Open thread for AETV #908: Russell with guest Ryan Bell


Ryan Bell, new atheist and author of the blog Year Without God, will be my guest today on The Atheist Experience. If you’re in Austin, you can also attend his lecture before the show. It starts at 12:15 PM at the Austin History Center, 810 Guadalupe St. See you there!

Comments

  1. Narf says

    Cool, it’ll be good to hear things from his perspective. The media coverage that I got about this was kind of weird. It made him seem like a theist pulling a stunt, as we all discussed to death, back then, when you blogged about it on here.

  2. Robert, not Bob says

    As a former Adventist who went to one of the same schools and has some mutual acquaintances, I think all this is really cool. I always got the impression that the “heavy investment in separation of church and state” was just rhetoric, but as I sneaked out of the church as a teenager, he should know better than I do.

  3. says

    I think half the problem, when it comes to understanding the atheist’s position, like Bell’s, is that the people asking the questions don’t have the right framing. Their questions are often malformed.

    What argument convinced you that atheism is true? I’m an atheist, and I don’t say that atheism is “true.” I’m an atheist because the arguments for</em. the existence of a god are unconvincing.

    It's not even an assumption that all religions/god-concepts are wrong. It's more like going to psychic reader after psychic reader, and finding each one to be clearly faked… after awhile the concept stops having any credibility, and I stop caring whether the next psychic reader says the same as the previous – “Those ones were fake, but I’m legit!”

  4. Janus Pitt says

    Holy moly, this episode was full of rambling callers.

    That first guy couldn’t keep a straight line of thinking in his head. Why does he believe in god? His answer seemed to be centered around rhetorical questions the imply if he didn’t he’d have to believe in big business and government being run by the church… or something. I think he was some sort of New Age Conspiracy Theist.

  5. Narf says

    … is that the people asking the questions don’t have the right framing. Their questions are often malformed.

    Heh, you don’t say. I hadn’t noticed that, with Jerry. 😀

  6. Narf says

    Paraphrase of one of the earlier parts of the argument with Jerry:

    N: “Okay, can you clearly ask this question that you’re saying we refuse to answer with a yes or no?  Give me a clear, unloaded question, to which I can actually give a yes/no answer, because I haven’t seen one yet.”
    J: “If you’re standing before G-D after you die, and Christianity is true, are you guilty before G-D?  Guilty? (y/n)  Innocent? (y/n)”
    N: “Am I guilty or innocent of what?  You didn’t ask a full question.”
    J: “I know your answer.”
    N: “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

  7. Hippycow says

    The first caller, “Phillip” from Chicago, was the same dumbass troll who called first last week as “Bill” from Chicago and they once again wasted way too much time on him. I know it isn’t easy for the hosts to easily and immediately detect trolls, but I’d think the screeners or at least someone there behind the scenes would have detected it and cut it short, if not nip it in the bud. I can’t believe how much time they spent talking to that annoying moron. That must be really frustrating for other callers waiting on the line to have the minutes drivel* by by with that time-wasting douchebag.

    Alert for next week: the first caller will be “Fred” or some such from Chicago, with the same slow witted voice and brain. Please just screen him out instead of wasting half the show on his stupidity. Even today’s last caller with his presuppositional BS and attempts to paint the hosts into a corner would have been more interesting to pursue than wasting time on Bill/Phillip.

    * Yes, that’s an intentional misspelling of dribble for weak pun effect.

  8. Russell Glasser says

    I’m kind of interested in constructive feedback on the last call with Bernard, the Canadian sounding Christian from London who wanted to hear about “argument for atheism.” The whole problem with that call, as a friend mentioned at the end of the show, was one of shifting the burden of proof. He seemed annoyed that I didn’t use that term explicitly, to which I replied that we had only three minutes and there wasn’t enough time for an in-depth discussion.

    The approach we took with that call was to just agree with the things he said that were correct — i.e., atheism DOESN’T imply absolutely certainty, and an argument can be reasonable without being ultimately conclusive. I think it was fine to do that, but I wonder if the caller and/or audience was left feeling like “Yep, I caught those atheists admitting something they shouldn’t.”

    Knowing that there were three minutes remaining, and with his first question giving a pretty good indication of where it was headed, would you recommend handling it differently? (Also keep in mind that the question was targeted at Ryan, who isn’t on every week, so be kind.)

  9. Hippycow says

    Yeah, I thought you guys handled that last call relatively well given the limited time (not to belabor the point (well okay, just a bit more), but if Troll from Chicago had been nipped in the bud… hint, hint!).

    When someone says “prove atheism is true” they are either deliberately being dishonest,* or they are too stupid to understand any answer you give. I think it is usually the former, but your approach of easing into it by agreeing on the points where there is agreement is good. Later on down the road you can address the dishonesty of the demand, but of course there wasn’t time in this case.

    * I think this is usually a deliberately dishonest phrasing, because unless the person is a complete idiot, it is clear that not believing something is not a Boolean; it is a position on a particular claim and that position is not true or false. If the believer doesn’t believe in The Invisible Pink Unicorn (PBUH), then they can start by “proving atheism (with respect to The Invisible Pink Unicorn (PBUH)) is true” whatever the heck that means. I bet the caller would aver to believing in “The Biblical God” but if we then whip out a Bible and read carefully, we’ll discover that the god described there is not what the caller believes in. The caller will instead believe in an even more vague and poorly defined virtual non-entity.

  10. says

    @9 – I’m willing to cut the person some slack on the definition of “atheism”, given how many people think it’s a religious doctrine that no god exists.

    I don’t think the call was handle badly, per se. It’s one of those cases where the caller was being confusing, where hindsight is 20/20, in terms of what response could be crafted.

    He did come across as though he were fishing for some kind of “gotchya”, but that plane never landed.

  11. Russell Glasser says

    I know you hate to hear this, but even now after you’ve mentioned other callers from Chicago, I cannot connect the voice with a call that I’ve heard before. I believe you that it might be the same guy, but in some cases neither the screener nor I can call to mind every single person who’s called in the last few months. If he was on last week then it was Matt’s episode, and during those episodes I am either not listening or trying to pay attention to chat moderation.

    So, sorry. If the call obviously isn’t a good discussion then I can catch it and hang up quicker, but at the time it seemed like it was a reasonable conversation. If I hang up too soon on theists then we have to sit around talking to more atheists who are usually talking about theists, and I don’t enjoy those calls as much.

  12. toska says

    Russell @8,
    I think the limited time was the biggest problem with the last call (and you did the best thing possible, which was to try to continue it in the aftershow. It’s unfortunate that the caller didn’t stick around). That particular caller was the type who clearly didn’t really understand atheism, and those calls tend to take a few minutes to get on the right track, it seems. I think he wanted Ryan to tell him exactly which argument or bit of research convinced him to stop being a Christian, and that’s a difficult question to answer, since it’s pretty much never just one thing, so Ryan did a decent job, in my opinion. The part where he said he was given the canvas of Christianity to use his whole life and decided to drop it and look at the world more broadly (this is a really rough paraphrasing by me, sorry) made a lot of sense to me.

  13. Hippycow says

    @11 – I’m definitely not trying to blame you, Russell. That’s hard stuff to pick up while you are on the hot seat, especially if it was someone else who spoke to him last week. That’s why I think the screeners and other observers (audience and others there) might be tapped to help on that.

    By the way, I didn’t remember the voice either. It was the repeated and misuse of the word “hermeneutics” and “hermeneutical” that tipped me off. Classic case of someone throwing in some fancy-sounding words that they don’t understand. I was guessing last week that he’d just heard the word recently and was eager to use it ASAP. This week it’s clear that he thinks he’s really impressing folks with his awesome theological vocabulary (and of course, banking on the silly hope that they don’t actually know the words and recognize how stupid it sounds when you use words when you don’t even know what they mean).

    Anyway, that’s enough hermeneutics for now. Have a hermeneutical day!

  14. Niam Krawt says

    Not to derail the discussion but did anyone else think the last caller sounded a lot like Sye Ten, both in his line of questions and his actual voice?

  15. says

    The first caller was the same guy from last week. I’ve never heard anyone outside of actual theologians use the word “hermeneutically” when describing the Bible, and suddenly you get two callers in a row dropping that $500 word? Either it’s the same guy or there’s a new round of talking points making its way through the christsphere and the Apologists are giving it a stress test.

  16. Hippycow says

    @15: Well, Robert, at first I was going to say it was just you, even though that one was certainly a disciple of Sye. Then I went and took another listen and yeah, you may be on to something. Good ol’ Bernard might really have been STB. If so, I guess he would rationalize the dishonesty by saying he doesn’t have to be honest with unbelievers.

  17. Seamus says

    The Chicago caller leaped out as the same person to me, but then I listened to both shows in quick succession.
    I probably wouldn’t have caught it if he hadn’t used a variant of “hermeneutic” in every third sentence.
    He also distinctively pronounced “supposedly” as “supposably”.
    That being said, it was interesting to see his arguments fail with completely different hosts.
    Two times in a row doesn’t bother me, but I have a feeling that this guy is going to keep calling in. maybe that’s fine if there aren’t any other callers or topics to discuss, but the fact that he used two different names shows that he isn’t willing to be up front and honest. I kept expecting him to pull that old trolling trick of starting a shallow conversation only to suddenly interrupt it with some obnoxious screaming into the phone. I guess I can be thankful that he didn’t end his calls that way.

  18. Jimmy J says

    If Harold wasn’t really Sye he does the best Sye impression in the world. Is using a fake name “bearing false witness”? Someone with a Twitter should ask him.

  19. says

    First, Ryan Bell is just great. Thoughtful, well-spoken, even-keeled. I would love to subscribe to a Bell podcast.

    Regarding caller No. 1—I’m just going to call him “Philip Agape”—surely the screeners and hosts recognize him as having called before under different names. I wonder if his Christian beliefs entail any notion of honesty, or if misrepresenting himself (i.e. lying) is part of his deal. My suggestion? Next time he calls, swiftly hermeneuter him.

    The next caller, like so many theists, wants to conflate thoughts with actions. If anyone thinks that, after putting down one’s thoughts of a lifetime on some cosmic dry-erase board, that they will appear squeaky clean, they are either the Virgin Mary (sinless, y’know) or fucking lying. Like some creepy Big Brother, the caller seems enamored of thoughtcrime. I actually liked Josh’s answer that there is no universal morality, but if I could offer my own way of determining moral actions (egads, relativism!) I’d say simply empathy and compassion. Do I want to be raped? No, therefore I feel free in saying it’s immoral to rape someone else. There are glitches here, but it’s not a bad rule of thumb. Golden and Silver rules, basically.

  20. says

    While I have no desire to try to listen to Sye’s voice to try out the hypothesis that the last caller was him, I could see how Sye might be experiencing some butthurt due to the attention Ryan Bell has been receiving as a deconverted pastor of 20 years. I think that’s part of his obsession with Matt Dillahunty, where Matt’s story is that he was studying with intent of confirming his beliefs as a calling to the ministry, but ended up an atheist. I wonder if we’d find Under Cover Agent Sye calling into other shows that promote atheist ex-pastors? Does anybody know if Sye has tried to confront Teresa MacBain or Jerry Dewitt?

  21. says

    One note for Ryan Bell: While I grant that conceivably somebody could one day simply decide to be atheist, most ex-Christians seem to, including myself, more often describe their experience as discovering that they are an atheist. I guess Ryan could have meant it in the sense of deciding to use the label, or to become an out atheist, because he discovered that it fits rather than as a description of how he got there. How did other people take it to mean? Am I reading something that isn’t there? It seemed to me that Ryan was probably an atheist well before he decided to “try atheism”.

  22. says

    Hello TAE Crew and hosts.

    I’ve been toying with this rebuttal to ‘Burden of Proof’ Arguments for a long time now. Although it does very little to stem the tide of other arguments, once I make this point, ‘Burden of Proof’ almost never comes up in the conversation again.

    I leave this here for others to peruse and hopefully adopt as sound reasoning and adequate rebuttal.

    Consider for a moment a Car Salesman has a car he wants to sell to me. But I am happy to walk where I need to go. The car salesman has to convince me that I need to buy the car from him, even though I’m happy with my legs, happy to walk to and from my destinations. If he can’t prove to me that I need to buy his car, that buying his car will make my life any easier, I can simply continue walking like I always have. And I do not incur the costs of owning that car.

    You are the salesman. You want me to buy ‘God’. I don’t want to buy ‘God’ because I have no need for it, and I recognize it will add another boundary to my existence.

    Admittedly, my rebuttal still requires some fine tuning to truly be a compelling rebuttal, but I welcome all involved here to peruse, comment on and perhaps suggest improvements on it.

  23. Hippycow says

    @23 Damien:
    Your analogy is not close enough to the mark, if you ask me.

    A closer analogy would be that you have a car (say a Telsa) and it works fine when you need it, though you are happy walking when that works.

    Now, the sales man is selling what he tells you is the ultimate perfect car. When you ask if you can see it, he says you can’t, but you can trust him that it is the best car ever. Moreover, if you don’t buy it, your car is going to explode and leave you with third degree burns on your entire body. After you buy this car, you have to follow lots of rules the car imposes on you. There are also lots of other similar salesmen selling different ultimate perfect cars, but oddly, nobody has ever seen one. Lots of people make regular payments, but you never see them actually driving one of these cars. And so on.

  24. Robert, not Bob says

    Changerofbits, you’re right, it’s a matter of discovering that’s what you are. It took me 20 years.

  25. bawdygeorge says

    @8 Russell Glasser and everyone who wondered about “Bernard from Ontario”: that was, without question, from the intonation, speech pattern, and combative arrogance, Sye Ten Bruggencate. I initially thought Russell picked this up pretty quickly, based on his facial expression about halfway through the call. Sye can probably come up with some justification for using the name Bernard instead of admitting to being a Liar for the Lord.

  26. Conversion Tube says

    I thought it was Sye too only the voice seemed slightly different.

    Interestingly ( or maybe not) I participate in a few Christian – Atheists facebook debate pages. We have had a guy there named Bernhard. He was a brash theists always straw manning the atheist view. Always claimed we didn’t own the default position blablabla and the rest.

    A few weeks ago he got kicked off the one debate page because of his dishonest antics.

    In the discussion about him being kicked out, someone stated he was a Canadian.

    I wonder if it’s him.

    If he calls back
    Please ask if his last name starts with V

    In one of our debate in the past I suggested he call the show and I even researched the phone number and told him the time of the show and how to view it.

    I’m crossing my fingers he calls back.

    I hope to see maybe a little Street Epistomology work done on him.

  27. Hippycow says

    @ 26 & 27:
    Yeah, on review, it was almost certainly Sye; same voice, same rude attitude and attacking style.

    Too bad the time ran out, though. It would be fun to ask him this: If atheism is not the fallback after you examine Christianity and find it to be made-up and totally implausible, then what is? Judaism? Islam? Hinduism? Scientology? LDS? Of course, with Sye, you have to be really persistent, because he will dodge questions and always try and turn it around and barrage you with questions instead. I guess he thinks if you get stymied by all his gradeschool sophistry and aggressive presentation, you’ll give up and accept Jesus Christ as your Risen Lord and Savior. And Jesus (or his dad? Do they divvy up the spoils?) will score another soul. Odd that Muslims agree with Sye that one can’t “prove that atheism is true” (LOL) yet they don’t accept Jesus Christ as their Risen Lord and Savior.

    Sye, if you’re also reading this forum (in addition to calling into the show): here’s a challenge for you: If you can prove that not collecting stamps isn’t a hobby, I will accept Jesus Christ as my Risen Lord and Savior! I’ll worsh away my sins in His Glorious Blood and Guts This is your chance to shine in front of Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit! You’ll get extra brownie points that probably cut your time in purgatory (that you’re sure to get for bearing false witness and stuff like that) significantly! There is a soul in the balance, so act quickly while supplies last!

  28. Andres Villarreal says

    @8 – Russell: I think the real problem is in the definition of God, more than in the definition of burden of proof. I am a true agnostic atheist in relation to the proposition of “A God”, maybe omniscient or maybe just very knowing, maybe a creator of the Universe or maybe created by the Universe, or maybe just too complicated to understand for a blabbering human.

    On the other hand I am a true anti-theist in relation to the gods that are actually described in available literature. We have a million pieces of evidence that show that Jehovah, Christ, Mohammed, to name a few, do not stand up even to humanity’s levels of knowledge, power and prediction of future events.

    We constantly fail to react quickly enough when religious debaters switch “A God” with Jehovah, for example. “A God” could, just for the sake of a cruel joke, create the light of the stars simulating a multi-billion year old universe, and then create the stars. But Jehovah is too ignorant to even know that the night light comes from the stars, or too powerless to help the Bible copyists in making a single coherent chapter out of the supposedly perfect original.

    By the way, while I acknowledge the possibility of some kind of god that we do not know, I fail, just as Matt does, to see any use in it.

    So, my answer to this caller would be: I will not discuss the burden of proof with respect to any and all concepts of God. And even though I do not feel the need to do so, I can show some compelling evidence against Jehovah, Christ and Mohammed, as they are literally described in their respective holy books. And even if you take these books as generic guides, I feel I can make compelling arguments against each one of them.

  29. Gelfamat says

    I was surprised Russel let that caller get away with the absolute nonsensical question about atheism being “true”. It was a missed opportunity to say the least. There are actually people who don’t understand that such a question makes no sense. I assume he just didn’t want to take up the guest’s time.

  30. Andres Villarreal says

    On the topic of morality, I always feel that the subject is not treated from the correct perspective. For centuries it was a subject of philosophy but now we know morality is a lot more an evolutionary feature of gregarious animals than a metaphysical concept.

    The philosophical concept of morality has almost reached its end of the road. Some philosophers think it is absolute, some think it is relative and neither has a solution for problems like who should you save in a dangerous situation and who should you leave alone to die, or even kill yourself.

    On the other hand, the scientific hypothesis of morality as one or more evolutionary traits is gaining momentum by the minute. It has reached the point where significant predictions are made and then successfully tested with experiments. It explains the conduct of lionesses that care for each others’ cubs, and why wolves kill wolves from other packs but almost never from their own; it even explains why humans do not go on a rampage when they deny God. It even gives some answers to the question of who to save and who to let die in dangerous situations.

    Evolutionary morality (pardon me for creating a term) is just a tool, just as all evolutionary traits are. It is a reasonably good hammer that works well with many, but not all, kinds of nails. It is also imperfect, just as every other tool. It will bend some nails, crack delicate wood if used improperly, and fail to nail some nails into some woods. It is also there to be forgotten and irrelevant when the house is finished. In our case, society is the final product and morality is one of the tools to construct it.

    One important demonstration of my point comes from the fact that moral behavior (or the starting point of it) can be seen in animals who have a very incipient concept of self. A dog will ignore totally his image on a mirror or a dog’s image on the TV screen. Some apes will angrily fight the image of themselves on the mirror. And only a few primates will understand that the face in the mirror is their own face. There we have the whole range from almost non-existent concept of self to one close to our own. But all of them have undeniable altruism in some of their conduct. While the above is almost a complete demonstration of morality in non-human animals, the philosophical concept of morality is impossible to even define without a strong concept of self.

    In my opinion the philosophical concept of morality makes almost no dent at all in the conduct of anyone, except, maybe, a few philosophers and intellectuals. We do not read Plato’s Republic to decide whether to kill our neighbor or not. We instinctively place a value on the neighbor’s life, and a lower value on the alien’s life, and let our society define what neighbor or alien means. We have a framework of instinctive conduct rules but our society tells us how to relate the rules to the reality of our society.

    In the end, it is becoming clear that we did not become moral because a God ordered us. We, the more sophisticated gregarious animals (including humans) evolved the conducts that improved our survival rates. Those conducts include not killing the other males of the pack, caring for the cubs that are not our own, taking turns to hunt and protect the pack, obey the authority of the alpha male, and in general, seek the economy of resources that a society offers instead of the liberty and unbearable task of living alone. And those are the building blocks of morality.

  31. says

    Sorry I missed the show. I wanted to ask him about the evil Bible passages. He has said that as a pastor he used to have explanations for them, then later he would just avoid them. I’m wondering how he feels about those passages now and what he thinks Christian leaders should do about them. As an ex-lay speaker myself I understand that experience. As an atheist, I would like to see some church somewhere simply lay out what passages are just wrong. I see this done rarely, like some Christians who know that certain passages against women that were attributed to Paul are actually known to be forged. But that’s obscure stuff. What would be great is when the story of Abraham almost killing his son comes around in the lectionary, people who get up and say, “this is an ancient tale about blood sacrifice, we don’t do that anymore. It may be better to kill a sheep than a child, but it’s better not to kill anything unless you are going to eat it.”

  32. says

    #35

    We’ve been through this. A naturalistic fallacy isn’t every time someone references nature. You should know this, considering you frequently bring up the is/ought distinction.

    The fallacy would be saying that something is good or bad because it’s natural (or not). To point out that our morality has roots in evolution is not an “ought”. It’s an “is”.

  33. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Jasper
    Ok. I’m confused. Did you actually read what Andres Villarreal wrote?

    Andres is arguing that morality is some combination of 1- a set of evolved behaviors, 2- social Darwinism, and 3- ethical egoism. None of those are morality.

    Consider especially this quote:

    In my opinion the philosophical concept of morality makes almost no dent at all in the conduct of anyone, except, maybe, a few philosophers and intellectuals. We do not read Plato’s Republic to decide whether to kill our neighbor or not.

    In context, “philosophical concept of morality” and “reading Plato’s Republic” is Andres’s stand-in for the idea that morality is the result of humans coming together and rationally discussing the consequences of their actions in order to choose policies to make the world into a better place for people.

    Andres contrasts this position, my position, the moral position, with their position:

    We instinctively place a value on the neighbor’s life, and a lower value on the alien’s life, and let our society define what neighbor or alien means. We have a framework of instinctive conduct rules but our society tells us how to relate the rules to the reality of our society.

    In the end, it is becoming clear that we did not become moral because a God ordered us. We, the more sophisticated gregarious animals (including humans) evolved the conducts that improved our survival rates.

    Andres is IMHO clearly arguing for social Darwinism, and that generally is considered to be an example of the appeal to nature fallacy.

  34. ironchops says

    I liked Mr. Ryan’s ideas on the definition/attributes of God between 14:50 to 17:00. It seems that he and I may be in a similar place spiritually. I am finding it extremely hard to treat God entirely as realistically nonexistent. I still want to believe and I can’t explain why. I did notice he used the phrase “lifts up something (44:07)” when talking to caller 3 about a question/concern of one of the previous callers. I want to agree with the first caller in that god’s spirit lives in me but I am beginning to believe that is all meant metaphorically. With that I still tend to treat the metaphor like it is actually real. I talk to God all the time, although I will say that he has never once answered me directly. How twisted am I?? Is it going to take me 53 years to get over there being an actual God? Or, Will I always have to just deal with this deep seeded theist type bleed through?

  35. Hippycow says

    “…believe that is all meant metaphorically.” Whenever people use the word “metaphorically” in discussion of religion, it seems pretty safe to substitute in the something like the word “fake” instead. It makes no sense to say something is a metaphor, or that it is “meant metaphorically” unless you specify what the metaphor is supposed to be. When someone says the economy is a sailing along with a strong wind at its back, the metaphor is that the economy is a sailboat.

    When you say “God’s spirit lives in” you, that’s not a metaphor for anything as far as I can see. It is just some kind of wishful thinking that there is some imaginary non-corporeal super being “living in” you, whatever that means. I think the most likely reason you have that feeling (that you still want to believe, in spite of the evidence) is that you suffered years of childhood indoctrination and it worked pretty well. Maybe there ought to be a special variety of PTSD used to describe the results of childhood religious indoctrination. Shall we call it faith?

  36. Fair Witness says

    Ryan was an excellent guest. I, too, hope he will come back often. And I appreciate all the commenters here who pointed out that Bernard was actually Sye Ten. I would not have realized it from intially watching it, but on second listening it was obviously him. He tried to sound Canadian, but that wore off a bit later on. I am sure that Ryan and Russell would have gladly answered the same questions if he had identified himself. Maybe his calling Ryan and disguising himself is a sign that Sye is actually having doubts about his faith. Hard to imagine, huh?

  37. says

    Re: Morality

    I think we have some instincts (i.e. evolved mental traits) for being moral, and for being immoral. I don’t have the references, but I think basic empathy has been studied to be there in very young children and dealing with any small child will show you that they do just fine taking care of their basic needs, damn the consequences. :o) But, it seems hard to know where the basic instincts end and social conditioning (i.e. learned things) begin. Arguing that only one matters and not the other seems ridiculous. For example, it’s hard for me to tell if xenophobic thoughts are “just how brains work” or “are learned from others”. It seems to be a matter of both working together, where we have a basic tendency to form in/out groups, but what constitutes an in/out group seems to be largely a cultural construct (i.e. we are taught who are the in/out groups are). I think rejecting either the evolutionarily driven base constructs of how our brains work or the affect of societal conditions has on those brains is folly. But, I will say that, at least with present technology, we have little control over the former and a lot more control over the latter.

  38. Andres Villarreal says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal:
    Something is very, very wrong if what you got from my comment is Social Darwinism.
    And something is even worse if you believe something in my comment is incompatible with humanism.

    Normally, Social Darwinism is linked with “Survival of the fittest”, which is a disingenuous misinterpretation of Evolution. The very idea of individuals surviving only because they, as individuals, are either fitter or stronger than the rest of the group where they live is the result of very bad biologists or very bad ideologues reading Darwin poorly.

    Please read my comment again. I do not say anything even similar to Social Darwinism. In fact, the very name “Social Darwinism” was created by people who wanted to criticize the bad interpreters of Darwin.

  39. Andres Villarreal says

    @36 – Jasper of Maine
    I am equally confused by the “appeal to nature fallacy” argument. It cannot be applied in any way to my comment.
    The idea of humanity discussing morality and getting to a rational conclusion about morality is just historically wrong. Our societies, starting at least some 200,000 years ago, undeniably had some conduct that could be considered “moral”. On the other hand, the general population, even today, has little contact with rational discussions about morality. And yet, even in the most isolated and technologically undeveloped tribes on Earth we find clear moral behavior, with the same basic rules we have.
    The concept of absolute morality maybe started around Babylonian times (I do not have a clear timeline for this) and some ideas, like the equality for all Homo Sapiens, did not even exist in Classical Roman times. We can only conclude that morality is definitely not the result of rational discussion, and rationality can only be credited with an improvement in our moral standards in recent times.
    After all, the French Enlightenment philosophers were still trying to rationally decide whether we are born evil and are raised to be pious, or are born pious and are perverted by society as we grow. And that is the 18th century. We had little progress to show in our rational study of morality just 200 years ago. But we have been deeply moral creatures for as long as we have been Homo Sapiens, at least. So much so that religions and political authorities have abused our moral conduct for as long as History has been able to show.

  40. Andres Villarreal says

    @ 41 – changerofbits
    I agree with most of what you say. But I do not think that considering instinct and society as a dichotomy is very useful. Philosophers have spent maybe most of the last two centuries arguing for or against the proposition that we are the result of nature more than nurture. This discussion is quite irrelevant, as we can see now by the fact that it has not produced useful conclusions in at least two centuries.
    Science has shown that the constant mutual reinforcement of instincts and learned conduct has been instrumental in the development of gregarious animals and their packs, and of our human societies. We cannot explain one without the other. Some animal species have the instinct to teach good conduct to their offspring, and natural selection prefers individuals with strong gregarious instincts. So we have the instinct to teach and by teaching we end up with good instincts.

  41. Andres Villarreal says

    It is really quite simple. While the philosophical concept of absolute morality is a rational and abstract concept that may or may not exist, or may be limited to a handful of moral values, such as “value all human beings equally”, a more useful and realistic concept of morality has existed in most or all human beings, in some way or another. In fact, the group-directed conducts normally associated with morality, in a very basic way, exist in several gregarious species.

    When we talk to a theist about morality and let the discussion go into a perfect, absolute notion of morality, we are implicitly conceding that it must come from a perfect God. We are better off accepting that we do not know much about absolute morality, but we know more about it than the gods of the Torah, New Testament and Koran, put together.

  42. says

    Hello

    To even contemplate how one comes to the conclusion that I am Sye is simply a complete failure of following the evidence.
    I am not Sye.

    Now moving along.

    I did not hang up on the show, nor am I claiming the show hung up on me. Far as I’m concerned I settle for technical difficulties. I called the show right back but russel was more concerned with eating then finishing our conversation.

    Next point of address: ryan claimed to be from the seventh day Adventist church. Just FYI that doctrine is considered heresy. So to claim former Christian while holding heretical doctrine is not going to get you far with Christians.. But it will get you a prime spot on the AE show.
    Consider checking the false prophecies of EG white. For starters to understand what I mean. Or checking out websites that show the issues with the SDA. I would advice on doing homework before agreeing with such misleading claims.

    I was simply questioning Ryan’s comments on having arguments for atheism. I see no reason why I cannot do that. His answers spoke volumes. He claims no he has no arguments, he wasn’t certain of anything, and in general admitted all atheists are agnostic. Which is exactly the case. Interestingly enough he changed his claim he ran out of reasons to beleive… But that is not the same as having reason to claim a lack of beleif. This was not shifting the burden of proof. This was asking ryan to justify his claims.

  43. jacobfromlost says

    The last call didn’t jump out at me either until reading the comments here. It was definitely Sye. …which is kind of sad.

  44. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Andres
    I still have no idea what you are saying. It’s not entirely your fault. I’m coming with some preconceived biases.

    Are you an ethical egoist?

    Do you recognize the Hume’s is-ought dichotomy? In other words, do you accept that you cannot derive statements of the “I should do X” with only premises of the form “X is a true material scientific fact”? Or do you think that some scientific truths about the world on their own imply certain moral truths in the complete absence of prior moral truths? If yes, what are some examples?

  45. bawdygeorge says

    @40 Fair Witness – Sye is, in fact, Canadian. The U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on Christian apologists and their terrible arguments!

  46. Narf says

    Okay, so I finally got around to listening to this episode, 6 days later, all of 24 hours before the next episode. There was a comment way back, that I was going to address, after I had actually listened to the show. Ah, here we go:

    @4 – Janus Pitt

    That first guy couldn’t keep a straight line of thinking in his head. Why does he believe in god? His answer seemed to be centered around rhetorical questions the imply if he didn’t he’d have to believe in big business and government being run by the church… or something. I think he was some sort of New Age Conspiracy Theist.

    Phillip in Chicago is the same person as Bill, from last week, episode #907. He’s a nonsensical, new-agey Oprah-Christian. Listen to the calls side-by-side, and it’s obviously the same voice. He also made use of the word agäpe, in both calls. That and the fact that he’s listed as being from Chicago made it obvious, even before I checked with a side-by-side listening.

    He’s not much of a thinker, no. You could sort of hear it in the way that he clung to the word hermeneutics, like a talisman. It’s always funny to hear a word like that come out of the mouth of someone who otherwise has barely-polysyllabic speech patterns. I’m going to make a wildly unjustified statement: while he might prize the study of hermeneutics, he doesn’t understand the study of hermeneutics. The way he uses it equates to making the Bible say what he wants it to say, judging from his call in episode #907.

  47. Narf says

    @7 – Hippycow

    The first caller, “Phillip” from Chicago, was the same dumbass troll who called first last week as “Bill” from Chicago and they once again wasted way too much time on him.

    I really don’t think he’s a troll, man. He’s inane and a waste of time, yes, but I don’t think he’s a faker. The name change is probably just a result of a misunderstanding by the call screener. Last week, he might have said ‘Phil’, and the call screener misheard it as ‘Bill’. It happens.

  48. Narf says

    @8 – Russell Glasser

    I’m kind of interested in constructive feedback on the last call with Bernard, the Canadian sounding Christian from London who wanted to hear about “argument for atheism.”

    There wasn’t a whole lot you could have done in the 3 minutes that you had. People complaining about the admission that you don’t have absolute certainty are just being whiny. Considering how often you guys argue against the necessity and even the possibility of absolute certainty, this wasn’t exactly what I would call a slip.

    Oh, and I just pulled up the after-show, on UStream. Nothing from him there, huh? Damn.

    I would have had a completely different answer, but we were looking for Ryan’s thinking on the subject, after all.

    My big problem with the question is the plurality. I don’t know about all of these atheist arguments. I only know of one:

    “That’s silly. Why would you believe something like that?”

    Everything else is reactionary. Even things like the Euthyphro Dilemma are ultimately reactionary, contingent upon someone arguing for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god. If someone wants to argue for some prick god that gets his kicks by fucking around with us, Euthyphro doesn’t do you a whole lot of good.

    Arguments justifying skepticism are important, but that’s a whole other rabbit-hole.

    The base argument isn’t really reversible, either. Why would I believe in a world that doesn’t have a god? You think that’s silly?

    I don’t believe in world without a god. I believe in the observable world. I then add details to that observable world when they’ve been justified with reason and evidence. The existence of a god has not been justified with evidence, just blatant arguments from ignorance, which hold no explanatory power.

    The only real way to argue against my base assumptions is to propose hard solipsism, which gets us nowhere useful, even if Sye doesn’t understand that.

  49. Narf says

    @11 – Russell Glasser

    If I hang up too soon on theists then we have to sit around talking to more atheists who are usually talking about theists, and I don’t enjoy those calls as much.

    I fall into the same camp as Russell. I’d rather have time wasted on a theist than an atheist calling in to congratulate the hosts and eventually ask one question that anyone could answer if you go into a forum like Atheist Nexus and ask around a little. It’s good to avoid time wasters, yeah, but it takes a couple of times before they’re recognized and can be weeded out. *shrug*

    That statement doesn’t apply to calls like the one from the guy with the in-the-closet atheistic girlfriend and her fundie family. That sort of thing with complex scenarios is interesting and useful for other atheists.

  50. Narf says

    @22 – changerofbits

    I guess Ryan could have meant it in the sense of deciding to use the label, or to become an out atheist, because he discovered that it fits rather than as a description of how he got there. How did other people take it to mean? Am I reading something that isn’t there? It seemed to me that Ryan was probably an atheist well before he decided to “try atheism”.

    I think it was pretty well described by his claim of profound ignorance, at the beginning of the show. Hell, he didn’t even know that there was an atheist community out there, going to conventions, talking amongst themselves, etc.

    Clearly, he was already an atheist, when he started the blog. He just didn’t know how to express where he was at. He didn’t know the terminology, the way of expressing what he thought.

  51. Narf says

    @40 – Fair Witness

    And I appreciate all the commenters here who pointed out that Bernard was actually Sye Ten. I would not have realized it from intially watching it, but on second listening it was obviously him. He tried to sound Canadian, but that wore off a bit later on.

    I completely missed it, too, although I did notice the distinct change in his accent, part way through the call. I wasn’t sure what to make of that call, beyond him possibly being a faker of some sort … although he didn’t express a position that was strong enough for him to actually be faking any particular thing.

    I am sure that Ryan and Russell would have gladly answered the same questions if he had identified himself. Maybe his calling Ryan and disguising himself is a sign that Sye is actually having doubts about his faith. Hard to imagine, huh?

    I think it’s more a matter of ego. I know that Russell would have been happy to take a call from him, until Sye became too insufferable, as he certainly would have done eventually.

    But I don’t think that Sye would accept the perception that he’s lowering himself to calling in to a call-in atheist show, like The Atheist Experience. I get the impression that he thinks far more of himself than almost anyone else does.

  52. Narf says

    Regarding the whole thing with Andres’s comment on morality … yeah, I think you were reading a bit into his long post, EL. I can see a few spots where you can kind-of, sort-of see an implied ought, but I don’t think that’s the way Andres intended them.

    I didn’t get that he was saying that we should base our morality upon evolution, as much as that our moral foundations or postulates are set to some degree by evolution. We give a damn about the things that we do, and we construct our morality in a way to accomplish the goals that we set, because we’re molded by our evolutionary history to care about those things and think that way, as a social species.

  53. Narf says

    @52 – me

    The only real way to argue against my base assumptions is to propose hard solipsism, which gets us nowhere useful, even if Sye doesn’t understand that.

    What’s really funny is that when I typed up comment #52, I had no idea that the last caller was Sye. I hadn’t gotten far enough into the comments to see other people pointing him out. Sye was just the first person who came to mind, when I thought of bat-shit apologists who somehow think that solipsism is a positive argument for their theistic position.

  54. Andres Villarreal says

    @ EnlightenmentLiberal – 48
    I am trying to understand Hume, and I have only reached the true statement that he gives headaches.

    Modus Tollens and all the similar logical rules live in a world that is not our own. They live in the world of mathematics, which has demonstrated that all the logical rules of Classical Greece are theorems of Group Theory, the basic building block of all current mathematics. Group Theory is also the one that tells us that, given the correct axioms, 2+2=4. But none of this tells us a single thing about our physical reality. “2+2=4” would still be true if there were no atoms, no energy, no universe at all. There would be nobody to make the deduction, but still 2+2 would be 4. In this world of mathematics and logic the very definition of “good” is meaningless. The definition of purpose is also meaningless. The “open question argument” with “good” as part of the argument is immediately turned to rubbish just by the use of the word “good”.

    On the other hand, we are a species that followed a very specific evolutionary path, one that we can research through science. And it is not a path from chaos to order, or from bad to good, or one of eliminating what is wrong. It is a path where, in general, the better adapted individuals or groups survived better than the other groups or individuals. We developed a visceral feeling of what is good or bad, just as we developed a sense of what a face is. And just as we sometimes fail to recognize faces correctly (for example, in paredolia), we fail to recognize good from bad in many cases. We have a very efficient tool, that we could call morality, that prevents us from some self destructing conducts, like killing the other males in a pack, or taking more than our share of the food, or letting predators kill our babies. The individuals who most embody these maxims create a selective advantage for the whole pack, and therefore for their own genes. The individuals who do not instinctively, or by learning, follow the maxims, endanger the whole pack and their genes with them. Now, the absolute morality of these maxims is suspect. It includes, for example, the killing of the males of other packs. It includes the abandonment of cubs is certain circumstances, or even the killing of the cubs that do not contain the Alpha Male’s genes. It does not include the expulsion or death of all the thugs. In fact, the Alpha Male is usually quite a thug. But most or all the moral values of most of us, who do not read Hume or Plato, come from this natural selection and evolution. Just as in the case of paredolia, where our senses betray us completely, our sense of morality sometimes fails us completely.

    If we want to understand our moral values we have to understand their roots, which science is pinpointing in Evolution. Philosophers like Hume, who lived before Logic and Mathematics were completely understood in terms of axioms, lead us to believe that there is real logic behind their own presuppositions, just like Pascal, or Descartes, who started with the legendary “I think therefore I exist” and then made a huge ass of himself “demonstrating” logically that God exists.

  55. Narf says

    And just as we sometimes fail to recognize faces correctly (for example, in paredolia) …

    Did you mean prosopagnosia? Or did you mean the pareidolic process of turning clouds or similar things into faces? Similar words, at any rate.

  56. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Andres
    It’s really a simple question. Do you know of any valid and sound argument which has premises all of the form “it is a scientific material fact that X is true” and a conclusion “thus one should do action Y” ?

    Or we can do this through a Socratic reasoning method. Give me some true statement of the form “I should do action X”, and we can work out if and how you justify it.

  57. trich431 says

    I think Ryan and Russell handled the question about objective morality very well. That’s a big point that I feel like I independently recognized about morality when I left Christianity, that the word objective is used very differently by theists usually. They seem to mean that moral rules are prescriptions that exist before and independent of human existence, presumably given to us by god. Nothing at all in reality suggests this to be the case. In that case I would disagree with theists by saying there is no objective morality in some ultimate, absolute sense. We have evolved to hold commonly shared values about collective well-being that are conducive to survival and maximal happiness. Based on those values, we can call specific actions good or bad. In that sense I believe there is an objective morality.

    I also got really tickled at the last caller. He seemed to be pulling a shift in the burden of proof and making an appeal to a lack of absolute certainty. Reminded me a lot of Ray Comfort. Ryan’s response was good when he said that it was more that he ran our of reasons to believe Christianity was true. This makes atheism, not a possitive claim that no god exists, but the rejection of the claim that a god exists due to lack of evidence and inconsistencies in the known god claims. Most atheists I know, myself included, accept the theoretical possibility that a god could exist but find nothing to compel me to think that its true. His appeal to Ryan’s lack of absolute certainty is a red herring. No one is absolutely certain of anything, and no intellectually honest person would claim to be about anything. Only by faith can you claim absolute certianty based on insufficient evidence.

  58. Andres Villarreal says

    @Narf – 59
    I now see that I wrote my example in a confusing way. We tend to recognize the patterns that have important significance for our survival even where there is nothing to recognize. For example, if we see two round things in a bush we assume it is a predator and run. We also tend to hear menacing sounds in simple wind noise and run. Our senses have evolved for survival, not for scientific research.

    My point is that our morality evolved from the same kind of survival tools. We do not try instinctively to do what is right from a philosophical standpoint, we do what increases our survival chances. We do not instinctively avoid harming others in the pack because it is wrong, we instinctively take the route of best resource allocation. Harming my pack may lead to expulsion, which might mean death, and also may lead to a debilitated pack that will get less food and is exposed to predators.

    Even in a human baby a few months old you can see intense attraction towards anything that remotely seems like a face. They are fascinated by games where a face seems to come from nowhere. Just by covering and uncovering your face you can have a baby interested for several minutes.

    In conclusion, we have several instinctive tools that give us a vision of the world, but with a strong slant towards survival, not scientific accuracy or pristine moral behavior. We generally tend not to see this slant because it is mostly instinctive. We even see a face in a two yolk fried egg even when we know it is not a face. And we tend to follow authority even when we dislike current authority figures.

  59. Andres Villarreal says

    @EnlightmentLiberal.

    “Scientific Fact” and “one should do” just do not mix well. Scientific facts will give you ways to reach goals, and tools to measure the amount you are achieving the goals, but will not tell you what the goals should be.

    My argument is that we have evolved some instinctive goals for ourselves, all of them related to the survival of the group we live in. Generally we do not rationally analyze every possible moral implication of what we do and choose the most moral action. More often than not we do what feels right and then, if we are so inclined, we find a logical or even scientific reason to do what we already did.

    For example, if you give me a gun and somebody I despise, and convince me that there will be no consequences in this or another life for killing him, and I just have to pull the trigger, I believe I will not pull the trigger. But it will not be because I reasoned my way into a logical conclusion, it will be because my finger will just not move.

    Science is helping us understand why we reach some answers to “I should do” more than others. And science can help us by showing us where our instincts take us to nonsensical conduct. For example, it is clear that we instinctively protect the individuals of the pack and fight the individuals that are outside of the pack. By understanding this scientifically, and understanding that we take very bad decisions based on this instinct on a daily basis, we can improve the list of “I should do”.

  60. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    “Scientific Fact” and “one should do” just do not mix well. Scientific facts will give you ways to reach goals, and tools to measure the amount you are achieving the goals, but will not tell you what the goals should be.

    Then you agree to the is-ought distinction.

    My argument is that we have evolved some instinctive goals for ourselves, all of them related to the survival of the group we live in.

    Note: This is descriptive, not normative. It’s also (mostly) right.

    By understanding this scientifically, and understanding that we take very bad decisions based on this instinct on a daily basis, we can improve the list of “I should do”.

    Agreed.

    I was completely wrong in my first post. I think we’re agreeing. Some parts are still a little unclear though, but no matter for now.

  61. Narf says

    @47 – Bernhard Visscher

    Next point of address: ryan claimed to be from the seventh day Adventist church. Just FYI that doctrine is considered heresy. So to claim former Christian while holding heretical doctrine is not going to get you far with Christians.. But it will get you a prime spot on the AE show.

    Why should we care when one cult calls another cult heretical? If you aren’t a Catholic, then you’re a heretic, too. Hell, if you are a Catholic, you’re also a heretic and probably worship Satan or something, as far as some denomination is concerned.

    Consider checking the false prophecies of EG white. For starters to understand what I mean. Or checking out websites that show the issues with the SDA. I would advice on doing homework before agreeing with such misleading claims.

    Again, we don’t care. You might have an argument if you wanted to claim that Mormons aren’t real Christians, since they have a whole other holy book, and their core worldview involving an afterlife is radically different. Their public-relations claim to be just like other Christians, because they believe in Jesus too, rings a bit hollow and desperate, in my ears.

    If a group claims the Bible as their holy book and follows most of the identifiable doctrines of Christianity, they’re Christian for all useful purposes. Besides, the false prophesies of E.G. White are in good company with the other false prophesies of the Bible.

    I was simply questioning Ryan’s comments on having arguments for atheism. I see no reason why I cannot do that.

    And we’re allowed to speculate about where you were going with that, since we didn’t get to hear any further from you, within the allotted time.

    His answers spoke volumes. He claims no he has no arguments, he wasn’t certain of anything, and in general admitted all atheists are agnostic. Which is exactly the case.

    That’s not true, actually. I’ll skip the problem of absolute certainty, which no one can rightfully claim without being a fool. Absolute certainty is a useless standard to hold any proposition to, and the claim to absolute certainty is one of the things that makes most Christian apologists such dishonest assholes.

    That said, there are atheists who positively believe that there are no gods. They’re a minority, but they’re there. But that global claim of there being a god is not the only relevant claim we’re considering within a religious context. In regards to the global claim, I’m a default atheist, but in regards to the claims made about your god … I actively believe that that god does not exist.

    Also, adding in agnosticism is kind of dishonest, the way that most Christians use the term. I’m not saying that you’re specifically being dishonest in your usage of it here. You just have to watch terminology like that. The well has been a bit poisoned by those who came before you.

    What most Christians that I’ve encountered mean, when they say someone is agnostic, is that the person hasn’t thought through the issue and doesn’t know much about the issue. They push it to absurd extremes, very often. Ryan no longer believes that a god exists. He does not hold a positive belief in a god. That makes him an atheist. If you want to have a discussion about the qualities of his atheism, then fine, but if you’re coming with an argument that he isn’t really an atheist, you’re just flat-out wrong, and you should quit while you’re behind.

    Interestingly enough he changed his claim he ran out of reasons to beleive… But that is not the same as having reason to claim a lack of beleif. This was not shifting the burden of proof. This was asking ryan to justify his claims.

    You’re arguing against a tautology here. Not having a reason to believe something is a perfectly good reason to not believe that claim.

  62. Narf says

    @63 – Andres Villarreal

    I now see that I wrote my example in a confusing way. We tend to recognize the patterns that have important significance for our survival even where there is nothing to recognize. For example, if we see two round things in a bush we assume it is a predator and run. We also tend to hear menacing sounds in simple wind noise and run. Our senses have evolved for survival, not for scientific research.

    Ah, so you did mean pareidolia. Cool. It seemed like you might have been referring to face-blindness in some way.

  63. Narf says

    @62 – trich431

    In that case I would disagree with theists by saying there is no objective morality in some ultimate, absolute sense. We have evolved to hold commonly shared values about collective well-being that are conducive to survival and maximal happiness. Based on those values, we can call specific actions good or bad. In that sense I believe there is an objective morality.

    This is one of the weaknesses that most theists seem to have. They lack contextual distinction in their arguments. It seems to be some sort of mental block for a lot of them.

    Once you confine the discussion of morality to certain commonly agreed-upon presuppositions that are relics of our evolution as a social species … once you establish some properly basic goals of even having a moral code … you can then establish an objective moral code within that scope.

    Most atheists I know, myself included, accept the theoretical possibility that a god could exist but find nothing to compel me to think that its true.

    And that’s another important context which Christian apologists deliberately disregard at will. I think Bernhard is starting to do it, too. Apologists love to conflate the existence of a god with the existence of their god. William Lane Craig, in particular, does this almost nonstop throughout his books, along with half a dozen of his other logical fallacies … which he doesn’t so much commit as much as he fails to cease committing them.

  64. Monocle Smile says

    @Bernhard
    Since Narf already provided a substantive response…

    Try being less of a self-important dick. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that anyone cares overly much about your boring, smug babble.

  65. Andres Villarreal says

    @ EnlightenmentLiberal:

    In fact, I can see the is-ought distinction in my dog’s conduct about twice a week. He knows that he did something wrong and that he will or should be punished as soon as he hears me coming home. He will go and wait for me in the punishment place, with big sad eyes.

    I am still struggling with the concept of a logical argument connecting “is” and “ought”. Hume’s Law seems to say that logic is the place to find the connection, but anything related to “ought” is by definition not a logical problem. Is there any sense in “two plus two should be four”?

    Back to my dog, through instinct and learning he knows that he should eat only what some rules define as permissible. Sometimes he does as he should, sometimes not. He should eat after the Alpha Male stops eating. He should not eat from the dining table. He knows when he made an infraction, and that is one basic building block of morality. It is also directly linked to evolution. The Pecking Order is one more survival strategy for the pack. And the fact that some individuals challenge the rules is also linked to increased survival of the pack, and becomes an evolutionary trait, so immorality is also part of Evolution.

    But humans add some new problems to the mix. First, even the weakest individuals can have offspring, with few exceptions. Second, the pack has now grown to such an immense number that even the concept of a pack is incredibly complex. Also, the increase in the human population has made any additional increase a problem, not an evolutionary advantage. We are also starting to consider moral issues that are totally unlinked to evolution. Slavery, for example, makes evolutionary sense under certain circumstances and under certain definitions of “pack”. So, as the problem of what should we do diverges from the survival requirements of evolution, the problem of morality is being separated from its initial reason to exist.

  66. says

    @44 Andres

    I wasn’t at all trying to say there was a dichotomy between nature/instinct and nurture/learned and I agree that arguing for the exclusivity of one or the other seems folly. I think I largely agree with you, but I don’t really accept your “instinctual gregariousness equals better at natural selection” just so explanation. My layman’s working hypothesis, in a nutshell, is that natural selection has given us brains that are capable of an extremely wide variety of social behavior and to the extent that we have social instincts, our brains are capable of counteracting those social instincts.

  67. says

    @70 Andres

    But humans add some new problems to the mix. First, even the weakest individuals can have offspring, with few exceptions. Second, the pack has now grown to such an immense number that even the concept of a pack is incredibly complex. Also, the increase in the human population has made any additional increase a problem, not an evolutionary advantage. We are also starting to consider moral issues that are totally unlinked to evolution. Slavery, for example, makes evolutionary sense under certain circumstances and under certain definitions of “pack”. So, as the problem of what should we do diverges from the survival requirements of evolution, the problem of morality is being separated from its initial reason to exist.

    I’m sort of reading a subtext here of an “ought” to evolution. There is no “ought” to evolution, there “is” only survival. We’ve largely made survival on this planet to and through the age of reproduction the norm. So, what defines weak and strong now? To what evolutionary end is our current state taking us to? How is the idea of a “pack” even influencing our current evolution?

  68. chris lowe says

    I’m glad to hear Russell is a second generation atheist. I too am one of those rare birds. The good news is that my kids are now grown up and it seems without any prompting ( I taught them how to think, not what to think) we’ve added 2 more freethinkers into the fold. At work we have a saying: “Horse shit in, horse shit out.” And I think if a newer more robust Age of Reason is to occur then let the next generation come to their own conclusions from their own information. Let them think for themselves. Give them the information they ask for, and not necessarily what YOU think they should know. Christopher Hitchens rightly pointed out that small children can and do ask questions inconveniently challenging the logic and veracity of their religious “teachers”. With a lack of inculcation in any religion, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that many of the more improbable holy book scenarios are swallowed hook line and sinker by the pious. Most arguments with that crowd therefore is a nonstarter. There is a built in dishonesty in the framing of a god- vs. -not debate in that one stands on absolutism (usually) and the other on inquiry. Unfortunately a lot of parents have poisoned the well of the fountain of knowledge and that can only lead to people talking past each other.
    The Canadian from London makes sense if you know there is a substantial city in Ontario that is also named London. Oh ya, another thing is that most Canadians are Jesus -like in that for six months of the years we can and do walk on water!

  69. Andres Villarreal says

    @ ChangerOfBits:
    I regret not having the quote for several articles I have read on the subject, but even a 15 minute search on Google renders ample scientific coverage of this. One of the most important traits in animal conduct which gives the first step towards a moral structure, and is therefore intensely studied, is altruism. Just a few links:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128022177000089

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780080454054000033

    http://www.tcd.ie/Biology_Teaching_Centre/assets/pdf/by2204/nmby2204/nmby2204-2011-12-lect20.pdf

    http://www.livescience.com/19987-altruism-animals-varies-based-environment.html

    In fact, the above studies not only study altruism and how it was evolutionarily developed, but also take a look into the limits of altruism. Some contradict my belief that you do not need a strong self awareness to be altruistic, some don’t. Anyway, this is a very new field of research and new conclusions are pouring out.

    There is a difference between my claim, that some gregarious animals have a clear sense of “ought”, and the philosophical notion of a necessary good, or “ought”. The feeling we instinctively have of a direction we must take is not necessarily in agreement with an objective or absolute good. For example, the feeling of a dog that he must submit to authority (the Alpha Male) and treat the Omega dog as a pariah is not necessarily a good thing, but the sense of doing the right or the wrong thing is absolutely present.

    So, the existence of an “ought” in scientifically demonstrated conduct in non-human animals as well as in humans is not contradictory with respect to the “ought” of Hume’s Law. The two things are different. I do not care too much for the philosophical “ought” since I do not see much advancement in defining it, or demonstrating that it is real in more than two centuries. Some humans gave a huge step from “I feel this is right and this is what I will try to do, evidence notwithstanding” to “I will look for an absolute and objective definition of what is right and will act only on the evidence that this is the real moral path”. Some absolutes seem straightforward, like the one about killing defenseless innocent people, but I challenge anyone to give me a list of ten absolute, indisputable moral rules. On the other hand, we have advanced a lot in the study of the evolutionary path that led to our current moral rules and a lot of good will come to our society from it.

    P.S. I have seen what Sam Harris has done on the subject and it seems quite clear that he starts nicely but suddenly confuses objective morality with his own ideology. This is the kind of intellectual research that makes me lose faith in philosophical studies on morality.

  70. Narf says

    @70 – Andres Villarreal

    I am still struggling with the concept of a logical argument connecting “is” and “ought”. Hume’s Law seems to say that logic is the place to find the connection, but anything related to “ought” is by definition not a logical problem.

    There are plenty of ways to reach an ought, through a logical argument. What EL was coming down on you for was his perception that you were trying to derive an ought from “the natural order of things” … which is the naturalistic fallacy, like he said. Saying that we have a predisposition to do certain things, because of the way that nature has crafted us (as you were actually saying, as I understood it), is another thing entirely.

    Getting from an is to an ought is simply a matter of cause and effect. Behavior X seems to lead to social-characteristic Y. We desire for our society to have characteristic Y. So, we ought to to promote behavior X.

    There are several issues that need to be worked out there: finding a causal link between X and Y, so we don’t have a false correlation; examining the other social impacts of X, to deal with the affirmation of the consequent; figuring out whether or not we really want social-characteristic Y, because of other effects that come along with social characteristic Y …

    Dealing with social issues is messy as hell, but it’s doable.

  71. Narf says

    @73 – chris lowe

    Unfortunately a lot of parents have poisoned the well of the fountain of knowledge …

    And always remember that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t teach him to make a silk purse from a pig in a poke.

  72. Narf says

    @77 – Jon Simon
    I dunno, man. I know plenty of new-agey types who are as incoherent as him. He probably thinks he’s presenting a good argument, because his brain doesn’t work so well.

    If you mean that he’s a faker, then I absolutely disagree with you. His presentation is too consistent. I guess someone could be that good of an actor and really have their shit together before they call, but I don’t think someone like that would be bothering a show like TAE.

  73. Monocle Smile says

    @Rubin
    Why? What value does that add? What value could that even possibly add?

  74. Narf says

    Yeah, we’ve been over this a dozen times on this blog, Rubin. It’s not happening. We’d (and more importantly, the show staff would) rather have people come here, where we can have a more organized, meaningful discussion. People don’t even need to create an account of any sort, just have to say something vaguely meaningful on their first post, so that the moderators will approve them.

    If you want to have a discussion in the comment sections of clips posted by other people, then go for it, but the official, full-episode videos on the official Atheist Experience channel will direct people here.

    As you can see near the bottom of the comment section of http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2015/02/22/pascals-wager-again/, you have to do a hell of a lot to get banned around here. Well, okay, you can’t see most of the actual comments that finally got Jerry banned, since Martin deleted them, but essentially, Jerry was just pasting multiple YouTube videos at a go, to pathetic Kent Hovind videos, Eric Hovind videos, and feel-good preachy videos, with no explanation or any contribution of his own. He kept alternating between that and Bible-verse spamming.

    Prior to that, he was at least occasionally saying things of his own, even if he did keep mixing it up with blatantly obvious, unattributed articles that he didn’t write but just pasted into the comment box without explanation. While we appropriately mocked him for that sort of dishonest behavior, even that didn’t get him banned.

  75. JD and Co. says

    It astounds me how many Christians quote the Bible at atheists. It’s like, we don’t believe in your god, so whatever makes you think your bible has any authority over us? You actually think it’s like a magic incantation, that we’ll slap our foreheads and say “Well golly darn I never thought of it that way before! That’s it, I’m off to church!” (*Your* church, of course!)

    But Jerry was clueless beyond clueless. I followed that interchange quite closely–it was like a slow motion train wreck that you can’t help but watch. I wondered more than once if he wasn’t a little brain damaged from all the acid he did in his free-love days .

  76. Narf says

    @83 – JD and Co.

    It astounds me how many Christians quote the Bible at atheists. It’s like, we don’t believe in your god, so whatever makes you think your bible has any authority over us?

    I think that in part, it’s a failure to recognize their own brainwashing. Try this for a lark: any time you hear a Christian say something about the Holy Spirit, insert the word ‘indoctrination’ or ‘brainwashing’ into its place, and the statement will make far more sense. When those Jehovah’s Witnesses told me to read the Bible again (when I’d told them that I’d read it, cover to cover) with the guidance of the Holy Spirit … yeah, I knew what they actually meant, even if they didn’t get the meaning, themselves.

    When you repeat a mantra over and over long enough, you become blind and deaf to the actual character of the subject of the mantra, I guess.

    But Jerry was clueless beyond clueless. I followed that interchange quite closely–it was like a slow motion train wreck that you can’t help but watch. I wondered more than once if he wasn’t a little brain damaged from all the acid he did in his free-love days .

    Yeah, I dunno. There could be something very wrong with the guy’s brain, meaning from a clinical perspective. It’s hard to tell from his poorly-formatted, incoherent comments, though. When you have several layered communication-malfunctions going on, as he seems to, it’s hard to prize them apart and analyze them.

    I kept telling myself, again and again, that I was done and wouldn’t be responding another time, but then Jerry kept saying yet another insane thing that I had to yell at him about and try to get to the bottom of his latest abortion of logic.

  77. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Getting around to this episode.

    Wait – that guy who said he’d “try on atheism” for a year wasn’t a troll? I am amazed. That is all.

    Also, congrats Ryan.

  78. Narf says

    Yeah, that was my first thought as well, EL. I hadn’t been keeping track of his blog, in any way, so I wasn’t up to date on his conclusions, as the whole affair progressed.

    It’s kind of mind-blowing that someone who’s an actual minister could be so profoundly ignorant (as he described his pre-blog self) of opposing worldviews/epistemological-approaches. It sort of gives at least a tiny bit of credence to some of the other preachers/apologists who completely misrepresent everyone that they argue against. I’m sure that most are just dishonest, particularly those who interact with atheists regularly, such as Ray Comfort, but there might be a few like pre-blog Ryan.

  79. davidsimon says

    I’d just like to say that I really enjoyed Ryan’s contribution to the show. He was very patient and understanding to theist callers even when they presented really tired, terrible arguments.

    We’ve all heard Pascal’s wager (or similar golden oldies) a thousand times and can rattle off the rebuttal by heart by now, but the obviousness of the counterargument is really just an illusion of transparency.

    Ryan has a strong understanding of how these arguments feel from the theist side, and his careful language and gentle (but uncompromising) demeanor are lessons I will remember and try to emulate in my own discussions with theists.

  80. jon says

    As now 48 year old man who was an atheist for 39 years I watched this episode with sadness I do not know much about the 7th day Church but how regrettable in all that time to never have had an encounter with Jesus. All the religion classes, the studying, the prayers etc , showing a form of godliness, but vacant of the power that the One true and Living God can equip us with. In my own experience I was convinced that there was no God, no Adam and Eve, Noah etc etc…. then came a day when Jesus showed me how real He is. On another note, studies may say that 85 percent of Americans call themselves Christian, on that i will no dispute, that being said I m reminded that Jesus said in the final days many will cry Lord, Lord we prayed in your Name, did many works in your Name, and He will anser…. I never knew you My point being twofold…. one many “Christians” may called themselves that, but do not know Him, you must have a relationship with Him, as the Pastor on this show, called himself one, but lacked any relationship at all.. 2 if this country were a Christian nation…. do you think abortion would be legal? as you said many politicans feign to be believers…. one who has a relationship with their Savior would know how precious each life is..

  81. Narf says

    @88 – jon
    How did Jesus show you how real he is? Why does he refuse to talk to the rest of us? Why do you worship such a trickster god?

    The human race never reached a choke point of two people or even close to that. The story of Adam and Eve is a myth. Likewise, the world was never flooded as described in Genesis 7 and 8. All I can say is that if you were really an atheist for 39 years, you must have been a pretty ignorant one, with your atheism based upon rather shaky epistemological foundations.

    And if you think that the Bible is anti-abortion, you should check out http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/says_about/abortion.html. It gives you a basic rundown. The only arguments I’ve seen Christians make about abortion being opposed by the Bible are the most tenuous, slapped together nonsense I’ve ever seen. It’s insane.

    So seriously, tell us … how did Jesus show you how real he is, and why won’t he show us? I really want to know.

  82. says

    Well, there’s another example in the 100%-consistent trend of former atheists having totally irrational, unevidenced, unreasonable, undemonstrable conversion stories.

    It’s weird how that happens.

    Such atheists don’t cause me to think “Gee, I wonder if my position is as solid as I think“. I’m thinking, “I’m surprised this person didn’t voyage off into lala land sooner

  83. Narf says

    Well, I know a lot of them are flat-out lying. I’ve caught out a few preachers who tried that tactic. Apologists like Josh McDowell and a couple of others push that sort of deceit to the evangelists they train.

    Of course any given person could actually be honest about it. You could get an apatheist or something, who fell for some stupid emotional argument, while going through some major life crisis. I try not to confront anyone and actually call them a liar, unless the signs are really freaking obvious.

    All I can say in this guy’s case is that if he was actually an atheist, rather than just a lapsed Christian, he sure as hell wasn’t an educated, thoughtful atheist like I am, with my background in the various scientific fields. I could see someone going to some sort of new-agey theism or to deism, but going all the way over to the ignorant shit that is young-Earth creationism? I don’t think so.

  84. says

    Does anyone knows what the name of the podcast Ryan talks about with “two Christians” that asked him about morality?

    It got me intrigued but I can’t find it anywhere 🙂