally true’, even if they oddly can’t quite be arsed to tell you when and where.

    … And as to your reading me: I generally don’t worry about that sort of thing much, Sarah. Please don’t, on my account, anyway, labour under the no-doubt painful burden of imagining anyone’s gonna miss you terribly as an audience.

    (*/This, allow me to explain, is sarcasm.)

  31. says

    … and I should probably also add (long as I’m shamefully burning time I shouldn’t), as I haven’t quite directly said:

    1) I actually found the ‘probably no Dawkins’ phrasing slightly funny. Definitely more a sorta soft chuckle, than a belly laugh, but hey, comedy is hard, and I figure that’s all anyone really expected it to be, and:

    2) I think I found Ophelia B.’s thing slightly funnier*. Sure, I’m biased/a fan, but ‘hey, long as we’re on the subject, let’s compare the evidential cases for the existences of Dawkins and of Yahweh’, that’s got a certain quality, that has.

    (*/Yes, addressing this to our kind blog host, I guess this does read as kinda faint praise. But honestly, I did chuckle, anyway.)

  32. says

    Oh no, not faint praise – the piece was never meant to be fall-down funny (nor did it become funnier as I wrote, which sometimes happens – at least, I sometimes start out serious and then deviate into absurdity thanks to the nature of the subject). On the other hand it also wasn’t meant to be literal, so Scote’s imputation of literalness is slightly ironic. On the other other hand, it is of the nature of religious claims that one never really knows how literal they are, and one way of teasing that is to take a solemnly literal approach to everything, including facetious bus ads.

  33. says

    Ahhhhhh but you know (or you can know, if you look) where to go to see him. You can also see him on YouTube, which is not true of god as far as I know (and if there were a genuine video of god on YouTube surely everyone would know that). You can also find books that there are many good reasons to accept are written by him and not an imposter.

  34. Andrew bt says

    > “I’ve never seen God or exchanged words with it. I don’t know anyone who has. I don’t know of any reliable accounts of anyone who has – not one.”

    I know tens, if not hundreds of people who claim to have been changed by God, and who try to live by His principles each day.

    Have you ever seen a person give up alcohol or drug addiction after becoming an atheist? What about marriages saved or psychological traumas healed or suicidal tendencies quashed?

    There are literally millions of people out there claiming Jesus has and is changing their lives on a daily basis. Perhaps they’re all imagining things? The proof is in the pudding as they say.

    Matthew 7:16 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”

  35. says

    …I sometimes start out serious and then deviate into absurdity thanks to the nature of the subject.

    Hee hee. Yeah, I think I know how that goes, too. Yes, yes, I’m trying to play this one straight as opposed to milking it for easy laughs, so no one figures I’m not taking you and your argument seriously despite everything, but, umm… you do realize your argument has an iron age Jewish zombie in it, right?

    In other news: another nice bit from Greta Christina on this, as she did a few (and she’s here now and the server is up): When Anyone is Watching.

  36. says

    All the discussion here (and elsewhere) is probably what Premier want, and a vindication of their ad. On the PR front they win both ways — they wanted Dawkins to debate Craig, as it would have given a degree of greater respectability to Craig’s madcap tour. Since Dawkins declined (rightly so, IMHO), they’ve capitalised on the PR aspect of that (and of Polly Toynbee’s withdrawal after initially accepting), and the bus ad is just another part of their rather desperate campaign.

    I have to ask, if William Lane Craig is such a bigshot, how come they’re still selling tickets with less than a week to go?

    (I should also come clean — I’m going to the first debate, when Craig will be up against Stephen Law.)

  37. dinnie says

    I trust just as much thought and consideration will go into the actual content of WLC’s speech as has gone into the discussion of the ad. Lord bless you all 😉

  38. says

    And some atheists want to call yourself a “brilliant”? They did not understand irony, you who are so acidic, ironic and mocking the Christian faith (not saying all atheists but who serve the cap)? The Christian busdoor refers only to Dawkins in the absence of full discussion and not to his existence on earth. Jeez, we.

  39. A. Noyd says

    Oh, good grief. I’m on the side of the pedants. Being an in-joke doesn’t make for an effective ad since, at best, the vast majority of people are going to interpret it as more of a statement about the existence of god. Presumably the people running the show are aware of that and went with the ad anyway, hoping to draw in those whose reaction to both this ad and the “there probably is no god” ads would be “but of course there is.” (And perhaps they also hoped to snare a few atheists who are peculiar enough* to fancy watching Craig barf stupidity in person.)

    …..
    *No offense meant to PaulJ.

  40. A. Noyd says

    Andrew bt (#47)

    Have you ever seen a person give up alcohol or drug addiction after becoming an atheist? What about marriages saved or psychological traumas healed or suicidal tendencies quashed?

    Yes to giving up addictions, yes to recovering from trauma and quashing suicidal tendencies. And I don’t know about marriages being saved, but I know of a few people who avoided or ended bad marriages after realizing they were atheists. The thing is, atheists are much less likely to turn such stories into pious morality plays; we don’t have a god we need to find a role for, and we’re not under any moral obligation to downplay the reality of our own hard work or the help we received from other human beings. But almost any atheist can tell you what positive things being an atheist has brought to her or his life.

    There are literally millions of people out there claiming Jesus has and is changing their lives on a daily basis. Perhaps they’re all imagining things?

    Or they’re trained to attribute totally normal phenomena to an imaginary friend and/or magical powers. I was absolutely convinced at one point that I’d had an out-of-body experience and believed I could use that as evidence for the duality of minds and bodies. Of course, the experience in question happened just as I was falling asleep, and since that time, I’ve had plenty of dreams that lack a discernible initial boundary between waking and sleeping. So while I did have the experience of being in my bedroom and floating above my body before falling back into it, the better explanation–the explanation that’s most consistent with neurobiology, psychology, and my own personal experiences–is that my out-of-body experience was a dream. An uncommon sort of dream, but a dream all the same.

    Also, considering how there are people with incompatible beliefs all claiming very similar (indistinguishably so to an outsider) experiential evidence as proof of the truth of their particular beliefs, it’s especially parsimonious to side with a mundane explanation for such experiences.

  41. says

    Also, Andrew bt, claiming to have been changed by God, and trying to live by its principles each day, are entirely consistent with God’s being entirely imaginary. What you say has a good deal of weight as an argument for the benefits of belief in god but pretty much none as an argument that god is really there.

  42. A. Noyd says

    Looks like Emerson de Oliveira is a Brazilian YouTube apologist with a mad crush on the big Jeez, and his English sucks so bad he relies on Google Translate to communicate. Nothing wrong with sucking at English, but one ought to realize one’s limitations. I know about as much Portuguese as my cat, for instance, so here is a somewhat cleaned up Google translation of the YouTube bio at the page in Emerson’s link: “LOGOS is a virtual Christian ministry dedicated to equipping Christians with the truth about Christian doctrine, theology and evangelism, among other subjects. LOGOS seeks to introduce [or demonstrate] Christian orthodoxy in a correct and biblical fashion. It also aims to respond to opponents of the Christian faith by documenting [?] the beliefs of sects, heresies, aberrant religious groups and other alternative religious systems, comparing them with biblical revelation. All done for the glory and honor of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Eww. Muito vil.

    Also, I think “not saying all atheists but who serve the cap” up above is supposed to be “I’m not saying all atheists are like this, but if the hat fits…” (Note to Emerson: If you rely on translation software, avoid using idioms.) At least he doesn’t have to worry about anyone calling him a “brilliant.”

  43. Sarah says

    @AJ Milne

    Of course, while it is entirely plausible that you are writing your long posts for the fun of it, and don’t care if no one reads them – it would certainly explain the content, it’s obviously not the case.

    So you admit the existence of options other than All Narrative or All Literal? Good.

    That invalidates your entire first post where you try to accuse me of being all narrative. e.g. “but hey, this is all ‘metaphor’, anyway, right? We’re all agreed there’s no magical sky muffin gonna strike us all down for pointing this out?”

    Now you accuse me of being “slippery”. How would you know? We’ve never conversed about what I believe. It seems like you’re prejudiced.

    You then ask me lots of questions about theology. You want to talk about theology? Certainly, a very interesting subject, but a tangent on this thread that does not need to be investigated.

    You’re scrabbling for something to say, first it was “you’re all narrative” now it’s “you might not be all narrative, but you sure are slippery” – you have no actually valid points, nor anything relative to say but you just know I’m wrong, so you know that if you throw enough shit against the wall, you’ll strike with something. Sadly, slippery little bugger that I am I’ve only made one assertion so far and thats “You can’t take it all literally” which you agree with me about. So there’s that.

    As to my “demanding under what circumstances things may be taken literally” – that did not happen, I told you which circumstances it could be taken literally, it’s not frustrating for me – I know the answer – the same answer you put in the very next paragraph – you ask the believers!

    You seem very confused but kind of angry, or certainly determined to attack me for something.
    Here’s a little hint for you: If you want to pretend that you are disagreeing with someone logically for good reasons and not dogmatically it’s best to wait for them to make a positive statement about something they think before attacking those statements; simply throwing out a list of things they “might” believe and attacking them not only reveals your intent, but makes any subsequent criticisms look like more of the same.

  44. Sarah says

    @Ophelia

    So still no evidence for this statement?:

    “I think the “metaphor/narrative” claims are much more of an evasive technique than they are genuine claims.”

  45. Jason Dick says

    @Sarah, your own posts are evidence enough. You spent a long time in this thread explain how people are completely misrepresenting religious belief. But then you fail to actually ever get into what you think religious belief actually is. That is the very definition of evasion.

    Here, I’ll make it simple for you: religious belief is the irrational belief in supernatural bullshit. The specific beliefs vary tremendously from person to person, but it all boils down to this.

  46. says

    Sarah, you want evidence for my statement that I think the “metaphor/narrative” claims are much more of an evasive technique than they are genuine claims? The evidence is that I said it here, and that I’ve said it here before, and that I’ve said it in other places. There’s a lot of evidence that I think what I think.

  47. dfl42 says

    I find the new ads kind of hilarious. It’s like they’re saying “Don’t worry, there probably won’t be any truth on Oct 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre, so stop worrying and enjoy the lies!”

  48. Sarah says

    @Jason “Sarah, your own posts are evidence enough. You spent a long time in this thread explain how people are completely misrepresenting religious belief.”

    No I haven’t. If you’re unable to understand the point try not to embarrass yourself by advertising it. Nothing I have said in this thread indicates people are completely misrepresenting religious beliefs.

    “But then you fail to actually ever get into what you think religious belief actually is. That is the very definition of evasion.”

    No it isn’t. If we were talking about what I think it is and I evaded questions about it, that would be evasion.

    As it is, no one can defend the idea that you should take all religion literally and so are trying to change the subject.

    @Ophelia

    Lolroffle! Are you thick? I asked for evidence that it was an evasion technique rather than a genuine belief, not evidence that you think that.

    So are you admitting that you hold an unevidenced belief? How very skeptical of you.

  49. A. Noyd says

    Hey, Sarah,
    If you want evidence supporting Ophelia’s statement that religious claims “don’t function in the world the way genuinely metaphorical or fictional discourse does,” try the the latest B&W post. Andrew Sullivan talking about Bible stories being “true but not real” is a perfect example of the phenomenon. Whereas someone might say the same thing for The Metamorphosis or Animal Farm, they would also admit those are works of fiction. Sullivan is not going to say the same thing about the Bible. Why not? Because Ophelia is right.

  50. Sarah says

    Thanks for the link A. Noyd, it doesn’t provides evidence for the proposal that “metaphor/narrative claims are more an evasion technique than they are genuine claims” as it is a single anecdata example of someone claiming something that doesn’t seem to be coherent but with no evidence that they actually believe it is literal and are just lying evasively.

    “Andrew Sullivan talking about Bible stories being “true but not real” is a perfect example of the phenomenon.”

    No it isn’t, a perfect example of the phenomenon would be him admitting he believed it was literally true, then when someone challenged him on it pretending that it was just a metaphor, before returning to treating it literally when no one was challenging him.

    “Whereas someone might say the same thing for The Metamorphosis or Animal Farm, they would also admit those are works of fiction. Sullivan is not going to say the same thing about the Bible. Why not? Because Ophelia is right.”

    This is incoherent. Claiming something is not fictional is not the same as claiming it is literal.
    Why won’t he say it’s fictional? Because he doesn’t believe that. Why does he say it’s true but not real? Because he doesn’t believe it’s literal, but that the non-literal aspects of the story are true. He is in fact evidence that Ophelia is wrong.

    This doesn’t make his argument any better or more coherent, but it does evidence the argument that not all believers take it literally all the time unless there is evidence that he is lying, and it does undermine Ophelia’s position that people like him don’t exist.

  51. A. Noyd says

    Sarah (#65)

    Thanks for the link A. Noyd, it doesn’t provides evidence for the proposal that “metaphor/narrative claims are more an evasion technique than they are genuine claims”…

    Well, good thing I didn’t say it was evidence for that claim. In fact, I was very clear about what claim it does support. Reread the first sentence of #64 a few times until you figure out where you should move the goalposts back to. I’ll not reply until you can do so because the whole body of your criticism here is misdirected.

  52. Ender says

    The claim that religious beliefs “don’t function in the world the way genuinely metaphorical or fictional discourse does,” was a supporting argument for “metaphor/narrative claims are more an evasion technique than they are genuine claims” – I was imprecise but as that post is not evidence for the latter you can take it as read that it is not evidence for the former, as it would be both if it were either.

    It’s not complicated.

  53. says

    Sarah –

    @Ophelia

    Lolroffle! Are you thick? I asked for evidence that it was an evasion technique rather than a genuine belief, not evidence that you think that.

    No you didn’t. You asked, precisely, for evidence that I think that. # 59:

    @Ophelia

    So still no evidence for this statement?:

    “I think the “metaphor/narrative” claims are much more of an evasive technique than they are genuine claims.”

    If you wanted to ask for evidence that it was an evasion technique rather than a genuine belief, not evidence that I think that, then you should (obviously) not have included the “I think” in the quoted passage.

    There’s a point here. I said “I think”; that means I’m not making an unqualified factual assertion (except for the assertion about what I think). I didn’t just say “the “metaphor/narrative” claims are much more of an evasive technique than they are genuine claims” as if I knew that for a fact. That means your peremptory demands for evidence are over the top. It would be more reasonable (as well as civil and so on) to ask for reasons or arguments.

  54. A. Noyd says

    Sarah (#67)

    I was imprecise but as that post is not evidence for the latter you can take it as read that it is not evidence for the former…

    Sorry, logic doesn’t work that way. At this point, you’re getting so much wrong it’s hard to know where to even start. No, really. Ophelia isn’t saying metaphorical religious claims function differently because she thinks they’re evasive techniques. Her argument in #26 is that religious claims “don’t function in the world the way genuinely metaphorical or fictional discourse does,” and for that reason she a) considers such claims to be primarily evasive techniques, and b) therefore insists on taking them literally. (More on b later.)

    You failed to notice the qualifying language in “metaphor/narrative claims are more an evasion technique than they are genuine claims.” Then you mischaracterize this opinion as denying believers take different approaches to different beliefs, and wrongly interpret it as saying that those making metaphor claims “are lying and being evasive because you know they actually believe it literally” (#34). But Ophelia’s words don’t say those things; you invented them yourself. More to the point, evasion doesn’t have to be a deliberate lie, and metaphorical claims can be considered evasive when they’re clearly dependent on special pleading.

    Andrew Sullivan’s article is a prime example. He tries to resolve the contradictions in the gospel stories by treating them as metaphor; he claims they’re “true” but not “real” and compares them to literary metaphors.* Now, atheists have no problem with approaching the Bible as a work of fiction with metaphorical messages, but that’s not what Sullivan means because he also says the biblical metaphors are somehow specially true: “the most profound unreal truth is, of course, the Resurrection.” Of course, nothing. There’s no mention of criteria for deciding this superlative profundity, and it’s doubtful Sullivan would agree that god doesn’t literally exist and that Jesus never literally existed nor was he literally god’s son, much less that he literally came back to life after literally being crucified. Or if he does take some of those claims metaphorically, it’s in a different way than normal metaphors.

    And here’s where we come back to b. Sullivan clearly doesn’t want the profundity of his religious beliefs treated in, say, the same way we treat the central theme of Animal Farm (or the ecstatic relief of pissing after holding it for two hours). Unless he will agree the Bible is wholly fictional, there are at least some literal beliefs mixed in with his metaphorical ones, but he won’t explain how to tell which is which. So, rather than trying to play along with the nonsensical, highly subjective and possibly nonexistent logic behind this sort of special pleading, one can make the personal decision to take all claims literally by default.

    …….
    *The literary metaphor connection is made by way of quoting a reader. He also places things like “a profound musical epiphany” and “unexpected joy” in this “true but not real” category. This only serves to further obfuscate his point, though, since I would argue he’s making a category error.

  55. says

    I have no books that God has written, though I have one it’s purported to have written (but is obviously written by a number of human beings).

    That will no longer be true on the first of November, on which day God will finally publish his memoir, The Last Testament (well, mostly not true–yes, he used a ghostwriter like a typical tyrant/pol).

  56. says

    Ah but it’s been using a ghostwriter or several all along, which is precisely why I say I have no books God has written. And if this new memoir purports to be by a male…well that’s just another reason for skepticism. Too convenient by half.

  57. Jason Dick says

    @Ophelia, from the new memoir:

    And they heard me walking in the garden in the cool of the day; and they hid themselves from my presence behind a grove; which, a lot of good that’s going to do;

    And I called, “Adam and Steve, where art thou?”

    And Adam said, “Father, there is something we need to tell thee: we are gay.”

    And I said, “Whhhuuuhhhhh?!?”

    I’m very tempted to buy this one :)

  58. Sarah says

    The tone argument? From Butterflies and Wheels? Well I never. Hypocrisy from those who dish it out but can’t take it? Well I never. Failure to evidence things while demanding others do so? Well I never.

  59. Sarah says

    Really? Afraid that your hypocrisy will be too much for people to handle so deleting my posts? Childish.

  60. Sarah says

    p.s. since only you will see this, lets be frank – you don’t have the evidence for your opinion, you’ve come up with it through your ‘life experience’ even though you know full well about confirmation bias and all the other things that make a single persons perception untrustworthy – you’re not willing to look for evidence because evidence would be hard to come by and likely would not support your position, so you’re trying your very best to avoid the question.

    This won’t make an impact now, but just maybe, one day, you’ll wonder; Why am I so confident of things that confirm my biases? Why do I expect others to evidence their opinions but exempt myself from such strictures? Am I the rationalist I believe myself to be?

  61. says

    Sarah – I deleted your comment because it was nothing but a handful of taunts, with no content whatsoever. It came in 5 days after the last comment, it contributed nothing, it ignored all the substantive replies to you, it was just a childish sneer. You have to do better than that if you want to comment. Given the contemptuously empty nature of the comment, I figured it was pointless to bother telling you that. I’ll restore it now though.

  62. Sarah says

    I have a job Ophelia, and as indicated by my last comment I did not expect any of my comments to get through after you put me in moderation.

    Thanks for restoring the comments, that’s more than most people would have done. Admirable behavior.
    And I’ve been deleted by all sorts, from cranks to racists to religiots to alt med fanatics, yet I’ve never been restored until now.

    I don’t have time now, but might return to reply. I’m not sure I will though, I doubt A. Noyd will return to read my reply – and you still haven’t answered the question “But what’s your evidence” so there’s nothing more for me to say except “But still, where’s your evidence, p.s. even if you are so pedantic that you cannot identify the question if it is not laid out literally for you, you’ve identified it now, so why are you still avoiding answering the question?”

  63. says

    Sarah – yes I did answer the question, in #69. You, on the other hand, have ignored both my reply and that of A Noyd; you returned 5 days after the last post to drop a sneer. You have a nerve accusing me of not answering the question.

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