Open thread for episode #919: Matt and Tracie

Taking viewer calls.


  1. StonedRanger says

    Im surprised they let Gman on the show again. I was not surprised by Gmans performance. Matt you were pretty tolerant today considering Gary wouldn’t shut up and kept interrupting you. I only got to see the last 25 minutes of the show. I was especially irritated at Garys attempted dis of Tracie and Jen. What a punk.

  2. Chikoppi says

    Please post video of the post-show discussion about morality. It was an interesting conversation that deserves further consideration. I think the disagreement likely revolves around subtle differences in definition of terms, but it would be instructive to clarify those differences.

  3. says

    The post-show morality discussion was great! More disagreements between hosts, please!! 🙂

    What I got from it was that in the bank robbing under duress example, the robbery is still illegal/immoral. However, the person being forced to rob the bank has as much responsibility for the robbery as a gun has responsibility for a murder. The person putting you under duress is responsible. The robbery itself is illegal but the person performing the robbery doesn’t have a reasonable ability to say, “no.”

  4. favog says

    Man, that was like watching some NBA player going down to the local kindergarten … 🙂

  5. Omar Jhoomer says

    I don’t know whether Gman is a really committed performance artist or just an insane troll. He’s OK with being someone’s property? But the Triangle Trade was wrong? Does anybody watch his channel? Has he ever said what made biblical slavery different (and apparently better) than the Trans Atlantic kind? Assuming he was serious, I can only imagine the fun a psychologist would have in that sad mind of his. Dillahunty was more than patient with that nonsense. That Woman was great, as always.

    Of course, there’s nothing stopping Gman from defending himself here. I take no pleasure in beating up on someone who can’t or won’t fight back.

  6. Monocle Smile says

    William from Henderson was pretty annoying. Matt’s right that people who want to see a one-sided bloodbath are sickening, and William is indeed one of those people.

    GMan is an aggressive, ignorant shithead who needs to be locked up, like always. I don’t know how he manages to get out of his house without grievously injuring himself.

  7. Lea says

    On the post-show morality question, I agree with Tracy’s arguments that it would be immoral but coerced, so excused.
    Another factor to consider that wasn’t raised is the harm to the “perpetrator”. If I kill someone, even though it’s in self defense or defense of another, that does harm to me and I have to live with the negative psychological consequences of having done it. It’s not possible to just shrug it off because I was justified or coerced.

    If as social creatures some of our moral values have evolved (sense of fairness and empathy), then the instinctive feeling that killing another person is wrong (immoral) is going to be felt automatically when we do it, even if we were justified or coerced. That’s why the immoral label still applies, as Tracy said. Otherwise we could just say, “oh well, it’s OK then”, and think no more about it. But we (most of us, anyway) can’t do that–we are deeply affected.

  8. favog says

    I love that GMan wants to be compensated as a slave. I’m pretty sure if in biblical days a slave had asked for compensation for weeding the garden, it would’ve been explained that not getting that beating almost to death is the compensation.

    And what happened with the thread attached to last weeks show? It’s been replaced with another, much shorter thread that belongs somewhere else. And Narf is still wrong on the thread that should be there and I still need to correct him.

  9. Tiff says

    so this may be off topic but what are you all thoughts on things like oujia boards and stuff like that

  10. dayan75 says

    G-man clearly demonstrated that he’s not a worthy debater. His knowledge of apologetics was rudimentary at best, and obviously worse than his knowledge of the bible. He thinks the volume of traffic to his blog somehow validates his views. People visit blog sites for multiple reasons. We have all seen sites that are so bad that they go viral. Here is perhaps another example.

  11. Paul Wright says

    As entertaining as it is watching Gman flail an flounder at every turn, I think it’s about time TAE stopped taking his calls. He’s had his turn more than once and it’s just kind of sad and clichéd now.

  12. says

    I think there are situations where morality arguments are just inapplicable. You could say they are morally neutral, but more to the point they are situations that exceed our capacity to embrace the whole situation under the circumstances in which they happen.
    If I am pretty sure the gun pointed to my head is going to be fired any second now, every action I take from then onwards depends more on the limited capacity of my brain and the automatic responses that are wired in it and less on the arguments of individual gain, or collective gain, or benefit for the tribe. You cannot attribute a moral value to automatic responses.

    On the other hand, when you are coerced to do something well into the future, the moral issues are much harder. You have psychological coping mechanisms you do not control, you have guilt issues for both your actions and omissions, you have the time to choose the selfish or the heroic path. And to make it worse, either path could be moral or immoral, legal or illegal.

    My preference is toward a psychological approach, rather than a philosophical one. Contrary to Tracie’s position (sorry!) I cannot accept that a position is immoral if you are psychologically forced to take the way you take.

    And this still leaves the dilemma of the soldiers…

  13. JD and Co. says

    I used to hate it when Matt hung up on the slavery calls–I’d be thinking, “What a slam dunk, why did you cut it off?” Now I’m starting to understand. If a person has gone that far to justify the unjustifiable just to prop up his pathetic book, there’s nothing to say anymore. This time Matt went a lot farther with the call than I’ve ever seen him do on this subject, and I found myself cringing as GMan went further and further into left field. But I guess it served to point out just how twisted the reasoning can get.

  14. guyblond says

    “Owing another human being isn’t wrong in and of itself? WTF does that mean? Any definition of terms property or chattel applied to a human is immoral because it is cruel to the person being owned. If Gman is trying to define the word as not having any of the attributes that we would find cruel to a human, then the word becomes meaningless. Perhaps a translation error? I don’t think so. Although I’m not knowledgeable about such things, I pretty sure that the slavery practiced by the folks who wrote the bible was as bad as that practiced anywhere. Just as the native Americans tribal chiefs did here in the Pacific Northwest, they may have even killed a few slaves to just impress another tribal chief. We all know that the list of inhumanities committed by slave owners goes on and on.

    After watching this interchange, I’m getting a stronger feeling the Gman might be a poe. Or at least a very strong believer that recognizes the benefits, maybe even financial, to getting served by Matt. He certainly isn’t converting any atheist. And I suspect that the majority of believers don’t believe that his antics are productive in the support of their position.

    Gman should listen to Matt and take to heart the value the he, Gman is to the atheist position. Because of this, it is probably the right thing for Matt not to interact with him anymore. The fruit isn’t low hanging, It’s laying on the ground rotting.

  15. Robert, not Bob says

    @Omar Jhoomer, #4 (cool name)
    I think people are much to quick to say troll. It’s perfectly possible-and very common among Christians and Muslims-to accept the rightness of slavery, genocide, and other atrocities because of god’s authority. I sat through many sermons insisting on just that in my childhood. It’s also quite possible to believe contradictory things, especially if your foundational position is “god’s right, and any argument for that is a good argument”.

  16. rodney says

    My favorite bit was Tracie telling G-Man he’s a walking billboard for atheism, lol, so true.

  17. Bugmaster says

    @Carol Sperling #10:
    I am pretty sure there’s no “maybe” about it :-/

  18. says

    We seem to see this on occasion, where the believer (or whoever) is so invested in a belief system that they’ll adopt absurd positions (whether they actually believe it or not) just because it’s the logical and consistent position to take… and if they start making exceptions, the whole thing starts to fall apart, so they must accept the absurd things.

    It’s like Ken Ham’s acknowledgement that if anything is wrong with Genesis, the rest of the Bible falls into question too.

    Given that the 13th amendment exists, GMan can claim he’s fine with being enslaved all he wants. It could never be tested, at least in America.

  19. robertwilson says

    So gman seems to have a hint of a real concern in there, that incarceration is problematic in the US.

    But rather than sparking a real conversation for him it sparks a “now I have a gotcha for all these hypocrite atheists”. actaully, you know what, I had some thoughts on this yesterday and the more I think about it the more I think I’m being way too generous in my assumptions. He’s an idiot.

  20. kudlak says

    G-man seems not to understand the difference between slavery and indentured servitude. Most people who ended up in slavery were innocents, even during Bible times. They were often the booty of war, or the children of debtors, neither or which did anything to deserve such treatment. Selling your children in order to pay off a debt made them slaves, not indentured servants. It was silly for him to liken them to prisoners then. We only imprison people deemed guilty of a crime.

    He can cite how Jewish slaves could earn their freedom all he wants, but African slaves were sometimes allowed to buy their freedom as well, and nobody would argue that this made the whole thing all right.

  21. kudlak says

    @14 Jasper of Maine
    Some Christians treat their belief like a man treats a woman he loves desperately. To use the words of the great Percy Sledge

    When a man loves a (God, Bible, Christianity)
    Can’t keep his mind on nothing else
    He’ll trade the world
    For the good thing he’s found
    If (God, Bible, Christianity) is bad he can’t see it
    (God, Bible, Christianity) can do no wrong
    Turn his back on his best friend
    If he put (God, Bible, Christianity) down …

  22. favog says

    As much as I hate that song, kudlak, you’re right. My dad’s girl friend just lost a long-term friendship because she thinks that Josh Duggar is an indefensible piece of crap. Imagine someone who has never even met Duggar sticking up for him to the point of losing a real life friend. That’s just sick.

  23. Muz says

    Gman might actually be right you know. If you abstract a thing to the point that it no longer resembles the thing its name is supposed to represent, there might not be anything morally wrong with it. Check mate ethicists!

  24. frankgturner says

    @ Liz
    Ok but how the he’ll are we to NOT abstract the Bible after all that has happened? Languages change over time and it went through alterations from Aramaic and Hebrew dialects to Latin to Greek to English…it gets abstracted every time there is a translation. Does Gman think that it is still in the original language? Did God personally come down in a grey beard and white toga to ensure it was translated (a form OF abstraction) accurately each time and if so what proof is there that it was translated accurately? There seems to be more evidence from renowned theologians that it WASN’T translated accurately given all the versions and variations.
    Even if it was all one language every couple of hundred years words change in meaning so it would have gotten abstracted.
    IMHO gman is what Harper describes in #14 (@ Jasper I was thinking the same thing. He is someone so invested emotionally in an idea that he will believe absurd, illogical, contradictory things rather than rexamining his world model and considering change. He is doubling down on his bet rather than stopping playing a loosing game. Like many a compulsive gambler they reason that they just need one big win.

  25. says

    There’s really no defense for GMan’s schtick, assuming he is in possession of normative mental faculties. He’s committed so hard to the Bible being true (and by extension to his personal interpretation of the Bible being true, therefore he’s committed to himself being an ultimate source of truth, but of course can’t see the sheer glaring narcissism involved) that he’s engaging in absurdities to defend Biblical atrocities.

    In that way, he’s very similar to William Lane Craig, who also engages in absurd ethical gymnastics to defend the murderous beast he’s decided in advance simply has to exist. In that respect there’s really not much difference between the lettered & suited theologian and the gibbering youtube apologist – although so far, it seems Slick Willy has had the good sense not to debate Matt D about the Bible, while GMan has stomped his feet and jumped up and down and generally gone out of his way to look like a gaping asshole of ignorance while debating Matt.

    At this point I think that if GMan got it into his head somehow that Bruce Wayne was Superman, you could quote every single goddamned Superman & Batman film, comic book and cartoon (especially those that have both characters in them) – or just sit there next to him and make him read and watch them all – and he’d still swear up and down that Superman was really a Gotham city billionaire.

  26. Monocle Smile says

    @Hank_Says, Jasper

    I call this style of argumentation “scorched-earth apologetics,” where making a meaningless point trumps everything else, including reason and empathy. Gman wandered into that territory when he advocated death as punishment for adultery. Several callers have gone there when it comes to slavery.

    It’s not just the religious, either. I’ve come across a very nasty breed of MRAs who hold the line no matter what. They’ll claim that women have the same protections under the law as men, so all inequalities are clearly shortcomings on the part of women. I then ask about the severe inequalities between races and if they feel the same way. And I shit you not, they confidently assert that blacks and other minorities are intrinsically inferior human beings because they say all other explanations for the inequalities are myths perpetuated by the media, popular culture, etc. It’s utterly terrifying.

  27. says

    I’ve encountered similar all-or-nowt idiocy in many realms – religiosity, MRAssholism, libertarianism, racism. All bankrupt ideologies from an empirical point of view (and often from a moral one), all dogmatically held, all defended with either tortured apologetics or outright, in-your-face, rabid denials of reality.

    “Scorched earth” is a good way to describe the twists and turns used to defend the indefensible and a scorched earth is precisely what would ensue if the apologists for these broken philosophies gained any meaningful power – in fact throughout religious history, especially when faith did hold such power, we all know that’s exactly what’s happened.

  28. Daniel Engblom says

    I found Tracie Harris’ point in the beginning of the show a bit confusing. Was she saying that if something is “normal” then it is good? Was she trying to make an evolutionary argument for why murder is not innate, because it is bad “for society”? And Tracie Harris also seemed to forget that innate psychological states are not always things active at all times, you’re not hungry all the time (you could perhaps be horny, though), but states can be activated by many things, say shivers; you could go your entire life without having shivers, they are triggered by certain conditions, both internal and external, both innate and learned. You can go your entire life without any inclination for murdering, or you could one day discover by surprise your lover in bed with another person and feel predictably betrayed and angry, perhaps even motivated to take one of their lives.

    Matt Dillahunty recommended Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature, and that seemed to go against the point Tracie Harris was trying to make, because Pinker talks of human nature being the same, still with inclinations both towards and against violence, but some societies have changed to foster our ‘better angels’, thanks to secularism, enlightenment principles and other forces, and with our changed perspective of violence, the incentive structures in place around us pacifying us. It’s like us having a formula in our head, and given the environmental inputs, what comes out can be violent or nonviolent, and we have fostered environmental inputs which increase nonviolent outputs from humans, but never mistake what could come out from humans, given the right circumstances.

    Just because religions say humans are sinful by nature doesn’t mean we should rule out our darker sides, religions notoriously parasitize and pray upon human frailty, but not only do the religions claim bad things but also good things, like morality and reason are to them religiously bound, and I don’t think we want to throw those away only because they have normally been part of a religiously bolstered narrative. We question their narrative but accept reality, both good and bad.

  29. Daniel Engblom says

    Just as I hit post, I realized that “accept reality” might be misinterpreted as saying we accept bad things about human nature, and that was not my intent. I think irrationality is pretty innate and normal to a large degree, but just like with many other things, I see origins of bad things as mainly instructions towards how to defeat them, even if difficult or messy. Still worth fighting irrationality and darker sides of human nature.
    Also apologies for typos.

  30. kudlak says

    @18 favog
    I have no trouble believing that people would defend a respected pedophile to the point of losing friendships.

    I was an active Catholic before the Church’s sex scandal hit my region. Lot’s of people knew, and would even gossip about which priests liked the company of boys, but nobody did anything, of course. What’s worse is that they took the later allegations as a personal insult, sometimes shunning, or even threatening the victims. I know lots of Catholics who still refuse to believe that the Church did anything wrong and still view the victims as enemies.

    I would say that their response can often be stronger than what sometimes see from the family members who turn against victims of incest. That’s because Catholicism, and similar conservative forms of Christianity in general, tend to demand a greater love from their parishioners in Jesus and the Church than they allow for family and friends. It still encourages Catholics to make love a secondary consideration in marriage. In short, you are still expected to love the Church more than your family and friends, and choose it over them every time, which makes it a love even more blinding than the one described in the song.

  31. Omar Jhoomer says

    @Robert Not Bob #11. Yes, you’re right. I’m so used to the “religion lite” versions from family and friends that I often overlook what religion taken to extremes can do to otherwise smart people. That’s not G man, of course. But I admit that his religion is so ingrained that he can’t see what its done to him.

  32. frankgturner says

    @ Daniel Engblom #26
    Yes, to some degree it is generally accepted among social species like humans that a certain degree of respect for the life of others of one’s own kind/species develops from an evolutionary standpoint. This type of thing can be set up in laboratories (to some degree as evolution can take a long time), but this is generally accepted from the standpoint that in the absence of respect for other individuals of one’s own in social species that DEPEND on one another for survival, that the species could easily go extinct. This is not stated to certainty as there may be situations where intentional destruction of one’s own type HAS been observed without an entire species going extinct (ex. Lions killing their young) it is just generally observed that in highly social species this is avoided and that evolution plays a role in this. Does that make sense?
    And evolution also plays a role in determining a certain degree of selfishness for one’s own immediate family. So there are going to be some unpleasant things about human nature that stem from our wild animal origins. We might be more intelligent than other animals (to quote “The Elephant Man,” “I AM NOT AN ANIMAL! I am a human being !!!!) we are STILL animals in the sense that we, like them, are made of flesh and blood (even if we had not evolved to be this way).

  33. frankgturner says

    @ Omar Jhoomer #29
    What religion did to him could have been done to him by any number of means, religion is just the most common method. He developed a model for how certain things work and saw things that agreed with that model (I don’t know if I would call it evidence, per day) and was not or is no longer (I don’t know his past) naturally prone to determine if other evidence out there met with that standard. Subsequently he developed an emotional investment and commitment to the original model and has since tried to “force fit” all future evidence into that model.
    My father, despite being deeply religious, most certainly does not believe in Biblical inerrancy. He recognized that whether God inspired or not the Bible was written by human beings who have faults and that many of them were not culturally advanced enough to see the errors of slavery. He went to a priest whom I have spoken about before on here who had a PhD in ancient language studies (Greek and Hebrew) and asked some of these same questions about slavery and even renowed scholars in theological studies pointed out to him that the slavery practices in scripture was immoral (I thought it nice that they were at least honest with him about it).
    When I pressed him and a priest on the questoon of why God would allow and even encourage this, particularly Jesus, (“slaves obey your masters”) I would get the run around. Though one did try to claim to me that Jesus might not have said it but that this was the Gospel author’s viewpoint (this same priest did NOT try to claim Gospel inerrancy either). I often heard this other run around about man needing to have free will and that to give up slavery had to be a choice.
    What I find most interesting in retrospect is what Fri and Will committ to in terms of their emotional investment differs quite a bit from person to person and group to group.

  34. says

    @frank #31

    I like the ‘man needed to give slavery up of his own free-will’ argument as it’s so easy to counter when you compare it to some of the activities that the bible does prohibit. It points to a somewhat limited god…

    He was powerful enough to ban mixed fabrics and cooking goats in their mother’s milk, but man had to come to the realisation that slavery was bad (not killing, mind you – that was banned) on his own…

    There’s your objective morality, right there…

  35. says


    I like the ‘man needed to give slavery up of his own free-will’ argument

    What gets me about that is, why does that not apply to any of the ten (eleven) commandments? Why aren’t we supposed to give up murder of our own free will?

    Consistency isn’t their strong suit.

  36. kudlak says

    @31 frankgturner
    Jesus probably wouldn’t be concerned over freeing slaves because he genuinely expected God to establish his rule over the entire world shortly, in which case they would reap the same benefits of that rule that everyone else would. Unfortunately, he was wrong, and slavery continued in the Western world for many centuries because of that mistake. Likely, however, the Gospel writers were catering to the Roman world, and since the Roman world depended upon slave labor, freeing them would be a deal breaker, right?

  37. valendr0s says

    G-Man doesn’t know how to debate. He knows how to obfuscate. Worse yet, he brings out the worst in Matt who has no patience for obfuscation.

    “Is slavery immoral?”
    “I can see how from your worldview, you would think that.”
    “DO YOU believe slavery is immoral?”
    “It depends on what you mean by slavery.”
    “Is the slavery as advocated by the bible immoral?”
    “Well you have a problem with indentured servitude too”
    “Are you an advocate for Biblical Slavery?”
    “The bible also says to love thy neighbor.”

    How are you supposed to debate with that? G-Man isn’t debating, he’s deflecting. He needs to first understand the difference, then he can research debating, then he can practice, then maybe he is worthy of debating Matt.

    But like most religious people, he’s trying to skip all the hard work acquiring knowledge and skill and go straight to checkmate. If he’s so happy to declare victory without doing the work, why waste time with the debate at all?

  38. kudlak says

    @32 Simon Firth
    Rules about mixing fabrics, how to cook goats as well as eating lobsters and gay sex were all about separating the Jews from other cultures, where owning slaves was something they had no problem sharing with other peoples.

  39. frankgturner says

    @ Jasper #38
    Politicians are not required to be consistent, just convincing.
    @ kudlak #39
    Good point about the Romans. I had thought that politically speaking trying to win people over means catering to what they want and winning over the Romans was likely part of their politics.
    @ valendr0s #40
    It sounds to me like G man is doing many narcissistic egocentric people do. They don’t care to solve and problems, just to win arguments. They don’t really care about their views being correct either factually or philosophically, they just care about their views being popular. StB have me that impression as well, particularly when he tried to persuade people not to follow Matt, regardless of whether Matt was correct or not. G man may simply like the attention that arguing with Matt gives him.
    I have almost considered going to G man’s YouTube page and posting a question with regards to his claim about Hebrew and the Bible, like asking him for a reference source on his views, but it isn’t worth my time (I am guessing that if he answered it would be a whole lot of WLC).

  40. frankgturner says

    @ Hank_says #28
    I think the Bible is true as well. However, I do not believe that much of it is “factually correct.”
    I have seen that most don’t seem to care but there is a difference and I think that difference is important.

  41. Bugmaster says

    One thing I found interesting when reading the New Testament is Jesus’s uncritical acceptance of slavery. As far as I could tell, Jesus neither condemns nor explicitly endorses slavery. Instead, he speaks about it as though it was a perfectly ordinary aspect of nature, along with olive trees, donkeys, crops, and whatever else he’s using to construct his parables. He can no more imagine a world without slavery, than he can imagine a world where many diseases are eradicated; literacy is common and communication is instantaneous; and (incidentally) many of the little dots of light in the night sky are known to be massive collections of billions of suns, incredibly far away.

    For all of our ups and downs, we humans have made quite a bit of progress in 2000 years.

  42. kudlak says

    @frankgturner #42
    You also have to consider that a great many of the early gentile Christians were affluent women who owned slaves while also supporting the churches financially.

    Many others would have been slaves themselves, but they would have been encouraged by all the talk of the “least” becomming the first once Christ soon returned. Plenty of poor folks are still won over with that promise and, in a way, the Christian message has always been most popular amongst the desperate, those willing to clutch at straws.

    Plenty of better off people find themselves clutching for those same straws in times of desperation, but why they continue to cling to them after the danger has passed is a mystery until you realize that Christianity likes to keep its members in a constant state of fear and dependence. If God is a father he’s a rather poor one who doesn’t teach his children to someday live independently of him.

  43. corwyn says

    How can people have a discussion about bank robbery under coercion and not even bring up Patricia Hearst?

  44. corwyn says

    @43 Frank:
    Perhaps because those of us who *define* ‘true’ as ‘factually correct’, think you are speaking nonsense. Could you use a different word? Or provide a different definition.

  45. EnlightenmentLiberal says


    Plenty of better off people find themselves clutching for those same straws in times of desperation, but why they continue to cling to them after the danger has passed is a mystery until you realize that Christianity likes to keep its members in a constant state of fear and dependence. If God is a father he’s a rather poor one who doesn’t teach his children to someday live independently of him.

    Very interesting point.

  46. kudlak says

    @ Bugmaster #44
    The thing is that eradicating disease and establishing a system of instantaneous communication actually require an advance in technology where ending slavery and increasing literacy only requires that those in power reject elitism and recognize the value of all humans. Many societies have done quite well for themselves without ever having slavery, so it can’t be argued to be a necessary step in the development of societies.

    If Jesus had seen it as the evil we do all he had to do was teach that it was wrong, but he didn’t. Though Christians dominated the abolitionist movement their philosophy that slavery was wrong didn’t come from the Bible. Egalitarianism was a growing idea not limited to religion at the time.

  47. says

    The problem with this discussion is that Matt and Gman did not sufficiently defined what “slavery” is, and they’re talking past each other (which is usually what happens with most philosophical arguments: They devolve into a discussion over what words mean).

    While Matt and Gman both accept the definition that slavery means “owning another person as property”, they disagree on what that ownership entails and more importantly, whether it’s a moral position in the first place. Gman seems to think that slavery is permissible so long as it is not cruel, and he cites Bible passages that at least make some effort to regulate the practice (even if those passages do not say anything about preventing cruelty to slaves). But that’s hardly unique or unusual. Nearly every culture in history had some body of laws that governed what masters could or could not do to their slaves. The Roman servile industry was incredibly complex and diverse — slaves could do almost anything a free person could, even own land and title, but they still belonged to someone else.

    But the vast majority of Roman slaves were not treated humanely. The vast majority of Hebrew slaves were not treated humanely. The vast majority of slaves ANYWHERE were never treated humanely, regardless of era, location or culture. They were a disposable and expendable human resource exploited like cattle.

    If Gman wants to win this argument, he needs to point to an example where slavery is not only moral but beneficial for all involved and completely absent of cruelty, and adheres to our modern standards of human rights and decency. And even if he could, the concept is still morally repugnant to a society that values freedom and self-determination as much as this one does.

  48. AgntSmth says

    Regarding the after show discussion.

    Tracie says that morality is the evaluation of specific actions, period.
    Matt says that morality is the evaluation of specific actions including situational context.

    Does that sound accurate to their arguments?

  49. JT Rager says


    Gman at the very least seemed to go along with Matt’s example when Matt said he could make Gman “do what he wanted” as a slave. Gman didn’t have a problem with it as long as Matt didn’t make him do “evil” things, but he still seemed to think it was ok taking away the slave’s freedoms in making him do whatever he wanted.

  50. frankgturner says

    @Ishkur and JT Rager
    Gman might be using a definition for slavery that sounds more appropriate to today’s standards. the thing is, that sounds a LOT like Xtians who try to redefine Xtianity to fit their beliefs and it starts to sounds nothing like Xtianity. Kind of like those people (I have heard Unitarians say stuff like this) who will belief that Jesus is complete fiction and agree with the moral teachings and even read scripture. They might cherry pick scripture. After a while you are like, “why would you even WANT to label this as Xtianity?” I mean you can derive morality from scripture, heck I still do to some degree (that is part of my response about “truth”) and be completely atheistic.
    It sounds more like a label for labels sake. Like he does not want to have to admit that scripture is flawed so he comes up with this definition for slavery that sounds more comfortable to him and tries to claim that it is what was intended without having any evidence to really back that up. It is what apologists do, try to make up reasons that sound more comfortable to those not willing to consider the possibility that something is flawed or just flat out wrong.
    I think it is pretty well agreed though that in ANY form, slaves, while they may be protected and even respected to some degree, that they are NOT considered to be equal human beings with equal rights. Some people just want to have more rights than others though so they are ok with slavery, as long as they are the ones on top.
    Again this is evidence for my hypothesis that religion is a side effect of patriarchal primate evolution, a projection of deep embedded tribalism of our ape ancestry.

  51. frankgturner says

    @ corwyn # 47
    Of course, let me try to give an example of what I am talking about.
    I read an article online on how Hebrew scholars looked at cultures of ancient Israel and Egypt and Mesopotamia etc. They talked about nomadic shepherding in cultures and how their neighbors (allegorical “brothers”) who had learned to farm land were making them obsolete by being better survivors. Though not being put to death immediately, the shepherds may have felt like they were dying in that they were being made to be inferior. Hence the story of Cain and Abel is presented as a metaphor, a parable for what was going on in ancient society.
    Now a believer upon hearing me describe this said, “see it was happening back then, just like how Cain killed his brother.” I pointed out, “yes, but would this need to be factual, with regards to actual brothers and one killing the other, to demonstrate the point of farmers in some areas overtaking shepherds?” He though about it and said, “I guess not.”
    Plenty of people will call the parabolic meaning of that story “truth” and be factually correct only in the idea of what it represents, i.e.: farmers overtaking shepherds, and still accept it as NOT being factually correct in terms of an actual person named Cain killing an actual person named Abel. The type of “truth” that the story tells in the allegorical sense is NOT necessarily of the “factual” type.
    I point this out as many a believer never even considers this. I spoke with a Jehovah’ Witness who had never even considered the idea that the stories could have moral meaning UNLESS they were factually correct. I said to him, “really? so you think that the advice of ‘slow and steady wins the race’ only makes sense if the tortoise ACTUALLY outran the hare?” (He was familiar with the story.
    I have been known to use the adjectives “factual” vs “allegorical” many times when describing “truth” as I recognize that not all of what we consider to be “truth” is “factual.” Essentially, all things that are “factually correct” are “true,” but not all things that are “true” are “factually correct.”
    Now mind you this has more to do with common use of the term “true.” On a mathematics class, lets say we are discussing Boolean matters, then “true” generally always aligns with “factually correct.” Not everyone uses the word “true” that way all of the time though.

  52. frankgturner says

    Oh and in this whole Gman slavery thing, I could not help but think of the episode of Start Trek TNG: The Measure of a Man.

    Guinan: Consider that in the history of many worlds, there have always been disposable creatures. They do the dirty work. They do the work that no one else wants to do because it’s too difficult or too hazardous. And an army of Datas, all disposable… You don’t have to think about their welfare, you don’t think about how they feel. Whole generations of disposable people.
    Capt. Picard: You’re talking about slavery.
    Guinan: Oh, I think that’s a little harsh.
    Capt. Picard: I don’t think that’s a little harsh, I think that’s the truth. But that’s a truth that we have obscured behind a… comfortable, easy euphemism: ‘Property’!

    Maybe if he calls again Matt should play the clip from the show.

  53. Bugmaster says

    @kudlak #50:
    My point is that Jesus did not (as far as I can tell) see slavery as good, or as evil. He saw it in the same way we see gravity: just an immutable fact of life. In a way, I think this is a lot more damning than outright endorsement or condemnation would be. It is very, very difficult for an ordinary person to examine his own society with a critical eye; but the avatar of an omnipotent deity, whose entire agenda focuses on social reform, should really know better.

    That said, I think that advances in technology certainly contributed to the reduction of slavery. Slaves can be forced to work in a reasonably productive fashion when all you need is raw muscle power; but if you need your workers to operate complex machinery, then you need to make sure that they are at the very least literate. At best, you’d want them to be reasonably well educated, and to possess the skills needed to solve technical problems as they arise. But it is very, very difficult to keep literate, educated, and self-motivated people as slaves.

  54. Bugmaster says

    @Ishkur #51:
    I can’t think of a coherent meaning of the sentence, “this person is my property” that does not also entail, “I can do whatever I want with this person”.

    This pen that’s sitting on my desk right now is my property. I know that if I wanted to get the most use out of it, I need to treat it carefully. However, there’s nothing morally wrong with treating a pen poorly. I can use it to write with, true; but I can also break it, throw it away, use it to stir toxic compounds, or lose it. When the pen wears out to the point where it can no longer function, I’ll just throw it away and buy a new one. Isn’t that mostly what the word “property” means ?

  55. says

    @Bugmaster #57:
    You can’t kill a person with your pen. You can’t write obscene racist tracts on public buildings with your pen. You can’t pour the ink down the drain (may vary from state to state — bylaws n such) or do anything with it that may cause irreparable harm to another human being.

    As much as we can’t wrap our heads around the notion, all ancient cultures to some extent had rules about slaves just as we have rules today regarding our pets. A lot of rules forbid using your slaves for thieving or causing mischief. And some cultures expressly forbid killing them (or in the Bible’s case, killing them quickly) unless there was a good reason.

    As it was, most people used them as an easy source of labor and sex depending on qualifications. Even though they were legally your property, in the interests of the public good there were some things they were not permitted to do nor were you permitted to make them do.

  56. says

    @ frankgturner # 53:
    That’s pretty much what Christianity has been doing the last couple hundred years — lots of damage control. The new editions of the Bible don’t even have the word “slave” in them anymore, swapping it with the more fraternal “servant”.

    Religions are really good at adapting to changing mores and norms, after all. They’ve been doing it for thousands of years.

  57. says

    On a completely different subject, I did not know that there was cannibalism in the bible. I just run across these and was rather surprised. Maybe a subject for a talk about the so-moral bible?

    Leviticus 26:29 King James Version

    29 And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat

    Deuteronomy 28:53-57 , Jeremiah 19:9, Ezekiel 5:10, Lamentations 4:10.

    And often it is God himself threatening the people with cannibalism.

  58. JD and Co. says

    @51 Ishkur
    It reminds me of people saying what a cushy life pets have. Sure, *some* pets have it made–unless their owners decide to beat, starve, or throw them away. They only have a good life as long as it pleases their owners. That’s the whole goddamn point. And I would argue there’s more laws nowadays to protect pets’ well-being than there ever were for slaves.

  59. frankgturner says

    @ JD and Co
    Didn’t G man call in trying to claim that pets are slaves at one point?

  60. frankgturner says

    @ Ishkur # 59
    Yes but the internet is providing PLENTY of info about the original meaning. That is what I love about the free market of ideas.

  61. edmond says

    @ 63 frankgturner

    I haven’t watched this latest episode yet, but I recall someone not too long ago calling in and trying to argue that pet ownership was akin to slavery, might be the same guy.

    He should certainly think about the consequences of “freeing” all the pets, compared to freeing slaves. Besides the fact that human slaves can actually ASK for their freedom, if it is given to them then they can go out and get a job, find a home, and provide for themselves, completely integrating into the rest of society. If we tried to turn all pets loose, it would only endanger them and everyone else. Some might be able to “provide for themselves”, but it would mean killing many of the other loose pets, or stealing resources from humans. Where slavery involves snatching free people and putting them into bondage, humans and pets have evolved side by side over thousands of years in more of a symbiotic relationship, one which would be a danger to the animals if we tried to break it.

    And I don’t know about dog owners, since I’m not one, but my 2 cats are certainly not slaves. They are free to come and go as they please, and they always seem to return home where I fulfill all the needs they have.

  62. corwyn says

    @54 Frank:

    I would call those ‘lessons’, ‘parables’ or even ‘wisdom’ if I were you.
    I don’t think anyone denies that such things exist in the bible, (and in every other book on the planet).
    Now what is the ratio of good lessons to bad ones? And aren’t there many books with larger such ratios? Why wouldn’t we exchange the bible for one of those?

  63. EnlightenmentLiberal says


    You can’t write obscene racist tracts on public buildings with your pen.

    That may be true in many European countries, but thankfully it’s not true in the United States. We both agree that you physically can. However, in the US, it’s also a protected right – give or take property rights violations. In the US, you can legally write obscene racist tracts on public buildings to exactly the same extent that you can write tracts on number theory. The content of the message is basically irrelevant for deciding if it is criminal. Some minor exceptions exist, such as a much weaker version of defamation compared to many European states, true threats, harassment, and a couple other odds and ends. Mere racist tracts do not qualify.

  64. Kudlak says

    @Bugmaster #56
    Who ever said that the deity in question had an agenda of social reform? Jesus wasn’t interested in reforming his society. He clearly expected that the kingdom of God would soon be sweeping away his, and maybe every other human society, so why should anyone bother reforming?

    While he did touch upon several things which appear to be the cause of God having to intervene so directly, like divorce and poverty, he didn’t appear to be concerned over the affects of slavery (or homosexuality, for that matter). However, he also plainly stated that accumulating wealth was a detriment to entering the kingdom, and since slaves were a commodity that only the well to do could afford, presumably he meant people to rid themselves of their slave assets as well. Unfortunately, he did not explicitly instruct people to free their slaves as a means of ridding themselves of that wealth, so we are left to assume that many probably just gave their slaves away along with their other riches.

    Did he include salves in his message, as amongst those “poor” who would inherit the kingdom? Maybe the Jewish ones, but there’s no indication that Jesus ever intended his message to apply widely to gentiles, especially if he ever viewed himself as the coming Jewish Messiah. If the Gospels are to be trusted over Paul, which is highly debatable, then Jesus meant to better his fellow Jews in preparation of the coming kingdom of God, with gentiles eventually reaping the benefits of peace and such which that kingdom would establish globally.

    Advances in technology probably contributed to the reduction of slavery as well as the use of draft animals, and may be the cause of our present problem with obesity. Too much food easily available at relatively cheap prices coupled with less demand for physical labour means that we’re taking in way more calories than we naturally burn off in the course of our everyday activities.

  65. Kudlak says

    @JD and Co.
    What you said about pets reminds me of how the analogy of Jesus being like a shepherd, with Christians being his flock, just doesn’t make any sense. Sheep are not pets. They are livestock, kept for their wool, milk, and meat. Even a “good” shepherd who might go out of his way to find a wayward sheep isn’t doing it for unselfish reasons. No, he means to save that sheep so that he can continue fleecing it regularly, eventually killing it for meat once it’s outlived it’s other uses.

    In this age where so many people seem to treat their pets better than they treat their children, and where people buy their meat neatly packaged without ever having to visit a slaughter house, you have to wonder whether Christians actually do see themselves more as Jesus’ pampered pets rather than the livestock that this parable illustrates.

  66. frankgturner says

    # corwyn # 67
    I understand that but I have also realized that plenty of people do talk about the “truth” inherent in those, without meaning their factual correctness. Have you ever heard someone say, “there is a lot of truth in that” (obviously referencing the “wisdom” or “lesson”)? I recognize that this group tends to use the world “truth” to, almost exclusively, indicate factual correctness. I am fine with that but many believers are committed to the factual correctness of something that is factually incorrect. I have listened to many and realized that they think the ONLY way something can be allegorically true (have wisdom or a lesson to teach) is to be factually correct. I sometimes think that is why they are stuck. Ut is basically a false equivocation.
    Sometimes I will say “allegorical truth,” so as to distinguish that from “factual correctness.” I mainly distinguish “factual correctness” from “allegorical truth” to get believers to think as many of them will talk about the lessons taught from said stories (such as scripture) and when I have asked them, “how does that story being a parable make the meaning any less important than if it were factually correct?,” I never get a solid answer (a possible indication that they have none) outside of bullshit apologetics (i.e.: how can there be original sin unless humans where created as they are today?). Many times I will get a response so as to indicate that such a possibility never even occurred to that person. (In some cases it has, like the story of the tortoise and the hare, they just never thought of applying that reasoning to scripture).
    You see I have come to realize that many believers are very “emotionally invested in their beliefs” (I get that from James Randi and even thought I understood the concept I never had a good phrase to describe that until I heard him say it in a lecture). I try to get a person to see that the wisdom from their scripture does not have to rely upon its factual correctness as a way of showing them that you don’t have to give up your emotional investment to consider alternate possibilities. Considering alternates is a first step for many people and points them in the right direction.
    Instead of explaining all of that, I just make a distinction between “factual correctness” and “allegorical truth.” Plenty of people do this in common speech (that is, they use the word “true” in such a way that it means more than just “factually correct” or , in some cases, correct in a way that is not delineated by that which is empirically factual). I explain all things that are “factually correct” as falling inside the realm of “true” but not all things inside the realm of “true” as falling inside of the realm of “factually correct” (insert Venn diagram here). Of course if we are discussing Boolean algebra then “true” and “false” do delineate “factually correct” and “factually incorrect,” respectively.

  67. favog says

    It would be much more humane to just euthanize all of our pets rather than just setting them free. Domestication involves changing a breed’s allele frequency, and not to one optimized for life in the wild. Our ancestors became a selective pressure for the ancestors of the dogs and cats that therefore depend on us now. That’s actually true of the livestock, to. Setting all the chickens in the chicken farms would be a banquet for the coyotes and weasels for a month or two, I’d guess, and then there would be no more chickens.

  68. frankgturner says

    @ favog #72
    You know about the laboratory mice who have become so isolated from the wild population that they cannot interbreed with wild strains anymore? This is not a joke, it has been called Mus laboratorius for several years now.
    @ Kudlak #70
    I have suggested several times that religion is a projection / extension of the instinctive drive promoting a patriarchal social community inherent in ape ancestry. Viewing oneself as a pampered pet of a male caretaker provides support for this hypothesis.

  69. Kudlak says

    @frankgturner #73
    There might be something to that, but while there is a tendency to refer to the deity as “Master” even in Christianity, the more common term of reference is “Father.” There may be an instinctual desire to be taken care of by a parental figure whenever the world proves difficult to deal with. Rather than view ourselves as pets, the religious impulse may drive us to assume the role of child, giving up the responsibility of making our own decisions in favour of handing it over to a parental authority figure.

    Of course, that’s not to say that it’s healthy to give into that impulse, especially to the degree that many religious people take it. To some extent I can understand the desire to turn to religion in times of grief and trouble, but plenty of people run their entire lives according to a religion, allowing it to dictate their actions even down to the most minute of details. That would be comparable to the difference between an adult returning home for a few weeks of comfort after their spouse dies, then getting on with their lives and a adult who still lives with their parents, maybe always has, and who can’t even make the simplest decisions without asking them what to do.

    If God supposedly encourages this level of dependance of his “children” then he isn’t a very good parent. The role of a parent in most, if not all, human cultures is to prepare the child to someday be able to live independently of them. That’s also the role of parenthood in nature. So, you are correct. Believers may see themselves as God’s “children”, but they act and expect to be treated more like his pets.

  70. Kudlak says

    @ favog #72
    That might be true for most pets, but I’d lay my money on large dogs gathering together into packs and being able to survive, probably by eating all the small dogs and obese cats. Goodbye Garfield and Odie!

  71. frankgturner says

    @ Kudlak #74
    I have been having this conversation with a number of people. To extend the allegory of religion stemming from primate ancestry and the usage of “father,” the alpha male of a group of primates is often the biological father of many members of the group and protects members. And many humans think of their pets as children (I do).

  72. Kudlak says

    @ frankgturner #76
    I grew up on a farm, so I don’t have as close a personal attachment to my animals. We even kept sheep, and I can tell you that anyone who feels like they want to be treated like them isn’t being very realistic. We kept them for wool, but slaughtered almost all the male lambs, and even the sheep were slaughtered once they got too old.

    They were not pets, and the only way I can see a shepherd leaving 99 of them in danger out in the wilderness to track down a single stray is if he happened to be too greedy to have sense enough not to take such a chance. He could just have easily returned to find that the rest of his flock were stolen, and people would have called him foolish for taking such a gamble.

    Christians would say that we are all sinners who God will go out of his way to rescue, but it actually states that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance” which seems to imply that the vast majority of people don’t need any rescuing, right? What’s more, it could also mean that the vast majority of people are basically good, but that God doesn’t value them nearly as much. That’s also illustrated in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Seems like God actually prefers that people go through a hedonistic stage prior to coming to him. Maybe that’s an appeal to those who have proven that they can’t run their own lives, those who have hit rock bottom due to their own debauchery? Washouts and losers? But what if you’re just not interested in living that way? What if you simply can’t make poor decisions which ruin your life? Too bad for you if you’ve always been straight-laced, I suppose. God doesn’t like you as much.

  73. frankgturner says

    @ Kudlak #77
    I definitely see your point. Shepherds and farmers definitely don’t think of the animals as pets (having met quite a few farmers I have heard the rule of not naming them).
    I am just getting at how the deity seems a lot like the alpha male of a group of Gorillas or Monkeys.
    I think what that really comes down to is valuing people who are desperate and/or engage in blind obedience and won’t challenge their authorities who are weak of character anyway. Independent thinkers who are going to challenge their authorities only works if the authorities are secure in their position and opened to challenge.
    You never hear of the great prophet of a religion who says, “thou shalt think for thyself.”

  74. says


    @ Hank_says #28
    I think the Bible is true as well. However, I do not believe that much of it is “factually correct.”
    I have seen that most don’t seem to care but there is a difference and I think that difference is important.

    What is the Biblical difference between “true” and “factually correct”? And when sorting through the Bible, how is that distinction made?

    If there is indeed some kind of moral “truth” to be gleaned from an allegory, how is it determined that what you’re reading is allegory in the first place and not a factually correct description of a real event? If, for example, events containing supernatural beings or obviously miraculous occurrences (i.e. the whole Eden/Noah story arcs) are to be related to as allegory or parable, why do so many people accept them as factually correct – and how is it determined that those people are relating to them incorrectly, or that others are not? Are the infamous massacres of the Old Testament relayed as lessons or history? Those who believe they really occurred have the troublesome task of defending them as works of a good God, but anyone who relates to them as allegory has the task of gleaning “truths” from stories of genocide, child-murder and rape-slavery.

    To me, the main problem with the Bible is that the entire work (the committee-approved books that comprise the canon, anyway) is said to be written, dictated or at least inspired by an immortal, supernatural miracle-performing being who made a universe for us to bumble about in and planted some books here and there in an attempt to communicate its deepest desires and most profound moral truths to us. Without any good reason to think that being exists (except its factually-compromised books, of course, which are obviously not evidence) or is even plausible, only the most mundane claims within it – e.g. that a particular place or person existed at a particular time – can be accepted. Not only that but far better, far more reliable sources for such mundane historical facts exist – without the extra supernatural baggage.

    Additionally, any allegorical truths contained in the Bible are also bookended by said stories of conquest, genocide (one performed by God himself) and slavery as well as misogyny, homophobia and, last but not least, the doctrine of Hell. Is stoning homosexuals to death meant to be allegorical, or an inviolable law? Is Hell allegorical? It doesn’t seem so, but many insist that it is – not a place of eternal torment, but of oblivion or separation from God. Which brings us back to how we’re meant to distinguish between allegory and fact in a book which doesn’t always make it clear which is which – or even that there is a difference. Or, even, that believers are permitted to make such scriptural judgements in the first place.

    As for the moral truths which may be found within (e.g. the much-vaunted Golden Rule), they don’t even appear to be unique to the Bible (any more than do the virgin birth or flood stories). Writings prior to the Bible contained many behavioural prescriptions, proscriptions and parables intended to give moral lessons and many of them are superior.

    Really, I find no great value in making distinctions between Biblical “truth” and Biblical “fact”. This is because, as I mentioned, it’s not always clear which is which, even within Christianity. These unavoidable intra-faith disagreements regarding when and how to distinguish lesson from history hinder clarity, and clarity is essential for any good communication – doubly so if the purpose of the communication is to teach. That’s not to say I find the book worthless; it’s obviously a vitally important cultural document and, thanks to King James’ translators, contains some elegant English prose that to this day informs the language, but as a source of either fact or “truth” I find it lacking.

  75. frankgturner says

    @ Hank_Says # 80
    I mainly address the idea of allowing for allegorical truth to be weaned from scripture in # 71. It’s not that one cannot find deeper more meaningful lessons in other texts, you can. Some Buddhist texts are quite brilliant in their teaching of morality.
    The principle is that many Xtian believers are emotionally invested in their beliefs / scripture. In my experience the refusal to convert or even tolerate other ideas sometimes comes from irrational fears that they are their ideas, that they will be punished for opening their minds to new concepts, etc. I read somewhere that individuals are more likely to listen to someone from their “in” group. (The article I read said something to the effect of creationists needing to be taught about evolution from someone they perceive to be another creationist).
    So my idea is that you plant the seeds of doubt by using their own doctrine. Many years ago as a Catholic I heard a priest talking about the divine myth of Job. A woman approached him about why he said “divine myth” and if he was claiming that Job was fiction. He explained that it was, discussing how it begins with a classic Hebrew disclaimer (“there once was a man”). This scared the woman (a creationist just to give you an idea) who actually needed to hear this from another priest whom she knew better and trusted to believe it. Hearing this kind of thing from people she trusted got her to examine things closer (planted the seeds of doubt) and many of them used their knowledge of Hebrew and Greek to do this.
    Are you starting to get where I am going with this?

  76. corwyn says

    If you say (as you did) “I think the Bible is true as well.”, and later ‘correct yourself’ and say that what you meant was “Some things in the bible are allegorically true.” You will have lost the respect of all atheists and most theists. Either this is an intentional equivocation fallacy, or language too sloppy to be used in public.

  77. frankgturner says

    @ corwyn # 82
    I definitely see your point as that makes sense. The difficulty is that we are not always talking to other atheists. Obviously the show has believers who call in who may use the word “true” differently.
    One of the things I think I have figured out is that while words have meaning by consensus, one group may not go with the majority consensus and you can’t force them to either. So sometimes when interacting with that group you may need to be flexible and opened to alternative interpretations.
    For example, I am a scientist who heard about “theory” a lot uses in the scientific sense. Yet even OTHER scientists will use that word in the common sense which is more synonymous with “hypothesis.” I myself try NOT to do that and I say “hypothesis” when I recognize that I would have used the word “theory” in common speech but recognize that the word “hypothesis” is more accurate.
    The use of the word “truth” to indicate “allegorical truth” rather than “factual correctness” among believers is a persuasive tactic. Many of them ARE familiar with the varied usage of the word “true.” (I am actually a tad surprised that many atheists are not more familiar with this variation on the word “true”). The persuasion that plants the seeds of doubt starts with the phrase “I believe that it is ‘true’ as well, I just don’t believe that it is ‘factually correct.'”
    The reason that I do this is that I have recognized that words change context. Sometimes the context of a word can change mid sentence. You are familiar with this given the argument over the context of the word “supernatural” and have obviously recognized that the context of such a fuzzy bullshit word in one sentence can be different from another. (“True” is a bit harder to claim fuzziness as it tends to mean “factually correct” much more than it does “allegorical truth”).
    Not everything that is said or written comes with a disclaimer and/or an obvious indication that the person is speaking hypothetically or appropriate adjectives to indicate the context in which a word is spoken. I will point out that to atheists and agnostics I tend to say that I believe the Bible has some factually correct elements in it (it does, locations, certain leaders of nations) but for the large part is allegorical. A lot of Catholics think the same way (some are more hard core and less liberal). To the hard core believers I say that I agree that it is true, just not completely factually correct. (Keep in mind, believers do read this).

  78. frankgturner says

    @ corwyn
    Oh and in my personal experience I have not lost the respect of theists by doing this. It gets them thinking about what “true” means and how it is used. I figured out that in context people DO switch from the “factually correct” meaning to the “allegorical” meaning quite a lot without even realizing it. I tend to think that the reason others have not is that they accept to easily the majority consensus of the word “true” to mean “factually correct” and don’t think about the fact that they have heard the word “true” to mean “allegorically true” quite often.
    It is effectively the argumentum ad populum fallacy.

  79. corwyn says

    @ 84 Frank:

    I figured out that in context people DO switch from the “factually correct” meaning to the “allegorical” meaning quite a lot without even realizing it.

    They try for the Bible is TRUE, and when called on that, retreat to it has allegorical truths in it. At some level they realize what they are doing, it is a face-saving measure in light of having lost. And everyone else *realizes* it, and feels derision or sympathy depending on their leanings. Nobody feels respect.

  80. corwyn says

    @82 Frank:

    The difficulty is that we are not always talking to other atheists. Obviously the show has believers who call in who may use the word “true” differently.

    I don’t think so. Many people call in claiming the bible is *true*. Most of them mean ‘factually correct’.

  81. frankgturner says

    @ corwyn
    If people “realize” it, then they may not be keeping their minds opened to other hypotheses. Many times I have felt strongly confident in that the individual is retreating to allegorical truth to save face. I don’t “know for certain” as I am not the other person. If they call back trying to make the same bullshit arguments, then I become more comfident, but I am always opened to other evidence and interpretations. (After a certain amount of time it becomes almost trivial mind you).
    We have had the occassional liberally minded believer though. And getting people to that point is fine with me, that is at least a step in the right direction. I do see how In this country and perhaps parts of the world some individuals are becoming more polarized and my feeling from the callers of the show is that many are extreme evangelists. After all the show is out of Texas and that is a much more polarized area than where I live. (FYI, where I am there are a lot of liberally minded Catholics and Unitarians).
    I can definitely see where you are coming from though. What I try to get believers to realize is that something CAN be allegorically true WITHOUT being factually correct. Many have convinced themselves that this is not possible and I find that when a person has come to realize that this is not the case, they may start to doubt the “factual correctness” of their beliefs, in my personal experience. Planting the seeds of doubt is part of the process isn’t it?
    (I do think many are hopeless cases mind you).

  82. Kudlak says

    @frankgturner #78
    Some other people use to have a system of sorts where they’d kill each other’s sheep, but we never had any problem doing it for ourselves. Then again, we never named any of them. Any cows or pigs we happened to get was a different matter, but we took those to a professional to slaughter and process anyway, so naming them wasn’t much of a problem.

    Its not just gods, we generally defer to alpha male types within our own human societies. “Type A” personalities generally assume and compete for leadership roles. I tend to see this as part of the problem with debating theists: Religious authorities tend to be charismatic type A personalities who command greater attention from audiences while scientific authorities generally do not have such dominating personalities, good interpersonal skills, or debating talent. When it comes to debate it’s the delivery, not the actual evidence that often matters most, and religious authorities can usually generate more trust through their interpersonal skills, unfortunately.

    Taking advantage of people’s insecurity seems to be the hallmark of extreme belief systems. Just take the anti-vaxxers, for example. Fear of having something happen to your child has to be one of the most powerful insecurities that anyone can have. It’s no wonder then that plenty of usually quite reasonable people still swallow the hype hook, line and sinker. It doesn’t matter that the science that originally made the connection between MMR and autism has been completely debunked, the reasoning has achieved “common sense” status in many, which is something we see often in religious people, especially creationists. It just seems like “common sense” that the universe needed an uncreated creator, for example. You can point to other things, like witches, a flat earth, and demon possession, for example which were all once considered common sense too, but they very often don’t make the connection.

    Christians will gladly point out the passages in Paul’s letters where he cautions believers to “test everything” before deciding, but he’s also making the case that he can be trusted implicitly, so it’s not actually a call for genuine independent thinking, eh?

  83. Kudlak says

    @ corwyn
    What you often hear these days is that the devil can quote scripture too, and that the Bible has been misinterpreted in the past for evil purposes, such as supporting slavery, witch burning and such, but that a “careful reading” of it will unveil the foundational message of love, equality, and so on.

    The fact that many of these same people still haven’t gotten around to applying that principle to accepting gays hasn’t occurred to the yet, however. Very likely, they consider those Christians as being amongst those deceived by Satan.

  84. corwyn says

    If one starts with an assumption that the devil can subvert god’s plan on earth, then I don’t see how you can claim that the bible (as we read it today) was not also subject to that subversion. So, which parts of the bible were inspired by god and which subverted by satan?

  85. kudlak says

    That’s where the special pleading usually kicks in, isn’t it? There has to be a root, unquestionable authority for Christians to point to as the basis for their beliefs, and they have no problem with accepting the Bible as God’s literal communication with humanity even though it’s the book itself making the claim. Somehow, the concept of circular logic escapes them.

    If Satan is supposedly in Hell and a voice started talking to you out of a burning bush, telling you to kill thousands of fellow Hebrews and commit genocide, wouldn’t you get even a bit suspicious? How about a disembodied voice that also blinds you telling you that the guys who actually knew Jesus had it all wrong? Plenty of places where a devil could have threw him into the works, eh?

  86. jeffh123 says

    Gary is a racist, sexist and religious bigot. Much like very many of the fundamentalist religious types. He is also a hypocrite, again, much like very many of the fundamentalist religious types.The best and most blatant example is his stance on slavery. “Slavery is OK, unless it is about black enslavement in America.” And he either doesn’t know HIS bible or chooses to be deceitful.

  87. says

    I am many days and several dollars short, having been overseas with sketchy internet connections when this show aired. But I do have this observation.

    Like theists who so broadly define God (the classic: God is love) that the word becomes meaningless, Gman’s not-so-clever attempt to make “slavery” palatable is to strip it of all meaning. To be more precise, he wants to pretend that one human owning another is just fine, so long as a) the owner never asks the slave to do anything or, alternatively, b) only commands the slave to do “good.”

    But a) renders the idea of “slave” meaningless, and b) is shot through with problems, i.e. who gets to say what is “good,” and only a brainwashed freak like Gman could possibly argue that being forced to do anything, good or bad, is acceptable.

    No more Gman, please.

  88. Kudlak says

    @Clay Bonnyman Evans
    Yup, G-man has no problem with being anyone’s slave as long as he’s treated like a well-paid employee with all the company perks, and unionized enough to reject having to do anything he doesn’t want to do. Some of us can only dream of being such a “slave.”

  89. Yaro says

    GMan also failed on another point, in claiming Jesus said he was overturning or replacing the law.

    Matthew 5:17 – “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

    This means Jesus had always meant for the ugly Old Testament commandments to stay in place and never intended for Christians to ignore them.

    If Jesus meant to overturn the laws, then that also means the Ten Commandments as well as any old laws Christians LOVE to trot out for their politics. Christians will ignore this inconvenience because then they can’t lord out their two favorite things:

    1. The myth that the US was founded on the Ten Commandments. The Founding Fathers themselves would call out Christians who claim this. Even the Christian FFs wanted this country to be secular, and never brought their religion into it.

    2. Persecution against other groups of people because the Bible either explicitly or implicitly permits it in the Old Testament, most commonly against homosexuals.

    However, Jesus stated he was not there to overturn the law (And it’s not like he had the political power to do so at the time, but from a commandments perspective Jesus out and.). This means the Ten Commandments and the laws stated in Exodus and Leviticus were still supposed to be followed. The issue here is that the Bible is a HORRIBLE reference for law and morality when you actually consider the whole thing, not just the parts you like.

    GMan seems to suffer the same thing I see a lot, though. You’ll see a lot of apologists claim that it’s not immoral just because it was “acceptable” to their book. It’s just special pleading. It’s immoral to own slaves, unless you did it in Biblical times because, hey, so-called “good” people in the Bible did!

    It’s not hard to be more moral than the Bible.

  90. KsDevil says

    Is GMAN still a thing? I thought that when he became the Chocolate Atheist, he became a joke and lost any credibility.
    Still, it might be interesting if Matt owned GMAN. It might do him some good.

  91. frankgturner says

    @ MCD
    I am not sure that I would call him a master debater. I suppose it depends on what the debater is trying to accomplish. If one is being a politician in which the purpose is to manipulate public opinion regardless of the facts, perhaps.
    I think the best purpose of debate is to reach a level of understanding. A lot disagree though.

  92. Narf says

    I think that was a joke, Frank. Drop the first syllable of the second word in the compound ’master-debater‘ and you’ll get MCD’s meaning.

  93. Narf says

    Did anyone ever respond to Tiff’s question, on #9?  I don’t feel like combing back through the entire comment section, at this point.

    so this may be off topic but what are you all thoughts on things like oujia boards and stuff like that

    I’m not sure exactly what you mean, with this question.  Are you still out there anywhere, Tiff?

    Do you mean what we think about the ideomotor effect?  We could use a bit of clarification.  It isn’t entirely off topic, since it vaguely relates to skepticism, and pretty much everyone around here is an atheist/skeptic.

  94. ironchops says

    On the topic:
    It is my opinion that we are as “Good” as we are “Sinful”. A good person is nice, courteous, helpful and sharing where IMO a sinful person is rather selfish, rude and like to cause turmoil.

  95. says

    Daniel –

    We have innate human qualities and then socially derived qualities. But, no, I am not saying that “anything inherent to humans is moral”—I’m saying we have *innate* tendencies that are classified as (and tested for by) behavioral psychologists as “moral”—and that these are tendencies that serve to create and enhance social bonds with other humans. Innately human reactions that do not serve that purpose are not moral (and may also not be immoral). While reactions that are antithesis to that purpose (whether innate or not) are what would be labeled “immoral.”

    So, pair-bonding exists in all human societies and is common among humans individually. It is therefore considered innate. But the style of the bonding found around the globe is highly flexible, with the idea of life-time monogamy or legal marriage being clearly social constructs—demonstrated by the fact they are not found anywhere close to universally when we do a global survey of human societies (and they have mainly come to be more common due to the spread of social ideas by conquest-style cultures).

    Murder exists (in very different forms) in all human societies, but is not even close to something common among individual humans. The idea that all humans are murderous or will murder in their lifetimes is not supported by observation—in cross cultural survey. To call “murdering other people” innate to humans could only be broadly applied. That, in society, there will be fringe elements like this, but it isn’t average human behavior—nor is it a tendency that lends itself to bonding with other humans (the metric of human morality). From an evolutionary standpoint, if we all, as individuals, made a habit of killing each other for random reasons, societies would not function and we would cease to exist as a species. “Morality” represents those social tendencies that encourage healthy social bonds and interactions between members of the same species (in any social species). So, when animal behavioral psychologists want to know if chimpanzees exhibit moral tendencies, they test chimpanzees against other chimpanzees, not against sparrows or snakes or foxes or wolves, because we know the chimpanzee has innate recognition of other chimps as *similar* to itself in ways other species members are not. All social species members have this capacity—to recognize members of their own species as uniquely similar.

    Again, this is clearly an evolved trait in social species (the more social, the more important a priority this becomes), and chimpanzees, like all highly cooperative social species, are endowed with inherited traits that allow them to communicate and cooperate better with other chimpanzees to form functional social groups—which is how they have come to survive—which cannot be applied to success in socially cooperative societies with, say, hyenas or Thompson gazelles (To clarify–chimpanzees who try to form social groups with members of other species in this way would not do as well as those which work with other chimpanzees). All social species whose survival rests on cooperative groups must have some form of interaction that includes “you and I are both species-X, and these other species are not like us.” It’s how we realize with whom we can most successfully cooperate to survive. And moral tendencies appear to be merely a mechanism that has evolved to facilitate this. It’s a survival aspect that arose, which allows for more complex cooperative social interactions and survival success. This is my understanding of morality—and, additionally, the only morality anyone has ever shown me that actually exists. If someone has another understanding of what is being described when the term “morality” is used, they are welcome to show me what “morality” points to that is founded in a demonstrated reality and not predicated on these tendencies. Then they should show me why I should adopt that as the definition of “morality” rather than what I can measure and observe in the world around me which appears to account for the term usefully and fully. If someone has another measure of what constitutes how humans “should” behave, I would tend to think that it should be considered an “ethic”—and not “morality.” An ethic can be predicated on anything anyone would like to use as a foundation—and does not need to use the demonstrated moral tendencies as a basis. But if it isn’t using demonstrated moral tendencies as the foundation, then why even call it a “morality” or a “moral system”? From a historic standpoint, this has been the case—however, now that real science has begun researching “morality”, it has infringed on moral philosophy, and moral philosophy can either conform to the reality of morality or find another label. (More on this later.*)

    So, just from a measurable observable perspective, those innate evolved attributes that have arisen to allow for an understanding of “sameness” or similarity between me and my fellows in my social species—which have given rise to ability to bond and cooperate as effectively as possible to ensure our mutual survival success (fairness, empathy, equity, guilt, obligation, compassion toward my closely related fellows upon which my survival rests) are now what we’re pointing to when we say “moral.” It’s certainly what we’re testing for when we go into the lab to see if other species exhibit “moral tendencies” within their own species.

    *Human moral philosophy, like many human systems (medicine, astronomy, theories of mind/consciousness, and so on), predated any actually robust measurable, demonstrable, observable information about its area of concern. It may have been fun to navel gaze about morality in a time before we had real metrics, but now reality, in the form of scientific inquiry, has intervened to show us what “morality” actually corresponds to. And much like “consciousness”—we can now separate the historic, philosophical wheat from the chaff as the *real* measurable data about how the brain functions to create “personality,” “thought,” and “experience” become more accessible. Beliefs should follow evidence; evidence does not follow beliefs. Whatever morality has been abstracted into by dusty, ancient philosophical ideas from the past, must now be reconciled to what can be actually demonstrated to exist.

  96. Daniel Engblom says

    Thanks for the reply, I’m going to start with the most worrying question:
    Are you advocating for a “group-selectionist” view of evolution? I ask because you said in the show things sounding like that, and so I asked in line with that in my first comment, and now you write sentences like “From an evolutionary standpoint, if we all, as individuals, made a habit of killing each other for random reasons, societies would not function and we would cease to exist as a species.” And this seems to say that natural selection’s primary concern, to put it simply, is the survival of species.
    (Also, random reasons? I hope you didn’t mean that literally, because that would sound like a strawman, of painting the impulses for violence as being arbitrary, and they might seem like that, and there might well be cases that are like that, but even violence tends to come with motives.)
    Now there are a few biologists who are advocating for a group selectionist view of Natural Selection (Stephen Jay Gould, E.O. Wilson and David Sloan Wilson popularly known, not related to each other btw), but they are in a minority, and the majority have argued against their views (Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins & Steven Pinker popularly known in the opposite camp).

    When I read your take on what’s innate and morality, I see that the underlying assumption you appear to take is the primacy of the survival of the species in an evolutionary context, and I do find that premise to be on dubious grounds.

    I’m glad that we cleared up the issue of humans indeed being able to both have moral and immoral impulses, which could generally be possibly innate.

    You wrote,
    “The idea that all humans are murderous or will murder in their lifetimes is not supported by observation—in cross cultural survey. To call “murdering other people” innate to humans could only be broadly applied.”

    Your first sentence is borderline strawmanning, going straight for the absurd presumption that for something to be innate, it is a simple omnipresent feature of the creature, which sits on a being like the colour of their skin, or the number of their limbs. I tried to counteract this view (which you presented in the show as well) with my comments on how our impulses can be very context-sensitive, behaving predictably when they follow specific predictable paths and not otherwise.
    However, I do want to point out that you did in fact clarify that broadly applied, one could, in a very general way, say that murdering others would be innate. So I hope you can forgive me that I focus more on the first sentence than the last one, when elaborating upon the point I tried to make in my previous comment about behaviour being complex and contextual.
    To use some of the specific emotions you mention as being morally relevant, guilt predictably arises when humans have gone through a certain developmental path of growing up, forming trustworthy bonds with other individuals, and then failing their expectations or in some other manner letting them down. You could add into the equation perhaps some life history of being minimized at home, to increase the odds of feeling guilt at even the slightest perception of failing to meet what one expects other peoples expectations to be about oneself.

    So you see that even with this morally laden emotion of guilt, in normal humans it arises under specific circumstances, and in theory you could go your entire life without ever feeling guilt. And one could see that the impulses motivating something like murder could arise under different conditions, conditions which appear increasingly rare in modern secular societies. Leading to most people people never actually murdering their fellow human beings (though perhaps fantasizing about it on occasion).
    Seeing your emphasis on moral impulses being relevant to social bonding, I feel the need to prevent possible misunderstanding by repeating again that none of this makes murder a moral act. You did in the beginning clarify that you see people being able to harbour both moral and immoral innate tendencies, though you see moral tendencies being selected for more intensely because of our social nature, evolutionarily speaking.

    You focus a lot of your writing on the importance of the evolutionary logic of building bonds and cooperation within species versus among different species, and I’m not exactly sure why you felt this needed highlighting. I don’t necessarily disagree with it (I would see it in a different light if you indeed have a premise of group selectionist pressures underlying the logic), I just hope to understand your thought processes better to see the need to emphasize. If I would hazard a guess it would be that it was the basis for your defense of the definition of morality you laid out.

  97. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Daniel Engblom

    Now there are a few biologists who are advocating for a group selectionist view of Natural Selection (Stephen Jay Gould, E.O. Wilson and David Sloan Wilson popularly known, not related to each other btw), but they are in a minority, and the majority have argued against their views (Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins & Steven Pinker popularly known in the opposite camp).

    It really depends on what you mean by group selection.

    First, let me explain where I’m coming from by giving a brief description of Dawkin’s Forest Of Friendship. It’s expensive for trees to grow tall. It takes energy, nutrients, etc. However, if some neighbor tree grows much taller, its leaves will block out the leafs of the shorter tree, and the shorter tree will not receive sunlight, and it will die. What you often see in nature is that trees of various kinds reach an equilibrium of sorts, where they all grow as tall as is possible, and share the sunlight. If they grew any taller, the extra expense of maintaining that large tree trunk would outweigh any benefits that might get, and so they reach an unhappy equilibrium.

    Suppose all of the trees got together and agreed to grow no more than some really short height, say 5 ft. This is the Forest Of Friendship. It works out well for all of the trees. They get the same amount of sunlight that they got before, but they pay much less for it.

    Until some random mutation happens that causes one of the trees to break the agreement of the Forest Of Friendship. This aberrant tree decides to grow to 6 ft tall. Growing that extra foot is relatively cheap, and getting all of that extra sunlight more than makes up for it. That tree is more likely to reproduce, and its children can inherent its property of growing to 6 ft tall, and eventually according to the story the Forest Of Friendship will be replaced with trees that all grow to 6 ft tall.

    That’s the conventional explanation why group selection makes no sense. Again, of course, if you mean something different with the words “group selection”, then it can make sense.

    Let’s talk about human morality. It is a fact that humans live in an area with other humans. Other humans are part of the environment. Let’s look at one human in particular. Now, he can either work in harmony with his neighbors, or he can try to take advantage of them. Perhaps most of the neighborhood has come to a certain agreement where everyone works for the common good, with the result that everyone is better off, net result. This looks very much like the Forest Of Friendship example. However, there’s a difference. In the Forest Of Friendship, the trees lacked a way to punish non-conformers. In the human world, the neighborhood does have a way to punish non-conformers. If our particular human in the neighborhood does not play ball, then the rest of the neighborhood will remove the benefits from the particular human, e.g. punish it.

    It’s the difference between a one-off prisoner’s dilemma and the repeated, aka iterated, prisoner’s dilemma. By simple evolutionary theory and game theory, the proper choice according to the metric of evolutionary fitness in a one-off prisoner’s dilemma is to screw the other person for your own benefit. However, that’s not a realistic model of many parts of human interaction. Most human interaction is not one-off games. Rather, it tends to be that the same humans live together over long periods of time. It is beneficial by the metric of evolutionary fitness to screw over your neighbor for a personal benefit on day 1, but then you will suffer on day 2, day 3, day 4, etc., when you neighbor will screw you back for their own personal gain.

    Finally, I might start speculating:

    IIRC, it is well known that in computer program competitions for iterated prisoner’s dilemma, some of the better algorithms can be described as: “Initially try to help the other person, and if they screw me, then screw them back. Occasionally, offer to help them again, and see if the reciprocate. If they help me, continue to help them, otherwise screw them back. Repeat.” This kind of “spontaneous forgiveness” in certain versions of tournaments of the iterated prisoner’s dilemma is actually the best approach to personally winning the tournament. Evolution might have hit upon the same approach, and made humans capable of forgiveness.

    Evolution may have also stumbled upon the emotional need for fairness and punishment as a good way to solve the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. These emotions are a fair approximation of the algorithm I described above of helping as long as they help, and screwing them as long as they screw you.

    In this way, it’s possible to show how a lot of human emotions can result as a solution to the game theory problems of life in a small group of humans that slowly changes over time.

    > E.O. Wilson and David Sloan Wilson
    I should know more about what they actually say. I’m not properly equipped to answer that now. IIRC, their prime example is ant colonies. They may be right. Of course, the difference is that all humans are sexually active, whereas only a very small number of ants in an ant colony are sexually active. That changes the game theory, and it changes the good solutions.

  98. Daniel Engblom says


    I don’t really disagree with anything you say, your Forest of Friendship is a classic Arms Race example, I remember Dawkins talking about that one in The Greatest Show on Earth.
    But also the talk of the prisoner’s dilemma and iterated games is classic Dawkins, or more accurately Robert Trivers. In the Selfish Gene, It was pretty much laid out how Reciprocal altruism in a game theoretic equilibrium (an ESS, Evolutionary Stable Strategy), coupled with Hamilton’s Kin Selection, could explain a diverse set of social behaviour.
    The controversy with group selection is that proponents of it claim something more is needed, but so far have failed to convince many – And indeed, as you bring up the definition of group selection, it is one of their problems, a vague notion, often trying to sell as group selection what is in essence the same ideas of Reciprocal Altruism & Kin Selection under another disguise.

    A discussion worth reading on the subject:
    And it is a discussion, after Pinker follows detailed comments from both scientists disagreeing and agreeing.

    I should say that I’m also not properly equipped to answer this, in fact this entire subject is a deeply scientific subject in which I do not have formal training, and so my opinions are in fact just that, opinions. I apologize for the arrogance of bluntly laying out what I think about these issues and framing them in my own words.
    But I care about it, and I was perplexed by Tracie Harris expressing on the show ideas which sounded related to a controversial notion not yet established within the field of Evolutionary Biology. That is why I tried only to refer to what appears as the current consensus, that group selection hasn’t lived up to its purported revolutionary new insights, and in fact many of the phenomena it is claimed to explain are already, according to many other scientists, explained under the existing models of neodarwinism such as mentioned above.

  99. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Daniel Engblom
    ~nod nod~
    I haven’t seen the show yet. I have a backlog. I should get to it.