Thursday, August 04, 2011

Dishonesty and Hypocrisy

Because the full exchange was very long, and my breakdowns are also long, I’ve done my best to pare down the following content to the vital bits. It’s possible I will later regret not including particular parts, but that’s the price I pay in order to avoid making an over-long post even longer. While the exchange was between Russell and a theist viewer, I wanted to provide my thoughts about this particular theist and what I observed in his responses that I found particularly unbearable. Kudos to Russell for keeping it civil to the end. I'd have been fed up with this very early on.

The two things I loathe most in a correspondence are dishonesty and hypocrisy. Recently Russell engaged a theist, Caleb, who wrote to us to assert the following:

“I am a christian and believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.

He then went on to cherry pick verses in order to claim that there is no hell and there is no afterlife according to the Bible. Clearly Caleb is in the minority with regard to Christian orthodox reading of the text. In his own words:

“Another truth about the Bible is the teaching of the immortality of the soul, the bible clearly teaches that when we die we simply die.

Russell replied by pointing out that atheists aren’t particularly concerned about what the Bible teaches, because, to the atheist, it’s just another book.

Caleb replied with “No True Scotsman,” that the majority of Christians don’t understand the Bible correctly—"correctly" being how Caleb understands it.

“I don't assume that you care about the Bible. However I truly feel that a lot of your assumptions and conclusions have been based solely on stories out of the bible that have been twisted and defaced by false religion.

And he then accused us of of using twisted interpretations of the Bible to make it say horrible things that it doesn’t. In reality, we’re simply going with an orthodox Christian view that has been orthodox for centuries.

“…when you have a story such as hellfire and eternal torment that makes your side of the argument appear to lean to your side, you use the bible against itself and it sounds credible

He seems less interested in the reality that it’s Christians—Bible defenders—who promote hell fire and afterlife, not detractors. Like so many others, Caleb has written to us to complain, when, in fact, his real issue is with other Christians. If he thinks the orthodox Christian view is maligning the real Bible message, an atheist program isn’t going to be able to help him out with that problem. We respond to what Christians actually believe and promote, we don’t dictate it.

And Caleb understands that we’re presenting orthodoxy, he just doesn't understand that Christian orthodox views aren't under our control:

“What the Bible really teaches is credible, but it will never be credible as long as you have the twisted stories that are presented to you on your show by these traditional Christians.

All I can say is that while this is the traditional Christian view, it’s the view we’re going to critique when we talk about Christianity. If we presented Christianity using minority views, such as Caleb’s, we’d surely (and rightly) be accused of misrepresenting Christianity. Caleb has taken his “fight” to the wrong arena. If he wants us to address his views when we discuss what Christianity is about, then he’ll need to work to make his view the orthodox view with his fellow Christians.

Caleb then stated something we need to pay special attention to:

Also there are many Bible prophesies in the Bible that Show its credibility.

What do you think is meant by Caleb when he says that the content demonstrates the Bible's “credibility”? I don’t think it is very confusing. He means that it’s credible evidence of divine authorship—as he indicated previously (quoted above) as his view. What other sort of “credibility” would Caleb think ancient prophecies in the Bible demonstrate?

Then he says something we’re all used to, the Bible is supported by, and does not conflict with, science. Note especially the spherical Earth claim, as this is going to come back as well.

In Isaiah 40:22 we see the Bible writer refers to the Earth as being circle, globe, or round, so the Bible has referred to the Earth being round more than 2000 years before those voyages. Was the writer a great guesser? Also the Bible goes hand in hand with science as far as science goes take for instance the Genesis account, and this goes back to what I was talking about earlier most Christians believe the Earth was created in 6 literal days about 6-10,000 years ago. Again this is crazy that simply does not match up with science. However a further examination will reveal that the Bible does not specify the amount of time it took to create the Earth.

Russell’s reply was quite brief but hit several points:

1. That Russell has read the Bible himself and isn’t just assuming what’s in it based on stories he’s been told.

2. That some of what is in the Bible is correct, and some is not, and that he disagrees with the claim a god exists.

3. A link to an article talking about Flat Earth ideology and how it was understood by ancient Greeks, and that the word Caleb is translating as “sphere” can mean “circle”—which can still be flat. And also that the Bible contains passages that indicate you can stand on sufficiently high points to see every location on Earth—something impossible on a globe.

4. Russell points out Genesis indicates plants existed prior to the sun, which does conflict with science.

Of all the points above the ONLY point Caleb responded to was the question of the “sphere” vs. the “circle”:

OK I have done some research on the Hebrew word at Is 40:22, the Hebrew word chugh, translated circle, can also mean sphere…

And he didn’t touch Russell’s point that other passages clearly indicate a flat Earth. Again, if the word means either “sphere” or “circle,” and we have several other verses indicating you can see all areas of the Earth from a sufficiently high point, what is most likely the model of the Earth to ancient Hebrews? In fact, the idea of seeing all points on Earth from a single, sufficiently high area, isn’t even restricted to Old Testament texts. Such descriptions are also found within the New Testament books (see the link further below for further examples). But Caleb ignores this, and upon realizing the word means either "circle" or "sphere," he then just ignores “circle” (the predominant usage) from that point onward and sticks with “sphere”—the position that supports his view of miraculous knowledge. We know he’s not interested in honestly examining what the word most likely meant to the people writing at that time—otherwise he’d have addressed the larger context, the question of the “high vantage point” problem, that he, instead, chose to completely ignore.

But what we see is Russell agreeing it can mean “circle” or “sphere,” but simply saying (to paraphrase) “based on who is writing and what else they say about their model of the Earth, what is most likely meant here?” Russell takes the full range of meaning, looks at the most likely scenario, and concludes it’s likely intended to be a flat circle. Caleb ignores the larger context, sees that it can mean either a “sphere” or a “circle” and then latches onto the meaning that suits him, while dismissing the definition that does not.

Then Caleb says something else interesting. And this reminds me of the apologist Josh McDowell. McDowell specializes in presenting data that supports his view, and holding back any data that conflicts or would undermine his assertions. McDowell does what is normally called “a lie of omission.” In other words, you say only what needs to be said to make you sound credible, and you don’t provide the information that calls your claims into question, and you hope the party you’re talking to is none the wiser, so you can “win” even if you’re “win” is based on dishonest survey of the evidence and data, rather than an honest one. So, here is what we have:

“The point is the book of Isaiah was penned in the 8th century B.C.E(778-732 B.C.E) which was centuries before Greek philosophers theorized that the Earth likely was spherical, and thousands of years before humans saw the earth as a globe from space.

And again, Russell comes back to point out to Caleb that he’s not considering all data, just data that suits him:

Initially you were claiming that the Bible absolutely makes some kind of scientific claim that could only be interpreted as imparting knowledge which was not in any way available to people of the time it was written. Now you're clinging to this explanation that if you take an alternative meaning of a word which primarily means ‘circle,’ as filtered through modern translators who are trying to prove the Bible correct, then the authors might conceivably have been obliquely referring to knowledge which already existed in other cultures around the same time.

"(Incidentally, your note about the authorship of Isaiah is incomplete. Parts of it were written in the 8th century BCE, but parts of the book, including chapter 40 onward, are dated to the 6th.

Moving the date to the 6th century means that the idea of a spherical Earth would have been broadly understood. And it undermines the idea that the Hebrews—even if they used the term to mean "sphere"—were working from divine knowledge. Although figuring out something before someone else, really isn’t evidence of divine knowledge anyway—someone is always the first to figure a thing out.

Russell then shared a link to an article full of Bible support for Flat Earth ideology. It’s written by a skeptic who is examining what the Flat Earth society believes, what they promote, and upon what Bible verses they base their Biblical interpretation:

Again, this is the doctrine of other Christians. Other believers. Others who hold the Bible to be the true and unerring word of the divine creator. And they don’t agree with Caleb. What is their ulterior motive to misrepresent the god and the book they are devoted to? Who could be more honestly devoted to a religion than a group that could deny the tremendous body of evidence for a spherical Earth? That’s actually quite a commitment to your holy book, in my view. As Caleb demonstrates, most people, even most believers, couldn’t hold to that level of devotion to the concepts promoted within the Bible. Most Christians, like Caleb, are willing to cherry pick in order to make the Bible fit better into reality as we learn more and more about the universe around us. It’s ironic that Caleb will try to make a text from several thousand years back fit into the paradigms of today, while claiming those who do not do this are the ones “twisting” the meaning. But here we are, right?

True to form, Caleb writes back with his myopic view of evidence. Sure, parts of Isaiah could have been written in the 6th century—but that doesn’t mean they were…therefore Caleb concludes, against the obvious, they weren’t. He then goes on to do some wild thrashing to quickly change the subject and get out of the frying pan:

“The fact that that Isaiah was incomplete can be refuted, but the fact remains that there are plenty of holes in the evidence that points to life being traced to previous organisms, the bible is not a science book but what is in there is in line with the scientific discoveries today. The bible does not contradict itself…”

Caleb is confusing “refute” with the idea that there is often a range of scholarly opinions concerning dating something from thousands of years ago. The idea that parts of Isaiah were produced in later centuries isn’t “refuted.” The fact there are a range of opinions is not “refutation.” What Caleb really means is that since the scholarship asserting that parts of Isaiah were written at a later date can only be expert opinion—even if that’s a majority opinion—he has all he needs to assert (as he absolutely did earlier, above) that it was, in fact, written in the 8th century BCE. This is dishonest. Caleb didn’t say earlier that it could have been written anywhere between the 8th and 6th century BCE, he said, “the book of Isaiah was penned in the 8th century B.C.E”—and that’s “Josh McDowell”-level dishonesty right there.

Russell’s reply was short and concise—and fair:

“Way to change the subject. Can you please acknowledge that your first argument didn't work as a proof of god before trying to sneak into another one?

“After you've done that, then you'll be free to explain why you're trying to claim simultaneously that the Bible agrees completely with modern science, and the Bible is completely incompatible with the core principles of modern biology.

Caleb’s final response drove me to this blog post. My desire, if I’m honest, was to reply directly to Caleb. However, there were four things that made me hold back:

1. It was Russell's dialog.

2. Caleb dismisses anything that conflicts with his ideology.

3. Caleb ignores any points he can’t address, as though they were never made (and bear in mind, although I didn't include Russell’s full replies, they were quite brief. This wasn’t a case of pages of rebuttal where it was only human to choose which areas to respond. Ignoring points in a note that only contains three or four clear points is simply dodging.

4. Caleb takes things that require interpretation (sphere/circle, 6th/8th century origins) and lays them out as fact. He doesn't get that it’s not sufficient to say “it can mean this,” to demonstrate your point. You actually have to show it does mean it. Russell actually pointed this out using an illustration to make it crystal clear:

“This kind of reminds me of how James ‘The Amazing’ Randi speaks about Uri Geller, a parlor magician who claims to be able to bend spoons with the power of his mind. After proving that this can easily be done through sleight of hand, Randi said ‘He might be doing it through telekinesis, but if so, he's doing it the hard way.’”

Caleb is “doing it the hard way.” We have a book that presents a pervasive theme of a flat Earth, but Caleb will do all he can to just ignore context and alternate (common) meanings, in order to cling to the “sphere” ideology. He does this as a means to try and bolster his original claim that it must have been a god that produced this book. And even if Isaiah does present a sphere, and we have a range of possible dates for the text from 8th to 6th century (and it would have been mundane to know this in the 6th century), trying to cling to the 8th century in order to bolster your divine authorship claim, is, at best irrational, and at worst, dishonest. The most likely scenario, if it was a sphere described, is that this, along with the other points that make scholarship lean toward 6th century authorship, would probably be a result of the later chapters having been written or revised in later centuries. Revisions, updates, and additions to Bible manuscripts are commonly recorded. Would it be more likely that a later update referenced a then-common model of a spherical Earth, or that a spirit being imparted magical knowledge to ancient herders to prove to people, thousands of years later, that it was a god that wrote it—especially considering that the methods to discern a spherical Earth existed as much in the 8th century as the 6th. Again, even if some clever Hebrew had figured it out 200 years earlier, is that evidence of the divine?

So, upon weighing the odds of my success in getting Caleb to grasp the level of his own hypocrisy and dishonesty, I ultimately concluded that contacting him directly would be nothing short of an exercise in futility. So, this seemed like one of those times when my ideas would do more good shared publicly than privately with a correspondent who would not likely be able to actually internalize them. At any rate, here is the final response from Caleb, that left me incredulous:

“No I will not acknowledge that, that was not an argument of proof of god.”

Caleb started out asserting that god wrote the Bible, and then tried to claim it had valid prophecies and also that it had miraculous scientific knowledge. This statement, above, is simply less than honest.

“I was trying to convey that the bible does not contradict science or itself, I was conveying the authenticity of the bible.”

Why is it important the Bible doesn't contradict itself? The Bible is “authentically” what, Caleb? If it’s authentically the product of goat herders and not a god, what is your goal in trying to claim internal consistency and valid prophecies and miraculous scientific knowledge? Remember where you asked if the Hebrews knew the world was spherical due to a “lucky guess”? What do you mean to imply in this quote below?

“In Isaiah 40:22 we see the Bible writer refers to the Earth as being circle, globe, or round, so the Bible has referred to the Earth being round more than 2000 years before those voyages. Was the writer a great guesser?

And now we're supposed to believe none of this is about using the Bible to demonstrate a god exists?

You then audaciously put forward this bit of clear projection:

“But you have made it clear that you have no vested interest in even understanding what the bible really teaches. Therefore if you are only willing to look at one side of the evidence then you are making a conclusion that is incomplete and unjust.”

Russell pointed out repeatedly we have a range of data we must consider in making assessments. If part of that range offers a reasonable and mundane explanation, reason dictates we should go with the most likely answernot try to force-fit "the hard way." Caleb, however, insists on "the hard way,” and denies the existence of any reasonable and easy way. He works quite hard to make the data seem miraculous and incredible, ignoring every piece of evidence that points to far more rational and simple explanations. And for asking Caleb to stop ignoring the data that doesn’t suit his ideology, Russell is accused of being myopic.

Then we have what I can only label a real bit of insanity from Caleb:

“I have to ask, have you never wandered why there is so much suffering? Why there is so much injustice? Why isn't there a human government that can solve even the little problems? Such as the national debt, the greed that prevails in politics, or corruption. None of these things have never touched your heart?”

For the record, the Problem of Evil is not a problem at all in a realm where the beings at the helm are not all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving. There is nothing miraculous about organically evolved beings in a realm being unable to produce a Utopia. I’m amazed that Caleb sees the Problem of Evil as a problem for nonbelievers rather than for believers. What, one has to ask, is Caleb’s model of god? Is it malevolent, ignorant, ineffective—or all three? What sort of god is Caleb promoting that has produced such a mucked up world and allowed it to continue on with all the “problems” Caleb is crying about? This is a problem that has plagued believers for centuries—not nonbelievers.

“Do you feel you have a purpose? Why do we grow old and die?”

Again, this is really a problem for believers, not nonbelievers. When a believer tells me the universe is designed, one of my first questions is “what exactly do you see as a purpose of the universe when you look at cosmic events? What exactly have you demonstrated this universe is doing?” And as far as why do organisms die, it’s a natural progression. Matter and energy are extremely durable, but the organized set of chemical reactions we fuzzily label “life,” don’t maintain that organization forever. They wear down, the same as all chemical reactions. How, again, is this evidence of a god? It appears to be a natural occurrence that aligns quite well with natural laws that govern the universe. I surely don’t see any miracle evident in this process. How does “people die” demonstrate the existence of a spirit realm? We might as well ask "Why do ants die?" Is that evidence of The Great Ant God? How do we verify that if a god created people he would create people that die? How did Caleb come to that conclusion?

“I hope in our discussions I have not offended you or anyone else on your program.”

Caleb’s presentation was polite enough. But his dishonesty and hypocrisy is what galled me. I wouldn’t say it offended me, though. I’d say it more disgusted me. And while Caleb surely wouldn't see any of this in his own dialog, I'm hoping that, just like callers on the show, others who see this might learn from Caleb's mistakes here, and recognize that if they're doing it the hard way, they're not being reasonable nor are they being honest.


  1. Oh, thanks for compiling all that. Had I known that you were champing at the bit to get involved, I would have asked you to do it sooner. To be honest, in the latest email I got as far as reading "No I will not acknowledge that" and then decided to ignore the rest. There comes a point in some arguments where the level of annoyance I'm willing to endure reaches its limit and I feel I have to move on to someone else. :)

    Glad to read your response though, nailed it as usual. His reaction to my saying "Don't change the subject" was to try AGAIN to change the subject. From the start, Caleb's been working under the assumption that he's arguing against a straw man version of religion as presented by competing theists. He really can't grok the fact that he needs to present valid reasons to believe his own points of view, not just say they are true.

  2. Kazim, I don't see why you think Caleb needs to present valid reasons in support of his points of view. He is obviously correct simply because they are his points of view.

  3. I used to belong to the same sect Caleb belongs to: Jehovah's Witnesses. I know this by several phrases he used, including,

    "inspired word of God."

    "false religion."

    "eternal torment"

    "why there is so much suffering?"

    "grow old and die?"

    All of these phrases are lifted verbatim from Watchtower literature. I know because I've read them thousands of times in hundreds of magazines and booklets. That, and the fact that he denies hellfire and the immortal soul make it pretty easy to determine which sect he is.

    Basically, Caleb thinks the way he does because probably from an early age, he was told, over and over again, what outsiders are concerned with and what they care about. The first thing he attacked was your interpretation of the Bible, assuming that if you had the "correct" understanding you would believe it. Then, he appealed to Biblical prophecy, followed by the emotional appeals to the problem of evil.

    This is lock, stock and barrel the formula taught to all Jehovah's Witnesses each week: people don't have the correct understanding of the Bible, and that is the only reason they reject it. They really believe that no one REALLY doubts the Bible, and aren't prepared to talk to someone who doubts it. Notice how Caleb completely ignored the parts where you went off his script. That's another thing JWs are taught. Every week, they perform a mock skit of a door-to-door encounter, and every single time the "householder" says the same things, the JW responds with the same things, and in the end the householder is convinced. When I was younger I learned pretty quickly that those skits don't reflect reality in the least bit. It's sad, really.

  4. Brian,

    Thanks for clearing that up. Funny how some religious people can smugly dismiss most people as having a "false religion," when all they really have to show for it is that they follow a much more fringe religion with equally little evidence backing it up.

    I often speak of religious debate as a similar activity to competitive online gaming. These skits you're referring to remind me of a gamer bragging that he plays well because he can beat computer opponents on normal mode. A computer opponent plays with a fixed algorithm. It may have a variety of tactics to choose from, but they are still limited.

    It's only when you play against other opponents who are also playing to win, that you really start to get an idea of depth of strategy. The computer (usually) won't adapt to you in real time. They won't research your tricks on the internet and come up with a novel counter that is completely unpredictable. Likewise, people who think they are learning to debate by memorizing scripts are really kidding themselves.

  5. Wow. Brian, you are so right, and I can't believe I missed it. I'm very familiar with the fact that JWs reject hell and souls, and I never clued in. I am even more amazed at it, since I married into a brood of JWs as in-laws--so you'd think I'd recognize it by now.

    Russell: Oh, while I wanted to say some things to Caleb, it was clearly pointless. You were making valid points. He simply ignored what he couldn't address, and just stuck to his own view, rejecting the reality that his "evidence" was interpretive. I can't imagine any reason to think I'd have had any different experience. I'm only weighing now whether to shoot him this link.

  6. What's the Hebrew word for "oblate spheroid"? That's what shape the earth is, right, not a perfect sphere? If the OT doesn't say that, then it's obviously wrong.

  7. Faith is a lense that distorts all data like a funhouse mirror.

  8. Almost forgot, JWs pull the "it COULD mean X, therefore it must mean X" rhetorical game all the time. They do it with their day-age argument as well (yom could mean a length of time longer than a 24-hour day, so therefore it must).

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  10. Russell,

    That analogy is spot on. That's exactly what it's like, with one difference. It's more like bragging you're a good player because you can beat a computer opponent that has been specifically coded to lose to you.

    There's a book called "Reasoning From The Scriptures" they use to "train" themselves for the door-to-door work. There's a section about overcoming objections and they have a list of maybe two dozen objections people could come up with. For each one they have a script. If you ever want to look at a JW's "source code," check it out. It contains every argument and counter-argument they'll ever make to you. Granted, there are a few who might deviate from the script a little bit, but not very many of them do.

  11. I always find biblical inerrancy defenses hilarious. Squaring bible verse with science gets even more outrageous. I decided to try and read the bible cover to cover in my early teens, and it was clear to me in Genesis that divine authorship was out of the question.

    An all knowing being would be capable of writing a book that would be astounding, amazing, and easily understood on every page. The idea that such a being would be obsessed with long strings of “X begat Y” made no sense at all. I should have been enthralled from start to finish, not so bored that I could not continue. Don’t even get me started on snakes and apples. Needless to say, I quit early on.

    It must take a lot of indoctrination to actually read the bible and still consider it inerrant and of divine authorship. The logic contortions for this seem painful indeed, but they are fun to watch.

  12. Brian,

    I have seen similar things online like "Chat-O-Matic," which was meant to be a tool for engaging atheists by asking a series of multiple choice questions and a simple flow for where to go for each answer. I enjoyed going through it and finding all the places where the choices given were too simple to cover my full answer, since those are the places to potentially sabotage the script.

  13. Tracie, I take the reverse tactic and attempt to get them to speak for themselves using whatever claims they wish to make. While it is not often satisfying, I've found that I can address comments from anyone, occasionally frustrating them deeply since they can't accuse me of putting words in their mouths. What I end up with is not exactly the Socratic method, but a more aggressive version of it.

    That said, I understand exactly why you approach these fringe Christian claims as you do. It is so time consuming to get them to speak for themselves that it is often not worth it. As you show, they will often make comments that go against any reasonable or even popular reading of their own religious texts. They are writing their own fan fiction about Jesus. (Also, I love and keep in mind the "god exists" discussion you gave from one of the AE shows a few years back. It really cuts through the nonsense, showing that they don't know what they mean by that foundational claim.)

  14. The reason my garbage bags are torn open and scattered around COULD be because of a dragon, therefore we've concluded it was a dragon.

  15. I got a few sound bites which will hopefully help me in the future. Thanks Tracie!

  16. "Another truth about the Bible is the teaching of the immortality of the soul, the bible clearly teaches that when we die we simply die."

    I don't get this. Either it's a misprint or I'm reading wrong, or ... well, what's the point of his religion? Without life after death, at least for some, then the deity that doesn't actively interfere with the physical realm is irrelevant.

  17. John K - Like in the original story, I've had this actually presented to me as a reason we KNOW God wrote the thing, not men! After all, men want their books to sell, so they can't make them boring, but God infuses every word with meaning and doesn't worry about sales, or something.

    On the original story: I would add that the problem of evil is a problem for atheists who happen to be positivists.

  18. David, assuming the guy is JW, they believe that the penalty for not being one of god's elect is that you cease to exist and are condemned to lost your immortal life. They believe that the saved will be restored to a new physical existence on a new Eden-like Earth, where tigers will be vegetarians...again. My little relative actually told me this--"Mommy told me I can pet tigers in Paradise."

    I'm sure Brian will know more. I think there's something further about the 144,000 elect?

  19. Tracie that's exactly it. The 144,000 are a special group of Jehovah's Witnesses (which, incidentally includes several Biblical patriarchs the JWs have abducted into their faith, they actually call Abel the first Jehovah's Witness) who hope to rule over the paradise earth as "kings and priests." Basically, Jesus will be running things for the first 1,000 years. Then after that there will be another sort of Armageddon when God will let Satan out of the abyss he's been kept prisoner, and the people who were resurrected (the "unrighteous" who lived before JWs were around) get tested like the people who lived through the first Armageddon (the one that's coming any day now) were. After that, Jehovah (Jesus' father, JWs are unitarian and believe that Jesus is a separate and distinct being from Jehovah) takes over for the rest of eternity, and the 144,000 are like vassals or middlemen that transmit God's will from heaven to earth, somehow.

    I think it's pretty funny that the Jehovah's Witnesses big selling point is that you get to live in a world filled with them for eternity.

  20. One of my favorite quotes ever:

    "No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means."

    -George Bernard Shaw

  21. I had a very entertaining -- maybe 2 hour long -- discussion with a family of JWs (mother, father, and two brainwashed teens) who popped round for a bout of whitnessing, recently. They gave up after I offered them tea, since I was having such a good time. They said they'd come back later. Liars!

    Anyway, I thought it was hilarious at one point, when I was asking them about the trinity. Clearly, I didn't know JW beliefs as well as I should have at that point, because the reaction from the mother was "Oh no, we don't believe *that*!" It was the way she looked at me that was amusing. I'll try to sum it up in words. She looked at me with a look on her face that said:

    No *wonder* you don't believe in God, if you've been thinking *that* was what we believed. I'm so relieved we've got over that hurdle and can now get on with converting you properly.

    It was rather surreal, actually...

    I wish they would come back...

  22. @BKHawkeye

    The Hebrew word for a ball is "Kadoor", while the word the bible uses "Chug" is generally accepted as circumference. In modern Hebrew "Kaddor Ha'aretz" - literally "The Earth\Land Ball" is what Earth as a planet is called.

    It's always amusing to hear Christians taking the old testament literally, what with the countless translations and revisions it passed through. Like the fact that the Hebrew word for "Radiant" was mistranslated as "Horned" leading generations of Renaissance artists to paint Moses with horns, similar mistakes are made in service of belief.

    If you are going to base your whole life on a silly old book, why satisfy yourself with a translation of a translation of a re-edit of a translation of a re-interpretation of a translation of a translation of a translation of the word of god? After all- The translation of the Hebrew verse known as "You shall have no other gods before me." Can just as well be translated as "You shall have no other gods on my face."

  23. We're missing the point, as atheists, about the sphere, circle, bauble connection. It's a shibboleth. People who ignore the most likely and reasonable definition are the same people who will ignore the most likely and reasonable explanations for the events of the universe: the True Christians. This is how Jesus knows who to save and who to torment. Sorry, I mean not save? Wait. Nuts. I thought I had it figured out.

  24. On the note of false religion, though, I must thank you at AE. I had previously been one to try and learn as much as I could about a particular sect, thinking I could only argue against something I knew about. This makes perfect sense to someone used to dealing with rational people.

    As my sphere of acquaintances grew, I found this wasn't working. I spent many years struggling and mostly getting angry at the moving goal posts, the "Oh, I don't believe THAT foolishness" arguments.

    Now I just ask what it is they believe and make them defend that. It works for anything, not just religion, and is an actual, honest way to approach the discussion. If they have a valid point, I can consider it and change my views accordingly. I've done so for, say, politics, after it was clearly demonstrated I was wrong.

    And what I've found is humorous. When I ask "What, exactly, do you believe" to a true believer, they won't usually tell me. They start yelling that I'm taking them out of context, I'm being militant, or I'm being close minded, without ever giving me the chance to do any of those things. It's like a filter for conversations, where only the at least somewhat sane people make it through.

  25. "I am even more amazed at it, since I married into a brood of JWs as in-laws--so you'd think I'd recognize it by now."

    My condolences.

    On inlaws not marriage

  26. For those of you who are interested, I was actually able to find a pdf copy of Reasoning From the Scriptures on the interwebs. Here's the link:

    I came across this link via this forum thread:

    I just finished downloading it. I'm looking forward to reading this. There isn't anything specific about atheism in it. = (


  27. "There isn't anything specific about atheism in it."

    That's because the book was published in 1984, Atheism was completely off their radar.

  28. Oops, sorry, I meant 1989. But anyway, yeah, they're only just now paying attention to the new atheist movement (they published a magazine article recently decrying atheists for not keeping their beliefs to themselves...I'll let that sink in for a few minutes), but a lot of their arguments are based on the presupposition that one already accepts the Bible as inerrant.

  29. I hope writing all that out was cathartic, Tracie. Unfortunately, it seems hypocrisy and dishonesty are the tools of the trade for people like this. They can't function without these two vital tools in their ideological toolbelt. And the resulting constructions from such tools are very ugly indeed.

  30. Funny, i had a discussion just a few days a go, like that, when some believer was trying to prove that Moises, made a miracle, and apened the Red Sea, and all the evidence he had was, a area of the Red Sea, where was found, some whells, and very old bones of horses and humans.

    He was saying that, this evidencia, proved without doubt that a miracle had happen.

    But, when i pointed that a very simple explanation was at hand, like a sinking boat, carrying those wheels and the animais; then he called me a "blind man", that didnt want to see the true.

    I know all the people can have some hipocrisy, but i wonder:

    When it does start the hipocrisy, and when ends theyr ability to avaliate de evidence without appealing to a higher power.

  31. Nice job at holding his feet to to the flame when he tried to change subjects Russell. Watching someone jump hastily into a game of Biblical Whac-A-Mole without acknowledging the flaws in their argument can be quite annoying.

    For that reason and others, these kinds of conversations can get muddied real fast. Textual conversation provides a nice archive, but can sometimes make it difficult to express certain concepts. It also difficult to snapshot a conversation like this between two individuals, package it up, and then broadcast it to an audience. You did that really well Tracie - well done.

  32. Hey Mauricio - sounds like 'Moises' originated from New York. That's a heck of a young earth assertion ;)

  33. I actually discuss with a Jehovah's Witness often, so I find the best thing to bring up is to reference the parts where biblical inerrancy works against them. Leviticus is a fun one: the topics we most often get tangled up on include the bible's encouragement of slavery, the objectification of women, and god-justified murders. The usual response is that Jesus nullified most Jewish doctrine, which further confuses the issue when you bring up the things they still believe in (they too oppose gay marriage).

    Another key point to note is that they use their own version of the bible, within which there are large differences from the other varieties of English translation. The most obvious being the word "Jehovah" sprinkled thoroughly in the New Testament where god's name was rarely (if ever) used. It's pretty obvious with a quick scan-through that their version is translated with bias to their beliefs.

  34. If any of you wanted to read the JW article regarding atheists, you'll find it here

  35. @Maricio

    I think that's one of my favorite apologetics. It's an excellent example of bad evidence - due to not excluding other possibilities.

    And they're so ridiculous about it. Given possibilities A B C and D, they'll choose the most extraordinary, the most far fetched, the most obscenely unlikely and the most pathetically unsupported one of those given possibilities.

    It's like the exact opposite of rational.

  36. Ex-Jehovah's Witness here. The more I read of this guy - starting with the "hellfire is from false religion" - the more I thought it was a JW. When he talked "about the Hebrew word chugh, translated circle", I was sure.

    It's a copypaste which I used as well back in my internet apologist days. When I did, I got my ass handed back to me on a silver platter, obviously, but that's not surprising. After all, it's a cheap copypaste and I didn't actually research it.

    This is what Caleb is doing as well. He probably has his CD-ROM with JW publications ready so he can copypaste more.

    It's not necessarily dishonest, mind you. Like me, he might have grown up as a JW and really doesn't know any better. The grass is green, the sun rises every morning, Jehovah is the one true god and the Watchtower His faithful and discreet slave, and feathers are light.

    Perhaps this has enlightened him and I hope for his sake that he will soon stop and think for a moment and question what he believes. JWs are taught to question all other religions but never to question their own. If that switch is thrown, what he finds may shock him.

  37. @Grantus Maximus
    "Hey Mauricio - sounds like 'Moises' originated from New York. That's a heck of a young earth assertion ;)"

    But that would be so cool, can you imagine him opening the Hudson river, that would be awesome XD

    "It's like the exact opposite of rational. "

    The annoying part of it, is that i was the fool for doubting something without good evidence, the guy didnt even consider the possibility of being wrong, is that old argument:

    "If you dont agree with me, you are dumb".

  38. I wonder if some people for genetic reasons really are incapable of following a logical argument....

    I'm more inclined to think the guys a hypocrite since basically since 99 of religious people seem blind to the reality that Being a good honest person actually means caring about what is true.

  39. "I wonder if some people for genetic reasons really are incapable of following a logical argument...."

    Technically all of us are, as a default position. Evolution has not crafted a rational brain, which is why humans had to invent the idea of formal logic and rationalism and basically work to reprogram the default setting of the brain to correct for this.


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