Monday, May 09, 2011

Open thread on episode #708: The sublime and the ridiculous

On yesterday's show, Don and I spoke for 40 minutes with Gregory S. Paul, an author who recently published an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post about our place in society as atheists.

We followed that up with a wacky call from a Canadian young earther.

Have at it!


  1. Was a good show - a nice gradient from rational and informed to irrational and uninformed.

    The theist reminded me of me at job interviews.

    I suspect most people would just agree with Greg Jones. Though I do feel vindicated because my observation with the Jesus Freaks on the right being anti communistic, and Jesus was about as communistic as it gets, always bugged me.

  2. In the OP, there are two copies of "for 40 minutes, an author who". And as ID proponents keep reminding us, such duplications do not represent a gain of information, nosiree.

  3. And another loss of information. Geeze, you evilutionists just can't explain how the information got there, can you? And if the information came from natural processes, why are there still natural processes?

    Clearly, the only rational answer is that it was put there by our Lord and Savior J— er, I mean, by an unspecified designer. Who might be an alien.

  4. Has the website been hacked? Haven't been able to access it all day.

  5. First time I've seen Russell get annoyed at a caller... His smile doesn't normally fade so much. Don't worry Kazim, it's over now.

  6. The Washington Post "On Religion" blog section has always attracted interesting and heated discussion. I'm not surprised that they accepted the article.

  7. @Whiny: In situations like that, I gotta remind myself that it doesn't really matter that the caller is being too dense to reach. If the vast majority of the audience can hear that the caller is being dense, then his perception doesn't matter that much.

    But still, when I lay out a contradiction in a very stark form, and he says "I don't see it," well... head, meet desk.

  8. I thought it was interesting that science was apparently reliable enough to back up the Bible, but not reliable enough to count against the Bible. This is like if you took confirmation bias, and instead of it being an unconscious bias that you might decide to fight, you turned it into a rule that you insisted on following 24/7.

    Actually, never mind. That's faith in general...

    He also was talking about discerning things "spiritually", which sounds to me like sensus divinitatus. My favored argument against that is to point out that all of our other senses can be matched up against each other, but the sensus divinitatus can't be verified against anything else, so you can't tell whose spiritual sense is actually working, and whose is broken. I do have to admit that the "blocked chakra" response made me laugh, though.

  9. *divinitatis

    I fail at theological Latin.

  10. I sort of feel bad that Greg Jones won't get much attention here. It's the theist we'll focus on. It's mostly because he's preaching to the choir. What he's saying needs to be directed towards the moderate and extreme theists. All we can do is nod our heads in agreement.

    On his article he posted, one of the first few comments establishes part of what the problem is:

    ... much as many people dislike religious believers who are very pushy and proselytize them in an intrusive, in your face manner, they equally dislike atheists who are very pushy and who proselytize on behalf of atheism's beliefs in an intrusive, in your face manner.

    First, I'd say he's wrong, in that people have a much more hair-trigger recoil against atheists than theists proselytizing. Like violence on TV, we're desensitized towards theistic proselytizing.

    Secondly, the commenter doesn't realize the catch-22 we're in. Atheists and other non-believers are a minority in a society full of people who wouldn't give two shits whether we had rights or not.

    If we speak out, we annoy people.

    If we don't speak out, we get to watch as our civil liberties erode away.

    Sitting down and shutting up is not an option.

  11. Living in Germany, I can back up what Mr. Paul said about europe. Most of the christians around me are "Sunday-Christians". They are indeed embarrassed if you question their faith, during the week. Sure, they WANT christianity to be true: so they can get to heaven in case it exists, that there is this all powerful sky-daddy that fixes their problems, somebody who tells them what is moral and don't have to investigate for your self,...
    But the other 6 days of the week they are acting like atheist.

  12. @JT

    It's funny how you can call yourself a Christian, and most people understand that that could mean that your beliefs are liberal, or moderate, or literal, and that you could go to church twice a week or once a year. The context or the way in which you call yourself a Christian might be informative, but people don't assume that you go door-to-door evangelizing just because you use that label. They don't assume that you're a hate-filled Fred Phelps type. They don't assume that you fear, attack, or avoid all non-Christians.

    But if you're an atheist, you're automatically a proselytizer, automatically in-your-face and annoying, automatically hateful towards all believers, basically automatically an asshole.

    It gets really old. Yes, the people who are famously atheist are the ones who talk about it a lot, and most provocatively. But it's really annoying when, the moment you mention being an atheist, people start blaming you for being a militant proselytizer. (And I find it hilarious that people think that this is grounds for comparing us to fundamentalists, as if proselytism is their major moral failing!)

    It reminds me of when I came out as bi to an old friend from school, and she seemed to be OK with it, until she then asked me why "homosexuals need to flaunt it so much", citing pride parades and so on. As if a) this was something I was supposed to agree was an important problem, b) I personally was some sort of representative of the gay agenda, and c) she couldn't have thought of at least 3 possible reasons in as many seconds, if she'd actually had an interest in being empathetic and not just regarding gay people as bizarre aliens. (Not bitter, I swear, just annoyed.)

  13. @Sean (quantheory)

    Yeah, the Christians get to put up signs, go on TV and radio and even go door to door to preach the "good news", but if an atheist says something publicly he/she is "militant".

  14. The bit about the apparent cognitive dissonance between Christ's teachings of Communism and the highly Capitalistic outlook of many US-ian Fundamentalists is a tension that they themselves are aware of.

    Since they could never jettison the Bible, source of all truth, the put a double-think gloss on it, known as the "Gospel of Prosperity" or "Gospel of Wealth." This has its roots, as Mr. Paul noted, in the American "virtue" of Capitalism. But the other parent of this (in my opinion disgusting) doctrine is the Calvinist concept of The Elect.

    It goes like this: (Bear with me)

    God knows everything, including the future.

    Therefore, God knows who will be good or bad, righteous or sinful, before they are even born.

    Therefore, some people are the Elect of God, holy and righteous, and are guaranteed to go to Heaven. Some take this a step further and calculate how many are Elect, usually some order of 144, based on some obscure passages in the Apocalypse of John. This idea is strongly baked into Baptists: The WBC believe in the Elect (guess who they think made the cut?)

    Since there are Elect, pre-destined to be good, it would be easy to recognize them as such by their inherent... ah, but here's the rub. Their inherent charity? Their inherent modesty? Chastity? What qualities are the Elect most likely to display? In the opinion of the Gospel-of-Wealthers, God showers favor on the Elect by enriching them on Earth. A very tidy way of explaining how one can be the millionaire pastor of a mega-church and still a "good Christian".

    What cracks me up about this exercise in logic-pretzels is people find it easier to swallow this absurd justification for selfish enrichment at the expense of congregations (or factory workers, or miners, or...) than the idea that gay people exist in the world because God loves them to. Or something.

  15. For further insight into the disgusting world view that gave rise to American Puritanism, check out the novels "The Scarlet Letter" by Hawthorne and "Confessions of a Justified Sinner" by James Hogg.

  16. Hello you lot,
    I watched the show and enjoyed it.
    Gregory had a point i think, saying that America is more religious than England i come from London and i think thats true.
    But don't feel down hearted at least you don't live in one of those Head chopping, suicide loving women hating, swivel eyed Islamic country's so it could be a lot worse.
    I'm learning a lot from the show keep up the good work.

  17. Looking forward to listening to it.

  18. It makes me sad that so many atheists seem to act like being an atheist requires a certain political persuasion....I am an atheist and a libertarian...just because I believe in market economics doesn't some how automatically make me religious ...I worry that going in this direction can alienate some people...its your guys show and you do a great job and I am a happier person for having found it but it just sucks to be reminded that as much as I find in common with you guys politics still seem to drive an unnecessary wedge between us

    Thanks for the show

  19. Dammit stop making us look crazy fellow canadians we have an image as a liberal utopia to maintain >.>

  20. @newspeak

    Yes, I agree. I'm also a libertarian (albeit of the more moderate, classical liberal variety) and an atheist. I do feel like those of us who are more inclined towards free markets are sometimes treated unfairly by more left-leaning atheists. To be frank, I've often seen just as much bigotry from those type of people (i.e. Pharyngula) towards libertarians as I've seen the come from the conservative religious right-wingers when they're discussing atheists.

    I don't want to speak for Don in case I'm wrong, but I've heard him say before that he's "a big fan of capitalism", but that doesn't really say anything about what he defines himself as politically, other than he's not a socialist. I think he was on the phone to a "conservative" atheist at the time. Also, Mark Loewe who's been on the show before, is a Libertarian and ran for the Texas State Board of Education last year.

    Just letting you know that you're not alone in here ;)

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Neither of the two main political parties is going to do much to help this country. Also, it's sad that I have to say "two main political parties".

  23. As the various hosts of the show have pointed out many times, a political affiliation does not need to have anything to do with being an atheist. The merits of a strong or weak government does not require any god at all, so naturally atheists can be on either side of that argument.

    The Republicans in the US really do go out of their way to pander to religious types, and as such this major more conservative party tends to alienate most atheists (myself included). I am hard pressed to name a major Republican figure that does not expressly endorse Christianity of some kind on a regular basis, where as those who do come easily to mind.

    Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Sara Palin, Michelle Bachman, Bill O'Reily . . .

    It seems much harder to be a conservative atheist than a liberal one, if only because the loud mainstream leadership specifically condemns being an atheist at every turn.

  24. Two comments for the libertarians.

    First, I when Greg Paul started to bring up liberal politics, I deliberately changed the subject for you. I pointed out that although I may personally agree with his politics, it is not a view of the show or the group.

    Second, Shaun -- and this is something I have to remind theists of all the time -- having your point of view discussed, criticized, argued over, and even mocked, is not bigotry.

  25. Hey Don,

    The point you made about everybody calling the sky blue but you would get as many different responses as people you ask, is AWESOMELY PUT.

    The caller saying we should research with an open mind, reminds me of a bible study session i sat in on. The pastor/leader guy told me I would never understand god/jesus/the bible if I read the scripture critically. I would have to read it with an open mind and open heart. To me, i felt like he was telling me just believe this because we do and it's written here. It's just so sad that his ploy works on some, no doubt.

  26. I love how the theist was trying to imply that not accepting his pet fairy tale = having a closed mind. Someone once said "Keep an open mind--but not so open your brain falls out."

    Anyway, I've always been puzzled at the Christian-Capitalism connection. Wasn't Conservapedia going to re-write the Bible to make it less liberal?

  27. Great show once again. I especially liked the Game Of Thrones plug, I too love that show, and I am really starting to dig the books as well.

  28. It all comes down to claims in an "argument" like the one with the Canadian.

    When he makes a somewhat abstract claim, you ask him what makes that claim sound, and instead of giving you concrete smaller reasons that are perhaps more mutually identifiable, he just spouts out another whopper, another giant abstract claim. Rather than going smaller, the reasons he kept giving for what he stated just floated on the shoulders of other giant claims. And you need to call a person on that shit. You need to stop them in their tracks. Don't let them keep the conversation going in that direction.

    This is a mistake:

    Joe: Sweeping claim X.
    Frank: Well, give me the best reason you have to believe that's true.
    Joe: Because of sweeping claim Y.
    Frank: Well, you know that we can't really be certain of Y.
    Joe: Yes we can, because of sweeping claim Z.
    Frank: But you see, atheists don't really recognize Z as sound.
    Joe: Well you should, because sweeping claim T makes it pretty clear.


    You're not STOPPING them in that case when they fail the first test: to justify their claims with smaller, mutually identifiable reasons. Theists are claim making factories, and you have to stop them in their tracks, cold nuts. You have to stay on sweeping claim X and point out to them indefinitely that if they justify it with other grand claims, you won't continue the conversation. That shit has infinite regress.

  29. #708 with Gregory S. Paul was a really strong episode.

    I can really identify when Greg said something to the effect of Scandinavians answering religious questions with a 'what? who cares?'. As a younger person I wasn't so much an atheist but ir-religious. The idea of Church, prayer, ect. bored me greatly (and still does).

  30. @Kazim

    "having your point of view discussed, criticized, argued over, and even mocked, is not bigotry."

    I agree with this, I guess the word "bigotry" was probably the wrong word to use. I was just trying to get across the idea of the ignorance, broad-brush generalisations, and sheer elitist arrogance many left-liberals display towards libertarians. Libertarians themselves certainly aren't immune to this, and there's a lot of irrational idiots on my side of the fence. I reckon I have more in common with rational moderate liberals like you than with them.

    By the way, on the positive side, I really love the show! Listening to you guys gives my brain something to do while I tediously crunch numbers and stare at boring graphs all day. Keep up the good work! :)

  31. @ Thomas

    >>>and even go door to door to preach the "good news"<<<

    When I was walking home a few months ago, two women approached me and asked if I would like to hear about how great Jesus is (I am paraphrasing) and I replied that I don't believe in fairy tales. They then asked if it was okay for them to send a few people to my home to talk to me and I replied, "You are asking if I would mind if perfect strangers came into my home to preach about their mythology?" "Yes." "No, I would not like that at all."

    It's the idea that just because someone is religious, they are automatically good and trustworthy.

  32. England and Wales
    In England and Wales 390,127 people (almost 0.8%) stated their religion as Jedi on their 2001 Census forms, surpassing Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism, and making it the fourth largest reported religion in the countries.[10] In the 2001 Census 2.6% of the population of Brighton claimed to be Jedi. The percentages of religious affiliations were:
    Christian: 70.0%
    No religion: 14.7%
    Chose not to respond: 7.8%
    Muslim: 3.1%
    Hindu: 2.1%
    Jedi: 0.7%
    I think a lot of the Jedi,s in this 2001 census used there mind tricks to appear to be Christians.

  33. Brian: that quote would be from the very respectable Michael Shermer.

    Re: Libertarianism/left-liberalism: I agree that politics has nothing to do with atheism. I think Russell did a very good job of explaining that to Gregory. Also, I don't care much that left-liberal atheists, at least from the libertarian's perspective, appear to display "arrogance." I think that believing one's political views to be "better" than another's is perfectly fine; obviously, everyone thinks their politics are pragmatically better than any of the alternatives; otherwise, they wouldn't hold those views.

    I myself think that my ideal political system is pragmatically better than the alternatives, so I'm by no means exempt from this. For what it's worth (pretty much nothing, in my opinion), I consider myself a libertarian socialist. Before anyone starts jumping on me saying that's a contradiction in terms, I can clearly state right here: it's not.


  34. i guess it just bugs me when anyone try's to connect religion with with purely no religious topics like economics...there are or course many dynamics involved but in general the debate happens outside of the religious sphere

    also i guess i dispute the idea that the US is not a successful or functioning country (not sure what he said specifically)...despite all the flowery language i don't see our founding principles as inherently religious...and the variety of viewpoints on religion that exist today i think can attest to that

  35. You should wear on 22 may show this yellow "Judgment Day" t-shirts;)


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