Monday, August 22, 2011

Open thread on episode #723: How to convert an atheist

On Sunday's show, Jeff and Russell dissect a wikihow article on How to Persuade an Atheist to Become Christian. Spoiler: no conversion today.


  1. What really surprised me was the caller who kept accusing Russell and Jeff of "bias".

    Did he really not understand that the evidence required to believe a claim is contingent on the claim?

    "I had a cup of coffee this morning"
    "I had a cup of coffee this morning, ground from coffee beans delivered from an alien planet"

    One of these claims is easily believed, the other needs considerably more evidence to believe. Is that bias?

    Claim 1: Alexander the Great was a mortal man who was born, was strategically intelligent, militarily dominated a large geographical area, and then died.

    Claim 2: Jesus Christ was born the son of a God, could alter the laws of physics at will, died but then came back to life and ascended to another metaphysical realm.

    It shows how religion has warped the caller's understanding of reality that he would even make the above comparison.

  2. I was reading through it, and it'll nail some things on the head, like:

    Also, don't be confused by the so called scientific use of the word "theory" with the common use. In science, a theory is not a conjecture at all, but is the result of exhaustively tested hypotheses, gathered test data, and the rigorous scrutiny from science peers. A theory is a well tested, well documented part of the "scientific method". It is nowhere near what we call "opinion" such as gravity is a theory and not merely an opinion. When people use the word "theory" in the common sense, really they mean "hypothesis".

    And I was like YES FINALLY!

    Then I read things like section 5 which is a tsunami of Arguments from Ignorance.

    What they should do is add a piece of advise "Avoid using logical fallacies in your arguments, but then the whole article would be reduced to a single line:

    Got nothin.

  3. Atheist's Guide for Converting Atheists to Christians

    1) Following the scientific method, establish a well defined, relevant and useful concept of a Christian god, do properly executed and peer reviewed empirical research that demonstrates beyond a reasonable double, without employing and logical fallacies or undemonstrated assumptions.

    2) Present to atheist.


  4. "... be prepared for this not to work." lulz

  5. A similar but slightly more comprehensive (and entertaining) collection of advice for arguing with atheists:

  6. Re: the article

    Clearly it was done by somebody who understands the atheist mindset. And there is a lot in there that should be taken to heart by theists. It would make the experience of debating them much less exasperating.

    But the thing that strikes me as strange is that with the given apparent understanding, they still think that there are logical arguments for the existence of a god and that there is scientific evidence. Very weird mental compartmentalization going on there.

  7. To: Alex
    Beware The Nice Ones!

  8. Hey, I emailed this wikihow page to you back in September of 2008. Glad to see it finally made it onto the show. Of course it was in the middle of an edit war at the time I sent it, but the best edit was the one I emailed, still available:

  9. OK, I'm going to go on the record as saying I'm pretty sure that was written by an atheist as a superb piece of counter intelligence to convince Christians to actually look at themselves and potentially become an atheist.

  10. With every point the author of this article makes he/she immediately shoots it down: examples:

    The author suggests convincing an atheist by pointing out design in nature, then admits this implies a designer and therefore it probably won't work.

    The author suggests showing evidence to an atheist, but not focus on that because belief in god is about faith, not evidence.

    The author suggests countering atheist evidence for a universe without a god with evidence/research of christian scientists, but then he goes on to say "Though you will find many Christian scientists agree with their science."

    He's not really making a stronge case for him/herself.

    He/she proceeds to hint at evidence to support Deism and then LEAPS to the bible and Christianity and praying in public and luring the atheist to a place of worship as if we care.

    This author KNOWS all the flaws in his or her belief system but chooses to believe regardless. He/She's actually quite intelligent and well versed, but his/her flaw is the presupposition that their version of that particular concept of a god exists and the bible is an accurate representation of reality, which he/she doesn't prove, only asserts. He/she believes in spite of the evidence and lack thereof.

    And that makes the author no different from any other christian.

  11. If I didn't know any better, I would almost think that this was written by an atheist. Other than calling atheism a belief, it seems to come from an atheist, or at least has been edited by atheists. But then around item 5 of the discussions, it starts to fall apart, and becomes full of the usual fallacies and arguments from ignorance.

    Once we get into the arguments that have worked, it becomes a hoot though, with such treasures as ...

    We are not energy. If we were energy we would never sleep. (no wonder I can't sleep sometimes)
    that below a pi value of e=2.718... all is in flames (that explains it)

    Then there are the warnings ...

    Be prepared to be persecuted or even killed for sharing your faith. (um, OK?!?)
    Nothing is creepier for an atheist than the unblinking stare and obsessiveness of the fanatical believer. ( I can think of a few things)
    do not attempt to debate the atheist in a purely rational manner (love that one)

    which brings me to one of my favorite things on this wikiHow, at the bottom, in the related wikiHow links is a link titled How to
    Persuade a Christian to Become Atheist
    and do you know what step 6 of that wikiHow is?

    let them try to convert you. (damn, that's funny)

  12. I noticed the inverted article before the show, but didn't want to take the time to bring it up.

    I will note, however, that one of them clearly borrows heavily from the other, and I don't know which.

  13. Why was there no open thread for the last show I had a story for that one. I ended up posting it in unrelated blog.

  14. Yeah, about the show... I live in Sweden and for the last couple of weeks the stream has not been working... Fix please?
    I have something I would like to call in about and discuss. Well, if the stream can't be fixed yet, I have written a blog enrty about it as I needed to get it out somehow. Feel free to read, I would appreciate any feedback as it is something I am struggling with right now..


  15. Fix please?

    There's not a whole lot they can do about it. At best, Ustream could be informed.

  16. That guy who was trying to convince you he could define god into existence? (He talked about TAG)

    I would have pointed out to him that existence isn't a quality, it's a quantity. If a god exists, then you have '1' god. If no god exists, then you have '0' gods. (If the most perfect amount of gods exist (thinking of Anselm's comical argument) then you should presumably have 'an infinite amount of' gods.)

    So you can't have as a necessary quality of anything that 'it exists'. It's just not a coherent sentence.

  17. The TAG guy was just trying to employ another proof by logic.

    We're a bunch of monkeys trying to understand how the universe works. We come up with bright ideas based on what we can understand at the moment, and construct arguments about various topics.

    Some of those arguments can be compelling, but since we don't know everything, the premises to the arguments can be wrong, misunderstood or overly simplified. There could be mechanics about how the universe work that demolish the argument that we aren't even aware of yet. There could be elements of the universe that we don't know about yet that fully support an opposing opinion.

    The bottom line is that he's just another monkey with another syllogism. The point in which we go from "a monkey with an argument" to "knowledge" is when empirical evidence is gathered that confirms the argument - the more extravagant the claim the more that is needed.

    Logic-ing God into existence, void of any confirming evidence, cannot work, and would require a complete sabotage of our epistemological methods to allow.

  18. However, we can 'logic' god OUT of existence, courtesy of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:


  19. JT - true, but I was just thinking from a standpoint of showing him why his argument didn't work.

    I mean, it should be obvious that it is not possible to conceive of something that by definition exists - or else I could conceive of millions of pounds standing right beside my chair, and add the stipulation in my conception that it exists - but you may have to understand why that is the case so that people understand. (Existence is a quantity, not a quality.)

    Anyway, having just read through that wikihow page, I'm pretty sure it has been authored by a number of different people, including atheists. There are a number of sarcastic ripostes to the arguments presented when it comes to evolution etc. where the author puts things in brackets like: (except scientists have found this out, so be prepared for them not to believe you). Also, many things are repeated.

    Having said that, there is some first class garbage in there too, which I suspect is genuinely theistic, just because what is there would be very odd for an atheist to write, even one faking being a Christian.

  20. it sounded like the god-of-the gaps argument to me. whatever we can't explain is proof for god because he would understand what is going on and could make it happen. His first statement said something to that effect "if you have two reasons for something and one is proven to be false, then the other must be true by default." so he was saying if I say god and you say idk, then I must be right. Of course, he doesn't seem to get that idk is sufficient and that saying it's god only means you then have to define god and prove him (which he can't) I think Jeff and Russ beat around this bush but never came right out and nailed it, although what they did say was ample refutation. I know it's hard to think on the spot sometimes. I have a hard time doing it quite often (dats why i like forums!)

    Then he said god is necessary. god is only necessary if you can't admit that the laws of physics can ultimately account for everything. even if you can somehow prove that a god is necessary, though, it still doesn't prove the christian one is it, so he actually compounded the problem, not reduced or solved it.
    while he sounded fairly reasonable, it all still boiled down to. god exists, no matter what and he's the one i picked, not zeus.

    This was an entirely fun episode thanks to Jeff and Russ. Good going guys!

  21. Yes, the entire build-up to his TAG argument sounded like a complete false dichotomy to me, which Russel and Jeff rightly pointed out, without using the jargon.

    And then when asked 'is your god physical or conceptual'? He quickly changed the question to fit his argument because he knew it would fail, because god is supposed to be non-physical AND non-conceptual and his entire attempt at a dichotomy fell apart miserably quicker than I think he expected!

  22. If logic originates from god then why can't god be proven by logic?

  23. Just got through watching this week’s show and I want to comment on the guy who called in about his argument, mainly the god of the gaps one, talking about if one idea is false then the other must be true. Jeff, I think that’s who it was anyway, correctly pointed out, what about option c, d, e and so on. And the caller said, no, there were only two options, A and Not A. But what the caller failed to realize is that Not A includes within its subset all possibilities that are.... well, not A. With that, even if A is proven to be incorrect, one cannot simply reach into the Not A bag and grab the one idea that they wish to confirm out of the billion or so possible other solutions and say it's true. It just doesn’t work that way, you still have to have supporting evidence that proves that option to be the correct one.

  24. I also want to comment on the part where the guy was talking about his mother saying that you still have to be spiritual and know that we are part of something larger than ourselves. The spiritual part I really have no concept of what is being talked about there. I know what one means when they say that boy has a lot of spirit, or that horse has a lot of spirit. They simply mean they are strong willed. But to say spiritual, they are referring to a spirit, which has no more proof than this god character they speak of.

    Now onto the being part of something larger than us. I would have to agree with that statement. We are part of each other, in the since that we are part of a community. We are part of the life on this planet, which we share our common DNA with, through evolution makes us all connected. We are part of this planet, being made of the same elements that it is. The iron in our blood, the minerals in our body - magnesium and such, oxygen and nitrogen in our system, water! All we are comes from this planet. We are part of a solar system and galaxy that have building blocks created in the largest of stars and when they went nova and supernovae those elements were scattered throughout the universe. We are part of the universe and it is part of us. Now that is something I find wondrous. What more could one ask for?

  25. The last guy talking about the killing of the albino children a few years back because they were suspected of being witches asked who was more wrong, the mother who quoted the bible about not allowing a witch to suffer to live, or something along that line. Or the interview who said it either wasn’t in there or was misinterpreted. Not sure which he actually saying the interview did. Now I don’t think this individual was trying to point out that they were both horrible people on the same level. But it was a little hard to tell.

    Although the interviewer was wrong when he either knowingly or unknowingly said that it wasn’t in there or was misinterpreted, I have to say that the mother or those individuals killing their kids based on an old book were not only more wrong , but morally bankrupt as well. It is much worse than telling a lie by far. And if you think that they are anywhere similar, then you are morally bankrupt yourself.

    This is similar to the same argument on morality I’ve seen used before on The Atheist Experience when you all talk about God asking Abraham to slaughter his own child. But in this case, God doesn’t stop the parents at the last minute.

    Sorry for rambling, I just had to get that off my chest.

  26. Mark B said...
    "If logic originates from god then why can't god be proven by logic?"

    Because....god decided to fix things so he couldn't, so as not to contaminate the pure evidenceless faith of believers.

    Because...kingmakers don't have to be kings, and likewise creators of logic don't have to be logical.

    Because...god can be proven by logic, but it's a special kind of logic only available to believers.

    Rationality is restricted to not using special pleading, or inventing ad-hoc rules to excuse itself. Irrationality like religious belief is not.

    That's why an atheist will always win a rational argument, and a believer will always win an irrational one.

  27. I think that the whole notion that god(s) could be proven to exist with logic is completely flawed.

    Applying logic to the real world (whether it be the natural world or a hypothetical supernatural world which still "exists" and is "real" in one form or another) always requires making assumptions. These assumptions may or may not be correct. In many cases these "proofs" by using logic also make incorrect leaps of deduction, which is another problem.

    A very typical assumption is determinism and the applicability of cause-and-effect to everything. (These assumptions present themselves in the form of assuming that every notion or phenomenon must have a deterministic reason or cause.) This is an incorrect assumption, and you do not have to go even very far to find situations where they do not apply. Just study a bit of quantum mechanics for actual real-life examples. (Not to talk that if there might be something "outside" of this universe of ours, a "metaverse" of sorts, what we think as logic might not work in any way or form there, in ways we can't even begin to imagine.)

    Proving god(s) by logic is a completely futile and even ridiculous endeavor.

  28. I cannot spot where it has been pointed out that this article appears to have been lifted/stolen/plagiarised from the atheist site "Ebon Musings", which claims to have posted it around 2001 anno domini.

    If this has, in fact, been indicated, then it was certainly not included in my audio podcast, nor the follow-up comments here.

    If I should be incorrect, I would welcome correction!

  29. Warp - I think there's a better reason why trying to prove the existence of a god by logic alone won't work...

    The gods presented are apparently omnipotent and/or created logic (apart from a very rare few). Therefore, if that god exists, it cannot possibly be bound by logic. Hence if that god exists, any logical argument relating to it is meaningless.

    What you are saying seems on the way to solipsism to me - after all, even if we see something, there is still an 'assumption' needed before we can say it is there.

    The thing is, we constantly do apply logic to the real world: it's a huge part of science. Without logic, every single hypothesis suggested would have to be considered equally valid, regardless of how well they fit the facts. Why would a fossil rabbit in the Precambrian disprove our current evolutionary theories? Because it logically contradicts them.

    It seems to me that what you are disagreeing with is actually the assumptions many logical arguments for god make, rather than the act of trying to prove something by logic.

  30. @afterthought

    I'm going to butt in since warp said essentially what I've said.

    I don't know that we actually disagree that much.

    I agree with you that we do apply logic to every day life and science very successfully. Logic is at best a guide for determining probable conclusions. All the premises are necessarily tentative - this is something science constantly acknowledges. Because of that, the output from the logic, applied to reality, can only be tentative, even if it's a high-probability. The key is then confirming the logical argument with empirical evidence.

    The main difference is that these theists will claim to have demonstrated(proved) the existence of a God merely on the virtue of having a logical syllogism.

    I'm sure you'd agree that they're missing a step or two.

    In day-to-day life we often don't have the opportunity to follow this method and have to make best judgment calls we can, and it mostly works, and that's fine, but we're still holding our assessments to be tentative until we confirm them.

  31. Logic is descriptive. It was made by sentient minds to describe the nature of reality. You can trace back the fine tuning of formal logic to actual philosophers and schools of thought. If we know that humans needed to come up and develop logic through observation and thought why would we presume it describes some actual property that God invented?

    It's equivalent to suggesting that the existence of numbers prove God (who created the numbers) even though we can historically trace the philosophical break through of mathematical concepts (such as negative numbers or number zero). People came up with a descriptive model concerning reality and then fine tuned it based on observations (adding in irrational numbers, imaginary numbers, infinite series etc)

    Logic is the same thing, somebody sat and thought it up and fine tuned it. The logical fallacies are not pulled ex nihlo, they were identified points of rhetoric that SEEMED convincing but on further thought and experimentation could be shown to lead to incorrect or illogical conclusions.

    The foundational principles of logic are akin to the gravitational acceleration constant of the earth or the speed of light in a vacuum or the refraction index of any given material; it's a conceptual model humans developed based on observations of how the universe work.

  32. "The last guy talking about the killing of the albino children a few years back because they were suspected of being witches asked who was more wrong, the mother who quoted the bible about not allowing a witch to suffer to live, or something along that line. Or the interview who said it either wasn’t in there or was misinterpreted. Not sure which he actually saying the interview did. Now I don’t think this individual was trying to point out that they were both horrible people on the same level. But it was a little hard to tell.

    Although the interviewer was wrong when he either knowingly or unknowingly said that it wasn’t in there or was misinterpreted, I have to say that the mother or those individuals killing their kids based on an old book were not only more wrong , but morally bankrupt as well. It is much worse than telling a lie by far. And if you think that they are anywhere similar, then you are morally bankrupt yourself.

    The interviewer was still wrong and horrible in this hypothetical because they argued from a position of ignorance and wound up strengthening the "kill albino" position.

    His argument reinforced the idea that you SHOULD follow the bible even if it contradicts basic decency, all anyone would have to do is check the bible, see that he is wrong and come out more convinced of killing kiddies.

  33. "The thing is, we constantly do apply logic to the real world: it's a huge part of science."

    Or course we do. I didn't say otherwise. What I did say is that when we apply logic go the real world, we have to always start from some assumptions.

    Something like "if everything that exists has a cause for its existence, then the universe has a cause for its existence" is a logically correct statement. However, the emphasis should be put in the word "if". If the assumption is correct, then the result logically follows.

    The problem with people trying to prove god(s) is that they remove the "if" from the statement and simply assume that the premise is true. That's an unfounded assumption. (The "if" is still implicitly there even though these people try to obfuscate it by removing it.) The premise has to be demonstrated before it can be taken as an axiom. (One could even argue that such a premise cannot be demonstrated to absolute certainty because of our limited means of observation and measurement. We are, for example, most probably bound to the inside of this universe and cannot observe whatever might be "outside" because it may be physically impossible. Proving the existence of god(s) would thus be as futile as proving that there exists a metaverse inside which our universe resides.)

    And yes, the "rabbit fossils in the pre-cambrian would disprove evolution" also makes assumptions. (If confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt and beyond all possible mundane explanations, it might change our concepts of the planet's early history, but not necessarily disprove evolution.)

  34. sometimes I feel like telling christians "My god created all of the other gods and their books, including yours, as a cruel joke and a test to see if anyone would be stupid enough to fall for the joke. now prove me wrong." any exception they think of that explains or exempts their god automatically applies to "my" god.


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