Matt’s comprehensive new takedown of Pascal’s Wager


Matt has been Patreoning a new series of videos in which he plans to take on arguments for belief in as detailed and complete a manner as possible, and the first of these is now available. It’s a full-on brilliant demolition of Pascal’s Wager, which he has addressed many times on AXP itself, but never to this degree of fine-tooth analysis and rebuttal. In particular, he distinguishes between modern colloquial versions of the Wager Christians today commonly use, and Pascals’ original wording. Definitely worth the 27 minutes. Enjoy.

Comments

  1. Narf says

    Yeah, there’s that little bit, in the formulation, “If the likelihood is 50/50 …”

    Strangely, the theists never mention that part. Pascal was this brilliant guy, and if he thought that the the slightest chance of infinite punishment being a real thing meant that you should believe …
    Even Pascal wasn’t as dishonest as these people.

  2. Bob Toovey says

    That was 27 minutes well spent. Thank you for a great in depth examination, I shall do my best to remember the salient points in case this argument ever comes up!

    I’m looking forward to the next one!!

  3. corwyn says

    I think you should take some Pascal’s wager callers and just direct them to that video. It would be nice to find out from a proponent where the video isn’t persuasive enough (personally I think it is great, but I am already convinced).

    I really like the artistic aspects. Nice locations, varying outlooks, etc. help give a professional appearance.

  4. says

    There’s a level of irony to the usage of Pascal’s Wager. They think it’s a slam dunk, but from our perspective, it’s what we toss to the baby counter-apologists to practice on. After awhile, it’s not so much a question of whether Pascal’s Wager can be debunked, but in how many ways, and how artistically.

    It’s standing on a basketball court, blindfolding one’s self, and seeing how many 3-pointers one can score… just because.

  5. Ed says

    The biggest problem for Pascal`s Wager is that there is more than one religion threatening eternal punishment and promising eternal reward.

    The issue of who is a proper Chrisian is still a complication, but less now than in Pascal`s day. Back then, most Christian sects considered members of rival ones damned. So he should have worried about whether or not the damnation threats coming from other Christians were credible.

    Today, there are a large number of Christians who think that other kinds of Christians can be saved. So the modernized Pascal`s Wager assumes a generic Christianity that embraces all who accept historical Christian beliefs, especially the need to worship Christ because his death brings salvation to believers.

    So now, let’s say the modern wager-maker has established that most traditional forms of Christianity are good enough, even though some are better than others. But then, the matter of Islam comes up. It, too, has similar ideas about punishment and reward. So which threat is more credible? And if you decide that Islam is true, there are several forms of Islam considering themselves the only true version.

    Then, let`s think about the religion that is mainly responsible for the idea of eternal hell–Zoroastrianism. Hardly anyone follows it now, but it’s much older and influenced all the subsequent Middle Eastern religions about a god of perfect goodness and his evil enemy.

    So the decision is kind of overwhelming.

    Atheism- Too risky (their opinion, not mine)
    Judaism – Too much uncertainty about the afterlife.
    Karmic religions(Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.)– Not scary enough. Punishment is terrible, but isn’t eternal.
    Christianity – Good bet, but you might be punished for picking the wrong kind.
    Islam- Also a good bet, but you will DEFINATELY be punished for picking the wrong kind.
    Zoroastrianism – Could be a good bet, but hard to find since the rise of Islam, also has multiple sects and modern practitioners don’t keep all the ancient laws like disposing of the dead in the Tower of Silence (actually a noisy and messy vulture feeding facility). Maybe no one has gone to heaven since ancient Persia.

  6. Monocle Smile says

    I would have appreciated citations of Voltaire and Diderot, but both of their arguments were indeed explained in some form, so I can’t object too much.

    This take-down should also highlight why debates are often frustrating for atheists. It took Matt half an hour to dismantle a two-second piece of crap argument. This is why the Gish Gallop works in the eyes of people who don’t know any better.

  7. favog says

    I, too, am already looking forward to the next one. I also hope it will address the Argument from Design, aka The Teleological Argument , aka “Look At The Trees!”. Between the wager and that one being dealt with, 95% (minimum) of Christians only have Personal Experience to fall back on.

  8. Narf says

    @5 – Ed

    The issue of who is a proper Chrisian is still a complication, but less now than in Pascal`s day. Back then, most Christian sects considered members of rival ones damned. So he should have worried about whether or not the damnation threats coming from other Christians were credible.
    Today, there are a large number of Christians who think that other kinds of Christians can be saved. So the modernized Pascal`s Wager assumes a generic Christianity that embraces all who accept historical Christian beliefs, especially the need to worship Christ because his death brings salvation to believers.

    Err, wait. I’ll agree with you about most Mainline Protestants, but that isn’t the case with most of the people who would bring us a half-assed version of Pascal’s Wager, I don’t think.

    Take idiots like Ray Comfort, Eric Hovind, WLC …
    When speaking directly to us, they’ll go on and on about how you simply need to be saved, and you should put on your parachute (in the favorite stupid metaphor of that first guy). But in their presentations to the sheep and in their apologetics books (which they’ll sometimes claim are directed to us but really aren’t), they’ll go on and on about how many false converts there are and how the vast majority of professing Christians aren’t really saved.

    For apologists who follow people like them, I think we have a lot more who would consider non-fundamentalist, non-Pentecostal, non-bigoted Christians to be damned, as well.

    I get a slightly different picture of Pascal’s religious worldview, too. Wasn’t the Catholic church still pretty dominant in the early 1600’s? I can’t imagine that most of the people in the pews had much of an idea of what was going on. Plus, the world in general was a much more myopic place. Most people didn’t exactly get around very much.
    Do we have any historian types around who can straighten me out, if I’m horribly off?

  9. ChaosS says

    Enjoyed the video very much, thanks Matt et. al.

    @Narf

    Short answer: Cracks were starting to show.

    Long answer: Pascal and many of his contemporaries (Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, René Descartes, Pierre Fermat, Robert Boyle, Christiaan Huygens, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Robert Hooke, Isaac Newton, and Gottfried Leibniz) are often regarded as the driving force of the Scientific Revolution that marks the border between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. So yes, The Popes were pretty much still the top dogs in Europe, but they were facing the first challenges to their authority. For most of Pascal’s life, the Pope was Urban VIII, the same who had that little dustup with Galileo. Urban VIII was succeeded by Innocent X who in 1653 declared Pascal’s sect of Jansenism to be heresy, two years later, Innocent X was succeeded by Alexander VII who upheld this decree. Many of Pascal’s writings were to fellow Jansenists exhorting them to stand up to the Pope.

  10. Narf says

    @ #9 – ChaosS

    Certainly cracks, yes. I don’t buy Ed’s statement that today’s Christians are more ecumenical than those of Pascal’s time, though.

    Some of his points are dead on. If anything, his one statement …

    Today, there are a large number of Christians who think that other kinds of Christians can be saved.

    … doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion. Many of the Christians I know basically say that good people go to heaven. Their official church doctrine decrees that anyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus Christ as his/her personal savior is going to hell, but they disregard that, because they realize how immoral it is.

    I don’t think we’re going to hear Pascal’s Wager from those sorts of people, since they think we’re already going to end up in heaven, if we’re good people.

    So, I was sort of close in what I meant about Pascal’s times, then? He was sort of near the edge, before European Christianity tipped over and smashed all over the floor?

    Does that jive with what you were trying to say, in any way, Ed? If you polled all self-identifying Christians, today, you might get a bit more global feelings, but not from the ones from which we’re going to hear Pascal’s Wager?

  11. Narf says

    … so I’m mostly being picky over context and viewing his statements from the perspective of those amateur apologists who are going to ask us if we’ve ever pondered whether or not we’re wrong.

  12. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Narf #8:

    I get a slightly different picture of Pascal’s religious worldview, too. Wasn’t the Catholic church still pretty dominant in the early 1600′s? I can’t imagine that most of the people in the pews had much of an idea of what was going on. Plus, the world in general was a much more myopic place. Most people didn’t exactly get around very much.

     
    Article: Blaise Pascal, Religious Conversion

    [For several months in 1646, his dad’s broken hip was treated by doctors who] were followers of Jean Guillebert, proponent of a splinter group from Catholic teaching known as Jansenism. […] His father died in 1651 and left his inheritance to Pascal and Jacqueline, for whom Pascal acted as her conservator. Jacqueline announced that she would soon become a postulant in the Jansenist convent of Port-Royal. […] In early June 1653, after what must have seemed like endless badgering from Jacqueline, Pascal formally signed over the whole of his sister’s inheritance to Port-Royal, which, to him, “had begun to smell like a cult.”

    Jansenism was a France-based camp of pedantic theological in-fighting among Catholics (opposing Jesuits), started in 1643. *Groan* What else was goin’ on…
     
    Article: Wikipedia – 17th-century philosophy

    the start of modern philosophy, and a departure from the medieval approach, especially Scholasticism.
     
    Early 17th-century philosophy is often called the Age of Reason or Age of Rationalism and is considered to succeed the Renaissance philosophy era and precede the Age of Enlightenment.

     
    Article: Wikipedia – Christianity in the 17th century

    In 1685 gallicanist King Louis XIV of France issued the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, ending a century of religious toleration [of protestants in Catholic France. The tolerance edict had been enacted in 1598, declaring an ambivalent end to the “French Wars of Religion”].
     
    France forced Catholic theologians to support conciliarism and deny Papal infallibility. The king threatened Pope Innocent XI with a Catholic Ecumenical Council and a military take-over of the Papal state. The absolute French state used gallicanism to gain control of virtually all major Church appointments as well as many of the Church’s properties.

    Pascal’s life spanned 1623-1662.
     
    Aside: Lots of other contemporary world events in that link; like this one from the timeline at the bottom (initially hidden).
    “1650 James Ussher, calculates date of creation as October 23, 4004 BC.”

  13. Narf says

    Yup, I read that Wikipedia article after commenting that stuff, actually. I wasn’t able to get much of a feel for what the religious landscape was like back then or how much they had an idea of there being many contradictory religious perspectives, the practitioners of which all considered the others to be heretics destined for hellfire.

    Comparing it to my own childhood, being raised Catholic … hell, I wasn’t even really aware of the existence of fundamentalists, until probably my early teens. I rejected Christianity based solely upon the Catholicism (or Episcopalianism/Lutheranism/Presbyterianism, which may as well be Catholicism without the Pope) vs. nothing dichotomy. Christianity lost in even that match-up which the fundies think is such a slam dunk.

  14. se habla espol says

    It was about 60 years ago that I encountered an informal version of Pascal’s Wager: given the unbelievability of the christianities, why not just fake it, lying to myself and anyone else whenever to question came up? It took me seconds to deal with it.
    My innate, human morality had already taught me not to lie to myself or to others, and had demonstrated its enforcement mechanism: if I lied, I would feel guilty until I set things right. After my death, of course, setting things right would not be an option.
    I had read the KJV cover-to-cover twice by then: it was unbelievable the first time, and didn’t get any better the second time. I had attended up to four church things a week for several years, at the various churches available to me, and was put off by the doctrinal discrepancies and mutual hatred among them.
    Thus, PW proposed, to me, to live this life in miserable guilt, knowing I was living a lie, in order to possibly reap the heavenly reward. If there were an afterlife, with a xian god judging lives, then either having lived a lie would be unacceptable to this god, and I would go to misery in hell anyway, or it would be acceptable, and I would spend eternity in heaven knowing that I was there under false pretenses, being miserable in my guilt.
    The only way for me to win Pascal’s Wager is not to play. I decided to play my own game: I would live the most moral life I could (given the uncertainty of my understanding of morality) and hope for the best. Thus ended my flirtation with the christianities. I conjecture that anyone whose morality had not already been destroyed by religion would have come to the same conclusion.

  15. Narf says

    My innate, human morality had already taught me not to lie to myself or to others, and had demonstrated its enforcement mechanism: if I lied, I would feel guilty until I set things right.

    For that matter, isn’t there something in their primary rules against lying? Something like … I dunno, isn’t it something like 10 or 12 rules you’re supposed to follow, and one of them tells you you’re not supposed to lie? And they’re now proposing that you should lie to God?

  16. ChaosS says

    @Narf

    To be honest, I really have no idea. I was raised agnostic until the 5th grade when my mom started going back to the Roman Catholic Church and from there it’s all a failed conversion story. At this point in my life, she’s the only theist I know well enough to ask these sorts of questions and her answers are just off the wall. When I asked her about the fate of people who have chosen the wrong religion she replied “I like to think that each person gets what they are expecting, Heaven, Nirvana, or Valhalla – since you’re an atheist you get nothing (love you mom)” I told her that the Pope would call that heresy and she shrugs it off. It seems to me that even though we faithless ones are the ones accused of “just doing whatever feels good” all the time, it’s really the theists who do this with the additional step of pretending god endorses whatever their feelings tell them.

  17. Narf says

    @ChaosS
    Whoopsie. Someone wasn’t following the advice of the Jesuits, and look what happened! 😀 5th grade is a little too late to begin a brainwashing regimen.

    Where the heck did your mother get that theology from, Terry Pratchett? She knows that Diskworld isn’t real, right? 😕 My own mother’s theology probably isn’t any more coherent, and she identifies as a Catholic, herself. It seems to be a thing. At least she isn’t giving money to Kiddie Diddlers Inc., anymore.

  18. says

    @ChaosS
    I’ve heard the ‘people get what they expect the get’ line from a few poeple. It always struck me as a massive cop-out.

    My favourite was a guy who told me that atheists wouldn’t get into heaven because god wouldn’t force them into anything they didn’t want. Right….so, hell it is then…?

  19. Ed says

    Narf–
    I admit that I was kind of giving modern Christians a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time I think there is a large and growing number of conservative Christians who see salvation as open to people outside their own group.

    The Catholic Church since Vatican II has strongly rejected the idea that non-Catholic Christians can’t be saved, which was becoming increasingly unpopular anyway. Evangelical leaders like Billy Graham and even, recently, the utter wingnut Bob Larson have had friendly relations with Catholic leaders.

    In the fundamentalist propaganda novels Left Behind, there were good Catholics, though not many (I skimmed a couple of those books out of morbid curiousity). Charismatic and Pentecostal types often work together across Catholic/Protestant lines,as well, and most of them are theologically conservative.

    Of course a fair number of bigots have a problem with these things, and it’s possible that some of the acceptance between different kinds of Christians is insincere. And you’re right that the more liberal churches are uncomfortable with the idea of damnation all together, except for maybe blatantly evil people.

    To my disappointment, I’ve heard Pascal`s Wager respectfully cited as a good or at least acceptable argument by otherwise sophisticated people.

  20. deesse23 says

    @8 Narf

    Catholizism was dominant still, but losing ground rapidly. It was seriously contested. Lets have s short look at the center of Europe, Germany (holy roman empire) in particular. 1618-48 the so called “thirty years war” was fought on german soil.
    It was mainly a contest between the habsburg catholic german empire/emperor and various protestant forces, namely the kingdom of Sweden, free german cities and and nobles/dukes (and catholic France of course 🙂 ). In the end it was a kind of draw. The HRE wasnt beaten but the protestants stood their ground either. HRE had to officially accept other cristian denomiations within its borders (namely protestants and reformed), and the according cities and dutchies were de facto independent. I would compare it in its effects on the central power to the Magna Charta. Central power still in place but seriously weakened.

    One last comment from me: If any xtian is going to pull the “Hitler…atheist card” again, you can tell him/her, that today this war is still the most devastating war to some areas of germany INCLUDING WWII. In some (most contested) areas up to 3/4 of the total population was wiped out, overall 20-40% of the toal population of the HRE was gone!
    After 1650, 10-13mio people were alive in HRE, before 1618 it was 17-20mio.That amounts to (roughly, exact numbers werent availiable at that time) a loss of several (<10) million people!!!! It took until 1800 (almost 2 centuries!) until population in germany reached 20mio again. Additional to that, Sweden lost about 75% of its military power, despite of some remarkable successes. For a country with such a small base population like Sweden that was devastating as well. Yep, religion is a force for good!

  21. Ed says

    In my previous post I should have said that the more liberal or moderate Christian individuals as well as churches downplay the idea of damnation and certainly don’t think that all non-Christians deserve it. The difference being that not all Christians with more sensible views are members of progressive groups. There may be social pressure, for example, to go to the church their family goes to.

    An aspect of Pascal`s Wager that I find repulsive, but just realized that I failed to condemn, is that it appeals to fear and submission to bullies as a legitimate means of discourse. Whoever makes the worst threat wins. The nastiest worldviews have the best chance of being chosen “just to be safe” as long as they offer a way out for those who surrender.

    It’s a kind of meme warfare that bypasses rational thought or even personal spiritual intuitions. Ignore all your high minded ideas and benevolent feelings; I’ve got the best scare story! Bow to me(or my God, or both)!!!

  22. ChaosS says

    @Simon

    Have you heard the one that goes “Hell is just the absence of God”?

    Don’t ask them how that’s different from right here right now unless you want to hear how much they “feel God’s love in their tummys.”

  23. Narf says

    @19 – Ed

    I admit that I was kind of giving modern Christians a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time I think there is a large and growing number of conservative Christians who see salvation as open to people outside their own group.

    You mean that they think moderate protestants and Catholics might be saved, too? Something like that? I’m sure that we Satanic atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans … we’re all more or less fucked, right?

    Or did you just mean that the Pentecostals and more extreme Southern Baptists have come to terms with each other? I can see how they would do that a bit more. I’ve heard from several people who have this weird delusion that Christianity is gaining in power, converting the atheists in huge numbers. A lot of the people in more organizational roles, within conservative Christianity, seem to be getting the idea that they’re finally starting to lose momentum rather badly, though. They might be looking a little more towards strategic alliances.

    In the fundamentalist propaganda novels Left Behind, there were good Catholics, though not many (I skimmed a couple of those books out of morbid curiousity).

    A more palatable way to read them is through Fred Clark’s, blog. He’s a liberal Christian who read them and ripped them apart, chapter by chapter. Last I heard, he’s still going.

    Left Behind Index I: Posts 1-50
    Left Behind Index II: Posts 51-100
    Left Behind Index III: Posts 101-150
    Left Behind Index IV: Posts 151-200
    Left Behind Index V: Posts 201-250
    Left Behind Index VI: Posts 251-300

    Very entertaining stuff.

    Of course a fair number of bigots have a problem with these things, and it’s possible that some of the acceptance between different kinds of Christians is insincere.

    That’s the impression that I’ve gotten from a lot of them, too. The Pentecostals still think that everyone else is going to hell, because they don’t speak in tongues. I’m sure the other crazy-conservative denominations have similar reasons to think that everyone else is going to hell, too. They’re just willing to work together, for now, against the increasing Satanic menace.

    To my disappointment, I’ve heard Pascal`s Wager respectfully cited as a good or at least acceptable argument by otherwise sophisticated people.

    Heh, ugh. I mean, I can almost understand people who get stuck up on the cosmological argument. The whole thing is a big bundle of a half-dozen arguments from ignorance, but I can sort of see how it would be convincing to the hopelessly indoctrinated. Indoctrination will help Spackle over massive gaps like that, in the minds of the believers.

  24. Narf says

    @20 – deesse23
    Huh. I remember the bit in history about the ex-HRE being divvied up between Catholicism and Protestantism, with each micro-prince deciding which his little fief was going to be. I thought that was at least a century after the time of Pascal. Good to know. Thanks.

  25. Narf says

    @21 – Ed

    An aspect of Pascal`s Wager that I find repulsive, but just realized that I failed to condemn, is that it appeals to fear and submission to bullies as a legitimate means of discourse. Whoever makes the worst threat wins. The nastiest worldviews have the best chance of being chosen “just to be safe” as long as they offer a way out for those who surrender.

    I like that additional stress on the immorality of the proposition. I often hear a more emotionally-neutral statement, that we would have to figure out whether to judge the different religions based up whether they have the best heaven or the worst hell. I’m not sure I’ve ever really heard them hit that strongly upon the immorality of the whole proposition, though. I like it.

  26. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Narf #23
    A lot of the people in more organizational roles, within conservative Christianity, seem to be getting the idea that they’re finally starting to lose momentum rather badly, though.
    .
    I have often when looking at where Ken Hamm and Ray Comfort are coming from, leaving their own country to come to this one where there ideas have more of a market, thought that this is the main reason that preachers come to the USA. They have a market full of suckers, people willing to buy their snake oil. Worldwide the conservative Xtianity is loosing ground and all they may have to keep themselves motivated is to delude themselves into thinking that it is going the other way. I have heard many a program in which anti-evolutionists make claims that there is some big discrepancy in the academic science community, which we all know is bullshit given the amount of support that evolution actually has academically. I wonder if telling themselves the lie is the only thing that keeps them going. AronRa said something about an intelligent academician who when Ra spoke to him would clearly repeat the same mantra in his head over and over again as if to block out information that would contradict his dogma. It is metaphorically the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and going “la la la I can’t hear you” (which Ra has mentioned as well).
    .
    Perhaps that is what “ several people who have this weird delusion that Christianity is gaining in power, converting the atheists in huge numbers ” actually is about. They are telling themselves a lie to keep their cheerful delusion going and motivate them. Of course there is a lot of the Book of Chronicles (sizes of armies being larger than the number of people who even lived in that area at the time and such) that does the same thing and more than one archaeologist has demonstrated that the Jew were never in Egypt as stated in Exodus, but THAT lie kept them going didn’t it? At least you can’t blame them for failing to be consistent.
    .
    I think that is basically my argument to subzerobob on the other board, if telling yourself the cheerful lie helps to motivate you then so be it, but it does nto motivate us, it does the opposite.

  27. Narf says

    I have often when looking at where Ken Hamm and Ray Comfort are coming from, leaving their own country to come to this one where there ideas have more of a market, thought that this is the main reason that preachers come to the USA. They have a market full of suckers, people willing to buy their snake oil.

    Sadly, there’s still an amazingly large sucker-market. Go into any drugstore and take a look around at all of the homeopathic “medicine” on the shelves.

    I have heard many a program in which anti-evolutionists make claims that there is some big discrepancy in the academic science community, which we all know is bullshit given the amount of support that evolution actually has academically. I wonder if telling themselves the lie is the only thing that keeps them going.

    I always wonder about this sort of thing. Do the creationist preachers think they know something? Do they hear about things like the introduction of Punctuated Equilibrium and think that it’s something wholly unrelated to Darwinian Natural Selection, leading to the smug bullshit about Evolution being a ‘theory in crisis’?

    I guess you just have to sort through them, one at a time, to try to figure out who is actually that stupid and who is just a con artist. Kent Hovind screamed con artist, even before his fraud conviction that he’s still serving …
    WLC always struck me as a highly-educated, very stupid person …
    I attribute a greater amount of deceit to Lee Strobel …

    Perhaps that is what “several people who have this weird delusion that Christianity is gaining in power, converting the atheists in huge numbers” actually is about. They are telling themselves a lie to keep their cheerful delusion going and motivate them.

    It’s quite possible that the ones I spoke to believed it. They were more in the sheep category. I’m sure their pastor told it to them, and they swallowed it without looking for confirmation, because … well, I don’t really need to explain why.

    Of course there is a lot of the Book of Chronicles (sizes of armies being larger than the number of people who even lived in that area at the time and such) that does the same thing and more than one archaeologist has demonstrated that the Jew were never in Egypt as stated in Exodus, but THAT lie kept them going didn’t it?

    Have you read much Israel Finkelstein? I’m just about through The Bible Unearthed.

    Essentially, his model of the timeline of textual composition has the earliest bits being written in the late 7th century BCE, with Chronicles being written even later than that. The writers of the time more or less wrote the events of several centuries earlier as if they had taken place within what was the writers’ present-day political and cultural reality.

  28. unfogged says

    Do they hear about things like the introduction of Punctuated Equilibrium and think that it’s something wholly unrelated to Darwinian Natural Selection, leading to the smug bullshit about Evolution being a ‘theory in crisis’?

    I saw one debate that was 2 on 2 and one of the theists was a YEC who denied all claims for evolution and the other was an OEC with a scientific background who accepted evolution but ONLY in the case of punctuated equilibrium and denied any cases of gradual change. The cognitive dissonance as they both tried to argue for belief despite disagreeing on almost every point was mind-boggling.

    https://instance.clickstreamtv.net/cst/21877928
    Debate #3 – Human Anatomy – Designed By God Or Evolution?
    (not really worth viewing unless you have a strong masochism streak)

  29. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @deesse23
    Also, Hitler was a Christian, as was the Nazi socialist party. A very weird kind of Christian. At least a kind of theist with beliefs about divine providence.

    Now, if they want to invoke Stalin or Mao, etc., then that doesn’t hold. At least in those cases there’s an actual conversation to be had. But atheist Hitler? Uggh.

    @Narf

    Kent Hovind screamed con artist, even before his fraud conviction that he’s still serving

    Maybe. Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. It seems to me that Kent Hovind is a paranoid nut who believes in every conspiracy theory under the sun. He’s also a sovereign citizen nut. I don’t think he’s a simple knowing fraudster. I think he’s just batshit insane.

  30. Narf says

    @28 – unfogged

    I saw one debate that was 2 on 2 and one of the theists was a YEC who denied all claims for evolution and the other was an OEC with a scientific background who accepted evolution but ONLY in the case of punctuated equilibrium and denied any cases of gradual change. The cognitive dissonance as they both tried to argue for belief despite disagreeing on almost every point was mind-boggling.

    Heh, wow, that’s impressive, in a way. That sounds sort of like the way that creationists latch onto the Cambrian Explosion, without understanding what the Cambrian Explosion actually is.

    Look guys, when you reject 98% of the findings about the state of the fossil record, you can’t suddenly proclaim that this one little bit of it is absolutely true, and you support that idea, if you want anyone to take you seriously. And if you’re going to propose that the earth is 6,000 years old, you don’t get to call tens of millions of years ‘overnight’.

  31. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Enlightenent Liberal #30
    Now, if they want to invoke Stalin or Mao, etc., then that doesn’t hold. At least in those cases there’s an actual conversation to be had. But atheist Hitler?
    .
    The point that I made to subzerobob on the other board is that Mao and Stalin’s atheism had very little to do with their agenda. It was just a tool of oppression which was the real agenda. As I said to him, he’s feel just as awful being oppressed by a religious leader as a non religious one. That is the real issue, oppression, and one can use religion as a tool of oppression just as effectively, if not more effectively. There are PLENTY of examples of religion (more than just Xtianity) being used throughout history as a tool of oppression and if apologists don’t acknowledge that then they really are fools.

  32. Narf says

    @30 – EL

    Maybe. Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. It seems to me that Kent Hovind is a paranoid nut who believes in every conspiracy theory under the sun. He’s also a sovereign citizen nut. I don’t think he’s a simple knowing fraudster. I think he’s just batshit insane.

    I dunno. I can’t listen to his presentations for more than 2 or 3 minutes without feeling the need to check my pockets for my wallet. If there has ever been a real-world representation of every stereotype of the fast-talking, con-artist salesman, it’s him.

    He might be a nut, but I think he’s also a fraudster. It’s just a question of at what depth he switches over from conning his audience to conning himself.

  33. says

    As a believer, I say, leave the atheist alone. Their mind is made up. Not only that, their spokesman: a Matt, He, I’m sure is are was not as brilliant as Pascal, even thou we care about them, they have reached that edge were it’s hard from them to come back from. No amount of Evidence, No amount of Prophecy about a coming Messiah i.e. the Savior would they ever look at with an open mind. So, as I come to a end for now, I would ask them a question. Why Christianity, what about that faith that they become so angry with? There are millions of gods in the Hindu religion alone that they could spend a life time in trying to tare it apart. But they are our cross to bare. We will care about them anyway. We will try to reach them even thought they have made up their decision.

  34. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Narf # 27
    Have you read much Israel Finkelstein? I’m just about through The Bible Unearthed.
    .
    I haven’t but if you send me a link via amazon like you did with Shermer’s book I will definitely be interested, wonder if it is available in audio (I have audible credits and I got Shermer’s book that way).
    .
    Oh and it was Shermer’s book that I was thinking about on the other board, thank you. Finelstein’s book sound right up my alley too.

  35. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Frank G. Turner #36:

    @Narf #27:

    Have you read much Israel Finkelstein? I’m just about through The Bible Unearthed.

    I haven’t but if you send me a link…

    List: Amazon – Books by Israel Finklestein
     
     
    He also did a four-part documentary series with the same title, available on YouTube.
     
    Playlist: The Bible Unearthed (1-hr episodes)
     
    * Ignore the single-episode version from the History Channel.

  36. Narf says

    There you go. Thanks, Sky Captain.
    I have The Bible Unearthed, The Quest for the Historical Israel, and David and Solomon. I’ll probably also pick up The Forgotten Kingdom, at some point. The rest of the stuff, further down the list, seems to mostly be college text books or something on a similar level.

    And I have an even better suggestion than Sky Captain’s. Just avoid the History Channel. 😀 It’s gone completely to pot.
    The full version is more than twice as long as their version. They must have ripped the living hell out of it.

  37. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Jared Bourne # 36
    As a believer, I say, leave the atheist alone. Their mind is made up.
    Project much? Have you even been listening? You don’t just conclude or not clude that something is true or false. You can speculate upon it and say “I don’t know” and take a default position one way or the other. There are religious people who do that, acknowledge that they lack physical proof but in the absence of proof choose to believe (agnostic theists). Are you that dense not to pick up on that ? (Probably so).
    .
    No amount of Evidence, No amount of Prophecy about a coming Messiah i.e. the Savior would they ever look at with an open mind.
    .
    Again more projection, we do look at evidence, REAL evidence. Prophecy is fine, as long as it results in real prediction without modification. I have made some predictions myself based on pattern recognition. Sometimes they happen and sometimes they don’t. Am I a Messiah?
    .
    You’ve been taught to accept something as evidence because it leads to a conclusion that you like and provides you with comfort and security, and a false sense of both. If your Messiah came today and told you that you were going about it wrong, would you listen to him or just declare that it is not the correct conclusion because of some “divine” sense of the Holy Spirit? Just because you have been taught to accept something as evidence that is not really evidence does not mean that we do the same and just because that provides you with comfort and security does not mean it will do the same for us.
    .
    Why Christianity,
    .
    Because we are in the USA and the majority of people here follow some form of Xtianity. Plenty of those Xtians even accept evolution and science and see large parts of the Bible as allegorical. Some teachers of the Bible more than happily teach it that way. The majority of extremists here in the USA are Xtian.
    .
    Muslims do call the show in case you have not noticed from areas where the majority of people are some denomination of Islam. There are PLENTY of extremist Muslims and I am sure that there are extremist Hindus as well. Get a large majority of Hindus in this country proclaiming a doctrine and that their doctrine as the only true doctrine and I am sure that you would see PLENTY of objection to that too from these boards.
    .
    We will care about them anyway. We will try to reach them even thought they have made up their decision.
    .
    Many of us feel the same way about you.

  38. Conversion Tube says

    At about the 24 minute mark I was wondering how Matt was going to close all this out nicely refuting the wager.

    Boom, nailed it.

  39. Conversion Tube says

    As a believer, I say, leave the atheist alone.

    Then why are you here commenting?

    Their mind is made up.

    Based on the current evidence, yes but we are willing to change our minds when provided real evidence and maybe even real prophecy. I really don’t know about prophecy though. It would need to be pin point accurate which the prophecies I hear never are.

    Even thou we care about them, they have reached that edge were it’s hard from them to come back from.

    What edge are you referring to? I was never a believer, was always an atheist. Christians sometimes forget that is an option.

    No amount of Evidence, No amount of Prophecy about a coming Messiah i.e. the Savior would they ever look at with an open mind.
    Provide any amount of evidence for me to consider, any amount of real prophecy?
    If you fill a bag full of zeros at no point do you get to one.

    Why Christianity, what about that faith that they become so angry with?

    I’m not angry about something that doesn’t exist. I’m angry people can be fooled so easily by bogus claims from old books that when read out loud are completely laughable if considered true.

    There are millions of gods in the Hindu religion alone that they could spend a life time in trying to tare it apart.

    I have a finite amount of time on earth. Are you saying I must search out to find silly claims people make and refute them? Bring them to me, I usually pretty busy.

    But they are our cross to bare. We will care about them anyway.

    And we care for you and we understand how false beliefs will bring you to the wrong conclusions in life. That’s why Matt does what he does.

    We will try to reach them even thought they have made up their decision.

    No we haven’t made up our decisions. Bring good evidence for god and we’ll change our minds. I still won’t worship mind up, but I’ll believe. I won’t worship because the God of the Bible would be most possibly the worst, person, character thinking agent I’ve ever read about.

  40. Narf says

    @36
    Heh, holy crap, Jared. You have everything so horribly backwards, it’s like I’m reading a George Orwell novel.

    As a believer, I say, leave the atheist alone.

    If you truly mean that in all ways, then I can agree with this statement. The problem is that a lot of people say that, then push for prayer in schools, try to oppose real science education in science classrooms, and otherwise try to corrupt our society into a theocracy. I don’t count that as leaving us alone.

    If you’re opposed to the people who are doing that sort of crap, then fine.

    Their mind is made up …
    No amount of Evidence, No amount of Prophecy about a coming Messiah i.e. the Savior would they ever look at with an open mind …
    We will try to reach them even thought they have made up their decision.

    Uhhhhhhh, no. It’s quite explicit in the default atheist position. We don’t believe in gods, because there isn’t sufficient evidence for them to make the proposition worth taking seriously. Having reasonable standards of evidence is not closed-minded.

    Your reference to prophesy is freaking ridiculous. Have you ever really taken a close look at the lists of supposedly fulfilled prophesies that preachers slap together? They’re pathetic. One of the prophesies that I see showing up frequently is that the messiah will be born of a woman. If that’s what passes for prophesy, then I am not impressed.

    The fulfillment of these prophesies is only recorded in the anonymous collections of stories that were written decades after the supposed events. Even the most fundamentalist apologists will admit that the Gospels are anonymous, although you usually have to press them on that. The names of the apostles weren’t added until about a century later. The people who circulated those stories knew about the Jewish holy texts, and it’s not like it would have been hard for them to add bits to the stories to make them look like the guy in question had fulfilled Jewish prophesies.

    Even at that, they did an amazingly poor job of it. Most of the prophesies fulfilled by Jesus aren’t even Jewish prophesies. The bit about Jesus’s death on the cross, ripped wholesale from Psalm 22, is just a demonstration that the stories were told in such a way as to fulfill those prophesies … and the storytellers didn’t even get that right! Psalm 22 is not a prophesy. It was a freaking poem. King David was not a prophet, even according to the historically-inaccurate stories told about him in the Jewish scriptures.

    Stories about Greek mythology also have many prophesies that were fulfilled in the stories. I imagine that you aren’t particularly impressed when an oracle in a story tells of something that is going to happen later in the story. Why are you any more impressed when it happens in the Christian stories? The problem isn’t that we’re closed-minded; the problem is that you’re far too gullible.

    I don’t like the idea of ceasing to exist, when I die. I’m just not irrational enough to allow my wish for something to make me think that something is actually the case. When we have anything approaching sufficient evidence for our consciousness persisting after our deaths, that’s when I’ll believe it. The crap that religious types hold up as evidence doesn’t get the job done, for anyone with a reasonable method of evaluating evidence.

    Not only that, their spokesman: a Matt, He, I’m sure is are was not as brilliant as Pascal …

    Wait, I thought Dawkins was our spokesman? If you were going to make some ridiculous statement about spokesmen, you could have at least picked someone a bit higher profile than Matt. Matt is still just on the rise. He really needs to freaking finish his book, which might get him a bit more national press coverage.

    You authoritarian types say such silly things about “brilliance” and holding up those sorts of things, as if there was some sort of absolute measure for that. I don’t care how intelligent someone is, otherwise. When he says something silly, it isn’t any less silly because it came from someone who’s good at math. The arguments stand or fall on their own, and Pascal’s Wager — even the more nuanced version that he originally proposed, as opposed to the half-assed version that modern apologists present — goes down in flames.

    I could almost agree with him, if the odds were 50/50, but they’re not even close, even if there was a way to evaluate the probability with that sort of precision. Pascal was doing what many apologists do, sliding down a list of propositions, equivocating all the way. Okay, so if it was a 50/50 chance … and this God thing either exists or it doesn’t … it has to either be true or false … so, 50/50 chance, right?

    If you had brought up Isaac Newton, who is far more well-known than Pascal (I know more about Pascal than most, probably, since I learned the programming language named after him and did further research into its namesake): okay, yes, Newton was a brilliant mathematician and physicist, but he was also into a lot of stuff that put him well behind the times. Alchemy was pretty much discarded by the time that Newton came onto the scene, but he was fascinated with it. Should we embrace alchemy, because Newton thought it was cool?

    Likewise, there are plenty of brilliant minds out there who are into all kinds of insane, conspiracy-theory nonsense.

    So, as I come to a end for now, I would ask them a question. Why Christianity, what about that faith that they become so angry with?

    *sigh*
    Do you think you could have pulled out any more ignorant, repeatedly-answered, smug questions if you tried? We’re not angry at the Bible; we’re not angry with Yahweh; we’re not angry at the baby Jesus. We’re angry at the religious zealots who inflict the real shit upon us.

    If we had Hindus imposing upon our rights and freedom, we would be just as pissed at them. News flash: atheists/skeptics in India are opposing the abuses of Hinduism and Islam in India, just as we’re doing with Christianity, here in America.

  41. says

    #45

    We’re angry at the religious zealots who inflict the real shit upon us.

    Not to mention an amount of frustration of having answered this question 45 bazillion times. It’s not as though the answers to these questions they have are obscure. They just don’t care to know.

  42. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Jared Bourne #36:

    As a believer, I say, leave the atheist alone. Their mind is made up. […] We will try to reach them even thought they have made up their decision.

    Protip: Writing your first post on an atheist blog, addressed to imagined theist readers, trash-talking all atheists who are present and asserting the futility of ever trying to convince them is an ineffective way to ‘reach’ atheists.
     
    You’re not trying at all.

  43. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Jared Bourne (assuming that you are even reading this) # 36
    But they are our cross to bare. We will care about them anyway
    .
    Do you really care about anyone else who disagrees with you on this matter? Aren’t you supposed to “love the sinner and hate the sin”?
    .
    From where I am standing, it seems like you are so insecure about the belief yourself and have such unfounded footing that the fact that people like us even exist is terrifying to you. (Some people on this board know because they once felt the same way as believers). Otherwise, you would be able to let it go which you obviously haven’t.
    .
    Does talking to us make you fear loosing your belief?

  44. says

    I’ve always looked at it like this:

    There are an estimated 30,000 gods purported to have existed as the spiritual heads of cultures at one point or another, in some location or other, in all of human history.

    So the odds of being wrong about 29,999 of them are pretty much the same as being wrong about 30,000 of them. It’s a losing proposition in the greater scheme of things and hence not something you should spend much time worrying about.

  45. Michael Dennis says

    I always find myself hoping that the hosts will force the pinheads calling in to answer the questions. I think you guys are way too nice.

  46. Reason555 says

    Well done Matt,

    very thorough. Love it. :o)

    Pascals Wager: You can only win, believing. If it’s true, you win – if it’s not true you have lost nothing.
    Really? What of the million possibilities should one believe then in? This or that god, or many? Jealous, vindictive gods or forgiving, loving ones? And if they are loving and forgiving, wouldn’t they forgive my honest not-believing?

    And so on.

    By drawing all these possibilities into a mathematical formula, it becomes more and more unlikely to hit the right believe to gain the upper hand in chance. Ultimately it is no safe bet at all to wager on Pascals god version.

    Right on, Matt!

  47. Billbo says

    I was raised as a Christian. The fundamental tenant of my church was that if you believed that Christ was god your sins would be forgiven and you would then go to heaven. Basically nothing else really mattered besides that. As I got older I came to the realization that god was selecting who went to heaven or hell based on whether they could believe (seriously) in something that was not proven to them. As a thinking being I concluded that this is a ridiculous test and one that I was incapable of passing anyway. Also I found it at odds that I was to be both humble, and at the same time propose that somehow the thing I was to believe without proof was the correct belief.

  48. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Billbo # 52

    The fundamental tenant of my church was that if you believed that Christ was god your sins would be forgiven and you would then go to heaven. Basically nothing else really mattered besides that.

    .
    To paraphrase Eric Idle from “Nuns on the Run,” it sounds like your church was basically selling you afterlife insurance. Its a great gig because no one can prove that you don’t need it.
    .
    To paraphrase AronRa (as it is relevant here), the problem with that insurance policy is that people buy it for peace of mind but don’t actually read the policy (e.g.: the Bible).
    .
    If they did they might not like a lot of what the policy / book of fables (the Bible) had to say (beheading innocent people, eating children, etc), maybe they should have read it before making an emotional investment. And for such a strong emotional investment you would think that people actually would read the policy with a critical eye.
    .
    That is the toughest part of Pascal’s wager, you really do have to brainwash yourself into buying it and thinking that it is a great thing because if you actually read it you find it says a LOT of stuff that gets harder and harder to excuse away. Many people do make excuses, heck apologetics is basically a whole field dedicated to making excuses rather than looking at things more critically. In an odd way, there are many ways mentioned in the Bible of how NOT to behave and a strong indication that we have gotten better as a people for our ability to NOT take things at face value and improve our situation. Maybe that was the whole point, it is a book of BAD ideas instead of good ones.
    .
    On the Non-prophets on September 17th (I listened to it a couple of days ago) Russell Glasser said something about how Xtian churches were more than just about praise and worship. People try to pressure you to think a certain way, how to treat gays and women, how to vote, how and what to spend your money on, etc.. Basically it is “towing the party line” (his words) of a social viewpoint. In many ways that suggests that organized religion becomes more about politics than spirituality, more about controlling people through fear and domination than about morality and getting people to treat one another with compassion. It really is not about how to think, but about what to think. Given that people could not read for a long time, they basically had to rely on preachers who could read to tell them what the Bible actually said, and those preachers had a lot more power than they do now so use of bullshit was a much easier way of oppressing people.
    .
    It is strangely Orwellian. People like Stalin may have tried to oppress religion what he may have really been trying to oppress was individuals who were ALSO trying to engage in draconian propaganda like he was. You don’t have to use religion to be oppressive but it can and often is used that way. Many religions had done a pretty good job of suppressing a free and opened society before and in many ways try to continue to do so. (The internet is most certainly not making it easy for them or we would not be having this conversation). One might say that the heads of many religious organizations don’t really have a problem with a society that is not free and opened, as long as the heads of those religious organizations are the ones in control.
    .
    That certainly seems to be the modern anti-evolutionist standpoint. They really have to rely on propaganda and emotional manipulation as more people are getting better educated.