Thursday, January 14, 2010

We Can’t Please Everyone

It’s pretty obvious that Jen and Russell received mixed reviews on the theist guest experiment. I will let the viewers continue to figure out their feelings about it.

But the event also triggered some e-mail responses, and one in particular was from “a fan of the show” who also notes he is “a Christian…currently in school studying Apologetics and Philosophy.”

The gist of the letter was that a pastor really is not a good representative to interview about Christian doctrine and belief. Just to clarify, “if you guys are going to put Christians on the show to represent Theism I would really like to see a trained apologist or philosopher...the Pastor has degrees in councilling and phsycology, which is fine but would not represent Christian Theism nearly as good as those who are actually trained in philosophy and apologetics.” [sic]

I replied to him on the list, and was asked if I would share the response on the blog. So, here it is:

First, thanks for writing, and sorry for the delay in a response to your letter. Since I wasn’t a co-host on this particular program, I didn’t want to jump in too quickly to speak for Jen and Russell. But they have spoken for themselves at our blog if you would like to see those discussions:

Having some history with the program, and the benefit of an insider’s view, I can share a few thoughts on how I perceived your note initially. I was surprised by it.

Our show is available to educate the population about atheism, foremost. We welcome callers to contact us with questions or differing view points so we can talk about what an atheist is, or talk about what they believe and why. This would seem like a fair format—however we take pretty constant criticism for this each week. One criticism we often receive is that it is wrong and cruel to talk to Christian laymen live on the air, because they come across as stupid and uneducated. Believe it or not, we get this criticism from both atheists and theists, pretty equally, and both are just as blunt in calling our callers “uneducated” and “stupid.” We generally respond that our callers are just regular believers who call us, and even we don’t insult our own callers on that level—except on the rarest of occasions. I can’t say “never”; but I can say I, personally, never have referred to any caller as “stupid” or “uneducated.” But this is what people claim to think of Christian laymen—who are generally the theists who contact the program.

Next, we get criticized pretty consistently, and in line with the above criticism, for not having good Xian representatives on, even though we're an atheist program and have no requirement to represent the broad majority religious view (which is represented in pretty much most aspects of media/society without our assistance). Why don’t we put on a preacher or someone who understands these things better than the stupid “regular” Christians who call—is normally along the lines of how this is expressed.

So, for reasons expressed at the blog, Russell decided to bring on a professional, educated man who also works as a leader in the local Christian community. He hosted an actual pastor. And what do we get almost immediately? A letter saying a pastor with an education, an actual Christian leader, doesn’t “count” because he doesn’t have the “right” education to be up there with amateur counter-apologetic hobbyists. Remember, please, that nobody on our show is a “professional” counter-apologist with any sort of counter-apologetics degree. So, the pastor was not in the company of anyone on that set who could even begin to claim his own level of professional credentials to talk about his religion. In fact, of the hosts, Jen and Russell may have the least background with Christianity. Just being a professional leader in the Christian community should have put the pastor at a decided advantage over either Jen or Russell in talking about god or Christianity.

Next, what struck me was that you say you are a student of apologetics, but nothing [in your e-mail] offers us any thoughts on what this Pastor said that was wrong or could have been better stated. You don’t “correct” any errors he made about your beliefs. And you don’t counter Jen and Russell’s questions yourself—even though you say this is your personal area of education. The reason this strikes me as something that stands out, is that whenever any of the co-hosts on our program makes a misstatement about some fact in science, we are immediately barraged with letters from science students and amateur science hobbyists offering not only criticism but, more importantly, correction of the error. If the pastor did a poor job of explaining how your doctrine works—please feel free to represent, and explain what he might have presented differently or better.

Finally, I was surprised by your note, because it begged an important question to me: If regular Christians aren’t able to understand or explain Christian beliefs correctly, and a paid, educated Christian in a position of leadership within the religion isn’t able to understand or explain Christian beliefs correctly, and a student of theology and apologetics in these beliefs can’t offer constructive critique of someone else’s flawed responses about his own doctrine and beliefs as a Christian, who, then, has any justification to believe this doctrine—since it’s obviously outside most people’s capacity to even understand it correctly?

And that's basically all I had to say about that.


  1. *sigh* This follows a hypothesis I have. I suspect that people like that (if I may generalise) think that knowledge is something reserved to very special people. In order to know about evolution, it's not enough to read up on it or try to understand it on your own. No, you need to study that wicked thing in detail before you're able to refute it. They have no skills of gathering knowledge for themselves in a good manner, and must therefore rely on others doing the work for them and memorising him.

    The, uhm... *cough, cough* most stupidest Christian(tm)'s sidekick, the one we're not supposed to talk about according to the allmighty Atheist Experience blog, posted a video in which he said what a succes the Origin of Species stunt was. In it, they did not just explain that they knew that it was part of the public domain, but they provided a reason they knew; as if it's impossible to just happen to know it.

    Hmmm, I think I might be onto something here... *gasp* might it be... that Christians in general have, like, less knowledge? Like, perhaps, a correlation between faith and intelligence? I call dips on that idea!

    :3 now just to figure out some tests... do you think I could prove anything of my hypothesis by trapping pigs in snow? Cause I'd really like an excuse to anger animal right's groups and test if they still get so pissed if the pigs are given final rights first, and the burial by snow is coloured in religious rituals... ^_^ so to completely dwell from subject, Science is fun!

  2. I enjoyed Kyle's appearance on the show. He was there to represent his own Christian beliefs and have a discussion on the Problem of Evil, according to his own beliefs, which he did.

    He did a fine job, too - he was non-confrontational, he calmly presented his position, and he explained his points of disagreement with Jen and Russell in a cordial manner. What more could we ask for?

    He was not what we might consider "fundamentalist", but I found that Kyle's theology was closer to the luke-warm theology that most moderate Christians I encounter have... and obviously the people at Kyle's church agree with him for the most part, so his beliefs warrant discussion on the AE. Christianity is a many-headed beast, and you can't just sit around making fun of creationists and people who think we should die when the sun sets if we get our energy from it... since that does not represent most of the people listening and watching.

    Ironically, the AE did have a professionally trained apologist on (Matt Slick), which was just embarrassing. Slick's acolytes claimed victory during that debacle, and while I was definitely entertained, I found the Slick to be much less sincere than Kyle, and that sincerity was somewhat refreshing... it was almost as if he didn't care about people agreeing with him or not - he'd still be out there helping people.

    Professional apologists, I have found, are more interested in confusing audience members into agreeing with them than they are in the truth. Slick continually used the same fallacies over and over again until he got hung up on, because he refused to correct them when they were pointed out.

    Even more ironically, I bet the author of this email would claim that Matt Slick did not represent Christianity well either. If this "Christian… currently in school studying Apologetics and Philosophy” thinks everyone else is just so wrong about Christianity... then he can just call in. That's the beauty of having a live call-in show streaming over the internetz, isn't it?

  3. Lurker:

    I can't tell you the number of times I have said to theists on the e-mail list: Convincing me to agree with you won't make you right. I tell them this because, unavoidably, they insist that I should be persuaded by their "reason" alone--without verification or demonstration.

    I remind them that since the claim is about physical reality (god exists), we ultimately must stop debating and get to verifying in order to see which of us is really correct. This is the point where things breakdown.

    They don't understand why it's important to verify: "Just believe what I'm telling you, and then conform your entire life to the belief. You can't verify it--why do you want/need to?"

    If it were that important, they'd also "need to" verify.

    They very much seem to think the "goal" is simply changing the other person's mind--over and over again with as many people as possible. If they hit a wall with someone who demands to know it's correct before they accept it--they move to the next target.

  4. Tracie,

    This is exactly why the Jesuits come in handy. (Well, that and routing especially pesky demons.)

    Contra some others (and many other atheists), I do not hold it against Joe Average Christian - or Jew, Muslim, what have you - that he is not trained in the specialized, interlocking fields of philosophy and rhetoric known as "apologetics."

    Very few of us could, at the drop of a hat, explain an entire belief system convincingly, completely and coherently to a skeptical and/or hostile audience.

    My problem with religious apologists is that even the most extensively schooled and trained champions from among their number do such a poor job.

    I'll give Joe Average a pass... up to a point.

    But when even Father Average, SJ cannot defend his church's doctrines for five minutes without a dog's breakfast of special pleading, begged questions, moved goalposts, changed subjects, unstated premises, appeals to authority and repeated invocations of "faith", well, you know there is something fishy going on.

    And I don't mean Ichthys. ;)

  5. Tracie:

    I don't know if it was the way you worded it, but when I read the last paragraph of your reply to me, I instantly had the image of a pack of Christian zombies, trying to consume people's brains so that they become part of their flock.

    Oddly enough, when your brain is consumed you would die... but then you'd be "born again" as as mindless zombie, correct? I'm still experimenting with the type of metaphorical ammo that should be used in my shotgun.

  6. I think the guest experiment was great. And that it should definitely be tried again sometime, but with other guests.

    The very sensible environment that the crew of The AE provides, is a great place for having a debate between differing views, i think.

  7. The pastor interviewed seemed to be a good, honest, and decent man, these are qualities that exclude him from being a good apologist. An honest man lacks the "Used Car salesman" mentality of an apologist. The car salesman's mission is to get you into that car, the apologist's mission is to get you into that faith, the means in which they use to get you in take a backseat to the overall goal. "This car was only driven by a little old lady on Sundays...", "There's more historical evidence for Jesus Christ's ressurection then their is that George Washington was out first president..."

    Don't get me wrong, I think that the average apologist does truly believe, but they are, (For the most part) lying about why they believe. In my opinion apologists believe for pretty much that same reasons as the average Joe Christian, but they are aware that "I just have faith" isn't very convincing for the unbeliever. And so, like a good salesman they stretch, distort, and in some places actively try to kill the truth. These tactics, of course, work quite well on most people, since most people are too lazy to do any research on their own. An honest man cannot represent a good, reasonable case for their faith. They simply have to much integrity.

    As for the ability that Christains seem to have for shrugging off the constant failure of their arguments, most Christians on top of their belief in God and Jesus also seem to have an equally strong belief in "The Good Argument", the argument that only a fool would deny proves the existence of God. They of course have never heard "The Good Argument", have never spoken to anyone that has heard it, and have no idea what the hell it could possibly be. But stil they firmly believe that "The Good Argument" is out there. How do they know? Because Christianity is true, therefore the "The Good Argument" that proves it must exist. So when they see someone, even a professional someone, who cannot present anything even approaching a rational defense of their faith they are unfazed. Obviously that person was not a keeper of "The Good Argument". It seems almost akin to the belief that Jesus will one day return that one day the keeper of "The Good Argument" will reveal themselves to the world. Personally I'm not holding my breath.

  8. I've seen this (common) complaint described as moving the goalposts. The standard of evidence required, or in this case the standard of the person presenting that evidence, is continually made higher and more specific. By doing so, they reduce the pool of people to argue with, but forget that it also reduces the number of people the argument actually applies to.

    I find it ironic that apologists use this argument to poison the well of the their own position. They are saying that, by default, the majority of the supporters of religion, even those who teach it to others, are unqualified to discuss the matter. Which begs the question (as you pointed out): if they can't even discuss the matter with equally (un)qualified laymen, how can they be justified holding that belief in the first place?

  9. Ow, ow ow. That is not what "begging the question" means. Begging the question is a form of petitio principii, assuming what is to be shown. It does not mean implicitly raising a question.

    /end{snotty elitism}

  10. Oh, you should have invited him over :) Would make a great show!

  11. mefeSo I guess unless you have a double PhD in bullshit you cannot properly defend your religion. Well fellow in the 2000 years that the best minds among believers have been working on the problem, no one has come up with an argument that holds up under examination by some one on the other side. If there were any really convincing arguments there would be no need for faith.

    Arguing with the professionally deluded is just a mind numbing experience with no winners. These people can beat me in an argument because to me wasting time learning effective counter arguments is as much a waste of life. No problems are solved and nobody is any better for the experience.

    With Pastor Kyle at least it is possible to discuss differences from a position of mutual respect. It is possible to disagree without someone having to be a loser. There are more important things in life than winning unconvincing arguments.

  12. I havn't seen the episode yet, just note, but I'm actually avoiding seeing it as it feels iffy to me. I'm not sure I like the idea

    a) As was said on the show previously when asked why they don't do this; there's a bazillion christian venues for them to give their beliefs. I really don't want to see one of the few of my 'belief' be co-oped or have time taken away by them
    b) having a preacher as a special guest perpetuates the meme that these people somehow have authority on the subject of theology, when really any shmuck has the same level of evidence and certainty. The cleric position is false authority and I don't like seeing it propped up as something to be deffered to and respected by atheists. The Pope has no less authority on the subject of god than a worshiper.
    c) Cringing at the thought of the hosts being "schooled" and the inevitable blow back circulating the intertubes. You can't really fact check so a gish gallop is a strategy that could exploit this venue.

    ok i'm done with my whining I'll go actually watch it now...just had to get that off my chest.

  13. Ing, the "guest experiment" was more or less like having a Christian call in and talk to the hosts for 30 min... only in person... and no hold button.

    It wasn't all that radical, except that it was planned before hand.

    I wouldn't like the AE to turn to this format forever, but I enjoyed the experiment and hope that some other guests might be able to come in the future.

  14. I think I just fell in love with you a little bit, Tracie. :-P

  15. Something comes to mind as a result of reading Ign's post. While it is true that christians have all sorts of other shows to preach, there aren't any where their bullshit gets called immediately.

    One note on tactics regarding apologetics arguments. I've made it a habit to use apologetics arguments to demonstrate ridiculous but non religious claims. Making up an example on the spot here; lunchtime, I go home come back to work, claiming that my sandwich ate me and then became me. When pressed, I defend myself by claiming that they can't prove I'm not in fact a shape-shifting sandwich.

    You'll find that mostly everyone understands Russel's Teapot UNLESS they think of it as a rebuttal of their faith. So what I do is wait for a good time where religion isn't anywhere near the discussion, then I follow roughly these steps
    a. Make a ridiculously incredible claim. The more ridiculous the better.
    b. Defend it using the rethorical tricks and logical fallacies used by apologists and religious demagogues.
    c. Let people realize that either my claim is true or the argument is bad.
    I don't bother to try to act like I believe the claim, I'm clearly just joking around to them, but the message still gets across.

    Oh and just as a closer, I really enjoyed Brett's post. Well said sir!

  16. Just to add to what everyone else is saying, I am really irritated by the idea of only apologists being able to discuss, explain, and defend Christianity. I thought the Bible was for the layman to read and understand. Am I supposed to believe that only apologists who went to a special school and learned a special discourse and essentially memorized talking points can TRULY understand scripture and thus go to heaven?

    The problem that the Bible has always had is that it is a 2000-year-old text that has been translated and redacted numerous times, so OF COURSE there will be wide ranged disagreement on passages. Apologists and exegesists all believe they have the correct interpretation. Well, there isn't one, because the Bible was written and rewritten by many people. God changes personalities between the Old and New Testament because the authors changed, not for some bullshit reason that I'm sure any apologist will be HAPPY to tell you.

    Much like there is no True Christian (tm), there is no wrong Christian to have on the show. Have on an evangelical and you will hear the moderate and liberal Christians bellowing about how not all Christians are like that and you really should have put THEIR spokesperson on the show, and vice versa in every which direction for every sect and denomination.

    Boo hoo!

  17. To piggy-back on Tracie's initial comments, I would also like to point out that the people calling the show may be "average" believers, but they have an above-average interest in the topic of atheism, so one could reasonably expect a more thoughtful and informed set of opinions from them.

    The same could be said of the pastor who came on the show: there was some interest on his part to be there, so one would expect him to be somewhat above-average in his ability to defend his positions.

    He is obviously thoughtful, intelligent, and educated. My assumption would be that if he thought he was unprepared to appropriately stand up for his religious views, those qualities might have led him to find a more "worthy" representative.

    And finally, it is of course correct, as stated, that convincing someone of something ("winning" a debate, etc.) is not that same thing as proving something true. If the guest had the facts on his side, then it wouldn't matter what his credentials or abilities to present his argument were: those facts would be convincing to anyone with a truly open mind.

  18. Brilliant email response. Well said.

  19. Part 1:

    George NY:

    >Very few of us could, at the drop of a hat, explain an entire belief system convincingly, completely and coherently to a skeptical and/or hostile audience.

    I do realize you you said you give Joe average a pass up to a point as well. But when _other_ Joe averages who AGREE with Joe tell us we're mean for making Joe look stupid--and we're just Joe averages who disagree, something is also WRONG.


    >I instantly had the image of a pack of Christian zombies, trying to consume people's brains so that they become part of their flock.

    Observe: A meme in action.


    >Don't get me wrong, I think that the average apologist does truly believe, but they are, (For the most part) lying about why they believe.

    Having believed theism in the past and now being an atheist, who has come to believe other things since, I can honestly say my view of the word "believe" has come to gain new meaning. In the past, I thought "believe" was to just accept what some authority told me (and if he spoke for god, so much the better). In apologetics, the conclusion drives the evidence. It's backward. And I can understand why you would say they're lying about what they believe. I am divided about what to call it or how to describe it. But for most people, if reality conflicts with a belief, it's evidence the belief is wrong. For the theist, it works the other way. So, it's not the same "belief" a skeptic would accept or understand. I have told the story, for example, of how I sat in ADULT Bible studies and heard Christians--often and sincerely--ask "Explain again to me what we believe?" The people ask--as a matter of course--others in the church to explain to them what they believe. If they were skeptics, this request would be incoherent: I can't _tell you_ what you believe. But in religion--that question is acceptable and coherent, because of how they are trained to view "belief."

    >but they are aware that "I just have faith" isn't very convincing for the unbeliever. And so, like a good salesman they stretch, distort, and in some places actively try to kill the truth.

    While this is correct, I really don't think they're aware--at the most conscious levels--this is what they're doing. I know that is almost impossible to accept. But they're ingrained to throw these "arguments" at you without a second thought--they don't know they're flawed or false, because they've never questioned them, themselves. Many ex-theists write to us to say they were confronted by questions and stunned they'd never asked those questions themselves. When they investigated, rather than toss out the counter-apologist claim--they found the counter was correct, and they went on to look at other things they accepted. But it takes that first point of willingness to not just think "they're wrong" and move to the next target--thinking your right. Now, what you point out is valid in the sense that when we get past all the apologetics, often the result is that we're simply confronted with unfailing faith; and then we think "Well, what was all the apologetics about then?" But I'd say that the theist is often as unable to predict that result as you were, before the debate began. However, while you're surprised (since the theist prelude to every argument offered is "this is why I believe..."), they're not surprised--because faith is as much one of their "reasons" as anything else. Oddly, believing because you believe, to them, constitutes a reason to believe. Nuts as that sounds.

  20. Part 2:


    >The standard of evidence required, or in this case the standard of the person presenting that evidence, is continually made higher and more specific.

    I spoke to another of the hosts about this and immediately compared it to the evolution rebuttal--where the theist claims "evolution doesn't happen." You demonstrate it does. Then "new species don't spawn." You show they do. Then new genus isn't spawned. Well, given time--will it before our eyes? Why would I think _not_, based on what I've seen so far? I call it the stalactite argument: I find a stalactite and see it grows by a drip from an above ground river flowing overhead. The drip deposits sediment that results in growth of 1/2" every 10 years. The stalactite is 4 feet long. Someone says to me that dripping sediment can't form a stalactite. I show them my findings. They then say, "Sure, it can create a stalactite, but can't make it grow a 1/2 inch in 10 years." So, I show them my data I've collected over 10 years. They respond it won't work to form a 4-foot stalactite. I can't "show" them that--since I've only been collecting data 30 years. So, they "win" from their perspective. But it's as logical as saying "I agree that sediment forms stalactites, but it can't be the reason for all of them or for the really big ones!" If it's the only observed way a stalactite "grows"--why would I think that? There _could be_ some other factor as yet undiscovered, but what do I observe that makes that question necessary?


    Thanks for the correction. Noted. I won't fix the blog, since it's just a record of an e-mail I sent. So, I will live with it. If it were not a record of a prior reply, I would have corrected it, though. I appreciate you calling this out.


    >No problems are solved and nobody is any better for the experience.

    I can't say I don't understand your feelings on it. But we actually do get letters from people who contact us to say, "thanks for getting me to finally see that what I believed was not right." I agree it's like using a howitzer to make a pea sized dent in a million-foot wall--or feels that way sometimes. But it can make a difference--even if the person you talk to doesn't realize it immediately. Just fyi, I most often advocate public discussion for this reason. If the person you're talking to doesn't recognize how silly he sounds--perhaps someone observing, who thinks similarly, will be less impacted/embarrassed by seeing someone else confronted, and more able, therefore, to observe the error.

    >There are more important things in life than winning unconvincing arguments.

    Agreed. And I hope we never come across that way on the show. My goal is to (1) educate people about atheism and (2) help people who are like I used to be--locked into faith because other people have convinced them of lies (such as inerrancy of the Bible or that ocean fossils on mt. tops are because of the flood.)


    I'm flattered. Thanks!

  21. Part 3


    I do something slightly different, but similar. I have a friend who is a theist, but not religious. Sometimes if we're talking about ridiculous claims that are not religious, he will agree that the reasoning is stupid or flawed. Since his faith is not strong and my atheism is known, I will throw in religious examples: "Yes, that's the argument I often get for... [toss in religious claim]." I have seen a shift in his attitudes--toward skepticism, generally, that I think may have an impact down the line. Teaching a person how to think properly does help them out in more than just religion. But will impact religion as well, if they can make the connections.


    >so one would expect him to be somewhat above-average in his ability to defend his positions.

    Or at least less insecure about sharing them. It could be that he's not afraid to be wrong--even if currently he thinks he's right. This may be me splitting hairs, though...?

    >If the guest had the facts on his side, then it wouldn't matter what his credentials or abilities to present his argument were...

    I couldn't agree more, and have told as many atheists this as theists. In fact, one atheist wrote to me to ask about the credentials of a theist apologist. I looked him up. He was an ex-skateboarder turned evangelist. I told the atheist this, but warned him that the man's ideas are not made or broken on his background. I think I said, "even the village idiot can be right on occasion, and even for good reasons." Likewise, a credentialed person can be wrong. That's why it's important to understand the evidence before evaluating. Now, I also recently had a discussion where I asserted "we can't learn everything about everything"; but we CAN learn how to reason. So, when someone asks me what I believe about Big Bang, for example, I say I don't have beliefs about universal origins; but that the best, most educated people on the globe with access to the best and most up-to-date data, say BB is the model. I don't assert _they're right_. But I do assert that if Joe Average wants to assert _they're wrong_, he should do so _to them_, and not _to me_, in order to observe the rebuttal--from those who believe and promote the idea he has issues with. Any apologist who comes to me to rebut BB, who hasn't asked a credentialed cosmologist about his concerns, really doesn't want an answer. He only wants to pretend he knows something neither of us likely does.

  22. At least the author of the letter didn't claim Kyle wasn't a real Christian. Just not a good one, lol.

    Joshua- i noticed this too, but only because it has come up a lot. there was actually a conversation, maybe on the Skeptic's Guide, about it and they concluded that trying to reclaim the original meaning is basically a lot cause. so my curse it so notice every single time it is used incorrectly, haha. I personally think it is a confusing phrase, anyway, hence the reason it is so commonly misused.

  23. Sorry for going off topic here, but i'm not sure where else to ask this.

    Is the non prophets on tomorrow or not? Jen and Russell said on AETV that there was one on the 16th, but the non prophets website seems to suggest the next one to be on the 23rd.

    Has it been postponed again?

  24. There is a Non-Prophets tomorrow, yes.

  25. Tracie:

    But it's as logical as saying "I agree that sediment forms stalactites, but it can't be the reason for all of them or for the really big ones!" If it's the only observed way a stalactite "grows"--why would I think that? There _could be_ some other factor as yet undiscovered, but what do I observe that makes that question necessary?

    I agree, but to take your analogy, it would be as if the other person is standing in a cave in Yellowstone park pointing to a stalactite and saying, "you didn't even do high-school science, so you're not qualified to say how stalactites form", regardless of the validity of your observations and conclusion.

    So you find somebody who did do high school science, they've made the same observations, came to the same conclusions, but they can articulate the evidence better than you can. They are also able to categorise them into subsets based on their shape: soda straws and helictites. Now that she's categorised them, the other person claims he wanted to know how helictites are formed and your authority in high-school science hasn't explained that.

    They didn't do chemistry at university so can't explain the difference process behind the two. So you find a chemist, who makes the same observations and comes to the same conclusions and is able to explain how helictites form. However they notice some are made of limestone, others of gypsum, and some of both.

    Now we have two formations, made of different minerals in various combination. So while your original observation applied to all stalactites, your opponent is pointing at a helictite made of gypsum. That doesn't explain why the water is seeping through the roof, or where the gypsum is coming from, and your chemist isn't a geologist so isn't qualified to explain how gypsum helictites are formed.

    So you find a geologist who specialises in gypsum helictites, who knows the process of hydraulic conductivity (porosity), who explains the process in precise detail so there can be no ambiguity. You found the most qualified person to explain that specific form of stalactite ... that's everything you needed, right?

    Wrong. The person is pointing at a specific helictite, and your geologist doesn't know anything specific about the Yellowstone area so can't explain how the gypsum got there, or how the cave formed, let alone every event and process that led to the formation of that specific formation. So you find somebody who does.

    Except the explanation is now so specific that while it in general applies to all stalactites, it doesn't specifically explain the vast majority of stalactites, which are limestone soda straws all over the planet, opening you up to the attack of "not my stalactite" by the majority of stalactite believers.

    This is the reason we shouldn't humour people who think the only person qualified to argue for theism is a professional apologist: because when they are shown to be wrong, it's not that what they're arguing for is wrong, it's apparently that they're not qualified enough to be arguing in the first place.

    The more specific case the apologist is arguing for, the less applicable it is to the majority of believers, which defeats the purpose of arguing in the first place.

  26. I liked the shape-shifting sandwich example...and the strategy behind it. Will have to give that technique a try.

    But Ben's detailed & interesting elaboration on tracie's (?) argument--and the punchline: 'opening you up to the attack of "not my stalactite" by the majority of stalactite believers' gave me a Big Smile.

    Thanks folks. Good discussion here.

    I've been watching & listening to the shows for over 3 years now. (There's a few hundred 'casts as-yet unlistened to on my iTunes app...but I always listen to both shows as soon as they drop.)

    Love it, appreciate what all those who work on them do. Glad it's built up such a following and your contribution is being appreciated and is making a difference around the world.

  27. So to sum up the argument
    1) My faith is justified there are good reasons to believe
    2) I don't know what they are
    3) Some very smart man who specializes in it does know
    4) I haven't really actually listened to him, but he assures me there's a good reason to believe and I have faith so that's enough
    5) Profit.

  28. I enjoyed the show, but it would have perhaps worked better with a topic that didn't so much call his beliefs in to question.

    Reasonable theists, i.e. not firebrand fundies, may have interesting perspectives on church/state separation, but questions posed to him were not direct enough, and his answers tended towards relying exclusively on personal opinion.

    I'm glad the show went ahead, since it is good to see the more moderate (if vague) side of theism. However, I'd love to see a decent debate on scripture, or at least one in which questions can't be answer with something along the lines of "because it's what I believe."

    I don't want to see the D'Souza debacles in which it's all about theatre, but a decent and honest discussion.


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