David Johnson: Skeptics and Seekers

Atheism, Bloggers, Critique of Apologetics, Deconversion, Philosophy, Podcast, Podcasters
David Johnson
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest this week is David Johnson, the co-host and creator of the Skeptics and Seekers podcast and blog. David is a former Church of Christ member and a pastor’s kid. He was baptized at 7, leading the church in song at 7, preaching at 12, the youth leader at 15 and assistant minister at 21.

Was I the real thing? Pathologically so.

His deconversion process began as he examined the Church of Christ’s doctrine against musical accompaniment in worship. He says “the little things, were the big things.” And if the little things were wrong, what else might be wrong?

You know, I think we might be wrong about that [instrumental accompaniment].
And that was hard for me.
It was hard in a way that I am not going to be able to express.
For me, if we were wrong about musical instruments, we were wrong about everything.

Deconversion was “like death” for David.

It was so hard for me to say,
not out loud mind you,
“I don’t believe there is a god.”
And then to say it out loud … alone in the woods where no one can hear.

Today David uses an unabashed polemic approach to counter-apologetics to reveal the problems with Christianity and faith in general. You can find him on his Skeptics and Seekers podcast and on his appearances on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? podcast. You can read the book he co-authored in response to Justin Brierley: Still Unbelievable!

The damage I did on the other side [as a believer] keeps me up at night.

Links

Skeptics and Seekers blog
https://skepticsandseekers.squarespace.com/

Skeptics and Seekers podcast
https://anchor.fm/skeptics-and-seekers

Still Unbelievable! book
https://reasonpress.net/SU1E

David Johnson’s appearances on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? podcast
https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Is-the-resurrection-unbelievable-Jonathan-McLatchie-vs-David-Johnson
https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Can-Justin-defend-his-own-book-feat.-David-Johnson-Andrew-Knight-Randal-Rauser

My recent appearance on Skeptics and Seekers
https://skepticsandseekers.squarespace.com/blog/x-tians-part-one-what-christians-who-stay-need-to-know-about-the-christians-who-dont

Interact

Deconversion
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/deconversion-how-to/

Send in a voice message

Support the podcast
Patreon https://www.patreon.com/gracefulatheist
Paypal: paypal.me/gracefulatheist

Attribution

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Sarah: Deconversion Anonymous

Critique of Apologetics, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Deconversion Anonymous, Naturalism, Philosophy, Podcast, Secular Community
Sarah
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

This week’s show is a Deconversion Anonymous episode.

My guest this week is Sarah. Sarah is a co-author of the book “Still Unbelievable!” She is a regular poster on the Unbelievable? discussion boards. Sarah has a unique blend of down to earth perspective and an intellectual rigor.

In some respects, it is like being skinned alive layers of belief are being pulled away.

Sarah grew up a Christian. She was a part of the Shepherding Movement which is now considered a cult. She has moved from the Anglican church, to (British) Baptist, and then to Charismatic Vineyard churches. Until she began to research her own faith. What she found was an utter lack of evidence and a confusing morass of conflicting information.

You are giving god CPR.
You really are trying to keep it alive with the best intentions

She describes her search for validation as “going forensic” as she studied apologetics, philosophy, cosmology and evolution. Ultimately, she could not keep god on “life support” and she is now an agnostic.

Love is a good way to live your life.
Love is the point.
We’ve only got this present moment.
That is all we know for certain.

Links

Reason Press and the Still Unbelievable! book
https://reasonpress.net/
“Sophie’s” Story
https://reasonpress.net/SU1E/Sophie1
https://reasonpress.net/SU1E/Sophie2

Skeptics and Seekers
https://skepticsandseekers.squarespace.com/blog/x-tians-part-one-what-christians-who-stay-need-to-know-about-the-christians-who-dont

Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? podcast
https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable

Interact

Deconversion
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/deconversion-how-to/

Secular Grace
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/secular-grace/

Send in a voice message

Support the podcast
Patreon https://www.patreon.com/gracefulatheist
Paypal: paypal.me/gracefulatheist

Attribution

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Jessica Hagy: The Humanist Devotional

Atheism, Authors, Bloggers, Book Review, Humanism, Philosophy, Podcast, Secular Grace
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest this week is Jessica Hagy. Jessica is the artistic and comedic genius behind the blog, Indexed. She has recently written a book titled, The Humanist Devotional. Jessica is an artist, an author, a comedian, a marketing and social media guru.

Get as humble as you can.

Jessica grew up secular and calls herself a humanist. It is not that she rejected the bible, but rather that there was so much more for her to learn. In the episode she uses the analogy of a library card as granting access to the world’s knowledge. Access that she took advantage of.

Small talk can get big fast.

We walk through her 10 steps on how to be an interesting person and re-imagine them as how to find meaning and purpose as a humanist.

Do something!

Links

Blog
https://thisisindexed.com/

Twitter
https://twitter.com/jessicahagy

Instagram
https://www.instagram.com/jessica_hagy/

 10 Steps on how to be interesting
https://inkandescentwomen.com/the-women/author-jessica-hagy/

Books

Interact

Secular Grace
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/secular-grace/

Deconversion
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/deconversion-how-to/

Why I am a humanist
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/2017/11/18/why-i-am-a-humanist/

Send in a voice message

Support the podcast
Patreon https://www.patreon.com/gracefulatheist
Paypal: paypal.me/gracefulatheist

Attribution

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Andrew Knight: Still Unbelievable

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconversion, Humanism, Naturalism, Philosophy, Podcast, Podcasters
Still Unbelievable
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest today is Andrew Knight. Andrew is the host of the Still Unbelievable podcast and co-host of the Ask an Atheist Anything podcast. He is a contributing author to the book Still Unbelievable. Andrew has been a Recovering From Religion peer support agent helping others through their questioning. He promotes the message:

Let’s talk about human problems from a human perspective. Human problems have human solutions.

Andrew states flatly the faith tradition he was raised in, Church of Christ, is a cult. After attending bible college and working for an apologetics publishing company he began to be disillusioned with apologetics. He came to recognize the foundational claims of Christianity were not true. Andrew takes it a step further, even if the miracles of the bible were true this would not be proof of the core claims of Christianity: an infinite, all knowing, all powerful god.

My conversation with Andrew is wide ranging as we cover his deconversion story and the work he now does. He talks about his disfellowship from the Church of Christ. He describes the difficulty in telling a friend who turned out to be going through the same deconversion process. We talk about deconverts being the most dangerous counter-apologetic of all.

Truth is a process of successive approximations

Andrew’s friend Sean

Changing the notion of truth to something that can be investigated and that we can get better at.

Note: Both the Still Unbelievable book and podcast are responses to Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable podcast and book. Justin’s podcast brings atheists and theists together for debate. Justin is considered an honest moderator. His book’s subtitle is Why After Ten Years of Talking with Atheists, I’m Still a Christian. Matthew’s and his colleagues’ responses take aim at those reasons.

Links

Reason Press:
https://reasonpress.net/

“Still Unbelievalbe” the book:
https://reasonpress.net/SU1E

Recovering From Religion
https://www.recoveringfromreligion.org/

Podcasts

Still Unbelievable
https://anchor.fm/still-unbelievable

Ask An Atheist Anything
https://anchor.fm/reasonpress

Interact

Send in a voice message

Attribution

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Support

Support the podcast
Patreon https://www.patreon.com/gracefulatheist
Paypal: paypal.me/gracefulatheist

Matthew Taylor: Confessions of a Young Earth Creationist

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconversion, Humanism, Philosophy, Podcast, Podcasters
Matthew Taylor
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest today is Matthew Taylor. Matthew is the host of the Ask an Atheist Anything podcast and the co-host of the Still Unbelievable podcast. He is the primary editor and contributing author of the book Still Unbelievable. His blog is entitled Confessions of a Young Earth Creationist.

Matthew’s deconversion story includes growing up in the mission fields in Zambia, a young Earth creationist education, the divorce of his parents and dramatic spiritual experiences. Friends began to challenge his rejection of evolution and podcasts began
to give him natural explanations for his spiritual experiences. He began to be disappointed in the apologetic arguments as compared to scientific explanations.

Deconversion was challenging and Matthew took a long time to tell his wife of his loss of faith. Matthew wants to help others through the deconversion process. He recognizes that it is a lonely process and that what we need most is another human being who has been through it too.

“Suddenly I realized I could no longer be a Christian. The suddenly doesn’t describe my journey, the suddenly describes my awareness.”

“This [deconversion] process hurts”

“If I am there when you deconvert, my response is not ‘hallelujah,’ my response is ‘How are you? Do you need a hug? Do you need a friend?'”

“I want to stand up to inaccuracy, against things that are untrue”

Note: Both the Still Unbelievable book and podcast are responses to Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable podcast and book. Justin’s podcast brings atheists and theists together for debate. Justin is considered an honest moderator. His book’s subtitle is Why After Ten Years of Talking with Atheists, I’m Still a Christian. Matthew’s and his colleagues’ responses take aim at those reasons.

Links:

Matthew on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/vteclimey

Confessions of a YEC blog:
https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/

“God takes the good people early” post:
https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/god-takes-the-good-people-early/

Reason Press:
https://reasonpress.net/

“Still Unbelievable” the book:
https://reasonpress.net/SU1E

Podcasts:

Still Unbelievable
https://anchor.fm/still-unbelievable

Ask An Atheist Anything
https://anchor.fm/reasonpress

Interact:

Send in a voice message to the podcast:
https://anchor.fm/gracefulatheist/message

Attribution:

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Support the podcast
Patreon https://www.patreon.com/gracefulatheist
Paypal: paypal.me/gracefulatheist

Jennifer Michael Hecht: Doubt A History

Atheism, Authors, Book Review, Deconversion, Humanism, Naturalism, Philosophy, Podcast, Secular Grace
Jennifer Michael Hecht: Doubt A History
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest today is Jennifer Michael Hecht. Jennifer is a poet, an author, an award winning academic and an intellectual historian. She has written numerous books from a secular perspective. I asked Jennifer to come on the show to discuss her book Doubt: A History and its profound effect on me post-deconversion. She is one of my intellectual heroes.

It is hard to express how much this book has influenced other secular writers and thinkers. This book has strongly influenced my other two favorite books Greg Epstein’s Good Without God and Katherine Ozment’s Grace Without God. Both of which quote Doubt throughout.

Jennifer proved to be as profound a thinker as her reputation makes her out to be. It was my privilege to attempt to keep up with her in this interview.

I am indebted to Jennifer for coining the term “graceful life philosophy.” My concept of Secular Grace is an attempt to live a graceful life philosophy.

Great believers and great doubters seem like opposites, but they are more similar to each other than to the mass of relatively disinterested or acquiescent men and women. This is because they are both awake to the fact that we live between two divergent realities: On one side, there is a world in our heads— and in our lives, so long as we are not contradicted by death and disaster— and that is a world of reason and plans, love, and purpose. On the other side, there is the world beyond our human life—an equally real world in which there is no sign of caring or value, planning or judgment, love, or joy. We live in a meaning-rupture because we are human and the universe is not.

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Links:

Jennifer Michael Hecht’s website:
http://www.jennifermichaelhecht.com/
http://www.jennifermichaelhecht.com/doubt

Books:

Review:

My review of Doubt: A History

Recommendation:

My story on the Deconversion Therapy Podcast
https://deconversiontherapypodcast.com/2019/05/09/15-remembering-the-humor-of-rachel-held-evans/

Attribution:

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats
http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Makaih_Beats

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us/

Support the podcast
Patreon https://www.patreon.com/gracefulatheist
Paypal: paypal.me/gracefulatheist

Shazam Cosmological Argument

Critique of Apologetics, Philosophy, Thought Experiments

Thought Experiment

Setup

Alice and Bob believe the universe was created by the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy (GUCT). According to Alice and Bob’s faith GUCT is ineffable and cannot be described nor understood. The GUCT is eternal and beyond time and space. It is powerful and wicked smart. Also the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy is blue.

Alice and Bob use the famous, unassailable and air tight Shazam Cosmological Argument to prove the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy created the universe.

1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause;
2) The universe appears to have begun to exist;

Therefore:

3) The universe has a cause.

1) The universe has a cause;
2) If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, ineffable Creator … um Thingy of the universe exists that sans the universe is outside of time and space, powerful and wicked smart. It would also help if it were blue;

Shazam!

3) An uncaused, ineffable Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy exists, that sans the universe is outside of time and space, powerful and wicked smart. Also clearly blue in color.

Questions

  • Are you convinced by this argument that the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy created the universe?
  • What flaws do you see in this argument?
  • Does the blueness of the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy seem arbitrary?
  • How is the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy different than your tradition’s explanation for the beginning of the universe?

This post is in the series Thought Experiments for Believers.

Leaning Into My Presuppostions

Atheism, Communities of Unbelief, Critique of Apologetics, Humanism, Naturalism, Philosophy, Secular Grace

Conversely inspired by presuppositional apologetics and continuing my Watershed Presuppositions series I thought it time to write down what my presuppositions are.

Presuppositions are truths you accept without justification. They are accepted a prori and may or may not have evidence to prove them. They are your starting point and the basis upon which everything you believe in is built.

It is important to note that everyone has presuppositions whether they are aware of them or not. Much of the difficulty in having a dialog with those you disagree with is the unstated incongruous presuppositions that you and your interlocutor hold.

My Presuppositions

Ontological and Epistemological

  • The universe exists and has patterns which are to varying degrees discoverable.
  • Conscious minds are a product of the patterns of the universe.
  • Logic and mathematics abstracted from the discoverable patterns of the universe by conscious minds are sound and reliable.
  • The scientific method which uses logic, mathematics and observation is a reliable method for discovering the patterns of the universe.
  • Truth is that which can be tested and verified to conform to reality.

Moral

  • Human beings have value and inalienable rights.
  • Human beings are fallible.
  • Human beings are meaning makers.

These are the truths that I hold axiomatically. Some, even most, can be justified, meaning they have evidence. But, for our purposes here, what are the implications of these statements when held true?

You may find yourself saying, “but I don’t believe one or more of these.” No problem. These are my presuppositions not yours. The reason they are useful is for you to understand how I come to certain conclusions and not others. If you can accept them purely for the sake of argument you can begin to understand my worldview. If you cannot accept them even solely for the sake of argument then we have nothing further to discuss.

The universe exists

This one seems pretty obvious. If it seems as obvious to you as it does to me, you have probably never hung out with philosophers.

The purpose of this axiom is to do away with the interesting yet tiresome arguments of solipsism, that the only thing that can be proven to exist is our consciousness. Do we live in a hologram or a matrix? Are we just brains in a vat? So boldly and arrogantly I assert, the universe exists!

photo of galaxy

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Even more boldly I assert that at least to some extent it has patterns which are discoverable. These patters are observable and ultimately knowable to varying degrees of certainty. The old trite saying, “as surely as the sun will rise in the East and set in the West,” is an example of observing a pattern of the universe and gaining certainty that it is true.

Conscious minds are a product of the patterns of the universe

This one is more of an assertion. Fewer people may agree with me here. But I take this as a given. Consciousness is not made of a mysterious non-natural substance. We may not understand consciousness in its entirety … yet. Therefore,  I assert consciousness is a product of the patterns of the universe we find ourselves conscious in.

This axiom is important to do away with the idea that consciousness is something other than natural. The idea of a soul dies hard.

Logic and mathematics are sound

Again, if you find this one obvious, you have not spent much time with either philosophers or presuppositional apologists.

Logic and mathematics are abstractions from the patterns of the universe by conscious minds. There are a few hidden assertions in here that I will point out.

Logic and mathematics do not exist in the platonic sense. We have discussed dualism in this series before it is a difficult one to escape. What I am saying here is logic and math do not have their own existence they are the product of human intellect based on observed patterns in the universe: abstractions. In philosophic language this is an epistemological claim not an ontological claim.

We as conscious human beings observe the patterns of the universe and we abstract “rules” that describe those patters. If I have two sheep and then I get two more I have four sheep. It does not matter if “sheep” are woolly mammals who chew the cud or blocks, or rocks, or anything. We have abstracted the rule 2 + 2 = 4 by observation and human intellect. From basic arithmetic to number theory we have abstracted rules from these patterns.

person holding a chalk in front of the chalk board

Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

The most important assertion here is that logic and mathematics are sound and reliable. It is a feature of logical and mathematical proofs that each step taken relies on the proofs that came before it. If one of the foundational mathematics axioms were not true the proofs built upon it would not “work” as they do.

Don’t believe this one? Then throw out the magic device in your pocket that gives you access to the near sum total of human knowledge. That device, the network it uses and literally the information itself is all built on logic and mathematics.

Mathematics is the language of the universe.

— Neil Degrasse Tyson

The scientific method is a reliable method to gain knowledge

The scientific method is simply a process by which an idea is tested by gathering evidence. If there is strong evidence more credence is given to the idea, if there is little evidence credence goes down and if there is contradictory evidence the idea may be abandoned altogether.

My assertion here is that this is a reasonable and reliable epistemological method, a way to gain knowledge.

The scientific method leads toward truth in major part by discarding bad ideas. Finding true ideas is hard. Validating that an idea is true is just as hard. But by discarding false ideas the options are narrowed down toward true ones.

Science is self-correcting. If tomorrow credible evidence is discovered contracting any of the deeply held scientific theories credence in that theory would drop. Not only that the discoverer of the contradicting evidence would be lauded.

Science tends to assume naturalistic metaphysics. If that bothers you, then you need to account for science’s unreasonable, wild and fantastic success. The entirety of the modern age depends upon the successes of science from medicine to space exploration to binge watching your favorite TV series on demand.

Truth is that which can be tested and verified to conform to reality

Adding to the common definition of truth as that which conforms to reality and adding a bit of the scientific method. I assert that truth is that which can be tested and verified to conform to reality where reality is the product of the patterns of the universe. We should have more credence in something that has been tested and has evidence than something that has neither.

Evidence, testing and validation are important because these are the only tools to convince the skeptic. Einstein was famously not a fan of quantum theory in the early days. But he was won over by the evidence.

If I make a claim, you can believe me or not. But if I make a claim and tell you how to test for yourself and that test validates my claim it is harder to ignore.

I expect the accusations of scientism, materialism and empiricism. Fine. It is certainly true that there are vast areas where science just doesn’t know. And in fact this is a feature: to humbly acknowledge all that we don’t know.

Focusing on the gaps in knowledge misses the point, keep in mind all that we do know. Evolutionary theory explains the vast complexity of life on planet Earth. Theories within cosmology can model the universe back to fractions of a second after the big bang. Gravity waves just recently verified were predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The baffling quantum field theory explains nature’s behavior at the microscopic level which turns out to be deeply counter intuitive.

Even for those things which we cannot measure directly we use inference. We have inferred dark matter and dark energy. These two account for 96% of the material in the universe and yet we cannot detect them directly.

Human beings have value and inalienable rights

This is the basis of my morality: human beings have value and inalienable rights. I assert it thus, and then try to live out the implications. As sentient beings we recognize each other’s great value in the otherwise empty vastness of the universe we find ourselves in. We are not alone. We have each other.

I am a humanist as I have written before. This simply means that people are more important than ideologies of any kind. We ought to treat each other with Secular Grace.

woman carrying baby at beach during sunset

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I appreciate the need to expand this concept to conscious creatures. This has vast implications on how we treat animals and potential artificial intelligences. However, as recent political history has shown we are not very good at treating each other with respect and valuing each other’s rights. So human beings are my focus.

Human beings are fallible

Just as important as recognizing the value human beings pose we must also acknowledge human fallibility. Although, I reject the concept of sin it would be foolishness not to recognize people can be destructive to themselves and others.

Human beings are neither all good nor all bad. If those terms are too loaded, they are neither completely selfish nor completely altruistic. Our motivations are complex and varied and they very rarely reduce to simple identifiable sources.

We are very good at fooling ourselves. We are susceptible to a vast array of cognitive biases. In fact, much of the process of the scientific method is to avoid human fallibility and our ability to find what we want to be true.

However, just because human beings are fallible or imperfect does not mean we are not of great value. Sentience being an exceedingly rare commodity in the universe we find ourselves in, we need to love each other.

Human beings are meaning makers

We humans are the conscious observers who abstract the patterns of the universe. We experience awe and mystery and give them meaning. We define human morality  I assert there may not be inherent meaning in the universe but we humans make meaning.

We are the universe aware of itself.

— Carl Sagan, Julian Huxley, Neil Degrasse Tyson all have said some variation on this quote.

I tend to agree with Hume that you cannot get an aught from an is. Rather than exhausting ourselves looking for external objective truth, morality and meaning we should take it upon ourselves to work together toward greater understanding of human truth, morality and meaning. Though all human moral systems are incomplete, taken together they point toward respect for human value.

Apologetics, epistemology and moving on

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Naturalism, Philosophy

I am done

I am done with apologetics. I am done listening to debates between naturalists and theists. I am done giving apologetics the benefit of the doubt as a valid point of debate. Over the past few years, right before and since my deconversion, I have spent a significant amount of time listening to debates, reading articles and generally trying to understand the theists’ arguments for the existence of god. This includes attempting to remember what used to convince me. But now I am done.

What disappoints me about apologists is not that they are making arguments for Christianity.
I expect and encourage that.
What disappoints me is that the arguments are weak.

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, one story describes some characters using a fictional algorithm that filters diplomatic speak and reduces it to concrete information. It removes the flowery double speak and outputs the actual useful content, information that can be acted upon. In the story one ambassador’s lengthy comments reduced to no content whatsoever, many many words but no information.

While reading this fictional story it dawned on me that this is what has been bothering me about apologetics for years. Apologetic arguments reduce to nothingness. It is a shell game. There is no actual content, it is all assertions.

Here I have to acknowledge something. Let’s call it a confession. Even today when I read a new article or hear a new argument there is some part of me that hopes the argument will make sense, that it will be valid and that my metaphysics will be, if not overturned, at least challenged. My emotional reaction is one of deep disappointment. I do not mean to say that I want to be wrong, but maybe there is some lingering shame at having been gullible enough to believe the apologist arguments in the past. If their arguments were at least sound, then I might have an excuse for having stayed as long as I did.

Me reading a new apologist:
Interesting …
Maybe …
Maybe …
Maybe …
Nope same old argument.

Apologetic arguments no matter how sophisticated tend to reduce to a few well understood fallacies:

1) Begging the question

This is when the conclusion is baked into the question. My favorite(?) world class example of this is William Lane Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument. From my post What if I grant you that:

 1. The universe has a cause;

2. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful;

3. An uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful.

… do you recognize that premise 2 is the definition of begging the question. That means the the desired outcome or conclusion is baked into the premise of the question. How did we get from a cause for the universe to “an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful?” I need you to feel the vastness of this logical leap.

If I tell you to stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and unassisted hop over to the other side, that starts to… No that is not enough. Stand at the East coast of the US and hop over the Atlantic Ocean … No that is not enough. Hop from the Earth to the moon? No, how about from the Earth to Alpha Centari? I am only beginning to express the vast void one needs to traverse between premise 1 and premise 2.

2) Semantic games:

The simplest example of this is the deliberate misrepresentation of terms. Such as abusing the term theory; suggesting that the theory of evolution is “just a theory.” I need you to see how post-modern this is. The post-modern relativism the Church has decried for decades is the bastion of the apologist. I acknowledge here that this simplistic version tends to be deployed by the less sophisticated average theist.

However, a more sophisticated version is deployed when apologists are challenged on logical inconsistencies. For example the problem of evil as expressed by Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

Here the sophisticated apologist will assert God’s intentions:

God wants us to be free
God wants us to experience the consequences of our actions
God’s ways are above our ways

Or on divine on hidenness:

God loves us enough to withhold his power
God will not force us to believe
Miracles ended in the first century because the bible

How do you know what God intends if his ways are above yours? Rather than acknowledging the obvious inconsistencies semantic games are played to warp the common sense meaning and obfuscate the truth: there is no substance to the apologist’s arguments.

Assertion of my own:
All “known” attributes of god are themselves assertions.
Including, but not limited to, existence.

3) God of the gaps:

This is the beginning and the end for the apologist. Anything we do not yet understand is attributed to god.  This is the big bucket into which most of apologetic arguments fall into.

In the beginning:

There was a time when humanity did not understand lightning. There was a time when we did not understand disease. There was a time when we did not understand evolution. During those times humanity credited these things to the gods.

Where we are now:

The god of the gaps argument is the rapidly shrinking space where science has yet to find answers. Don’t get me wrong, there are vast areas where we do not yet know. Some of them are hugely significant.

An incomplete list of things we do not know:

  • What happened “before” the big bang
  • The origin of life
  • How consciousnesses arises

But there are many many areas of knowledge that have been revealed by science. Areas that were once all assigned to god whether of the theist or of the deist kind. But now there is no reason to believe that our ignorance in a particular area will last forever.

The apologist uses our ignorance to insert a god to fill the gap. Those gaps have gotten smaller and smaller over time at an accelerated pace. At what point do they admit, there is no need of god?

Naturalist: The sum total of scientific, rational and empirical evidence suggests the natural world is all there is.
Theist: Yes, but people really feel like there is a god.

Moving on

To sum up: I am disappointed, bored and I am done. I am not mad at a non-existent god, I am mad at the apologists.

I acknowledge, this is not very intellectual of me. I am, in effect, dismissing arguments, out of hand, without considering them first. But this is the point. Apologetics, at least all of it that I have consumed, reduces to a few already refuted points. Until apologists have new information or evidence to present, the existing arguments can be safely dismissed.

One other complaint that could be leveled at me is that I am creating straw man arguments to knock down. Again, this is the point, the much more qualified scientists, philosophers and ethicists have exhausted themselves since the Enlightenment “steel manning” theists’ arguments and yet still refuting them. What more do I have to add to the argument? The burden is upon the apologist to bring new evidence.

This is sometimes called post-theism. The idea is that theism has had its time to make its arguments. Those arguments have been shown lacking. Therefore, it is time to move on.

It is not that there is no evidence for theism. Read any serious philosophical article on the subject and you will find some evidence for theism. However, the evidence is not compelling. The evidence is not strong enough to convince the skeptic.  The evidence for theism is insufficient to sustain belief. At this point it is a waste of everyone’s, including the apologitst’s, time to continue to beat a dead horse.  It is time to move on.

Built upon the sand

One reason for this insufficiency is the epistemology of faith has no objective basis. Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. What is our basis for what is true and what is false. Faith is based purely on tautological assertions.

The god theists assert, asserts that he exists in the asserted divinely inspired scriptures that assert god exists.

It is a bit like a time travel movie where our hero travels to the distant past with an invention she created in the recent past. Say a time machine. She uses the invention to change something in the past. When she returns to the present everything has been changed. The past in which she created the time machine no longer exits. So where did the knowledge for the time machine come from?

I have written about this before. If you ask 100 believers about some point of doctrine or another, you will likely get 100 different answers despite the fact that they read the same scriptures. This is an order of magnitude worse with believers of different faiths. There is no epistemic basis to decide between competing faith positions. There is no way to know which is true and which is false. Because it all is based on subjective experience and assertion.

Solid Ground

I don’t know how to explain to you that evidence is important

Much more compelling is the epistemology in science. Science acknowledges as step zero, that human beings are capable of fooling themselves. Therefore, the scientific method takes great pains to prove a hypothesis wrong, to falsify. Even a well established scientific theory which has withstood this onslaught can be overturned given new evidence. The scientific method actually encourages peer reviewers to be skeptical, to work at disproving a given hypothesis.

Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge. It’s just the best we have.
— Carl Sagan

The difference between science and faith, is that rigorously obtained, peer reviewed and replicable data can change the mind of a skeptical scientist, but has no effect on the believer.

I am very open to being proven wrong. I am open to evidence. That would not be boring!

We are all scientists

Lest you think that only a few can be scientists, remember, that humans are natural Bayesians. Few of us understand orbital dynamics and Einstein’s General Relativity, and yet few of us doubt the sun will come up in the morning. We have seen it day after day for all of our lives. We have replicable evidence that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. We can observe it just by looking up.

We don’t have to understand the warping of spacetime in order to know that objects fall to the ground. We have experienced it since childhood. Long before we could say the word gravity we had a visceral understanding of it.

This is Beysian thinking. We come up with an explanation for a phenomenon. We then we gather data. We experience. If the experiences reinforce the explanation we put more trust in it. If it contradicts it we throw it out. The trouble comes when things are inconsistent. Then we tend to fall prey to selection bias and motivated reasoning.

Take prayer as an example. We pray for something, usually something very likely to occur. When it happens, we attribute it to god. When it doesn’t we either forget the prayer all together or we come up with reasons why the answer was a “no.” That is motivated reasoning. When we think back about answers to prayer, we remember when we got what we asked for and forget when we didn’t. That is selection bias.

I want to make one last point clear. I am not saying that people’s experiences of god are not real. There are perfectly good natural explanations for people’s religious experiences. The experience is real the cause is misidentified. I have experienced this personally.

people-all-along

Being rigorous about what we accept as true is critical. A rigorous epistemology is quite possibly the most important resource of our times.

I am done with apologists and moving on. I’ll continue to seek knowledge and truth as rigorously as I can. Join me?

Review: Doubt: A History

Authors, Book Review, Naturalism, Philosophy, Secular Grace

I have just finished Jennifer Michael Hecht‘s Doubt: A History. It has been around for some time but as I am new to atheism it is new to me. I would suggest this is an extremely important book for modern atheists to provide perspective on where we have come from and direction on where we are going. There is something wonderful about history. It places our ideas in context. It draws lines between what would appear to be disparate ideas. This book provides that context and draws those lines in a valuable way.

After my deconversion I had a number of ideas I was desperate to express. You will find them throughout this blog. Interestingly, however, I was mildly disappointed to find that none of my ideas were particularly original. Come to find out my experience of deconversoin was rather typical in fact. Average.  I titled my first blog post “A very common message” after this realization.

After reading Hecht’s book I am even more disappointed to realize that my ideas are not only not original for today but not particularly original for 2600 years ago. It is quite a humbling experience. But it does provide a sense of unity with doubters throughout history. And for that I am grateful.

Hecht’s book is dense with quotes from doubters and moves at break-neck speed from 600 BCE to the turn of the millennium. Attempting to review the book in the traditional sense could never do it justice. If I were to start quoting this post would be as long as the book. (Take note meme creators, this book is a rich quarry of quotes). Instead, I will write about the reactions I had reading the book and how they apply to the modern doubter.

I had the chance to interview Jennifer Michael Hecht about “Doubt: A History” on the Graceful Atheist Podcast

In praise of Doubt

The book is not titled Atheism: a History and this is significant. For one thing, the original usage of the term meant something closer to heretic rather than the way we use the term today as a complete lack of belief in any god(s). In fact, a common theme in the book is the deep and profound doubt expressed throughout history that none the less defaulted to some distant conception of god, from Aristotle’s prime mover to Spinoza’s  (and Einstein’s) pantheistic god and  what feels like capitulation in Kierkegaard’s fideism. Those who took doubt to its logical conclusion of true atheism were few and far between until the time of the enlightenment. And even those who did were wary of releasing this truth upon the masses for fear of the collapse of social norms.

The book could easily be titled Skepticism: a History. In many ways it is philosophical skepticism that is the line one can draw through the history of doubt. The Epicureans and the skeptics really began to rigorously question theism. Questioning everything especially that which comes from authority is a common theme. Decendants of these philosophies often refer back to the ancient Greeks in solidarity during their own times. Including our own time, we owe a debt to the skeptics.

However the book is titled Doubt: a History. There is something deeply moving about the word doubt. It implies one cares enough to question. Doubters have skin in the game. Doubters question not purely for the sake of questioning but for the sake of knowledge and truth.

Taking one’s place in the line of history

I am a doubter and I am proud to be a part of its history. After getting over my disappointment in the lack of originality of my ideas, I found great comfort in having historical precedent.

Reading Hecht’s book one can see the cumulative effect of the writings of doubt through history. Each generation is emboldened by the writings of their predecessors. The fear of expressing one’s opinions which are contrary to popular belief is widdled away bit by bit. There is a wonderful scene described in the book when Hume sits down in a room with 15 other atheists for the first time. That is what you call a historic moment.

The freedom we in the West experience to express our doubt up to and including atheism is due not only to the enlightenment philosophers but all those who went before them as well. Today we are dazzled with Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and the inimitable Hitchens. But there would not be four horsemen today if not for Diogenes, Epicurus, Cicero and Lucretius.

The doubter’s perspective

Hecht spends a fair amount of time reading between the lines of history to find doubt’s story. By this I mean there were time periods and cultures which attempted to repress doubters. As is often noted history is written by the victors. But wonderfully we have doubter’s stories as imprints in the counter-arguments of the prevailing ideologies. Like a cast mold the negative space of doubt can be inferred (or directly quoted) by the diligent ways it is argued against by the true believers.

I personally enjoyed reading the stories I am familiar with from my own prior faith tradition delightfully told upside down from the doubter’s perspective.

The Jewish flirtation with Greek culture and the reaction as told in Maccabees and the story of Hanukkah. This is the pull of cultural assimilation and the conservative reaction against it.

I have always appreciated the book of Job for its brutal honesty. Job accuses God of being unjust. Hecht points out God makes a “heap” argument to Job for faith. Meaning, how can Job account for all of creation without appealing to God. Interesting take. Job’s wife steals the scene by encouraging Job to “Curse God and die” and may be the true hero of the story.

I have also always loved Ecclesiastes. But relieved of the burden to make pious sentiments from this wisdom one can hear the bitter exhaustion and resignation for what it is.

“Might as well have a good time because the universe is unjust and uncaring.”

Others have pointed out the doubt of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane but Hecht portrays Jesus as a world class doubter. He seems to be reliant on his followers’ belief in him and is practically begging them to do believe in him. He has moments where he seems unsure of himself and the Father. This all culminates on the cross with

“Why have you forsaken me.”

The key insight of the book is that Christianity, particularly as described and defined by Paul, forever makes doubt a feature not a bug by requiring faith alone. Not just faith but faith without evidence.

“Blessed are those who believe but have not seen.”

Hope and discouragement

My favorite term in the book is graceful-life philosophies. As you may know I have a particular regard for the word grace in a secular setting. This wonderful term describes the philosophies of Socrates to Epicurus. And it means seeking the answer to the question:

How does one live well?

This question seems particularly poignant to our times. We must seek a secular pluralistic society as the world grows smaller and smaller. Rather than beating the dead horse of if one can be good without god, we should be asking how can we thrive and work with each other. We need graceful-life philosophies to unite us in this task.

In reading the history of doubt there is hope that even in oppressive environments rational voices remain. Regardless of the culture or particular religion there are those who express their doubt giving encouragement to future travelers.

The flip side of this coin is that humans have a tendency toward superstition and religion.  People do not like feeling out of control so they fabricate stories which explain the phenomenon around them. Again we can see this by reading between the lines in the negative image of the prevailing ideologies. In the Old Testament all the idolatry that gets systematically stamped out is an indication of people  not only seeking gods but very localized micro-cultural gods. In the early Catholic church the attempts to rid itself of heresy eventually get worn down and the use of votive candles and individual saints indicate the same phenomenon.

Ultimately, the hardest take away from the book is that forward progress toward reason is not a given. The hard-fought for knowledge of reason, logic, mathematics and the beginnings of science collected by the Greeks and represented in the library in Alexandria can and was burned down figuratively and literally. Though the flame of reason moved to the Muslim world rather than going out during the “dark” ages there is still a sense of opportunity cost. Where would the world be if the pursuit of science had been unbroken from the time of the Greeks until now?

This too is especially poignant for our times. As I write this in the US at the begining of 2017, there is a sense of loss of forward progress for the voice of reason. We have a responsibility to protect this forward progress and stand up for truth.

We have been having the same arguments for millennia

I started out this post by acknowledging my ideas about my new-found atheism are not new. That is the understatement of the century. While reading the history of doubt one comes to the inescapable conclusion that there is “nothing new under the sun.” The arguments for and against theism have been hashed and rehashed over and over again.

What was exciting to discover is that these debates have occurred in many cultures throughout history. They are not unique to the Abrahamic religions in any way.

What is a little depressing to discover is that we are still having the same arguments. As science has moved the gaps in knowledge literally to tiny fractions of a second after the big bang, apologetic arguments have moved further into the abstract.

As a relatively young atheist what I am struck by is the evasiveness of apologetic arguments against doubt. Apologists always have an answer. Those answers rarely deal with the questions straight on and at least in my experience are never satisfying.

All apologetic arguments tend to reduce to god-of-the-gaps (what we do not yet know) arguments or the epistemological black holes (how can we know anything without God?)  of the Cynics. This feels like a thoroughly beaten dead horse. Doubt has won. The history has been written.

What is next?

The question I have been asking myself from minutes after acknowledging my own doubt and becoming an atheist and the question I find myself contemplating after reading this history of doubt is “what is next?” What do we do with the hard-fought for knowledge? Keep beating a dead horse?

I’ll be writing about that in the coming months. In the meantime, thank you to Jennifer Hecht for a comprehensive look back at where have come from and how we got here.