Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Quazy Quistian Question # 4

The format for today’s Quazy Quistian Question is going to be a little different than usual. I'm confident that most of you will be able to adjust, but, even if you can't, I’m gonna begin with a playlet. We can use my father’s barn to put it on if Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney will supply some singing and dancing.

(Scene: The comment thread following a post titled The Morality of Christianity on a blog called Christianity is Confusing. )

Michelle: Atheism is the belief system of the Communist Manifesto. More wars have been started from the Communist Revolution throughout the world.

TheDeeZone: There have many wars started by comunisist. The offical religion of communism is atheism.

The Exterminator: Michelle said: Atheism is the belief system of the Communist Manifesto. The Dee Zone said: The offical religion of communism is atheism. Could either of you refer me to some evidence on this, because I can’t seem to find it.

Michelle: I did a quick google of marxism + atheism and found over 800 published works. Keep looking. My source, you may not like, but I’ll give it to you anyway: A Christian Manifesto by Francis A. Schaeffer

TheDeeZone: My sources: Numerous history textbooks that I have either had as a student or taught from. My husband the historian. People I know that have been to, lived in or are from former communist countries.

The Exterminator: Michelle said: Atheism is the belief system of the Communist Manifesto. The Dee Zone said: The offical religion of communism is atheism. I asked for evidence. I didn’t ask for your sources. I asked for evidence. Acceptable evidence of Michelle’s statement would have to be found in The Communist Manifesto itself, since she specifically named that book. Evidence of Dee’s statement would have to be found in some official international communist document that applied to communism in all its manifestations, since she made a blanket statement about an “official religion of communism.” No offense, but one’s husband the historian is not evidence. Numerous unnamed history books are not evidence. Anecdotes from people who have been to or lived in communist countries are not evidence. A Christian Manifesto is not evidence. A Google search is not evidence.

Michelle: I’m not doing your research for you. The books are out there, read them. I’m not writing a paper on the subject, so I’ve not documented references. Sorry.

The Exterminator: Well, Michelle, you’re the one who made the assertions, not me. Either you can back them up with evidence, or you can’t. If you can’t, just say so. If you can, provide the evidence. Simple.

The Exterminator (after a few minutes): Michelle, I’m not being 100% fair to you, because maybe I haven’t explained clearly why the onus is on you to back up what you said. This information is for everyone here, not only Michelle. Let’s say that someone makes a statement: A miniature elf that no one but me can feel, sits on my shoulder and tells me what to do. Now, you and I doubt that. So we ask that person to prove what he says. He says: “No, you disprove it.” Of course, we can’t, even though intuitively we know that the statement is nonsense. But his asking us to disprove the statement is beside the point. He made the statement; the burden is on him to provide evidence. Otherwise, our natural response is to disbelieve it. If that were not the case, we’d all be walking around all the time trying to prove that the moon isn’t made of green cheese and that there isn’t really a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And that there are no invisible, intangible elves on people’s shoulders.

TheDeeZone: Sounds like you have your mind made up & will accept no other opinion. I don’t have access to the textbooks I have taught from & can’t really remember the names other than World Geography & World History.

The Exterminator: I don’t have my mind made up. You’re free to change it any time. Just provide some evidence.
Yesterday, Philly and I spent a few hours arguing with a Christian who insisted, among other unfounded assertions that he pulled out of his ass, that there was no evidence for the existence of wind. Believe me, you don't want to read the comment thread at JP's blog unless you think the best way to get a haircut is by tearing it out in frustration.

In any case, since banging my head against the wall made my skull unattractively asymmetrical, I thought I might straighten it out by finding a reason to continue pounding on it. So, shooting for that appealing flat-top look, I moseyed over to the blog I cited above, and found my way to that post and comment thread. A few days ago, I'd left a request for evidence, not because I actually gave a shit, but just to be a wise-guy. I'm sometimes prompted to do mischievous things by the invisible, intangible elf that sits on my shoulder. Those of you who have your own elves know exactly what I'm talking about, right?

Anyway, you've read the result. Now I'm beginning to think that some Christians disdain all evidence about everything, not only religious matters. This might be a clever ploy, because if they admit that they accept evidence for anything, they'd have to at least wonder why there's none to support their silly beliefs. On the other hand, it might not be a clever ploy; it might just be stupidity.

Quazy Quistian Question # 4:
In order to justify their beliefs, must Christians dismiss the validity of evidence in all instances, even those that are unrelated to religious matters? Explain your response.


John Evo said...

Hmmmm... I don't know. At least, I wouldn't have evidence to support my supposition!

I'm just wondering if Philly is dragging you into the wonderful world of Christian apologetics, or if you are pissed off about something and just wandering in there to do a little way-to-easy ass-kickin'?

More wars have been started from the Communist Revolution throughout the world.

Brilliant. It was such a peaceful world for millenia prior to 1919...

plonkee @ the religious atheist said...

I'm not sure that they require themselves to be consistent. I'm pretty certain it is in fact common for Christians to put religion *in a special box*. I have no idea why they think that might be rational, but humans are often irrational.

Billy said...

I'm not sure where I found this quote (though it was on an athesopheric blog):

"Faith is believing something as fact when you have no logical reason to do so. Stamping out the frighteningly popular misconceptions about faith and the faithful is the duty of every person who considers ignorance bad enough in and of itself without people wearing it like a badge of honor."

Just a thought. As John Evo said, I don't have evidence (yet) to back up my assertion.

Though I did a guest post on Atheist Revolution which vjack titled "Fear of an Idea" (I've always been lousy figuring out titles for my works) which posits that, since christianity only works if an individual believe EXACTLY the right thing, many christians are afraid of learning anything new as it might put their eternal soul in danger. Refusing to believe evidence, no matter how compelling, prevents new knowledge and thus protects the soul.

I'm not saying I understand (in an emotional way) this line of reasoning, but I see it in action.

Lifeguard said...

I'm not sure they HAVE to dismiss the validity of evidence in ALL instances.

That being said, they often will dismiss the sufficiency of evidence on even the most pedestrian conclusions in an attempt to justify "faith" as a principle and to undermine what they take to be our "faith" in atheism.

For example, I'm sure at least one Christian has said to you something like "Every time you take a step you're taking that step based on your faith that the ground will hold you up" How's that for pedestrian? Get it? Pedestrian?

I don't think they necessarily believe or accept as a consequence of that argument that evidence is insufficient, but they're trying to suggest that because everyone uses faith on some level everyday, that somehow justifies their leap of faith to belief in god. Therefore, "I don't need proof that God exists, I just need enough evidence to justify faith [in the last resort: to myself at least, if not to you.]"

This is a handy way to insulate their faith from your argument.

So, in fact, I think it's kind of the opposite of what your post suggested. They argue that if you're going to question their faith because it lacks evidentiary proof, then they are going to hold you to your position and show that you have some belief in things there isn't sufficient evidence for.

I think we're talking about the same thing, only I think it's a rhetorical device they use rather than a sincere dismissal of all evidence.

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the chaplain said...

Your question is a non-starter, with regard to conservative Christians, because, for them, everything always relates in some way to religious matters.

Before discussing conservatives, let's dispense with liberals and moderates. Yes, evidence matters to them. That's why they constantly adjust their theology and biblical exegesis to fit with the latest scientific, anthropological, etc., findings. Maintaining faith requires an ongoing balancing act between creeds, theological and biblical traditions and non-religious data.

Now, on to the conservatives. There are some Christians for whom the only evidence required is the warm, fuzzy feeling they get in charismatic-style worship services, the emotional highs. No other type of evidence matters with regard to faith. Furthermore, if a question potentially hints in any way that it may, somewhere down a long twisted road, connect with a faith belief, then the only evidence that matters is the warm, fuzzy feeling.

For other Christians, if there is a conflict between a)the Bible (as they interpret it), b) their experiences (warm, fuzzy feelings, etc.), c) their theological traditions and d) hard evidence of the historical or scientific kind, then a, b and c always trump d.

Have you ever listened to a debate by William Lane Craig, Ph.D.? He is a well educated, well read, articulate Christian apologist. He'll spend an hour debating the kalam argument for God's existence, then close by saying that his arguments are secondary to the witness of the Holy Spirit in one's life. In other words, in the end, Christian faith is not about evidence or rational thought, it's about a warm, fuzzy feeling.

John Evo said...

Chappy - right on. People are confused and believe that this is evidence. Ask them to really articulate the "evidence" and you always end up getting something like - "many times, in desperation and lonliness, I have fallen to my knees in prayer. In the end, I was totally a peace and I KNEW what the answer was! This was god talking to me. You can say WHATEVER you want, but this is MY evidence and it's better, to me, than anything you can say".

Now, if you are dealing with somewhat rational person, you might be able to show them why this is NOT evidence. But, likely, they are either not rational about things like this (the mysterious) or if they are the more moderate ones you mentioned, they will still see a "combination" of factors at work.

@ Lifey - you are developing a reputation for being the Atheosphere Punster. Every time you do that I go - "ah... Key-Rist"! But then I smile. So keep it up.

Billy said...

Chaplain: Then why is it every time (well, almost every time) I get involved with a fundamentalist christian, I feel like my warm fuzzy internal feeling is getting pissed on?

Exterminator: I enjoyed the post. As an historian, I am glad I have short hair, or I would have been pulling it out. I got hit with the "atheism is the religion of communism" by a fellow student in college. I respectfully disagreed and said that communism had merely substituted one set of beliefs (the marxist doctrine of the dialectic) for the orthodox beliefs. Marxism itself is the official religion of communism. It is not evidentially verifiable, and the worker's paradise is portrayed as intevitable (as long as everyone has enough faith). The atheism part is in there (implied, not explicit) because Marx didn't want no competition for the faith of the faithful.

confusedchristian said...

I've just been told that Historical documents and Archaeological digs + the inability to prove God doesn't exists is sufficient evidence that Christianity is the only true religion.

John Evo said...

Confused; and does that explanation make sense to you?

Would you not ask - what "historical" documents? Where can I view them? Is there consensus among historians that they are authentic? What do the digs prove about god? Why is it an either/or situation, in which the lack of evidence against god (by the way, science doesn't work that way) would necessary lead to the conclusion that Christianity is "true"? If there were evidence of god with no additional evidence, why would a Christian version of god HAVE TO be the answer?

I suggest you consider all of these points, without conceding that ANY of the premises you presented is accurate - just a thought experiment.

cionfusedchristian said...

John it doesn't make sense to me because we have historical accounts of all kinds of wizardry and mythology. How do we differ which ones are real and which ones weren't? Do we have to "poll the people" of that time who were probablyv ery superstitious? I can only think that it's better to be rational at this point then purely empirical.

I have never understand why the Christian version of God has to be the answer, it really baffles me that "You cant disprove God" jumps straight to Jesus(tm) I don't get it.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

This issue always takes me back to this post. If you don't feel like reading it, here's a quote:

So my modest proposal is that believers, particularly those who hold to some form of presuppositionalism, finally come clean and publicly declare that they believe for no reason at all, and that they will henceforth no longer attempt to use reason, science, or anything that looks like them to back their claims. It is time for them to proudly assert that their claims not only need no backing: their claims, their articles of faith are axiomatic, and no evidence or argument can ever refute— or support— them. They just are.

And Ex, I think you have a Judy Garland spammer up there, and it's not Dan Barker.

the chaplain said...

Billy - your warm fuzzy feeling is a false one given to you by Satan to deceive you. The fundy's warm fuzzy feeling comes from God.

Confused - Christians are very selective about the historical and archaeological evidence that they consider (just as they are with science). Anything that does not contradict the Bible is accepted. There is a lot of evidence that does contradict the Bible, but they don't discuss that (and hope you're not aware of it). If you bring it up, they will find ways to try to dismiss it as being inferior to their evidence.

Also, fundies are technically right that God's existence cannot be definitively, 100% proven or dis-proven. Even if one accepts the possibility, however faint, that a creator may exist, it is a huge non sequitur to jump from that premise to the conclusion that the Christian version of the creator has been proven. Here's an outline of a typical apologetic argument for the existence of a Christian god.

1. Create a false dichotomy - the only two options are theism vs. atheism. Actually, the options are millions of theisms vs. atheism, but Christians don't want to argue against all possible gods, so, for this point only, they lump all god-belief into theism.
2. Go through some philosophical arguments to demonstrate that atheism cannot be 100% proven. This shifts the burden of proof so that theism is the assumed default position. In reality, atheism is the default and theism needs to be proven.
3. Now, since atheism has not been proven, theists will declare that some sort of theism is correct and the only task left is to decide which formulation is the right one. This is the point at which they will fall back on "historical and archaeological" evidence, etc.

Most of what they claim is historical evidence is nothing of the sort. The gospels are not historically sound documents for a host of reasons and the alleged extra-biblical writings, such as those by Josephus, have serious problems too. They do not deal honestly with other theistic traditions by providing evidence for or against other religious writings; they simply cite what they want you to believe is overwhelming evidence of the veracity and authenticity of the Bible and hope that you'll overlook their omissions.

That, in a nutshell, is the shell game of Christian apologetics.

The Exterminator said...

I think chappy has come closest to explaining the phenomenon: to conservative Christians ... everything always relates in some way to religious matters.

But I'm not satisfied with that answer. If a stranger stopped a conservative Christian in the street and said, "Did you know that your mother is really a messenger of Satan?" I think even the most fundamentalist of fundamentalists would ask for some kind of evidence.

So, answering my own original question and jumping off from chappy's latest comment to Billy:

When it suits any individual Christian to accept or solicit evidence, he does so. When it doesn't suit, he dismisses the need for any evidence in any context whatsoever because (1) the path from the subject under discussion to a loss of faith may be shorter than he can predict and (2) his faith already gives him all the evidence he needs.

Am I reading your position correctly, chappy?

the chaplain said...

You've got it. What counts as evidence depends on the circumstances - but don't ever accuse Christians of being relativists. They hold to everlasting, eternal, unchanging absolute Truth!

Brendan said...

T. Ex:

Before I get into the conversation about the substance of your post, I thought I'd note that your link labeled "JP's blog" has an extra quote mark in it, which breaks it.

I'm sure most people are smart enough to have figured out how to address the issue, if they're determined to visit that URL, but just because I'm sort of anal about things like this, I thought I'd call it to your attention.

Here is a working version of the link you intended.

the chaplain said...

To clarify my last comment: For conservative Christians, the Bible and theological positions are the standards against which all other evidence is weighed. Science, history, anthropology, etc., are all secondary to the Bible and the theology. Always.

The Exterminator said...

Thanks, Brendan. I've made the fix in the post. Now you can come back and say what you wanted to originally.

The Exterminator said...

By the way, where's Philly?

We need his "jazz hands" here before we can go to that Judy Garland site.

PhillyChief said...

Normally I start my morning by a quick flyover of the atheosphere, which includes stops at certain regular perches. Today I got sidetracked with email notices that one "Iggy", despite pulling a Cartman and giving the proverbial 'screw you guys, I'm going home', came back to post more nonsense that made me waste even more time responding to. In my heightened state (I earlier chastised Ex for getting emotional in his responses, accusing him of being the Palin to my Cleese, but I've found myself so incensed that I went beyond Palin and into Terry Jones) I completely forgot about my flyover and thus, didn't know of this post until now.

To answer the questions, I don't think they MUST dismiss the validity of evidence, but they most certainly will if they need to. They can rationalize anything as serving the greater good, therefore, the ends justify the means. Who is to say their actions aren't prompted by god himself? Ta DAH! (said with jazz hands, followed by the church lady's "superior dance").

In the awful exchange on JP's blog, one "Iggy" (who, by the way, is controlled by aliens) rejected thermal imaging for observing wind. Now you and I know if someone found you could see god through thermal imaging, those "that doesn't count as SEEING" bastards would all be shouting "proof of god! proof of god!" (with or without jazz hands, but most certainly with a superior dance) and be all up in our faces with it. Ends justify the means when you're all about nonsense.

HappyNat said...

But her husband is a historian!!! How can you not believe that second (third?) hand evidence when supplied anonymously over the internet? I bet you didn't believe that guy was a real Nigerian prince either . . .sucker! I'm gonna be rich, rich I tells ya!

Brendan said...

To answer the question that you posed, I do not think Christians must dismiss the validity of evidence in all instances, and certainly not in matters unrelated to religion. Of course, this doesn't mean a lot of them don't -- the dominant form of Christianity in the US these days seems to pride itself on rejecting evidence to such a degree that I've come to think they are arrogant in their ignorance. Spend any time talking to the sort of person who rejects the theory of evolution or the current best thinking in geology and astronomy, and you almost always pick up a sense of smugness in their attitude. I'm not sure if it's a defense mechanism, although that seems to be the most rational explanation that I've been able to come up with -- the evidence is scary to a fundamentalist, faith-driven mindset, so rather than grapple with it, it's easier to dismiss the other's entire way of thinking out of hand.

All that said, I don't see a reason why Christians must be this way. It seems easy enough for many Christians I know, including many of the ones that raised me, to accept scientific discoveries, and more importantly, the kind of thinking that makes such discoveries possible. Some of these people wall off their faith from their rational thinking, others adapt their faith to take into account what the evidence has shown.

I have no real problem with either approach. For the first sort, I think that we are inherently irrational creatures in many ways. We're just smart enough to be able to with all sorts of questions that are almost impossible to answer; indeed, that sometimes seem so tough that there's no hope that they ever will be answered. So, if one wants to cling to a belief in a larger purpose, or the possibility of life after death, and this bit of magical thinking helps one to get on with other aspects of life, or even just to sleep at night, fine. In fact, it seems to me that it's arguably rational to make the conscious decision to indulge one's self in a bit of comforting irrationality every now and again.

Here's a personal example: I sometimes have trouble leaving the house for a trip without going through a ridiculous checklist; e.g., triple-check that the stove is turned off, that there are no smoldering cigarettes in the ashtrays, like that. I am aware how crazy this is, since I don't worry about fire when I'm actually in the house, preparing to go to sleep. I have even, on occasion, left the house and experienced a spiraling worry that I didn't really check the stove, and so I've gone back inside to check for the fourth time.

Is this perfectly rational behavior? No, of course not. Would I like to be rid of it? Yes. But in the meantime, it's easy enough for me to indulge my little whim, rather than spending the first hour of the drive unable to stop thinking that my house is going up in flames. My little peculiarity does not seem to have gotten worse over time, so I don't worry about it overmuch. It's a little quirk that doesn't cost me anything beyond a minute of delay before a long trip, nor does it impinge on my thinking about anything else. I think of it as a cyst in my thought process -- not particularly desirable, but enclosed in a shell that prevents its spread, and probably not worth the effort to excise it.

As to the second sort of Christian who doesn't need to reject evidence, this usually comes about from being raised in a religious household. It's very hard to undo programming installed early in life. For some people, an outright rejection of everything they got taught as kids is impossible, or at best, an asymptotic situation -- as they learn more about how the real world works, the supernatural part gets shunted into an ever-decreasing space, but it never completely goes away. The ideal person of this sort has an attitude that God created the universe by setting a few constants and igniting the Big Bang, and even if he believes that God could know all things and intervene at any time, he views God as not being invested in how people behave. I used to think of God this way: as the winner of a high school science fair -- created the universe, occasionally watches it out of the same sense of amusement that a biologist gets from observing single-celled animals through a microscope, and often snickers at the people who obsess over practices of worship. I don't believe that version of creation any more, but I do still like to imagine God greeting Jerry Falwell at the Pearly Gates with, "Boy, did you ever get it wrong."

For both of these sorts of Christians, most or even just about all of the decisions they make in life are as rational as those made by a full-blown atheist. If this sort of Christianity was the dominant sect, I probably wouldn't spend any time mocking religious people. But, of course, we live in a country and a world where the more fundamentalist and irrational and all-encompassing the view, the more power is obtained. The sheeple don't want nuance, or a mindset of reason seasoned with a dash of non-contradicting faith. They want simple answers, no uncertainty, and justification for hating people who aren't like them. They view accepting any evidence as letting the camel poke his nose under the tent, so it seems safest to consider none of it. This kind of Christian, in fact, typically views Christians who embrace reason as heretics, or at least, as "not very good" Christians.

So, the short answer, which I apologize for not getting to a lot sooner, is that I believe being a Christian (of a certain sort) does not necessarily require a pattern of rejecting evidence. Unfortunately, though, most of them do, and these are the ones currently in power.

Lifeguard said...

I agree with Philly that they don't dismiss evidence, but I think what they really do is try to lighten their burden of proof by:

1) Arguing that atheism requires just as much faith relative to the evidence as theism does, and

2) They only need to prove that belief in god is rational, as opposed to proving god exists.

By claiming that there faith is justified or warranted, they then hope to rest on their laurels and insist that we need to prove their belief is irrational.

It's a way to try and turn the tables.

The Exterminator said...

In my heightened state (I earlier chastised Ex for getting emotional in his responses, accusing him of being the Palin to my Cleese, but I've found myself so incensed that I went beyond Palin and into Terry Jones)

You've really put your finger on a situation to which I haven't been able to find a personal solution. And so I'll throw this out as a follow-up question to the readers here.

How do we rationalists keep ourselves from getting completely exasperated when having a "debate" with a religionist?

My usual method, as I've pointed out often, is just to avoid those "debates." They're immensely frustrating and a waste of time. Philly has pointed out, though, that perhaps other readers, the ones who don't comment, are being given food for thought. I'm not convinced, though that -- from a neutral perspective -- our atheist blathering was any more effective than iggy's.

Yeah, I should have deferred to her because her husband is a historian. Maybe he read a book once, too.

I agree that there are many Christians who are more rational than fundamentalists. Still, the pope asked Catholics to conduct a prayer vigil against pedophilia, which seems ridiculous, and even the most "liberal" of religionists ultimately have to concede that their entire belief system is predicated on faith. When confronted with evidence to the contrary, they dismiss it, and may even follow a backwards path, questioning earlier evidence that they accepted.

Atheism requires faith like Freedom requires oppression.

PhillyChief said...

I don't know how to stop getting frustrated and angry, I just know I need to somehow not show it when arguing with these clowns. Clearly I lost my Cleeseian calm.

Oh, to keep with my sci fi theme today, I should say I try to stay Vulcan but end up Klingon.

Lifeguard said...

For the record, I agree. But I think that's the move theists try to make in the argument.

the chaplain said...

I think you're right about the theists' need to either lighten their burden of proof or shift it to their opponents. You've explained one method, and I explained another method in an earlier, probably far too lengthy, comment on this thread.

OneSmallStep said...


I didn't want to get into it over on that blog, as I've already cluttered up another of CC's posts, but if it helps, I did understand what you were asking. They made a claim, you asked for support. You would've preferred first-hand communist documents. A history book on communism, with quotes referring to what those documents said or the people leading the communist regimes would've been sufficient. You specified the types of sources.

And yet you're told that you've already made up your mind, by people who can't actually list any sources, except for "A Christian Manifesto." A link to the google search wasn't even posted.

The thing is, if they had written a paper making that claim, they would've failed spectacularly.

The Exterminator said...


Yes, you've summarized the situation nicely.

The odd thing is, though, that I never disputed the original claim about communism and atheism. I merely asked for evidence. The very fact that I asked for such evidence was immediately assumed to mean that I didn't agree. Sheesh!

I explained another method in an earlier, probably far too lengthy, comment on this thread.

For the record: None of your comments on this post -- or elsewhere, for that matter -- are too lengthy. I've been known to write some fairly lengthy comments, myself, and so have most of the other windbags (yes, I do believe in wind, and I do believe in bags) around here. Sometimes that typing finger just doesn't wanna stop.
And sometimes, maybe even often, the best stuff doesn't come until the end. For instance, although I didn't mention it before, I love your expression: "the shell game of Christian apologetics." I'd like to see you use it as the title for a post at the Chapel.

So feel free to make your responses run on and on and on if you still have something to say. Hell, even if you don't have something to say. You didn't claim that you'd work to shorten your comments in future, but, just to make sure that you don't get any ideas about doing that:

This is a Free Speech Zone. Please don't succumb to any imagined censor, even yourself.

Note, though: I've stopped paying by the word.

grumpylion said...

Chappie noted that the warm fuzzy feeling of a charismatic event was all the 'evidence' those people need.

I get a warm fuzzy feeling from morphine. Is it god?

Suppose we have a drug that produces exactly the same fuzzies and hallucinations claimed as evidence. Slip it into the soda pop of a collection of Christians. Document every detail of the deceit. When they come out of their reverie and see the documentation, how will they rationalize the event? They will, of course.

Can a committed fundogelical actually work as a scientist? There was one working at a Woods Hole science institution on a project based in evolutionary biology. He didn't believe in evolution, but never told his employer. He got fired for that and is suing. With evidence of evolution sitting on his lab bench, or wherever, he still didn't accept evolution. Could you, as project manager, trust such a person with your data?

You really can't argue rationally with these people.

bullet said...

I think this not just a christian phenomenon, but an American one. We have replaced knowledge with experience, facts with feelings and truth with emotion. I don't know when it happened, but sometime since the 70's the notion began that not only are feelings just as valid as actual knowledge but that all opinions and feelings have equal merit. That the opinion of a waitress is just as valid as an economist may hold weight if discussing the importance of proper tipping but not in a discussion of NAFTA. Yet Americans, by virtue of their innate knowledge of everything the TV and (now) the Internet tells them can dismiss an actual informed opinion in favor of their own. I can't tell you how many arguments I've had ending with my opponent saying, "Well, that's just the way I feel." How much is public and corporate policy determined by perception and not actual facts? One can argue that since the majority of the nation is christian that this phenomenon started with them and infected the rest, but I think this is a relatively new and innate cancer that's just easier to see in those who try to justify unjustifiable ideas as a matter of daily life. Not only do Americans not know anything, we are perfectly happy not knowing anything and, thanks to the internet, we can not know as much as we want.

An article in Esquire a few years ago about how stupid we were getting had this lament from a scientist (I'm paraphrasing): "I'm a researcher at MIT. In London, that's a big deal. In New Delhi, that's a big deal. In Omaha, no one gives a shit."

The same article had this (again, paraphrased) quote. "Fact is now defined by how many people believe something and truth by how fervently they believe it."

bullet said...

A few minutes search found the article.

Greetings from Idiot America

I had forgotten that it's main criticism was of christians.

I almost got the quotes right.

"The Gut is the basis for the Great Premises of Idiot America. We hold these truths to be self-evident:
1) Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
2) Anything can be true if somebody says it on television.
3) Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it."

"Even in the developing world, where I spend lots of time doing my work," [Professor Kip] Hodges says, "if you tell them that you're from MIT and you tell them that you do science, it's a big deal. If I go to India and tell them I'm from MIT, it's a big deal. In Thailand, it's a big deal. If I go to Iowa, they could give a rat's ass. And that's a weird thing, that we're moving in that direction as a nation."

Oh, wait. No I didn't. Sorry about that.

The Ridger, FCD said...

We see this modeled in the media constantly. "Fairness" requires "both sides" to be presented equally, even if Side A is 99.995% of all scientists in the field and Side B is one loon.

The Exterminator said...

Not all warm, fuzzy feelings are permitted by the bible. That goes for sex, alcohol, dancing, drugs (even ones prescribed for diseases), reading, researching, and laughing.

I agree with you about the Woods Hole situation. Last year, a creationist affiliated with the Discovery Institute was trying to get tenure as a professor at the University of Iowa. Hard to believe why they would turn down a guy who believed in a magician that created the universe 6,000 years ago. Which brings me to ...

No one who claims that the American public is made up predominantly of fools, morons, idiots, asses, and ignoramuses will get any argument from me. You only have to look at current political events to see how true that is. Or just watch any TV.

Apropos of that, there are two books I'd recommend: Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman and Dumbing Down: The Strip-Mining of American Culture edited by Katharine Washburn and John Thornton. It's been a very long time since I read the first and merely eleven years since I read the second, so I can't vouch for them completely. I remember that some of the essays in Dumbing Down seemed sort of dumb themselves. However ... food for thought.

And by the way: Welcome to this blog. I don't remember seeing you around here before, but I'd love to hear from you again. I looked briefly at your blog, and you definitely seem like one of the good guys (or gals).

Yep. In America, we care too much about "fairness," whatever the fuck that is, and not enough about justice and truth. The important thing is not to hurt anyone's feelings.

yinyang said...

Oh, Ex, don't you remember? Asking for evidence is being "too logical."

Or, put another way (with the nifty metaphor I just thought up):

If life is a card game, then faith is the ace - either it's the highest face card, or the lowest-value card in the deck. Even though it makes sense for it to be the lowest card (considering that it's a 1), almost everyone plays it as the highest. So the people who play it as the lowest are looked at funny, like, "Why would you do that? There's no reason not to just play it like we do." And when the point is made that an ace is a 1, the other people go, "So?"

Evidence is the king, but with the trump card up their sleeve they can never lose (or so they think). Sigh.

The Exterminator said...


Very nice analogy about the ace. Sometimes I wonder if you're really a high school student or a philosophy professor in disguise.

the chaplain said...

Exterminator said,"Last year, a creationist affiliated with the Discovery Institute was trying to get tenure as a professor at the University of Iowa."

The loony tune to whom you are referring was affiliated with that other state university, Iowa State University, not my alma mater. As a loyal Hawkeye, I can't let such a vicious slur against UI go uncorrected. You may, of course, say anything you wish about ISU. ;)

PhillyChief said...

There's something going on now isn't there that it's being considered to accredit graduate degrees from the Discovery Institute? Soon you'll be able to get a masters or perhaps a doctorate in "creationist studies".

I heard this on a podcast recently but I can't remember which one.

Lifeguard said...

It wasn't too long at all. While I'm at it, let me just tell you I'm constantly fascinated how you and the Deacon deconstruct christian apologetics.

Blows my mind. I like to call it "Deacon-structing." bThat was for you, Evo.

You, along with everyone else who's responded since your last comment, have just about turned me into a pessimist! America's in decline... pass the beer nuts...

The Exterminator said...

chappy, I stand corrected. You may continue to fly your Hawkeye flag proudly. However, the school in question did not grant tenure to that creationist (Guillermo Gonzalez, for those of you keeping score), so any reader who went to Iowa State University may fly its flag proudly as well. We're flag-neutral here at No More Hornets.

I searched, but couldn't get any reference to the accreditation you're talking about. Maybe we should ask Michelle from the playlet above to see if she can find anything. She's really good at Googling.

PhillyChief said...

First there's this, then last week. They need the ok of Texas, like that would be hard for them.

They claim they'll be teaching Evolution, but the story goes that you have to sign some shit claiming you believe the bible is true, the world is only 6000 years old and you swear not to be gay.

Fucking Texas.

ordinary girl said...

I'm late to the party (as usual lately), but Chappy and Brendan already hit on the explanation I had.

In my family's brand of Christianity, if anything directly conflicts with the Bible then it is not valid and must be discredited. Anything in the Bible that would discredit Christianity must be explained in a way that won't discredit Christianity.

You've probably heard of the concept of "spiritual warefare" where demons are actively working to lure people away from God. Well, anything that conflicts with the above is the product of a demon and listening to logic (which is only the twisted logic of a demon, mind you) will only earn you damnation.

It's completely buying into the religion with no rational or logical recourse.

The Exterminator said...

That second story you linked to makes me hopeful. It says that Raymund Paredes, The Texas Higher Education Commissioner, has suggested that the Institute for Creation Research not grant a degree in science education, but rather in creation studies.

And the article quotes Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science: It would be churlish to deny ICR the ability to grant a graduate degree when we allow theology schools and Bible colleges to grant graduate degrees. What we object to is letting them grant a degree in science education. That is a prevarication.

I'm late to the party (as usual lately).
First of all, how else could you be late if not lately?

Second, it's OK. There's still plenty of food for thought left.

John Evo said...

The Grumpy One said: Suppose we have a drug that produces exactly the same fuzzies and hallucinations claimed as evidence. Slip it into the soda pop of a collection of Christians. Document every detail of the deceit. When they come out of their reverie and see the documentation, how will they rationalize the event? They will, of course.

Ideas like that are fun to kick around. If we were on "the other side" we could actually get away with doing it. The problem is a little word we actually profess belief in - ethics.

That said, there might be a way of doing a study that seeks approval from the participants. But I leave that to those who do studies.

Lifey - Thanks :)

sacred slut said...

if anything directly conflicts with the Bible then it is not valid and must be discredited. Anything in the Bible that would discredit Christianity must be explained in a way that won't discredit Christianity.

That reminds me of something that was quoted in a Corliss Lamont book I'm reading. It was about Omar, the caliph who burned the library at Alexandria, who said something like:

"If what is in it (the book) contradicts the Koran, it's heresy and so it must be burned. And if it agrees with the Koran, it's redundant, and so it may be burned."

Of course I have no evidence that's a true story, but I believe it.

Brendan said...

T. Ex:

How do we rationalists keep ourselves from getting completely exasperated when having a "debate" with a religionist?

My usual method, as I've pointed out often, is just to avoid those "debates." They're immensely frustrating and a waste of time. Philly has pointed out, though …

Sometimes I agree: it just doesn't feel worth it. But usually, I agree with Philly -- if there are others within ear- or eyeshot of the debate, you might well be having a positive effect on them. Look at what the Four Horsemen have accomplished, especially Dawkins and Hitchens.

I agree that there are many Christians who are more rational than fundamentalists. Still, the pope asked Catholics to …

Stop right there. The Pope, especially the current pope, is not a good example of a Christian who can be rational while still maintaining some sort of faith. There's a reason for the commonality of the term "cafeteria Catholic," and the sad move of the offical Church back to mysticism, despite good efforts given by, say, the Jesuits, is that reason.

... even the most "liberal" of religionists ultimately have to concede that their entire belief system is predicated on faith.

I disagree. The two sorts I tried to describe in my previous post are people who, it seems to me, have a belief system that is largely driven by reason, and their faith has little or no effect on their decisions in day-to-day life. I'll agree that such types are the minority among Christians, but I think they often escape notice, for the simple reason that they don't proselytize or otherwise introduce their bits of faith into discussion.

The Exterminator said...


Well, I'll give you your first two points: Philly and the pope. Now, there's a debate I'd like to see.

I'm not willing to concede on the last point, though. Liberal religionists must still, ultimately, rely on faith. I'm not saying they'll match the bible against serious science, or even misread history to fit a Christian apologetics agenda. But somewhere, deep in their heart of hearts, there has to be a point where faith trumps reason. And if such religionists actually are believers, then their belief system must be predicated, at that point at least, on faith. So the question is: In order to keep that faith alive, will they dismiss contradictory evidence? Will they ignore the need to provide themselves with evidence for the things they believe? I think the answer is "yes."

HappyNat said...

Excellent points about this being an American issue about feelings and ignoring evidence/reality. Hell our president feels what is in his gut and what he believes to make decisions, the facts be damned. And how many Americans bought his ruling by feeling policy until about 4 years too late?

I'm reminded of my short stint teaching methodology/statistics to college students. I would present results from quality studies and without members of the class would say it does not agree with how they feel, or they "know someone" who did the opposite so the study is false. I got so tired of saying, "Antidotes/feelings may be interesting, but they are not statistical evidence."

PhillyChief said...

I think Colbert lampoons this idea very well. He always talks of "knowing" things by way of his gut, valuing that over any other source, and of course coined the infamous phrase "truthiness".

I truly dislike Tucker Carlson, but I caught a comment of his in response to American Idol tryouts. There was a clip of some poor girl screeching and afterwards fully delighted with her efforts and shocked that she was criticized. Tucker's response? "There's too much self esteem in this country". Fuck yeah! That's where you get ideas that a waitress' opinion on the economy is as valued as an economist's, that all opinions are equally valued. It's bullshit.

In the grander scheme of things, some years back I decided the problem was the loss of responsibility. No one claims it anymore. I think somewhere along their was an effort to boost kids' self esteem. I was at the tail end of that, experiencing "new games" (games where there is no winner) in HS PE. I think it's tied together, and in boosting self esteem we've lost the concepts of repercussions for our actions, incentives to work harder to succeed (ie - "win"), and of course self responsibility. It's like the opposite side of the coin of what happened in the Soviet Union, an American happy nihilism,.

bullet said...

"There's too much self esteem in this country."

That's priceless. I am so stealing that.

ex: Thanks for the suggestions. I like Postman, but I've never read that one. I think Building a Bridge to the 18th Century should be required reading for anyone running for anything.

The funny thing about it is that I'm not a pessimist. I'm incredibly cynical, but I still believe, ultimately, in the human mind and spirit. Maybe it was all that Star Trek (Next Generation, not the original).

The Exterminator said...

Philly & bullet:
I'm gonna steal it, too. Great quote.
Maybe we should put it into our atheistic Pledge of Allegiance: ... one nation, under too much self-evidence, with liberty and justice for all.

The other thing about responsibility:
If you cry for the American public on TV, and then apologize, you can get away with anything. Because suddenly, you're not responsible any more. It's like the media equivalent of confession, only with photo ops instead of penance.

John Evo said...

@ Ex - did you mean "one nation under too much self-esteem"?

@ Bullet - Welcome aboard. You have come to the right place. Keep up the good blogging!

PhillyChief said...

Bullet - I just saw your avatar. Very nice. Bring back The Tick! Now there's a superhero who is a quote machine.

The Exterminator said...

Yes. Brain fart.

Brendan said...

T. Ex:

Okay, I guess you and I will just have to agree to disagree on this one. I can conceive of the possibility of a completely walled-off faith in, say, belief in the possibility of life after death, or that the universe was created by a conscious entity (but one who doesn't intervene in that creation), or that there is a larger purpose to life than just passing on genes. I believe I've met such people -- they give every indication of acting as rationally as it's possible for humans to act, despite their various bits of faith.

You, however, do not believe that such a clean separation is possible, even in principle. Fair enough, and I'm not convinced you're wrong about this.

Good debate. Can't wait for the next QQQ.