Exercises in obfuscation

As a follow-up to his video of 100 atheists, Jonathan Pararajasingham has collected 20 believing academics explaining their position. Your brain will hurt.

Jerry Coyne has posted brief summaries of all 20, but you’ve got to listen to it all. The point isn’t their answers, which are all non-answers and babbling, but the stark raving incoherence and inconsistency of their attempts to explain themselves.


  1. Nutella says

    They’re “academics”, not scientists. Seven of the 20 are in math or science. The other 13 include Dinesh D’Souza and the Archbishop of Canterbury and several specialists in historical theology.

    This is a joke video, right?

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Whole lot of hand-waving, tap-dancing, and bullshitting going on in this video.

  3. Connor says

    It’s interesting to see intelligent people talk about this kind of thing. Theism can fuck you up sometimes… I don’t get what’s painful about listening to it unless you’re uncomfortable with attempts at opposing arguments, but it is interesting.

    And I think it’s funny that there are only 20 people here. xD Is it because there aren’t too many believing scientists or what?

    I wonder how the brain decides what is babbling and what is coherent thought. It couldn’t be the work of cognitive bias, I’m sure of it. If it were, we would just dismiss whatever anyone says without proposing counterpoints to what they’re saying. That wouldn’t be too smart, I don’t think.

  4. Benjamin "van Driessen" Geiger says

    If the title (as shown) had been accurate, it would have been a much more entertaining video.

    “20 Christian Academics Speaking About Go”

    (think they’ll cover the taisha joseki?)

  5. Ing says

    “1/5 of all smart people are believers!”

    Way to draw a nice big highlight around the issue Christians!

  6. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Carson, the neurosurgeon, rejects evolution. Just shows that being competent in one field does not mean competence in every field.

  7. Sastra says

    Interesting to put face and voice onto names I’d only read before. Also interesting to see that the ideas don’t sound any better spoken than they did when I read them. I kept catching myself trying to imagine being someone who found the rationalizations and hand-waving impressive, or even obvious. Pretend to be a receptive audience. Now, what the hell are these people thinking?

    Sometimes I thought they were doing the same thing from their end: trying to imagine being someone who found the rationalizations and hand-waving not impressive at all. They would seem to stumble a bit, or get a nervous look about the eyes. What the hell am I sounding like?

    You need a receptive audience, to do theology. Otherwise, you can’t glide blithely over the parts which don’t make much sense. Which is, most of them.

  8. Rey Fox says

    Homo divinus

    I would like to propose a new rule. Unless you are an actual biologist who has just discovered/isolated an actual new species of some form of life, then you are NOT allowed to make up species names.

    Or unless you are the resurrected Chuck Jones and are writing a new Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

  9. says

    After 14 minutes of that crap, I almost want to run to my roof and pray to the comet gods to send one right our way. I’m so depressed right now.

  10. Steve LaBonne says

    I’d never survive watching the video, but Coyne’s capsule summaries are a hoot.

  11. dale says

    I respect the fact that this video could have been edited to make them look stupid, but holey Toledo!

    Even if you can’t handle the whole video, you should really check out Alistair McGrath’s profound insights on the “God arbitrarily kills thousands but one kid escapes with just a maiming, isn’t god swell!” argument. He settles it for us. Really he does. It’s from 19:40 to 21:00.

    Just amazing.

  12. says

    That was fun. What struck me the most was how absurd it was for these individuals to be spinning these elaborate theories which included very specific and crazy claims, without, as Turner admits at the end, having any idea what they’re talking about at all.

    I mean it’s amazing. First you posit a God for any number of very bad reasons. Then you begin to speculate on the properties and character of this God in order to reconcile your unsubstantiated theory to all observed reality, but in doing so drift further and further from any reality at all. Why not bring in neo-Platonism while you’re at it?, as Moreland does – because the world of abstract forms is so well attested to by modern science!

    All in all these people came across to me as driven to arrogance out of their confused and desperate desire to hold on to this idea. I even felt sorry for a few of them.

  13. says

    Ok. Stopped after about 12 minutes because I have other things to get done. It seems to me that there are four categories of snippets here. There’s stuff which is coherent but clearly rationalization, there’s stuff which is incoherent and rationalizations, there’s stuff which is sort of coherent and it isn’t clear why they are making the claims, and there are claims where it is too hard to tell because the snippets are too short. I don’t know if some of the clips from the philosophers would make more sense if one gave them more time to explain themselves. I suspect that it would in some cases and not in others. To use a potentially bad analogy, try giving 1 minute snippets of major ideas in physics to people with no education. It will be very difficult to not so incoherent to them.

    That said, the number of people in this like D’Souza who actively say they are trying to avoid using their brains makes this almost irrelevant. The essential point is clear. And these aren’t a few carefully selected idiots spouting on random websites. This isn’t random idiot fundies. These are scientists, mathematicians, theologians, philosophers, journalists, etc. And they are taking at best incoherent rationalizations for their positions. Really quite frightening.

  14. coffeehound says

    D’souza says that his faith was affirmed when he stopped letting his brain get in the way.
    Finally an admission that he hasn’t used it in years……

  15. AusieMike says

    Brian Leftow 12:40 into the video……..WTF did he say?

    Actually I take that back. All 25 minutes of it…WTF did they say?

  16. Francisco Bacopa says

    Most of these people seem people seem to be arguing for a limited form of GAWD and then fall back to GWAR.

    I once made the GAWD vs. GWAR argument many years ago at Ernie’s on Banks. My adversaries were agnostics who considered my atheism as dogmatic as religious belief. I tried to tell them they were atheists too because they didn’t believe in GAWD, and that retreating into the refuge of GWAR was meaningless.

    Oddly enough, retired porn star Trinity Loren came by our table and gave a pretty strong defense of GWAR while lapsing a little into anthro-theistic New Age. Yes, Trinity used to live over on Barkdull and managed a gift shop in Houston. She got back on drugs and tried to get back onto porn and died shortly thereafter.

  17. AusieMike says

    They all belong the Church of GWAR
    A non Christian Christian, negative theistic theistic church for believing non believers.
    What do they believe……………… (….crickets…)…we’ll have to get back to you for a consensus.

  18. mikmik says


    “God arbitrarily kills thousands but one kid escapes with just a maiming, isn’t god swell!” argument. He settles it for us. Really he does. It’s from 19:40 to 21:00.

    Shorter Al McGrath: God is so swell that instead of choosing to let thousands die, he only chooses to let thousands minus 1 die, but even more swell, it’s a child he chooses to not let die!! God is so swell that he doesn’t want anyone to die, and He’s so distraught, he saves one of them – a child, no less!! Not an adult, not a baby, but a child!! That’s swell of him, you see.

    Brian Leftow: Changing something is affecting it in a way that changes it, but changing something that changes what it would have otherwise been, isn’t changing it. Chanding something to be different and changing something so that it is different from what it would be if you didn’t change it, isn’t changing it because how could it be otherwise if you didn’t not change it!

  19. Non-Biblical Paul says

    Richard Dawkins appears in so many of the segments that it made me think about how strange it truly is that some religious people say that Professor Dawkins wont debate the sophisticated, important theologians. Who are they hiding?

  20. says

    Coyne: “Carson (…) doesn’t believe in evolution, and you’ll find his reason hilarious. Tickled by this, I just had to find out what this reason was… Worst. Car. Analogy. Ever.

  21. says

    After 14 minutes of that crap, I almost want to run to my roof and pray to the comet gods to send one right our way. I’m so depressed right now.

    Cheer up. There is a comet coming this year. It’s not expected to be terribly bright, or pass any closer than 22 million miles, but that doesn’t mean it won’t, you know, kill us all.

    As for obfuscation for god, all I can say is that if there is a being powerful enough to create a universe, but wants to remain hidden, no amount of convoluted “reasoning” is going to reveal him. Why bother?

  22. Bostonian says

    Hijacking this thread for some constructive comments about the new site, since I don’t see another place to do that. Sorry this is so OT.

    1. First things first: Congrats on the new site. You deserved better than Scienceblogs, and it’s nice to see things are working after the pain of transition.

    2. The login is hidden. Well, not exactly hidden – I did a find on the page and found it under Stuff on the left – but most sites tend to put this near the top of the page, and I’d recommend that Log in / Log out be up there.

    3. But the login work reliably! Thank you for that. (My account never worked on Scienceblogs, and my couple queries to the webmaster must have been redirected to /dev/null.)

    4. This is going to hurt someone’s feelings but … I guess this is Pharyngula, so that’s not unprecedented. Here goes: I really don’t like the American Bandstand logo. (If you don’t know what I mean, see http://tiny.cc/oxgvg)

    5. I think this site can do better than pop-up ads. I realize the goal is to monetize and I applaud that, but pop-up window ads are very porn/2003ish. The banner ads are far more tasteful. (And I typed that while looking at one for the Hair Club for Men, if that tells you how I feel about pop-up windows.)

    6. Something is wrong with caching, and I suspect it’s something about the site but I don’t know what it could be. Maybe a server setting, like the Expires HTTP heading. The symptom is that when I load Pharyngula on my Android device it appears as it did when I previously loaded the page, sans PZ’s latest ponderings. So it’s loading a cached version, and my mobile browser doesn’t do this for *any* other site. Refreshing causes the newest page to load. So perhaps the webmasters might want to look at this.

  23. HaggisForBrains says

    Watch right to the end (Jonathan Miller), and then go to http://www.jesusandmo.net/2011/08/10/other for a lovely take on this. For Brits try http://www.vtunnel.com/ and paste the url http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfBMFPYuLsE&feature=player_embedded into the box (the youtube part may already be there), and click “begin Browsing”. If you can avoid all the pop-ups and just click the arrow in the middle of the video you should get it (thanks to FreeFox for this tip). Don’t click “Download” or “Play now”.

    Rolls Royces evolving from Volkswagens!!! What kind of dumb interstellar-capable alien could think that.
    (Rovers perhaps, but VWs :-O).

  24. Hazuki says

    As I posted on WEiT:

    It’s a weird feeling to know you can out-think people old enough to be your grandfather who have PhDs and spend their entire lives on something.

    Just looking at this list, all I see is (from Plantinga, Craig, and similar types) sophisticated question-begging and from the others arguments to ignorance. And in nearly all cases, either complete lack of archaeological, scientific, and religio-historical knowledge, or in Collins’ case, willful blindness to same.

    This is fucking terrifying. I can only thank my lucky stars that van Til and Bahnsen are dead; they make Craig look sane and reasonable.

    I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing something, but no, it seems like these old-enough-to-be-my-grandfather men with PhDs who have been debating this since before I was born really are this nuts. Granted, most of them can’t do the kind of generalist reasoning and synthesis I can, but still…frightening. And these are the SMART ones…