Explaining scientific understanding to a creationist

Got this email:


My biggest question for you guys is…
How do you believe that we (and by we, I mean the entire earth and all of its contents) are here? Of course Christians, like myself, believe in the 7 Days of Creation.
I’m watching your television show (your showdown with Ray Comfort) and I see the fallacies in his argument and the unwillingness to address your valid points. He also did not question you to the extent that I would have liked to if that were me. Somewhere in there, I came up with the question, “How do they think we got here?”
Do you accept the Big Bang/Point of Singularity or do you believe that the universe is ever-existent in itself? If it is the former, I’ve always wanted an atheist view on it. I watched a piece that Steven Hawking endorsed that was something along the lines of “Does God Exist.” He “proved” that God did not create the universe because time did not exist in which God could have created it. However, I cannot/refuse to believe that the amount of force needed to create that explosion could have been self-existent.
It would be awesome if y’all could address this question. I do not have a lot of free time, as I am a college student working 24 hours a week. Therefore, I can’t really turn on the tube and watch the show. Even if I could, I don’t think I have that channel. What I’m wondering is, if you could address it through e-mail or if you could address it on the show and send me a link where I can watch it on the internet.
I believe it will be fascinating to see a new view, as I live in a religiously-dominated area and differing opinions are few and far between.
I appreciate you guys taking the time!
[Name withheld], Freshman at [University withheld]
My reply is below.

The thing about presuppositional apologetics…

I’ve said this about presuppositional apologetics before. But it’s sometimes hard to keep it in mind in the middle of actually talking to a practitioner, like Seth on yesterday’s show. So I’m writing it again just to remind myself.

The thing about presuppositional apologetics is that it’s not convincing to anyone who isn’t already looking for an excuse to continue believing in God. I’ve never in my life heard anyone say “I used to be an atheist, but then I realized that there is no basis for believing things based on logic and evidence, so I decided to believe in God.” That would be an embarrassing and transparent reason to explain a conversion moment. So presuppositionalism is absolutely about shoring up the morale of the troops, not changing anyone’s mind.

When I’m talking to a presup, there’s always a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that I’m doing it wrong in some way, and that the show comments are going to get flooded with criticisms about how we could have handled it better. Then I read the comments and they not only aren’t bothered, but deride the presuppositionalist as in way over his head. Sample from yesterday:

“Tonight’s show’s Theme did seem to be ‘lie to the faces of the hosts about what the hosts are saying'” –Jasper of Maine

“From the perspective of the show, if the whole point is ‘what do you believe and why’ and the person can’t or won’t get to a ‘why’ and refuses to even consider evidence, then (ahem) why are they calling?” –Aaroninmelbourne

“Part of the problem I see with many callers is that they don’t listen to what is actually being said to them.” –Ethan Myerson

“Tracie and Russell got to most of my points. Good job!” –EnlightenmentLiberal

Granted, these are all show fans, with a big bias towards agreeing with us. But we get critical emails all the time telling us when we screwed up, and I never, ever heard anyone refer back to a presup caller and say “Now that guy made a lot of sense.”

This is presuppositionalism boiled down to its essential components: You can’t prove logic using logic. Therefore you can’t justify that logic exists. Therefore if I say “God created logic,” you must either present an alternative “explanation” for logic, or just believe me and accept that God exists. That’s pretty much the whole ball of wax, the rest is window dressing.

But there’s a lot of window dressing involved, because showmanship is also a totally indispensable component of presup. Every presup I’ve ever met has filled his own conversation with a huge amount of smug self-congratulation. Seth had the line about how atheists are stabbing themselves and shooting themselves in the foot and so on. Stephen Feinstein, over the course of his five posts, kept telling everyone over and over again how he was “winning,” and what a crushing victory it was and how stupid I was being. But in the hundreds of comments that followed, either on our blog or his, I never saw one that said “This debate has swayed me to take Stephen’s side.”

I’ll be honest here… having a conversation where the other guy is trash talking and ridiculing you most of the time isn’t very much fun. Conversations with rude, angry people isn’t enjoyable, and rude comes with the territory. That’s why people who talk to presups often feel like they’ve said something wrong, even though presuppositionalism completely fails to make a positive case for God of any kind, any more than it makes the case for Pikachu or the Great Pumpkin or a time traveling Lynnea. Being verbally abused is all they’ve got, and that generally only works on the person you’re abusing, not on the listeners.

Open thread on AETV 837: Russell and Tracie

Today we discussed “spirituality” in healthcare. Issues like hospitals becoming more religiously affiliated, Nursing standards including praying with patients, and Religious Trauma Syndrome’s development toward becoming a recognized issue.

One surprise I had was a blindside where a Deist, Dale, called in to quote-mine something I’d posted as a comment on an unofficial fan page, causally, several months ago, while I was at home watching Russell and Don host TAE. For the record, the OP of the original thread back in April (posted by the page’s creator and main admin, who is not affiliated with TAE) was this:

Caller Dale in Knoxville, TN. Is looking forward to talking to someone about Deism. Wants to talk to Matt, but Matt’s not on. The caller thinks he’s aligned with atheism, but doesn’t realize that it’s still irrational belief.

And here is my full comment, in that same thread, where I was posting as any other viewer, not as a TAE personality in any official TAE capacity. Dale was clearly trying to say, on the air today, that I was equating Deism with Westboro Baptist Church with respect to harm caused to society, and quoted only the final line of this full comment:

Just to note the phones at TAE call into the studio–not out. So, anyone who calls in, has contacted the show to present/defend their position. If he puts forward Deism, it should be shredded for the woo it is. It wouldn’t matter to me if it were 100% harmless, I’d still shred it based on it being unreasonable. It’s indefensible and illustrates an irrational position. And the person should be laid bare for that unreasonable position if they publicly espouse it. It might not be the thing someone sees as the number 1 enemy of society (short of promoting that believing irrational things is fine–which makes the position no more tenable than the theist position in terms of “is it reasonable?”), but it promotes bad reasoning, is irrational, and should not be protected from being called out as such. Luckily there is no economic pie that stops people from lambasting irrational beliefs that are both more harmful and less harmful, at the same time. I can say that everyone who supports their irrational views as “OK” is promoting shite and doing a disservice to society–and blast the Deist and Westboro Baptist together in one fell swoop.

Again, Dale quoted only the last line, totally ignoring everything above it. He badly wished to portray me as promoting that Deism and WBC are equal in all ways. As I got him to give up more info during the call, trying to jar my memory (I post a lot online and didn’t recall this line specifically), it became clear to me that a context was sorely missing. I then began to see how the line fit into my overall philosophy of “anti-woo.”

So, I tried, painfully, to explain to Dale that one might say “Examples of physical violation to another person might include slapping someone, or even raping them,” without attempting to assert that a rape is the equivalent of a slap. I explained I was saying “woo/unreasonable beliefs run a range of social harm, from things like Deism to things like WBC, but they are all examples of irrational thinking.” And if I were hosting on his original call, I would have approached arguments toward theistic groups and Deists from the same “it’s not reasonable” position, not by assessing whether they harm society (which has zero relevance to assessing their truth values). I believe the quote above cements my assumption during the show about my context, repeatedly, and shows Dale was absolutely not acting in good faith with regard to his presentation of my statement.

In the end, what I observe here is this: Dale called TAE back in April to defend Deism. He then found the fan page and the response to his call, all of which was negative (not just my comment). He was able to recognize my name as someone shredding his call, as well, and knew he could use my identity to confront me on TAE, and try and make me look bad by calling and hitting me with a quote from several months back, out of context, that there would be almost no way I could defend on the fly. In essence, he got butt hurt that he was called “unreasonable,” and decided to try and malign me on the air by misrepresenting my position in a situation where I would have no way to confirm the claims against me in the moment I was accused. I only knew on the phone that I know my philosophy on woo, Deism, and WBC, and I knew I absolutely would not assert that Deism and WBC are “the same” in any regard but “both are unreasonable.” My term “shred” simply refers to “how I would dismantle this if I were sitting in the host’s chair during this call.” Remember this thread was while the call was on TAE live. We’re all commenting in terms of armchair quarterbacking “if I were host on this call.”

After seeing my original quote, in context, I do hold to the context and meaning of my original quote, that all woo falls under the same heading of “unreasonable”—and that surely WBC is a much more harmful brand of woo, something I also acknowledged without hesitation, on the air, and also clearly in the April post.

If Dale was not happy with my assessment of his views on TAE back in April, then he won’t be much happier with my assessment of his personal character today: One positive thing I can say about Deists, in general, in addition to “you do not do the social harm that WBC does,” is that Deists are not, as a rule, as dishonest and unable/unwilling to understand a simple context as Dale. The Deists I’ve encountered would not have behaved so dishonorably.

We get email: And they call us censorious bullies?

So this rando pops up and he’s all like “Waaahrgarbl!”

For those of you who cannot read screengrabs, this says "I'm angry and stupid and my mother never gave me any hugs."

For those of you who cannot read screengrabs, this says “I’m angry and stupid and my mother never gave me any hugs.”

I am intrigued by the notion of a self-styled champion of free expression telling us whom we are and are not allowed to associate with.

Perhaps he can enlighten us with more rational discourse.

Dude wrote back and he was all “You’re not the people I thought you were.” Good!

As Jen noted on Facebook: “We are not your gods. We don’t claim to love you, nor do we necessarily want a personal relationship with you. Most importantly, we don’t hate all the same people you do. If you like the show, great! If you don’t, don’t watch it. It really is that simple.”

“Explore God” and you’ll explore existential despair

Hey everyone, Martin here. Nice to see you all again.

HT to my buddy Amy Angela on Facebook for the heads up on this. Nothing quite illustrates the hopelessness and futility that having a deeply religious mindset inculcates quite like the Explore God movement. A recent post on their Facebook page asks the basic question “Do you believe things in our world are getting better or worse, or both?”

Virtually without exception, the Christians are wailing “WORSE!” — despite generally being folks living in conditions of privilege where they have access to technology, employment and modern conveniences — and pleading for the sweet release of heaven, and atheists are pointing to general improvements in quality of life, while acknowledging the real problems that still need addressing. QED, if you have a rational outlook on life rooted in a respect for science and human ingenuity, you will be a lot happier and more optimistic than those soaked in Biblical belief. And yet they’re the ones who don’t think (hello Oprah Winfrey?) we can be positive and experience wonder and awe. Show me the awe in people who see a world of bleakness and despair.

Here’s a reply I gave to a young woman who needed a perspective check. What are the odds she’ll take my reply as encouragement and food for thought, do you think? (I won’t post the screengrab, as I’m always reminded there are people who use readers that can’t read images. I’m a derp.)

Liliana (So-and-So) Worse! Wish the Lord would come tomorrow!

Martin Wagner Liliana, without I hope being offensive, let me give you some perspective, and perhaps a clue as to how your religious beliefs have skewed your answer here. Your profile’s cover picture is a banner for “Breast Cancer Awareness.” Here is what I found from the American Cancer Society on breast cancer survival rates:

“After slowly increasing for many years (0.4% per year from 1975- 1990), breast cancer death rates decreased 2.2% per year between from 1990-2007. The percentage decline was larger among younger women. From 1990-2007, death rates decreased by 3.2% per year among women younger than 50, and by 2.0% per year among women 50 and older. The decline in breast cancer mortality has been attributed to both improvements in breast cancer treatment and early detection.”

So clearly here are facts and figures demonstrating something that is getting better and not worse (except for certain demographic groups who don’t have as good access to health care). Now, it seems to me there are two ways you can approach something like breast cancer awareness. You can support the scientific research that makes survival rates even better. Or you can do what religion has taught you to do, which is throw up your hands, give up, and beg for the lord to come tomorrow. Which is DEMONSTRABLY the better choice?

Don’t believe every Jesus conspiracy you read

Okay, I need to nip this in the bud. We’ve gotten a flood of email in the last 24 hours telling us we should check out this thing.

I’m inclined to conclude that it’s rubbish. Joseph Atwill has been peddling his Jesus conspiracy theories for years. He is not a historian, he doesn’t have any credibility on the subject. I’m not inclined to believe his “discovery” of a “confession” by Romans who invented Jesus, and even if it were verified to be real, I wouldn’t be inclined to assume they were telling truth either.

I’m not a historian myself so I don’t have the ability to thoroughly evaluate this information. But here’s a guy claiming to have a made a new discovery of significant academic importance, yet he won’t just release it to other scholars and the public. Instead, you must buy tickets to attend a lecture at which he will reveal his secret information in a week and a half. Scholarship does not work like that. You don’t reveal new information in a lecture and then let other scholars pore over it. You get it reviewed, verified, and debated first, and after it’s accepted by a significant number of credible reviewers, THEN you reveal it in a lecture. Jumping the gun like this is just pulling the equivalent of the cold fusion fiasco, and in this case it’s clearly a stunt to bring in some money.

Bother us about this stuff again after Atwill has finished his lecture and other mainstream historians have reviewed his work. Until then, don’t be gullible.

Added: Martin would also like you to read this review of Atwill’s work by Robert Price.

Update 2: Richard Carrier weighs in with much more detail; calls Atwill a crank.