Reality Knows the Truth: The Art and Artifice of Being Human About Rational Spirituality–a way of looking at the world with a balance between ancient wisdom and modern reason. https://michael.ck.page/d36a3d2338
I am a Scientist, Skeptic, and Professor at Bryant University and the IBNS, Brown University. My goal is to make technical subject matters widely accessible and to use my analytical and computational skills to assist anyone with their science-related problems.
In this episode, I take the restraints off myself and express the reasons why I think apologetics is faulty. Brian is the perfect guest for this. We bounce ideas off one another to articulate good epistemology. We discuss how mathematics and Bayes can be abused by injecting unstated information which changes the probabilities and ultimately the conclusions one comes to.
We also discuss how beliefs have consequences. The current rash of conspiracy theories have had real-world effects. Brian explains how decision theory can be used to make difficult choices.
My returning guest this week is Alice Greczyn. Alice has written a new memoir called Wayward: Spiritual Warfare & Sexual Purity. In it, Alice tells the harrowing story of growing up in an Evangelical family that attempted to live by faith. They moved from place to place believing the “Lord would provide.” Alice describes it as being “homeless.”
Alice came of age under the oppressive sexual and purity mores of the “Kiss Dating Goodbye” era. She tells the story of being shamed while on a YWAM mission trip to India for being “flirty.”
And that’s I think the greatest mind f*** of Christianity as a whole: these awful feelings are called love. They’re done in the name of love. My wires of love and shame and fear and guilt and self hatred were so crossed and it took me years to even see that wiring.
As an adult in her 20s, in a desperate but final act of faith, Alice tests God. God fails. And Alice begins the difficult process of letting go of faith. This is a dark time of panic attacks, depression and self-harm.
When we’re told God is love, and love feels like this horrible, self-hating guilt complex, what is love, how can we recognize good love?
With the help of secular therapy and the discovery of the term, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Alice began her recovery process. She studied the science of faith, neurotheology, and began to understand herself and those around her who still believed. In this new freedom, she rebuilt her life reclaiming her autonomy and discovering what real love feels like.
And again it [understanding neurotheology] alleviated the pressure. God wasn’t ignoring me. There was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t broken. I wasn’t this chronic sinner who was just born defective and unable to feel the love of God because I didn’t have enough faith. It’s simply to be a matter of science and that’s how most things are to me.
On top of being an author, Alice is an advocate for those questioning their faith. Her organization, Dare to Doubt, is a resource for those who are no longer satisfied with their faith tradition’s explanations and demands.
Yet this demographic [millennial “Nones”] is also resilient. We are as brave as the martyrs we were raised to be. We are battling the spiritual war we were trained to fight. We’re just not on the side of religion, and believe us—no one is more surprised by this than ourselves. We are condemned, prayed for, and loathed as much as we are feared. But persecution was once our fuel. Our skin is thick with the courage to fight for truth as we see it, and where we once saw through dogma-colored glasses, we now see through the lenses of relativity, reason, and the validity of our own experiences. It is easy to dismiss us as bitter. It is understandable to write off our deconversions as desperate attempts at individuation and rebellion. It is compassionate to ask us why we left, instead of praying for us to rejoin.
My guest this week is Erin. Erin is working toward her chaplaincy and her Masters in Practical Theology. She describes herself as “religious, but not spiritual.”
If I had to encapsulate my religious outlook in one sentence, I would invert the oft-cited phrase ‘spiritual, but not religious’ and instead say I am ‘religious, but not spiritual’. I have always had a deep-seated interest in religion, and I love the traditions, community and way of life which Christianity provides. Yet I have always struggled with the supernatural aspects of the faith; I could never grasp the concept of communicating with a God ‘up there’ while humans were ‘down here’.
Erin grew up in Northern Ireland. She was raised to respect all people. But when she was accepted by an Evangelical Presbyterian church she became in her words “the worst kind of fundamentalist.” This included deriding Catholics.
At University she excelled and found herself attracted to more liberal theologies. She says she went from Evangelical to an Open Theist to a functional atheist (agnostic).
Erin also happens to be on the Autism spectrum. This had an impact on her inability to accept things on faith. She needed logical consistency.
But Erin still finds value in the Christian tradition. She plans to do good in the world as chaplain.
My guest this week is Barrett Evans, author of The Contemplative Skeptic. Barrett wrote the book for those who are skeptical but drawn to spirituality. A former evangelical seminarian and ex-Roman Catholic, Barrett is an agnostic who has retained a fascination with contemplative spirituality. Building on what he learned in his divinity, counseling, and historical studies, he draws on hundreds of religious and secular sources in an effort to combine honest doubt with the best of contemplative experience.
Perhaps ironically, dogmatic religions claims now seem to me to critically undercut two of the most valuable spiritual ideals for fallible people – humility in the face of complexity and honesty in the light of human limitations.
We discuss how honesty and humility lead to doubt. Barrett’s look at comparative religion reveals the reasons for doubt and the wisdom of a contemplative life. We ask what does it mean to be “spiritual.”
And as history of religions and other psychological phenomenon show, delusions can be passed from one person to another with some rapidity, especially if they are in close relationships and it is a time of stress or excitement.
The tremendous range of religious diversity is one of the greatest reasons for skepticism towards any particular religious belief.
My guest this week is Randal Rauser. Randal is, in his own words, “a systematic and analytic theologian of evangelical persuasion.” He is a professor of systematic theology, aplogetics, and worldview at Taylor Seminary.
Randal has written a number of books on apologetics and atheism. I first became aware of Randal’s work around 2017 when I read “Is The Atheist My Neighbor.” At least in the circles I am a a part of, Randal is considered to be a fair and honest apologist and is widely regarded for “steel-manning” atheist arguments before giving his arguments against them.
My own shifting relationship with certainty and doubt, confidence and questioning, is reflected in my history with apologetics.
This week we discuss his new book, “Conversations With My Inner Atheist.” In this book, Randal personifies his doubts as an interlocutor named Mia, My Inner Atheist, who presents the atheist, humanist and naturalistic arguments against his faith. Randal shows real vulnerability in several of these dialogues and often leaves the matter without a satisfactory conclusion by either party (believing Randal or non-believing, Mia).
Instead, I believe that certainty can journey along with doubt, confidence can welcome questioning, and together they can work to create a healthy and balanced Christian community.
As you might imagine, I have some thoughts on these matters most of which I express in the Final Thoughts section of the podcast. We also discuss a recent back and forth between Randal and Ian Mills of the New Testament Review Podcast fame on the topic of methodological naturalism.
The truth is, I’d rather accept that there are some questions I may never answer rather than return to the simple days where I thought my answers were beyond question.
My guest this week is Dr. Anthony Pinn. Dr. Pinn is the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities, the Professor of Religious Studies. the Founding Director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning Rice University, and the Director of Research of the Institute for Humanist Studies. Dr. Pinn has written a number of books on the intersection of humanism and race. In this episode, we discuss his book, When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer.
We spend so much of our time making fun of and belittling theists. That’s not very productive. You don’t transform the world that way.
I learned quite a lot from Dr. Pinn. Both about humanism and the experience of black humanists. Ultimately I was challenged to change my behavior, to “do my homework,” and to understand that it will take dismantling of white supremacy in humanist communities in order to gain the great benefits that diversity brings.
This sort of fundamental change this movement towards diversity and equity means giving up comfort. You cannot request comfort and say you are interested in change.
Throughout his book(s) and in the interview Dr. Pinn calls on our humanist values to be less ignorant, to include black and other historically disparaged voices, and to develop our own vocabulary and ways of experiencing awe without calling on theistic traditions. “We can do better.”
[Our] goal should not be removing religion … Religion is really simply a way of naming our effort to come to grips with who what when and why we are … But it seems to me, the larger more compelling goal is decreasing the harm that we do in the world.
My guest this week is Leighann Lord, comedian, author and podcast host. She has traveled the world doing comedy and has been on VH1, Comedy Central and HBO. She has co-hosted on Neil Degrasse Tyson’s Start Talk Radio and on CFI’s podcast, Point of Inquiry. She hosts her own podcast, People With Parents. She has written two books: Dict Jokes and Real Women Do It Standing Up.
Leighann went to Catholic school growing up and is now a humanist activist. Leighann was awarded the 2019 Humanist Arts Award for her work as the New York City face of the African Americans for Humanism outreach campaign sponsored by the Center for Inquiry.
[First attending humanist gathering]: I had my discovery and my sincerity.
We talk about humanism and what it can add to the conversation about race in America. Leighann handles my naivete with grace and elegance while still pointing out the world is a complicated place and racism is a persistent problem in America.
What [BLM is] doing, I believe is the work and ideal of humanism. Which is human beings realizing that they have a stake. You want to light a candle? That’s great we still going to have to get in here and do this work. And to me that is humanism. Human beings trying to be better humans. Actually doing the work.
Leighann’s podcast, People With Parents, deals with the role reversal of taking care of elderly parents. It is also a raw and real look at grieving the death of parent. We discuss secular grief and the need to be more public about grief as non-believers.
[Regarding grieving a loved one] Everyone is there for you week one. And most of them are saying the absolute wrong thing. So while you are trying to grieve you are also busy being angry.
We geek out about comedy and how it can let truth sneak past our defense mechanisms. Leighann shares her top five comedic influences. She talks about first seeing Marsha Warfield on stage, “I didn’t know we did this. Which tells you the power of role models.”
Leighann’s comedy specials which are available on YouTube, Spotify, Pandora and Amazon Prime have much to say about living in 2020 though they were recorded a few years ago. They cover race, religion, sexism, sex, wealth disparity, and the lack of education in the current administration.
You realize nobody changes their opinion or even starts to hear your side when your finger is in their face. That’s just not how humans work.
My guest this week is Bart Campolo. Bart is the host of the Humanize Me Podcast. He is the author of “Why I Left, Why I Stayed.” Along with his famous Evangelical father, Tony Campolo, Bart is the subject of John Wright’s documentary: Leaving my Father’s Faith. If that is not enough, Bart is also the Humanist Chaplain at the University of Cincinnati.
Bart and I discuss graceful ways of talking with people with whom we disagree, having conversations that are difficult that touch on religion, race and politics and changing one’s mind. I point out that Bart has been particularly public with some of these conversations, including a book and documentary with his dad, Tony Campolo, a podcast episode with his son, Roman, where they disagree on the hope or lack thereof for our species and a recent podcast episode on race. In short, Bart wears his heart on his sleeve and lives his life out loud with humility, honesty and grace.
We discuss humanism and the burden of being hopeful. Bart pushes back on my assertion that everyone needs awe, belonging and community. According to Bart different people need different amounts of each of those things. At the same time, Bart is facilitating a healthy secular community in Cincinnati providing just those things for the lucky few who attend. They put it this way:
Commitment to loving relationships
Making things better for other people
Cultivating gratitude and wonder in life
I normally have a few quotes from the episode, but as I was writing them down it became a transcript. Bart is eminently quotable. Listen to the show to find out. I will leave you with just one which you will need to listen to the show to understand:
Show your work!
Be sure to listen to the end for a funny story I tell that relates to Bart’s father, Tony Campolo, during my time at bible college.
My guest this week is John Marriott. We are talking about deconversion from the Christian perspective. John is the Director of Global Learning and teaches in the department of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Biola University. John did his PhD dissertation focused on deconversion from Christianity to atheism. He has written a book on deconversion called “A Recipe For Disaster,” which is directed to the Church on the ways they are setting up believers to lose their faith.
I define [faith] as having enough reasons for a hope worth acting on. I think there enough reasons for me to act on this [faith].
I first came across John’s work in an interview he did with Randal Rauser. I was struck by the honesty and clarity that he had in describing deconversion. In particular this quote:
Something similar underwrites a significant percentage of deconversions. The biblical narrative that once easily fit within their childlike understanding of reality began to get squeezed out as they matured in their understanding of reality. The stories in the Bible about miracles, witches, giants, demons, etc. began to feel as out of place as Santa. To resolve the problems they may seek answers that will allow them to continue to believe in such things as adults in the 21st century. This is the experience not just of those who deconvert but all educated, reflective Christians today. I suspect that even for those that do remain Christians, the cognitive dissonance never completely goes away, it just has been reduced to a level that allows them to continue to believe. For deconverts however, the cognitive dissonance is not sufficiently assuaged by apologetics. It grows despite their efforts and reaches a tipping point. As in the case with Santa, the only way to resolve the tension is to admit what they know is true. God does not exist.
John proved to be as honest in person as he is in his writing. He met me in an honesty contest and we found points of agreement on what it is like to deconvert. Even though we disagree on the conclusions we were able to have a vital conversation.
The reason why I believe it is there is enough evidence for me that I find it persuasive. I don’t find the counter-arguments conclusive so there is sufficient and adequate reason for me. But why do I find it sufficient and adequate? That is the real question. And to answer that question it is so complicated: there are personal reasons there are sociological reasons there are emotional reasons of course there are some rational reasons but at the end of the day we’re are so much more than mere Cartesian thinking machines. To be able to say well “I am a Christian because its the truth and it is true because the evidence points in that direction so clearly and I have reasoned it out this way.” Is I think naive in how we actually go about forming our beliefs.
This is a 20 Questions with a Believer episode. John and I take turns asking each other questions and then crucially allowing the other person to answer.