Christians would like us to believe that doubt and skepticism are dangerous. But they’re superpowers, ways of making you a better human, not a worse one.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked about doubt, fundamentalism, and problems using words. I want to tie it together and talk about why doubt is safer, healthier, and better for your teeth (two truths and a lie).
I have two main reasons for saying a posture of doubt should be preferred: the limitations of explanations and the fallibility of human reasoning.
Limitations of explanations
One of my mottos is, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” (George Box). You might easily say, “All explanations are wrong,” but what does this mean?
An explanation is an attempt to describe something about the world in a way you can make sense of, even though the real world is overwhelmingly complex and impossible to understand fully.
The problem is that explanations have to simplify the world, which means you lose something in the process, making it “wrong” somehow. At the same time, we can’t live without these simplifications.
Communicators like Neil deGrasse Tyson and the late Carl Sagan face this tension in their presentation of science.
This tension even shows up in how we interact with others. How can you truly, deeply know someone when they’re constantly changing, growing, and aging? The best you can do is have a working model of who they are and continuously update it as time passes.
What to do?
Flaws in human reasoning
The more we learn about cognitive biases, prejudice, and the unreliability of memory, the more we should be suspicious of all human reasoning, especially our own. (Philosophers call this dynamic “Fallibilism.”)
And yet we find ourselves in a world where the pressure is on us to be overly confident. If we express uncertainty, people see us as fence-sitters, cowards unwilling to commit. Christianity taught us to have and crave certainty, especially about the most important issues.
What to do?
Tying it together
This is where skepticism comes in. If you hold an appropriately skeptical attitude, you can recognize the limits of explanations and human reasoning and allow yourself to take in new information. Being skeptical doesn’t mean you disbelieve everything you hear. Rather, it raises your standard of evidence. People don’t get to claim something is true without something to back it up. People don’t get to demand that you form an opinion when you’re not ready to.
So embrace skepticism! Embrace uncertainty! It’s part of being a clearer thinker.
This week’s guests are podcasters, Nathan Alexander and Todd Tavares of Beyond Atheism.
Nathan grew up Anglican and in his early twenties, he realized there were no good reasons to continue believing. Todd grew up Catholic—technically still confirmed—but even at ten years old, he was a skeptic, wanting to explore reality rather than make-believe.
In this interview, Nathan and Todd discuss racism, humanism, community-building and what it means to live thoughtfully in a godless world. It’s a sharp conversion you don’t want to miss!
“The thing the nuns will teach you in Sunday school: God answers every prayer, but the answer is usually, ‘no.’…If there’s always not an answer, then there’s no one answering.” —Todd
“I kinda wanted there to be a god. I wanted it to be true because it’s a comfort that there’s some ultimate plan for you. You don’t have to worry because things are going to work out for you.” —Nathan
“Once I took that leap into atheism? You realize it’s not really a leap at all.” —Nathan
“Instead of sitting around, talking about technology and trans-humanism and how silly religions are, let’s address what we need as the people that we are.” —Todd
“If you look at the base numbers alone, the largest religious group who vote Democrat are Nones—atheists, people with no religion. It’s huge, solidly so.” —Todd
“The road to becoming an atheist is so lonely. Everybody does it alone. It’s an individual experience.” —Todd
“In the long term, maybe, having these groups where people are forced to create them, build them and dissolve them is the way it should be. That sort of creative process might be the healthiest thing for atheists…compared to those institutions that just stick around forever and outlive their usefulness.” —Todd
“Right now atheists are disproportionately white, but…when you look at the younger generations, it’s the case that atheists as a group are becoming more diverse…” —Nathan
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. It's been a dry spell for rating and reviewing. So I'm going to ask again, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast on the Apple podcast store, rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast, wherever you are listening. Are Lane continues to do an amazing job as Community Manager for our deconversion anonymous Facebook group, please consider joining at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. A quick note about social media. I'm actually slightly more active on Twitter than anywhere else. And as you may have heard in the news, there is some craziness happening at Twitter these days, a number of people have moved to a new platform called mastodon. It is I'll be honest, slightly more difficult to get the hang of but if you're interested in that kind of thing. I am at graceful atheist at ma s dot T O. I'll have the link in the show notes. I don't know what's going to happen to Twitter over the next year. But if it does come crashing down, which is at least a small possibility. I will be on mastodon. I also wanted to acknowledge that on Instagram and Facebook Ray, former guest of the show has been doing beautiful means of quotes from guests on the show. So you can find them there as well. I tend to lurk on Facebook because of the deconversion anonymous Facebook group on there. And then finally, I do in fact have a YouTube channel that is way way out of date community member has talked about possibly participating in progressing that forward so hopefully that will soon be up to date. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. onto today's show. My guests today are Nathan Alexander and Todd Tavares. And they are the CO hosts of beyond atheism. I love what they're doing over there at the podcast. It is a sister or cousin podcast to this one. They are asking the question. We're atheists. Now what what do we do beyond atheism? So this was a really fun conversation. We have so much in common. I really appreciate the work that Nathan and Todd are doing. Here are Nathan and Todd to tell their story.
I have with me, Nathan Alexander and Todd Tavares. Gentlemen, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Todd Tavares 2:56
Great to be here, David.
Nathan Alexander 2:57
Thanks for having us.
David Ames 2:59
So Evan Clark, who is of the atheist united group got us in touch with each other. I'm very, very excited about this. You guys have a podcast called Beyond atheism, that I would say is, if not a sister podcast, a cousin podcast to this one. I think you guys are covering a lot of very similar territory. So we'll we'll jump into that momentarily. But the question we asked everyone on the podcast is what their religious tradition was like growing up, so we'll, we'll have both of you answer that question. And let's begin with Todd.
Todd Tavares 3:28
No, all right. I was raised Catholic. And I mean, technically, since I was confirmed, I still am. So if anyone presses, I can say I am kind of like, they haven't excommunicated me yet, so Okay. All right. Um, and I, you know, it's I don't know where to begin with this. Because it's not that it was like a super intense part of my upbringing, although, but I think I'm different from you guys. At least in the sense of like, it wasn't that strong for me. I never had I was never like fervently Catholic. I was never deeply religious. I remember being young and skeptical. Like, I remember that going along with that thing. And I remember like developing this skepticism quite early. And comparing it to things like Santa Claus, because as a kid, I don't know what kind of bratty in some ways I remember every year trying to catch the Easter Bunny, I set up a net one year it's left under the Christmas tree so I could catch Santa Claus. So there was always that part of like, you know, experimenting with the world and testing and trying things. And like that, you know, at a certain point with God, you just I just got to the point where like, you know, there are pictures of UFOs people see you. People have seen Bigfoot. This seems to be without that.
David Ames 4:56
Well, Todd, it sounds like you were an empiricist from a very young age. Yeah.
Todd Tavares 5:00
I do like I remember being told, like toys move around at night. And then like setting them up very strategically and measuring it in the morning after. But yeah, so like, I mean, it was a very weak faith. And it was there was it was imbued with lot of skepticism. And what really mattered for like the religious upbringing to me was that it was a source of conflict, right? In my family. It's like, this is not something I believe. It's not something I want in my life. And there were very early signs that it that I strongly disagreed with it. I was being coerced into it. And so I'll give you there are two things that I kind of like to highlight about it. One was, I remember being quite young, maybe like 12 or so. And being brought to an ash wednesday mass in the basement of the cathedral, where there was a shrine, and they had like, crutches everywhere, where people who had been cured, left their crutches right, because now they can walk. It's amazing. It's American. And I went with my mother and my mother was deeply Catholic. She's very strongly Catholic. She taught catechism, she would sometimes invite the priest over to have dinner, we would bring the sacraments up occasionally at Mass, things like that. And we saw she was sitting in the front made me sit right in the front. And I remember the priest comes out. And the opening thing was like, you're all sinners, everything. You know, it's like we're here to atone, because you're sinners. You've been offending God for the whole year. It's this litany list of how terrible we are. And this voices started coming out from the back of the room. People saying like, you can't call me that, um, no center. interest. And like, yeah, and I mean, that really, I remember that really stands out as an important memory, where I remember my mother was sitting there nodding along with the priests going along with this guilt trip, which I mean, it's Catholic guilt, it sticks around forever, and he never ever shake it off right about anything. And meanwhile, like hearing other voices that said, like, No, you're not we're not sinners. We're not bad people. We're not terrible. Right? That I think that was the kind of thing that shook me out of just going along, being like, I don't I don't need to other people feel this way. It's a normal thing. It's okay to say no, when you disagree, right. And that's, it's, it's such a rare thing. The only other times things I would see things like that is my father wouldn't take communion. And I mean, it's for people listening, if you, you know, you're on the verge, or you're still going, attending or whatever, like going up, and joining this line and taking the communion and turning around and seeing an empty church, with one person sitting there. It's a very powerful signal. It's pretty impressive. So and of course, it's like, well, now I know, I've kind of got an ally. Um, and then in, in the, I think, Gosh, I guess it would have been the late 90s. By then, yeah, it was sometime in the late 90s. There was a Catholic sex scandal, if you can imagine such a thing.
David Ames 8:25
Todd Tavares 8:28
it's the really crazy thing about this is that the conspiracy of silence around it, like people just didn't address it was really ridiculous. I mean, by then I had already made up my mind, I had to go through confirmation as part of, you know, family negotiation stuff that you just have to do.
David Ames 8:47
And it's, you're still very young at this age. Yeah.
Todd Tavares 8:50
Yes, I would have been I mean, like, it definitely helped by the time I was confirmed. So I'm from a town, Fall River, Massachusetts. So this is right before the Boston one, maybe like, you know, about 10 years before five or 10 years. But what was really shocking about it is people who were really Catholic really supported the church. Just never mentioned it. There were never any apologies there were never like, and that's and that really, that really turned me off to the whole mindset. I think it's like, you can't At what point do you like its children? And you're going to defend this institution?
David Ames 9:34
That would be a powerful motivator, I would think, yeah, it
Todd Tavares 9:37
was, it was a thing that's like it's okay. There's, there's a time to run, not walk. And this is a signal. So yeah, I was raised with this sort of the title No. Well, I'll just say you can you guys can tell me if I'm way off base on this and sort of like the naive faith of a child, right. Well, everybody says there's a God everybody says there's a center there must be a And went along with it until I was like, I just don't I don't see it, right? Like how many times the thing that the nuns will teach you, they teach a Sunday School is God answers every prayer. But the answer is usually no. And well, then the answer is always buying. But yeah, if there's always not an answer, there's no one answering. And that's so I was pushed down that road very early. And in my, I want to say was about 10. By the time I started actively not believing and moving past that.
David Ames 10:39
See, that's amazing to me at the ripe old age of 10. Like, yeah, that's a that's a that's really impressive, actually. Well,
Todd Tavares 10:48
I It's, I think we all kind of end up in these to me, there seem to be about like three doors. And I guess you would, David, you would know this better than me. But it seems the people I interact with, we we either end up kind of either, like very religious, and then we have to make this dramatic move away from it. Or kind of like me, where it's a little bit softer, you're raised in it, it's a tradition and you just move away from it, it dies way, you've never really that committed to where people are raised without religion. Right? These seem to be the three avenues that people go down. I guess it's just an you know, it's a continuum. And we kind of slotted this way. Yeah, for
David Ames 11:25
sure. I see just an entire spectrum of people's experiences both coming into and leaving religion and but one of the things that is a relatively common theme is very young people having like a moral stance against what they're being taught so that a child's sense of morality says this isn't right. And then they begin that process of, of leaving are very, very early.
Todd Tavares 11:52
Totally, totally. And I mean, a big part of it is like, I didn't like being lied to. I don't think anybody likes that. And once you get to the point where it's like, okay, like, the thing that makes sense is people made this up. They're just telling these stories. And I don't want to be told that these stories need to dictate my life anymore. I want to go out and explore and find out what's real and see what that what that means. So yeah, it really I think, like in terms of personality, which is really rubbed me the wrong way. The downside is like, it leads to a lot of conflict. I lived right down the street from the church. I remember waking up to church bells, we could hear it from where we lived. And one morning, my mother heard it, and then started this started this like slow motion fight is pretty amazing. Where like she was trying to get me to go to church without saying you're going to church. It's like, oh, let's go for a walk. Oh, dress.
David Ames 12:50
Todd Tavares 12:51
before the house, like at nine o'clock, and by 11 o'clock, it was getting a car. And it was I mean, it's only like, a quarter mile up the road. And I think I threatened to jump out of the car. That's really what
David Ames 13:06
I'm willing to get out of a moving car, rather than go. Okay, yeah, it
Todd Tavares 13:13
did not. It did not agree with me at all. But technically, I'm still confirmed conflict. So there they go. I think it's different for Nathan
Nathan Alexander 13:30
Well, I think I think my experience is a bit different than than Todd just because I was raised Anglican. And I never really had a seriously negative view of religion growing up. I mean, I think I didn't like going to church. I mean, but more because you know, it's just boring when you're a kid, you know, you it's just, you just don't want to you don't want to get dressed up. You don't want to you don't want to go, you don't want to just sit there. It's like it's you know, and you know, there's a whole bunch of old people there and stuff and you really don't like it, but I never had, you know, I didn't, I didn't so I didn't just like it on like metaphysical grounds or anything like that. Yeah. Yeah. And so I you know, I, I went to church growing up and stuff, but I sort of stopped when I was a teenager but I still believe I still would have you know, called myself a Christian and still believed in God and stuff like that. And I think it was early in my early 20s that I kind of was becoming more and more sort of skeptical and eventually became an atheist. I mean, it's it's also different to because I really kind of wanted wanted there to be a god like I wanted it to be true. Yeah. Because it's such a it's like, it's a comfort that just you with the idea that you know, there's some ultimate plan for you and like, you don't have to worry because things are or, you know, things are gonna work out for you. And so on. There's a purpose to life and a meeting and all this sort of stuff. Yeah. And so I didn't have, like, a sort of a negative break where I was leaving a commute a church community or something, because I didn't go to church. And, you know, there wasn't very much conflict, except for sort of internally. Yeah. And even, you know, that wasn't too dramatic, really, in the end. I mean, I think, once I, maybe this is sort of common, it's like, once I sort of took that leap, or whatever, you know, to atheism, then you realize, like, it's not actually a leap at all. And, yeah, there's nothing, there's nothing to, you know, to be worried, like, life still has meaning after all, and so on, at least, I think so. Yeah, so I think it's sort of interesting, you know, because my own religious experience was not, you know, strongly negative or anything like that. And yet, I've sort of wound up doing this atheist podcast and being involved in atheist stuff and other other respects.
David Ames 16:09
Did you have a moment, Nathan? So it sounds like Todd, you know, 10 years old was like, this is just Santa Claus. A level of of true. Did you have a moment where you were like, I don't think this is true anymore.
Nathan Alexander 16:19
Yeah, I think yeah. Like in my early 20s. And I think, I mean, I think it's sort of, like a gradual process where, sure, I think early, at some point, maybe in my teens or something, I found it. You know, like, the idea that the Bible wasn't literally true. That was kind of, if it's not, if you know, if everything in the Bible isn't true, then how can that help? Maybe How is it possible that just some of it is true? Right. I think you sort of reconcile yourself to that. But yeah, I think yeah, my early 20s, I would say, there was a point when you when you sort of like, you kind of strip away more and more than it's just sort of becomes a sort of generic kind of like theism or whatever that and then even then that finally goes as well. Yeah. Yeah, I think I mean, the funny thing is, like, I remember watching a debate with, like, a Christian and Richard Dawkins. And as by this point, I was sort of, you know, still, like, hoping that the Christian was gonna sort of try and give a good argument for God. And I really found the argument like, you know, pretty poor, obviously. So. Yeah,
David Ames 17:31
I think that's still my experience. every once awhile, I'll listen to an apologist, and now they have like some point to me. No, they don't. Yeah, that's quite disappointing. Yes.
Nathan Alexander 17:44
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think, yeah, it's also because you sort of assumed, like, you know, there's this idea like, Okay, I'm not I don't have, I don't have good reasons for believing but other people probably do. And like, and I can sort of, you know, like, they they sort of prop up my faith, because other people really strongly believe this. And therefore, if, you know, if, if they do, there must be something to it. And yeah, and that sort of helps you as well.
David Ames 18:13
I think you just described a lot of my faith lasting longer than it needed to was, you know, I thought somebody smarter than me understands this somewhere else. And I can just pass that off to them. And yeah, and then when I started to actually look at it myself things that House of Cards starts to fall down. Exactly, yeah.
So Nathan, you provided us with a really good segue of you know, now you do this podcast. That's all about atheism. So, first, I want to I want to hear the story about how the two of you met because you met in South Korea, correct? Yeah. And so I'd love to hear how'd you both end up there? How'd you meet each other? And how did you wind up deciding to do a podcast with one another?
Todd Tavares 19:00
I'm not even sure where to begin with that. How far back to go, David, how we ended. Um, I think we were both teaching there. And we ended up on the through mutual friends on the same trivia team. Day, and then a hell of a team. That was one of the problems was you could win free beer, and we won free beer quite often. It was a weekday, so we'd stay up late drinking way too much. Yeah. Yeah. Yes. We were also we think we, I Nathan, were you you were in an atheist group there, right. Yeah.
Nathan Alexander 19:42
It was. It was basically when I when I went to Korea, it was after my master's. I did my masters and I wasn't sure what to do next, really. So I wound up in Korea. And so this was at the same time as I was kind of, you know, becoming an atheist and I was kind of seeking out community of atheists and there was Um, there was an atheist group I found in in Korea, South Korea. It was mostly expats as I remember. But anyway, like, eventually in a roundabout way, I met Todd through that. Yeah.
Todd Tavares 20:12
We may have been members of the same group. And we just, we just missed each other, but we never met there. Oddly Mo. Okay. Okay. Interesting. Yeah. And it's, it was a strange group, because if it was the same one, I was a member of rational thinkers first. And that was a little strange, because it included religious people, it was open for religious people, anyone who's rational, like, like, there are people who identify as irrational. That was a little strange. Yeah. It was also one of the other things that was weird about it is like, you know, that that continuum of atheists, it was a lot of people who never had any religion. Okay, so and that, that's a very, very different dynamic. And one of the things that I saw, not a lot, but you'd run into it is people who ended up I mean, they ended up in a foreign country, because they were so cut off from their family. Like, they literally had nowhere to go. They they lost their family, they lost their friends, they, they can't get work. This is this is where they end up. I mean, people who were the often from the south, I knew someone who was a foreigner, who was training to become a pastor, and had to, you know, I think he's still I think he's in Japan now. Really tough stuff. And unforced. One of the unfortunate things is that with a group like this that's not attuned to that need. We would the you know, it wasn't a very welcoming environment. And that, I mean, it's heartbreaking. It's not it's, it wasn't at all what I wanted to be part of, like, why are we more welcoming to church people than we are to people who have serious needs. I know, a guy from Pakistan who got run out of the country with death threats, it's like this is we need to take this seriously. So we ended up I mean, some other people kind of Reformed, uh, you know, made a different group that was just atheists and was more centered on this idea of like, you know, kind of like the beyond atheism thing. Instead of sitting around and talking about technology and transhumanism, and how silly religions are, let's kind of address our what we need as the people that we are. And it's a weird and one of the things that the podcast is discovered, too, is like, yeah, this happens all the time. And like people always making these groups, and they have, sometimes they have a short shelf life, sometimes they last a long time. They're always reconstituting themselves. So that was that's part of the background of, of, of what led to or like, what led to the aim of beyond atheism? Right? Like we've done enough of this. Yes, religion is silly. We don't need to have these two arguments about the proof of God, what we need to do is, is think more about like, what it is that we need, what it is that that we want, what what is the world that we're trying to make? And how do we make it and fortunately, that's where we ended up with the with the podcast now. Nathan, very wisely. As when we started pointed out, like, Let's never talk about what religion is up to never think about. And that I think has been like the the best thing to happen for us for the podcast is never never needing to worry about that, because it's irrelevant to what we're doing.
David Ames 23:36
Yeah, I'll just comment here. Like, when I started my podcast, I saw the same thing. I saw so many people doing response, podcasts and YouTube videos, and, you know, they're always responding to the religious arguments, and they're playing on their, their turf. And I think all of us had the same impetus of like, Yeah, but now of lies, right, like, now, what do I do with my life? Like, that's what I care about. And in trying to move beyond that. So I think that's really interesting.
Todd Tavares 24:06
Yeah, it feels like it's kind of like, we're, like the next generation of things, right? Like, it's been about 20 years since we had the New Atheists. Right. And that that moment did what it did, right, it broke atheism, it made it mainstream, became okay to talk about and the numbers. Anytime there's a peer report, or any sort of religious you know, survey that comes out, you see the results. Atheism, nuns keep growing and growing and growing. You don't need to replay these battles. Again, it's okay to take the next step. And I think that David, that's definitely where you are. It's where we're trying to be. Yeah, yeah.
Nathan Alexander 24:49
Yeah. I do feel like there is still a place I think for the sort of people who are kind of you know, still debating And Christians and so on. You know, because we, we need to keep keep our supply of new of atheists fresh.
David Ames 25:11
I seem to have an infinite supply almost. But yeah.
Nathan Alexander 25:17
You know, I guess, you know, I think everyone, you know, when I became an atheist, like I was, you know, watching, I really liked watching all these videos of, you know, like, Christian destroyed by atheists or whatever. But, you know, obviously you get past that, but I think everyone maybe like, you know, there's still a place for that, depending on where people are in there sort of their journey, so to speak. So I don't Yeah, so I think you know, I guess I'm glad people are still doing that, although I think, you know, it's not what me and Todd are really interested in doing.
David Ames 25:58
I wanted to talk a little bit about the language or the nomenclature, I saw you guys kind of in the podcast and your writing, struggled through some of the same things that I have that in that atheist has such a negative connotation in society. It's seen as an aggressive stance, when I think most of us would say we're agnostic, atheists are weak atheists, or whatever terminology you want to use. I know for a while, like, just prior to my deconversion. In 2015, there was some discussion of things like Atheism Plus, I really landed on humanism kind of encompassed what I was interested in, right, like a secular outlook, a scientific outlook, and caring for people. And that last bit was was really critical that this is what I actually do believe in is people. So I'm curious how you've worked through some of those language issues for yourself, what do you call yourselves? And what is it like that the podcast represents for you?
Todd Tavares 27:01
Well, David, I'm shocked that you're, you're still on the weak side of
David Ames 27:07
I mean, in the sense of you can't prove a negative and yeah, and then what might not be knowable, but yeah, and I get
Todd Tavares 27:14
it, I mean, like even now, vastly between, you know, some form of agnosticism, right? Like it's unknowable. There's just, we know that what what the claims that are religious claims that are made, we know that they're, they're false. But the there's stuff that we just can't know. But you're right, in this, there's, it's really, really difficult, it's loaded. One of the things that we like to use are sort of like big atheists, and small atheists. Were like, yeah, if you identify as an atheist, and that's your position, that is, it's a strong position, it's, it's pretty definitive and clear, but plenty of people go out and live their life as if there is no God. Right? If all religion is not true, as if there are no gods and gods and goddesses. And if you live that way, you are atheist? Right. So that's like the small atheist? I think that's a fair distinction. I think it's a great way to think about it. And when we think about, you know, moving beyond atheism, in that sense, that's what we're talking about. Right? Just figuring out that were, you know, that we're living in a material world without deities. The other thing we've been using a lot is, is the nuns, which David, I don't know how familiar you are with that. I don't, I don't know. Do you talk to many people who identify as a nun?
David Ames 28:40
I would say that, because of the podcast is so specific to deconversion there are a few of them, but there's, I definitely see that as a category and I would say that many of the members in our community group are what I would call nuns, right? They're spiritual but not religious. They have their there somewhere in that category where they're done with organized religion for sure. Like that. That's over there. Not quite. naturalists, you know, empiricist, that kind of thing.
Todd Tavares 29:11
And I'm trying to think Nathan, I don't know if we've have we talked to anyone who identifies as something other than a humanist. That
Nathan Alexander 29:20
Well, well, I mean, I want one thing. We talked to Lucien Greaves who's a Satanist? That's, yeah.
Todd Tavares 29:29
They Yeah, but I think they are. They're definitely secular
Nathan Alexander 29:34
there. I think they would say they're atheist as well, probably. Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think so many of these labels, like there's a lot of overlap, obviously. I mean, they're not. They're definitely not sort of mutually exclusive. And I think yeah, I think for me, I always, I always say I guess if I was pressed to say atheist is the main identifier just Because maybe people know what that means most, most of all versus other things. I guess I understand the point of like humanism, where it's, it is it is focusing on the more positive aspects or like, you know, positive in the sense of like, the actual content of your beliefs rather than what you you don't believe. But yeah, I I guess I mean, I always maybe maybe there's some some sort of thing among atheists about just recoiling at any kind of joining something too closely.
David Ames 30:38
Yeah. That's for sure. Yeah. That's the thing. Yeah. Yeah. So
Nathan Alexander 30:42
it's like, yeah, I mean, I think I would agree with with, you know, everything really, that the humanists would, would would stand for? There's always just that reluctance to identify yourself as it was something to do closely or whatever. Yeah,
Todd Tavares 30:57
yeah. And I mean, part of the project for us, it's identifying what atheists are, which is not it doesn't come out. I mean, it's not fully formed, right? We don't really know what people who are nuns who are spiritual, who are, you know, or who may even still believe in God, but have just left a religion. We don't really know the whole thing. Originally, I think this the, before the podcast, we had been shopping an article saying that the it wasn't basically that atheist, people who were without a religion, were the block the block that sort of pushed the Democrats and Biden over the top. In late 2020, all of these think pieces came out about this very specific groups that were that were the difference. And our point was like, no, look, if you look at the numbers based numbers alone, the biggest part now is or I think it's the pluralist, the largest religious group in the Democrats are vote Democrat, are nuns are atheists, people with no religion? It's huge. And they vote solidly. So more so than evangelicals vote for Republicans. That's okay. There's something going on here. There's something very, very important. But anytime we tried to tell this story, this the every rejection was the same. It was always like, no, they're not a block. What you're seeing this is something different. You're talking about young people who are college educated and live in cities and have white collar jobs. That's it, but that that doesn't show up in the in the numbers, right? If it's just that then you would expect college educated people that would vote tremendously this way urban people would vote tremendously. This nuns vote stronger Democrat than urban people do. There's something special that's going on here. Yeah, and I mean, exactly what you said David, like it, it must be that you know, there's humanism, it's, there has to be something like that going on. It's just not accepted or not evidently clear enough right now, yeah.
David Ames 33:29
That was one of your first episodes, you were looking at the tendency towards liberalism within the atheist community. And one of the things I was struck by that I'd like to explore here is the atheist community here. And I'll just say like, online atheists, right, tend to say about themselves, that there is no atheist community that there is no atheist culture. And I think your first number of episodes was kind of debunking that in one way or another. So you talked about liberalism. I think I've heard you mentioned vegetarianism, which is very over represented amongst atheists, meditation, hallucinogenics, what have you, right, all these things are very, very, like, you know, over over represented by atheists. So I'd like you to talk about what you've explored that are you would say, our kind of atheist culture.
Todd Tavares 34:18
Well, that first thing I didn't, I didn't believe in that. And then I was on only sky, trying to figure just trying to talk to people and be like, What would convince you that we are a block and that we are? Right, and it was the same thing? It's like, oh, it's just correlations. There's no, cause we're just that's just how we are. Well, yeah, well, what causes us to be that way is yeah, it's it's very, it's a really, really weird thing. Yeah, so Nathan, what have we found? Have we answered this question yet?
Nathan Alexander 34:53
I mean, I think it seems pretty clear that yeah, that politically, atheists To diagnostics and another non religious people are leaving kind of left politically. I mean, I don't think that's really been controversial to say. I mean, I think it's, you know, if you look at the nuns as a whole, sort of like everyone who's who checks the sort of no religion box, it's strong, but then if you look specifically just at atheists, it's even stronger. And I think like, the reason why that is, I think there's probably
Todd Tavares 35:29
no pet theories. Yeah,
Nathan Alexander 35:31
I mean, I think I think one of them is? Well, I'm not. I mean, I think I think that one, one sort of aspect of atheist politics is sort of like, there is kind of like a rejection kind of, of certain forms of authority. I suppose that, you know, and I think, particularly in issues where, you know, rights, say, like, abortion, or same sex marriage, things like this, where it's sort of a religious authority who's trying to curtail these rights or whatever. I mean, there's naturally going to be kind of a recoil at this. But I'm not sure. I mean, in terms of things like, Well, I don't know the numbers, but I imagine it's, there's a similar kind of political view about, you know, increasing social spending, you know, greater spending on health care, something like this. I mean, why atheists should support that, like, how does that fall from atheism? I don't know. Exactly. It could be. I mean, it could be something, you know, a kind of a view of, you know, this is the life we have, and so we should, you know, try to help other people, too. And then maybe there's, it's also, I mean, I'm just sort of thinking on the fly. Your circumstances are really just random. It's not, there's nothing. There's no kind of divine plan that says, you know, you're, you're rich, and therefore you must, you must be looked upon fondly by God, or, or vice versa, or something like that. I mean, maybe there's some, like, greater ability to realize that you could, you know, your lot in life is pretty much randomly determined, and you could just as easily if your advantage you could have just as easily been disadvantaged, and therefore, to try to make things more equitably, equitable. I don't know. I mean, I'm, yeah, I mean, it's also, you know, like, to just, there's a danger, I guess, I've just, like, sort of taking my own views, and then kind of extrapolating them to other atheists.
Todd Tavares 37:49
And like, that's the weird thing about this, as I'm sure like you've seen is that, like, the road to becoming an atheist is so lonely, right? Everybody's, everybody does alone. It's always an individual experience. So it's, it seems like it seems natural that when you come out of it, you would just be won't have caught it. Look, it's it's something you do alone. It's something you do as an individual individuals come out there. And we don't understand the reasons why we are certain ways very well, we can't, and if we do, we can't articulate it. So that's why I'm on board with the authority authority. thing is that, like, there's just, if you look at a lot of religion, it's, you know, it's authoritarian. It's, there's a big, you know, Kim Jong moon in the sky. They're always watching you, God knows everything. He's, he's in your heart. He's in your mind. He knows when you do things that are wrong. And if he's, and he's going to punish the wicked. Now, if you're on board for that, that sounds great. If you're someone who wants to take orders, and do as you're told, that's, that's probably a good train to ride. If you don't like that, if that turns you off, then you're not going to be interested in it. And that's what I suspect. And I'm glad to like, I'm very happy to promote this theory, without any evidence that someone will gather evidence.
David Ames 39:11
Yes, that's right. Exactly. Yeah. So that we don't continue to just speculate, I do want to come back to a point that I think is quite profound that you just said, Todd, we don't want to lose it. And I believe in one of your medium articles, you talk about this, that the deconversion process tends to be a lonely have you do that alone, it's a lot in your head. But in the writing, you mentioned that it's kind of the opposite of the of a religion or a cult experience, where it's much more about community or you know, who you were born with family you were born with. And I think that's really a deep insight there that the rejection of religion is much more of an individualistic part, and maybe that hints at why you know, liberalism is attractive then,
Todd Tavares 39:57
yeah, it also helps explain why i The like, why atheist groups, broadly speaking kind of wax and wane like that sort of having to conform to a group, no matter how mildly like it's people know, people who have been down that road don't want to go down it anymore. And this is something we've read about and heard from other people. It's tough to keep those groups together. It's tough because a lot of atheists will say they don't believe in anything. So clearly you believe in things. You have a worldview, you have a perspective, you have things that you take as fundamental truths that other truths have to hang on. You accept gravity. Um, but yeah, I think that having to do everything alone, that becomes the place you're most comfortable. And when you have to be in part of the big group, and go along with certain perspectives, that's when you become uncomfortable. Yeah, David, I hadn't really thought about that that deeply until just now. That's yeah.
David Ames 41:00
Yeah, I think we should explore it more so
Todd Tavares 41:03
tempted to credit you with that insight? You gave me credit for thank you yeah.
David Ames 41:19
I'm going to just keep quoting you back to yourselves here. Another thing that you guys were grappling with was I think, this idea of community. So now you have a secular group and atheistic group. And as we've just mentioned, we are not joiners. Yeah. I believe it was Nathan, who talked about the three B's the belief, belonging and behavior. Yeah, I say it slightly different. I do ABCs, the all belonging and connection. But interesting that, again, Todd, you mentioned that everybody's kind of rediscovering this and redoing this over and over and over again in isolation. So I'm wondering what your thoughts are on atheist community and how that is built? Yeah, this is an easy one. This is. Isn't that easy?
Todd Tavares 42:08
Wow, gosh, this is one I'm struggling to find a good place to begin with, with this. Um, well, do you mean, David, you mean like, well, I Okay. Here's the thing. One of the things that's really loaded by this is that most organizations, actually almost every organization people are part of is an atheist organization. Right? Like, right, right. They're not religious. Yeah, it's just but it's, it's secular. It's not religious, it's atheistic, it ignores it's that, that soft atheism we were talking about, it's not this strident, let's go out and destroy all gods. It's this, like, it doesn't matter. It's not what we're talking about. It's not we're worried about. So those organizations already exists. And they I mean, you know, it would take all day to just to start to categorize them. With atheist organizing. There's always two tracks. And this is something like from my personal experience, it was exactly what I ran into talking to other people on our podcast, similar thing. And Evan, who, from APS, united, I think, like his experience was the same thing, right? Like, where it starts off is the very social thing. You need it, you want to be people meet people like you, you want to be with people like you, share those stories, share your experiences, and just support one another and be able to do things like make fun of religion every once in a while, and not have to like not have to smile and nod when people talk about praying for your soul and all that other nonsense. So it that that social part is usually pretty attractive. But it also it's limiting, right? People who are serious about atheism and want to promote it and want to push it further. And that's when people start getting alienated when it becomes more community oriented, or political or something like that. That's when you see this sort of, that's when they start to fracture based on what we know about how these organizations work. It doesn't mean they all do. I think the there were numbers on it. I can't remember. Oh, Nathan, I'm really unprepared for this.
Nathan Alexander 44:24
Or are you thinking of the numbers from the Joe Joseph paradise book? Yeah, there was something Yeah.
Todd Tavares 44:32
Is it two thirds?
Nathan Alexander 44:34
It was yeah, it was something like it might have been. Yeah, this guy named Joe Joseph blank when we interviewed him a few episodes ago. He's social scientists. That's sufficiently broad. I know, he looks at, you know, atheist communities. And I think that I'm not sure in late 2000s. And then again, 10 years later say and there was a About the same, like 1500 atheist groups each time we counted, but I think, basically, you know, I'm not sure if it was a third or two thirds. Were just, you know, had completely some of them had disappeared another and then sort of new ones spring up in their place. Right. Yeah. Which, yeah, I'm not I don't remember the exact numbers, but there was a substantial, you know, sort of turnover, I suppose. I guess in these these groups.
Todd Tavares 45:29
You're saying? Yeah, yeah. And that's for specifically, he's looking at sort of the grassroots atheists getting together. There are, of course, these more established nonprofits that have either like legal goals, like American Atheists is very legalistic, where they're much sturdier. But, yeah, David, did that answer the question?
David Ames 45:53
I mean, yeah, we're asking an impossible question. It's a question that just constantly gnaws at me.
So right now, my podcasts, we have a little Facebook group called deconversion. Anonymous, that is, it's doing quite well, as far as like people supporting one another as they go through from the questioning phase to how do I parent as a secular person? Or how do I deal with my believing spouse, those kinds of things are the kinds of things that come up. But I'm also acutely aware of that people, you know, for lack of a better term age out of it, right? Like, they're there for a year, year and a half or so. Okay, I got what I needed out of this, and I'm gonna move on. The thing that I'm interested in, is that just being that hyper rationalist and coldly saying, Well, you know, religion is wrong, there is no God, now you're on your own good luck, is not a compelling argument is not a compelling thing for normal human beings. And if we actually want, you know, more secularization, more pluralism, we're going to have to do better than that, and provide some kind of soft landing for people. And so I'm just constantly asking my guests like trying to find, you know, kernels of knowledge of how we can accomplish that.
Nathan Alexander 47:10
Yeah, I think I think it's like you said, it's, yeah, people may age out of it. And it's like, you know, people may want different things at different times. I mean, sometimes it's just wanting to have a social, you know, like, when I've moved to different cities, like, you know, you sort of seek out, because because I think, you know, for a Christian or someone, a natural place to meet new people is at a church or wherever, and I think it was the same for me in a couple places, where like, a natural kind of community, what might or 1.1 sort of starting point might be a atheist or secular community. But then, you know, once you're sort of established, maybe you don't, you don't need that sort of anymore, but then you might, you might want to be involved in something more political or something like that. You might want to, or is like volunteering in your community or something. I think it's, it is a question you're like, is not believing in God? Is that enough to bind a community group? I really don't think so. I mean, but I do think I watched I happen to see this video the other day, a few weeks ago, or something. And I think, Todd, I told you about it like this, this guy is talking about the need for third places, meeting places where people hang out. You know, it's not at home, but it's not at work. And there's sort of like someplace, you just, you just sort of go and hang out. And there's sort of in this this videos, he's just saying, you know, there's been sort of a decline of third places. Because, you know, community centers are like, just that things are its sense of kind of community centers are kind of hollowed out now. And there's the places are now there's some kind of profit motivation, you know, like, at a coffee shop or a bar or something, you can't Yeah, you know, you got to spend money you guys
David Ames 49:02
spend money to be there. Yeah, that's actually quite insightful. And I think you I think you're onto something that it's that's beyond just secular people. That's just culture in general Yes, isolated from one another. We desperately want community and connection and it's lacking in our college
Todd Tavares 49:17
culture. Whereas in this was a big thing. Like that third place was huge in Korea, where like, the homes are really small, nobody really hangs out at their home, they do have like you go from work to another place that is theirs. And then there's also like, you know, different terms for like the first place you go and then the second place you go and sometimes it gets crazy. The third place you go about these, like those outside places. And then coming back like if you I mean, cities are, are rough now in the US, certainly during the pandemic, but then you go out to the suburbs where there's just nothing, right like you are in your home and that's really all there is. That makes it tough. So And, you know, it's like you're saying with Facebook, that's a different experience. It's a different way to meet people. But you know, David, another way we can think about this is like maybe that these that these groups come and go is a good thing. Maybe it is the right thing. What we've seen talking to people, one of the big things that really jumps out at me is that to, to get plugged into the atheist community to get to become part of it to take over leadership role, you just have to go and do it. And that's the amazing thing, right? Like, they're always looking for volunteers, they're looking for leaders, they're looking for coordinators, whatever it is, you just, you can just go and do it. If there isn't a group, you make a group, and people show up. And it's amazing. And maybe, I mean, the way you put it, I think it's kind of sums it up pretty perfectly right? If people age out, it means like, they're moving on to something else. And that's really good.
David Ames 50:57
And that's actually can be very healthy. Yeah,
Todd Tavares 51:01
yeah, it might be it might be for the best it might be what we need to do. We were atheism is not at a place where we can answer that definitively now. But we recently talked to the head of recovery from religion, which walks people through the deconversion process offers a lot of peer support, meaning people who've been through it. And fortunately, like that one is pretty sturdy, it seems really, really set. It's not fly by night operation. It's professionalized, um, but like, that's, like, that's what they do right there. There's no one who should be be going to that forever, right? You should do it. you rebuild your social capital, you meet people, you, you readjust to the world, and you go on to something else. So in the long term, David, maybe maybe having these groups where people are forced to create them, build them and dissolve them, is the way it's it should be, right. That's that sort of creative process might be the healthiest thing for atheists, it might be what atheism really, really needs, compared to those institutions that just stick around forever. And outlived their usefulness. And just like, and I mean, we, there are a lot of instances of this sort of institutional legacy where an institution is built to meet a specific need, that need may or may not go away, but then it needs to sustain itself. And it says the institution needs to start taking in money, regardless of what it actually offers. So I'm that's the alternative view to it.
David Ames 52:50
Yeah. Well, I think that's interesting inside as well.
Todd Tavares 52:53
Yeah. And really where we are right now, we don't have an idea of what it's, it's, it's going, it's going to look like it's not predetermined. The future is unwritten. This is the good thing. We get to do it now. And that's and that's beyond atheism. Right. How are we doing it?
Nathan Alexander 53:11
Yeah, I guess, just just to sort of add on, I think there's also the problem, though, is that there's a problem of like, people having to kind of reinvent the wheel constantly. If there's not, you know, if groups are constantly dissolving. And again, I mean, maybe that's not a bad thing, necessarily. I mean, it's in the same way that everyone kind of goes through the deconversion process in some it's gonna look different for everyone. But you know, it's Yeah, but But nonetheless, it's sort of a journey, everyone. Well, not everyone has to go. But you know, some people do. Yeah, but yeah. Yeah, I guess that's that's the point of how to kind of keep up that institutional legacy. So that people who are going through it, that that it's, it is there for for them or something.
Todd Tavares 54:06
Yeah. And there are people who are great at it, and do it again and again. So
David Ames 54:11
yeah, yeah, I think the the takeaway from this conversation is to say that there's nothing special about starting a group, you could just, you know, go on meetup.com Say, Hey, I'm going to be at this location. This time, we're gonna talk about deconversion we're gonna talk about atheism, what have you and people just show up? Just do?
Todd Tavares 54:27
Yeah, I mean, a follow up to it, the thing that we were starting to find is that they are the same names keep coming up, right there are these the sort of network effects that are happening and because it's, you know, you you opt into this stuff. People who do it the most do it the best, or they're, they're moving their way to the top, and they're connecting with other people who've done it. So we're Starting to see sort of big national groups having connections with smaller local groups. And that seems much more stable. The sort of network effects they're growing. And again, we don't know where it's going to go. But like, we did it with, I think it was, was it Chris camera? We Who did we get the survey for? As you can tell, I'm David, I'm not very detail oriented, not have good memory. But basically, there was one group who they were like, oh, yeah, we started vetting all the local politicians. Yeah, just send out a survey. And, you know, when they, when they send it back, we give it a score. And we tell everybody in the group what the score was, right? And then we started getting requests for the survey. Right from other groups who want to do the same thing. That part is building. Right? That and that seems so we have these these two things, right? We have these transitory groups, people come and go, they're looking for connections rebuilding social capital, then you have these long term institutional organizations that are more stable and sticking around. And they're learning. And they're building on it. So like, that survey is gonna go round and round round, it's gonna become a set thing, everybody's gonna know about it, and you can just you just change the name of the state or whatever. Right? Yeah. Right. So we were seeing some of these effects, but on the most immediate personal level, it's still just Yeah, yeah, drop ah, you know, good to meet up.
David Ames 56:46
One last topic. And I may rearrange this thematically. So I understand Nathan, that you've written about, and some of your expertise is about racism. And I'm interested to know, like, the intersection between racism and atheism, I know, I've had lots of our black friends on who said this is the they're a minority of a minority, and have not necessarily been accepted with wide open arms. But how we address that within the secular atheist community, how we can make sure that we are welcoming to everybody. Yeah, no pressure, no pressure.
Nathan Alexander 57:25
Guess I researched the topic, sort of historically. And so I wrote a book. Everyone should check it out. Yes. Go ahead and plug race in a godless world. Atheism, race and civilization 1852 1914? Kind of a long title. Basically, why? Yeah, well, maybe I'll just I'll just say something about the book and then see if this has some relevance to the present. Basically, the the the argument was, Well, I think that this sort of starting point is in the 19th century, which is what I was looking at, you know, it was the vast majority of atheists were were white. And so I was really looking at, you know, what is the attitudes of the white people about race and racism? And what I found is that there were, as you might expect, in the 19th century, you know, they did, they did accept these ideas of racism and white supremacy, and so on. But I also found that in other ways, there were these way the atheists who were far ahead of their time, I would say, with regard to race and, you know, questioning things like slavery and, and imperialism and even sort of the, the underlying logic of racism, you know, that there was sort of a biological hierarchy of races or something like that, and which is not, you know, it's quite a radical position in the 18th century. So I think, I guess, I guess the theme of the book was sort of just getting at this complexity. I think as as it stands now, I mean, yeah, I really I don't know if I have too much to add other than what you said that I I think, you know, atheists of color and I should shouldn't have you know, for for listening, you know, since it's just audio I'm, I'm awake. i So. I mean, yeah. You know, it's a little a little bit weird. But
David Ames 59:30
on the spot, I'm sorry.
Nathan Alexander 59:34
No, I mean, I understand you know, that atheists of color have sort of unique needs, we'll say within within the community. And I think, you know, we've talked with Mandisa Thomas, for example, you know, who started black non believers. Yeah. And I think big because, you know, there's sort of a unique you know, atheists they You know, atheist share sort of this, you know, coming out, or you know, D converting and so on. But, but I think, you know, black atheists, for example, maybe have particular things in common that perhaps white white people or other other people just really can't maybe relate to as much. Right. So I think, yeah, I think having space spaces for that, I think is a good thing.
David Ames 1:00:27
All right, I'll let you off the hot seat. It.
Todd Tavares 1:00:32
The other thing is we're like we're old atheist. Now is another thing. We kind of why certainly. I'm on
David Ames 1:00:39
the Great Barrier. So yeah.
Todd Tavares 1:00:42
Like I, generationally, things are things are changing. It's tough to keep track of the youth. But they have very different perspectives. And they're, I think the numbers are changing, too, which is a good thing, right? Yes. Yeah. Right. We did also recently learned that among the sort of black atheists lineage of thought, right, when we take this intellectual family tree, it goes back to Thomas Paine, which is, it's was a wake up because it's like, wait a minute, that's like every time we start tracing it back among you, in the UK, even in the US, where this line of fire back to Robert Ingersoll goes back to Thomas Paine. So it's amazing that like, intellectually, there's this incredible overlap. There's, it's completely related. There's not there's not really a difference. The cultural overlap isn't there yet. But it's, you know, generally, generationally, and as like, eight more atheists get together. Like, it's something we're gonna have to do. And, of course, being since we seem to be so related to humanism, the interest is there. It's, it's, it's not just that, you know, in the past, we might be able to say, atheists are right about exactly one thing. There's no God. Now, it seems if we are expanding this to like, well, you know, we all we're all materialists, right? We're all humanists. We don't think we should have a secular government. It's time to, you know, put it into action.
David Ames 1:02:25
Nathan Alexander 1:02:25
yeah. Oh, can I can I add one more thing on the race thing, just sort of sort of what Todd was saying a little earlier, just about? You know, it's true that I think, white and right now, white atheists, like atheists are kind of disproportionately white. But I think when you look at sort of the younger generations, it's the case that more like, you know, it's atheists as a sort of group are becoming more more diverse, I suppose. When you look at kind of the Gen. Gen. Zed, as
David Ames 1:02:59
Canadian would say, yes.
Nathan Alexander 1:03:02
Yeah. So I think you know, as it's, you know, growing more, I mean, I guess, like, you know, atheists are gonna just look more like the population as a whole, I suppose. Yeah.
Todd Tavares 1:03:11
The Canadian thing and the vegan thing is we keep surprised. Yeah. Especially since I stopped eating meat and dairy. That's, like, I don't think but you still do eat meat?
David Ames 1:03:25
I unfortunately, do. Yes. Fortunately, yeah. I felt like I'm way I'm way out of out of the atheist culture by still eating meat. But yeah, but this it's
Todd Tavares 1:03:38
a weird one. Like, I don't think there is like a, is there an atheist culture that says, You can't eat meat?
David Ames 1:03:45
No, I think, Ron for sure. No, but I think that the, you know, the, we take a rationalist approach to morality, we think about consciousness and, and sentience. And you know, that we see how that expands to the animal kingdom. And, I mean, there are some moral obligations there. I will admit that, you know, the factory farming is horrendous. And I know that and I just basically go blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So that is not a terribly ethical stance. So
Todd Tavares 1:04:17
what you just explored, like is something that's not It's not coincidental, right, but it comes out. It's it's part of the Atheist Experience where you you're critically thinking about all these things, you're using these tools, and you've taken in these values as part of it. It's a really remarkable thing that we're all you know, we're kind of discovering ourselves that we're all we all have these commonalities. Yeah, for sure.
David Ames 1:04:48
You know, I think just to wrap this up here, one of the things I find interesting about the commonalities amongst religious traditions, obviously, there's lots of diversity but there's also So lots of commonalities. And I think one argument is to say that you take the supernatural elements out and the very specific cultural elements out and you wind up with humanism. You know that that is the commonality, but also that it is the commonalities there, because human beings, we are the operating system as it were aware that, you know, we're the same no matter where we are. And we're going to come to some very similar conclusions. And so well, I think you've tapped into that, Todd, that, you know, as we explore a rational approach to morality, and we're trying to be consistent within our morality, we're going to come to some very common conclusions. And it's because we're human beings, and that's the common denominator.
Todd Tavares 1:05:41
Yeah, that makes sense. And that mean, I think we are I think there's more variety than that, David. And I think rationality is. Rather, rationality is a lot more flexible and fluid than we think. But yeah, like, you know, when you take the time to think these things out, it's remarkable that we all come to similar conclusions, right, just by giving it a good thing. Yeah.
David Ames 1:06:11
Yeah, yeah. And just to be clear, I don't mean that we will come to happy harmony and agreement. I think that's why I'm a pluralist. That's why I'm a secularist, is that I want the marketplace of ideas, to be in competition with one another, to find the truth closer to the joy. I
Todd Tavares 1:06:27
mean, that's one of the things that like I appreciate about your being graceful, right? Like, it's not either of us to we're not out to abolish religion. And I think it's, it's important not to lose sight of that, particularly for what we're doing. The thing that kind of, especially where the battle lines have been drawn, these days, where we're seeing real political struggle, it's not that we need to go out and destroy religion and make sure it never impacts humanity this way again, right? We're saying just leave us alone. Right. Don't impose it upon us. Because we have no interest in imposing upon other people. We've never met, we've never talked to any atheist who said, you know, we need to force these people to renounce their beliefs. It never ever comes up.
David Ames 1:07:23
Yeah, I would hope that most of us are not totalitarians. And that, yeah, you know, I truly do believe in freedom of religion and freedom from religion. And it's that last bit that we've been lacking, yeah. And that we do in some senses need to fight for on the political stage. Absolutely. Yeah. Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure. The podcast is beyond atheism. This has been Nathan Alexander and Todd Tavares. Can you tell people how to get in touch with you how to find the podcast? Any other work? You want to plug? Oh, well, we're on the
Todd Tavares 1:07:57
atheist United Network now, so you can find it through their website? Um, any problem? Do you have any complaints? Go on Twitter? It's Nathe. G. Alexander. We'll look them over. Yeah. I think that's it. I don't. David, I've been I've been such a hermit lately. It's ridiculous. Really, I spent all this time talking about and reading about and talking to other people about atheist organizing. And man, I yeah, I'm not even online. I don't even know.
David Ames 1:08:34
It's crazy. That's awesome. That's probably better for your mental health. Nathan, last word, anything?
Nathan Alexander 1:08:42
Yeah. Just find me on Twitter, like Ted said. And yeah, check out my book of fight you.
David Ames 1:08:49
If people are interested. Yeah. One more time the title of the book, Race to the godless world. Fantastic. We will have links to those things in the show notes. Gentlemen, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you.
Final thoughts on the episode.
I think you can see that Nathan and Todd have a very similar approach to what we've got going on here at the graceful atheist podcast. Beyond atheism, is asking the question that I was asking shortly after my deconversion. Now what? As I mentioned in the conversation, I had read all the books, all the four horsemen and was immediately aware of the fact that I was just rereading things I already agreed with and I was much more interested in what do we do now? And that is the topic that Nathan and Todd are tackling in the beyond atheism podcast. I very highly recommend that you check them out. There were a number of things that came up in the conversation that I think are deep and insightful. Todd talked about recognizing early on in their set healer communities in South Korea, that there was a difference between the community of those who were raised with religion and those who were not. I think that is the difference that we are trying to describe here on this podcast. It is a radically different experience to be an atheist from the age of reason on and maybe have only a lightweight religious training versus being steeped in a fundamentalist experience as a child, and then coming out of that as an adult. The other thing that I thought was super deep that we got to was the fact that the conversion experience the experience of becoming a believer and a part of a community is a community event. It's driven by your family, if you grew up in it, it's driven by a church, or a general rule, it's person to person, literally all of Christianity is about evangelism, it's about to give it its best spin, it is about loving people out of hell to give it its worst spin, it is manipulating the people that you have connections with. And yet deconversion deconstruction is a completely isolated, solitary and alone experience. Almost every one of us who has gone through this has gone through this alone, very, very few of us have a partner in crime, so to speak, going through the deconstruction process. At the same time, the last people we are able to talk about it with our the believers in our lives, I find that to be a profound insight of what it takes to go through this process, the guts that it takes the courage, the willingness to face truth, even when it hurts deeply. That willingness to risk community and friendships, and even potentially family. It is an amazing, amazing journey that you all have taken. I also thought Nathan's insight, referring to this concept of third places, community locations, and how they are missing within Western culture was also deeply insightful. The first two places are home and work. But these third places where you're out in the community, being a part of the community are very, very difficult to find. And I think that is what we've been talking about a lot here on this podcast as well. We're trying to build online community. But there's a desperate need a desperate desire for people to connect with each other to be in the same room with one another to be able to spend time with each other. And I do hope that over the following years that we're able to make that leap from online to in person. And then finally, the insights that because secular people tend not to be joiners, and we continue to kind of recreate these communities over and over again, without any reference to previous attempts. There is an upside to this in that it remains fresh. As I said, people will age out of listening to this podcast, and people may age out of these communities. But having that refresh process taking place constantly means that they are not stuck in tradition and making the same mistakes that fundamentalist religion has made. It allows it to be contemporary, and in the moment, the zeitgeist of the thinking of that day. Still, I think we do need to connect with each other and that should be a goal for people who are in the middle of deconstruction, or on the other side of deconversion. I'll plug here Nathan Alexander's book race in a godless world atheism, race and civilization 1850 to 1914, that it's going to be a bit more of a scholarly piece of work, but I think it would be very interesting to go and check that out as well. The podcast is beyond atheism, you can find that on all the major platforms. I want to thank my guests Nathan Alexander and Todd Tavares, for joining me here and for the work that they do, bringing us beyond atheism. Thank you both. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is you are not alone. The deep inside of this conversation is that you convert in community and you d convert alone. I have been saying that over the years, but I've never been able to put it in quite that succinct and pithy away. I think this is helpful to understand the feeling of loneliness, the feeling of isolation, the feeling of the uniqueness of your experience, when I think back on my deconversion and the years leading up to it, which really was a deconstruction, but without me knowing that word. And I'll say here that most people who are questioning have no idea what the word deconstruction is, or at least haven't until recently until it's become widely known. It feels like you are the only one that there couldn't possibly be any other people who are doubting the way that you are. I know that I felt that way. And the message of this podcast is that not only is that not the case, there are hundreds of 1000s of people who are questioning, doubting, deconstructing, and de converting. But also, the reference to Jennifer Michael hex book, doubt a history that this has been so for as long as there have been believers. I find that deeply and profoundly comforting that we are not unique, that this is a process that human beings have been going through for time immemorial. The important part for you to know as you question and face your own cognitive biases as you wrestle with the cognitive dissonance, that can feel like a wrestling match with yourself that this isolated feeling isn't actually true that there are so many out there going through the same process. The community that we are trying to build at deconversion Anonymous is a safe place to question to doubt to deconstruct and de convert, please consider joining and you will know instantly that you are not alone. That's at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. All right, we've got a lot of exciting interviews coming up. We've got a couple of for Marlene, in fact, Arlene is going to feature throughout the rest of November and December. Arlene has two interviews one with a couple Ben and ENTJ, and one with Nikki papas. We have Jessica Moore who is focused on recovering from purity culture. Again, we had to redo her interview, but that's been done that'll be coming up. And then for December, late December, we have two conversations between Arlene and myself. I interview Arlene and talk about what she's learned from the community management of deconversion anonymous and doing these interviews, and then we turn the tables and she interviews me. For those of you who are longtime listeners, it might be a bit repetitive. For those of you who have just joined in the last year and a half or so, it might be brand new information. So I'm excited for you to hear my thoughts on secular grace and deconversion and the process of doubting. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings.
Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on Bristol atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? Do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces, and you'd like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular grace, you can send me an email graceful email@example.com or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings
this has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
This week’s guest is Daniel. Daniel is a social scientist with a master’s degree in psychology. He grew up in the United Church of Canada, but church wasn’t a huge part of his life until high school. He then went to bible college and worked in ministry. He tried to experience God like others were, but it just wouldn’t happen.
He took on the “Office of Skeptic,” for himself. He hoped it would help both his faith and the church. He could articulate questions and doubts that others couldn’t. Were these miraculous stories true? Was God really even there? If so, what the hell was he doing?
Unfortunately, this only kept him in the church longer than he needed. By 2020, he’d been an agnostic theist for years and was finally seeing the harm done in North America by White Christianity.
Now Daniel writes and speaks, sharing his knowledge with those struggling with addictions and other mental health needs. He no longer looks to the supernatural for miracles but knows how much human connection is the true healer.
“I was now immersed in a group where experiencing the presence of God—like spiritual experiences during worship services—was very common, and I could never manage to actually feel those things.”
“[I had a]…brief but memorable career as a Christian Ghostbuster…”
“He took me under his wing and informed me that why I couldn’t feel God’s presence was because it was all blocked by demons. Obviously.”
“Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have for this? Can your observations or experiences be explained by more mundane means or is the spiritual explanation the best or only explanation?”
“To have someone convince [another person that they don’t need their] anti-psychotics because of [their] faith is something that hadn’t even occurred to me before…it was deeply alarming and stuck with me for years afterward.”
‘[In seminary,] many professors would make logically sound arguments but they’d be based on assumptions or premises that were unfounded…”
“For many of the Christian intellectuals I was trying to learn from…critical thinking was a valued skillset up to a point. When we approach the underlying tenants of the faith, we’re suppose to stop…they’re simply too sacred to be questioned.”
“I was trying to find a reason to stay.”
“It’s the human connection that we make between us that’s really changing our lives.”
“I was encouraged by my new [secular] professors to be absolutely ruthless in my pursuit of knowledge, truth and understanding.”
“Me staying in this religion…despite the fact that I was basically agnostic. It’s lending validation to all those Christians who are actively working to make the world a worse place…”
“If we don’t have practices in place—like scientific thinking, like the scientific method…we’re always going to be taken in by things that we’d rather believe or that are easier to believe.”
“Apologetics: Philosophy, but done badly.”
“I don’t shy away from uncomfortable questions or even more uncomfortable answers. That has been such a valuable change in my life and has led me to some incredibly valuable and beneficial relationships…even some from bible college.”
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the best are going to be ahead.”
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to thank my latest reviewer on the Apple podcast store Manu Andrew, thank you so much for the kind words, you can rate and review the podcast on the Apple podcast store, you can rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. The deconversion anonymous Facebook group continues to thrive and many of its members have been guests including this week's guest, please consider joining the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Daniel. Daniel has a master's in psychology. He focuses on addiction psychology, Applied Psychology and Social Psychology enjoys the process of reading and interpreting research. And that's actually why he's here. Community member in had posted an article entitled here's how religion imprints us even when we walk away the article and ultimately the study underneath it were funded by the Templeton Foundation, which very much has a theistic bias, but it was still very interesting and prompted this conversation. Daniel has a fascinating personal story being bright and inquisitive. He stayed in the church for longer than he would have by taking on the concept of the Office of the skeptic within the church until he found he could no longer believe. Daniel also discovered that he has the attention deficit side of ADHD. And that plays a fascinating part of his story of deconstruction and deconversion as well. Here is Daniel to tell his story.
Daniel, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Thanks for having me. Daniel, we
David Ames 2:22
had an interaction with each other in the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, we were discussing a Templeton article about people who D convert, and I just thought your responses were incredibly cogent. And it turns out that you have some expertise. So you had real input here. And so I'm really excited to have you on, I'd like you to just introduce yourself really quick and maybe talk about what that expertise is.
Certainly, my name is Daniel. I'm Canadian. And I've also worked in mental health and addictions for just about a decade and a half. And my educational background, which made me most interested in commenting on that article we were mentioning, is that I have a Master's of Science in Psychology. And so throughout that process, I focused a lot on reading and assessing and interpreting research from very various perspectives in psychology, Applied Psychology and Social Psychology and learning how to recognize what's good research, what's bad research, and really been a big part of my life since then.
David Ames 3:33
Excellent. In the second half of the show, we're going to discuss the article that we just reference as well as just your experience in the field. But I want to hear your personal story first. So like we always do, what was your religious tradition growing up?
So I grew up in a Presbyterian home, attending the United Church of Canada, which is an amalgamation of several denominations, including Presbyterian and Episcopalian, it's exclusive to Canada. My family was not especially conservative, nor were they especially liberal. And well, he would have said that we were Christians. Growing up, it wasn't something that was discussed very frequently. I do remember having conversations about it. You know, when our family dog died, I asked him, you know, what happened to him? And can we go visit him and those kinds of things, and that that gave me I think, like a lot of people when your family pet dies, you get a bit of that first touch of the fear of death, which is probably a depressingly common story. What one of the things that's important in contextualizing my growing up and my identity formation is the fact that I had undiagnosed ADHD. Now ADHD comes in a few different varieties and most people are most familiar with the hyperactive subtype because that's the most outwardly visible. I flew under the radar because I had primarily inattentive type, which was less recognized in the 80s and 90s. Mostly just meant that people viewed me as a bit of a space cadet. I was insatiably curious but unfocused, I was frequently accused by my teachers of being lazy. It also able to work in bursts and for lengths of time and accomplish things soon as incredibly quickly. So I was identified as gifted, but unmotivated. Yeah, something I'm sure. Yeah, exactly. Now, a lot of neurodivergent children, including people with primarily inattentive, ADHD, struggle with relationships, and understanding how to act around other people in ways that are considered normal. So like a lot of people who grew up with similar experiences, I would often mimic the people around me or attach myself to stronger personalities and groups, and take on their opinions in order to fit in and to feel safe and accepted. This, I would go undiagnosed until I was about 27. When I was a teenager, I was invited to an evangelical youth group, and that little voice of curiosity inside of me had this whole new world to explore. I identified more and more strongly with this new group, though, I also learned a lot of new things like the evangelical concept of salvation and hell, which really amplified that fear of death that I'd had growing up. After a year in that group, I prayed the center's prayer and was baptized again, even though I'd already been baptized as an adult. I guess I needed a second coat. Yeah. And then my life really revolved around church, I attended youth group a couple times a week, as well as church on Sundays, I gained a valuable group of friends, couple of whom still talk to me today. But despite the fact that I had a new group to identify with, I was still struggling in a lot of areas. One was identity and identity formation, I still difficulty forming opinions of my own, I'd gravitate towards the strongest pains in the group without really putting a lot of time and effort into thinking about them. The other issue is that I was now immersed in a group where experiencing the presence of God and having spiritual experiences during worship services, and so on, was very common. And I could never manage to actually feel those things. I think partly because, while I was very curious, I also I didn't, I didn't lie to myself very easily, I, people would say, I'd really felt the presence of God during that song, I would go, I don't know what that means, like, Tell me about it, and how do I get there too, so they would often talk about experiencing the presence of God or feeling God's love or affection. And those weren't feelings I could just manufacture. So this led to years of rededicating my life to Christ and doing altar calls and trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and eventually going to Bible college, which gives me a big wake up call. This period of time is one that i semi affectionately refer to as my brief but memorable career as a Christian ghostbuster. Okay.
So, early into my first year of college, I, we were all supposed to find Christian ministries to, to volunteer with. And so in the first few weeks, I started to volunteer for a local Christian drop and Center. This center was run by a man that I can only describe now, with the benefit of hindsight as a, as a spiritually abusive megalomaniac. He ran out of this drop in center, in addition to, you know, play foosball and stuff with kids. He ran a deliverance ministry, which, for those of your listeners who don't know what that is, it's a ministry that revolves around casting out demons from people who don't know they have demons in them. Yeah, these demons could be demons of lust, demons of depression, demons of anxiety, all sorts of things you would normally find in Frank Peretti novels. If you ever read those?
David Ames 9:16
Absolutely, yeah. I distinctly recall the Christians around me in the late 80s, you know, being really influenced by Frank Peretti. And, and I was when I was thinking, this cannot be like, even as a as a believer, I thought, you know, this is this takes this too far, somehow.
Well, I was the I was immersed in those books. I the church pastor gave them to me and said, like, this is really going to, you know, if you like Lord of the Rings, this is going to be great for you. And so I was very intrigued by this deliverance ministry, and the man took me under his wing and informed me that the reason why I couldn't feel God's presence is because it was all blocked by demons, obviously. And he also said that he wanted me to come in and work with him in his defense ministry because he had determined that I had the gift of discernment. So I could, according to him, I could feel when demons were nearby and I could tell what they were doing. And that was for an impressionable kid, especially one like myself, who was gravitating towards the strongest ideas in the room, and grew up reading sci fi and fantasy. This was, this was everything I'd hoped to hear. This was my Jedi moment. Gandalf had just sent me off. You know, Hagrid just told me I was wizard like, This is it? This is what I was waiting for. Yeah. So for a couple of months. That was, that was life, and I was becoming more invested in it. But there was one night where after the drop in, center had closed down, and we were doing the deliverance ministry stuff, one of the volunteers, were going to do something that was referred to as manifesting where it they appeared to be possessed by a demon, they spoken a strange voice, their behavior was very strange, very bizarre. And the deliverance ministry leader tried to have a showdown and exercise them which didn't do anything. And so four hours of this into the wee hours of the morning occurred. And after about four hours, the volunteers spouse, volunteer who was manifesting, their spouse showed up with a bottle of antipsychotics that the deliverance ministry leader had convinced him to stop taking, oh, wow, yeah, they took their antipsychotics and then they calmed down, and they went home. Okay. And I identified this retrospectively as a massive wake up call for myself, not only because I got exposed to a genuine, you know, mental health condition, that was misidentified as something spiritual, but because it made me realize, I was not thinking for myself, I was not thinking critically about what I was being told or what I believed. And if I wasn't careful, I was gonna get taken in by all kinds of foolish beliefs that would be harmful for myself and for others. That was the moment when I think the switch got flipped inside me when that voice of curiosity became the voice of skepticism. From that moment on, when people start telling me things about their experiences with God, about hearing the voice of Spirit with, you know, my my new reactions, they have to gravitate towards them and say, Oh, wow, like, Tell me more, I believe you. It was to put the brakes on the Start asking questions. Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have for this? Can your observations or experiences be explained by a more mundane means? Or is the spiritual explanation the best or only likely explanation? That also, this whole experience also really cemented my interest in psychology, and gave me an incredible amount of sympathy for people who were struggling with mental illnesses in the context of the church. To have someone convince you that you didn't need your anti psychotics, because of your faith was something that hadn't even occurred to me before that night, and immediately became deeply alarming. And something that stuck with me for years afterwards. So I stayed in Bible college and for the last half of Bible college, I connected with a few professors who were strong advocates of critical thinking, who helped me to grow those skills. I also benefited from being my wife, who had an incredibly strong bullshit detector. that to this day, is still much better than mine. So I left Bible college still a Christian, but a much more cautious person. And it will be a long journey for that newly planted skepticism to grow into agnosticism.
After college, I started working for Youth for Christ, ironically, also running a drop in center, but in a different community than the one I volunteered for I spent almost seven years there. I genuinely tried to do my best to improve people's lives. But my new skeptical outlook on life really made me question a lot of what we were trying to teach youth. And while I made a lot of friends with others in the ministry field, I often found rifts appearing between myself and those friends, I would question the things they were taking for granted, and things that they didn't want to be questioned. Throughout this whole time, my ongoing lack of any spiritual experience or feeling the presence of God, and all that still weighed on me, and I, it made me question if God was really there, which then brought up those fears of hell and fears of dying. But I'd read at some point during this period, I read CS Lewis is cosmic trilogy, which I'm not sure if you've read or not. I've read it. I've actually read it. Yeah. Which I actually really loved. It was a great series, and there's a character In the the final book, that hideous strength, named McPhee, and he's the only non believer in this group of people who are trying to save the world. And he's kind of presented as a as a bit of a dick. Like he's always questioning people. And he's always saying like, well, but are you sure? And no, could this not just be something in the weather or whatever? And, and he's, the other characters are obviously kind of irritated with him. But the leader of their group says, oh, no, he's our skeptic. And that's a very important office, you know, it's an office in the church, just like the office of priest, the Office of confessor, the Office of evangelist. And I identified with that so strongly, I thought, well, this is why I can't feel God is so that I can, I can hold this office and the church, the Office of the skeptic, that's my job. And that belief, I think, me in the church a lot longer than I might have otherwise.
David Ames 16:00
I relate to so much of this, Daniel, just so you know. I mean, that, you know, being marked out as, like having discernment. And, you know, I think bright analytical people within the church, get that tag and find it difficult to really get into the emotional experience that the people around them are having. And yet, you know, you're wanting to be a part of it so badly that you know, you're still continuing on, even though there's part of the kind of the back of your mind saying, is this quite right, it seems there's something maybe off,
I can remember somebody reading somewhere, somebody had written about a similar experience, how much longer must I put up with such unbearable silence from the throne of heaven? I remember feeling that so deeply, like, yeah, like what, like, what the hell God, and this idea that, hey, you are fulfilling a special place in the church, you're, you're here to be the skeptic. The Catholic church even has somebody employed to go out and check on If miracles are legitimate or not at the office is referred to as the devil's advocate. And I sort of identified with that. And while I was in ministry, I actually went to seminary and threw myself into Bible classes, theology classes, philosophy classes, but also classes in counseling psychology, because that's what I was most interested in. That was the degree I was going for. A lot of the biblical theological philosophy courses were taught by professors who spoke very highly of critical thinking and the importance of a rational face. But more and more, I was convinced there were limitations on how they were applying their critical thinking. Many people, many professors would create logically sound arguments, but they'll be based on assumptions or premises that were unfounded or unsupportable, or non falsifiable. And I began to learn that for many of the Christian intellectuals, I was trying to learn from and trying to grow from critical thinking was a valued skill set to a point. When we approach these underlying tenets of the faith, we're supposed to stop and give those things some space, some things are just too sacred to be questioned, or too sacred to be skeptical about. You had a previous guest named Matthew, who said that he, he had to believe that somewhere somebody knew those answers, that would be sufficient. And you said to trust that guy knew what he was doing. He knows what he's doing. I'm okay. And I really related to that. I saw I looked for that person. I read Alister McGrath, Terry Eagleton, like tons of theologians and Christian philosophers, David Bentley, Hart, just trying to find that person. Yeah, I also read Christians who weren't philosophers, but who were scientists, Francis Collins, for instance, Human Genome Project, I sought for those strong rational arguments for God's existence that would help me satisfy that skeptical nature I had I kept finding that theological and historical arguments would either be flawed or erroneous or would run out long before my questions would. Even though I was actually seeking for that evidence. I think a lot of people think that when you when you leave the faith, it's because you were trying to find an excuse to I was trying to find a reason to stay. And outside of even the insulated North American Evangelical tradition, I found great Christian thinkers whose arguments also fell short and when their arguments ran out their reasons for believing boil down to personal experience. Yes, shutting have.
David Ames 19:38
Yeah, right. Okay.
Yeah. So I kept asking, like, is this really all you guys have? Am I supposed to rely on your personal experience as a reason for my faith? And I was I was always disappointed.
So about 12 years ago, I left both ministry and seminary, and I transitioned to secular Employment First as a counselor working with adolescents. And then as a public health educator in the area of mental health addictions. If someone had asked me when I left ministry, at the time, it would have said that I was an agnostic theist. I was trying to believe, despite my doubts, and despite the lack of personal experience, yeah, I was disillusioned, but I was determined to keep on trying, still hoping I would find arguments for the existence of God, they were actually convincing. Like another one of your guests, Lars said, I was just I was holding on to hope that was all I had left was the hope. My faith for the next 10 years was almost completely intellectual. And more than ever, I told myself that this is because I was in the office of the skeptic. And I was just doing my best. I do want to stress though, and this is important to me, too, that there were many Christian thinkers, educators I encountered, who were very good for my growth and development. One man in particular, became my mentor in the counseling program. He had a strong scientific mindset, before he became a counselor and got his doctorate in that he had been a pharmacist. And one of the things he did outside of the seminary was give talks to churches and Christian groups about how it was okay for Christians to take antidepressants. He gave talks on the history of anti psychotics, and I went with him to some of those talks, and saw him change so many lives, and how I saw him open up churches to the possibility that we could actually feel better without having to feel guilty at the same time. And as he got older and, and moved away, he gave me his blessing to, to continue some of those talks. And I started giving those talks and similar talks on faith and mental illness, at churches, at Christian conferences, not only locally, but then actually across the country. And I was so gratified that he opened up that possibility for me, because I did hear from a lot of people who wound up deciding to get help, because of some of those talks. That mentor, stated, dear friend, and we stayed in touch for many years. And earlier this year, he he passed away due to cancer. Yeah, it was, it's a, it's, I count one of the greatest gifts I've received in my life, that I was able to speak to him the day before he died and tell him how much he meant to me, and how he changed the direction of my life. We didn't talk about faith or God, I just told them how much I loved him and loved what he did for me and the path he set me on. And the fact that he was still cognizant of our conversation and is able to respond and express his emotions for me as well. It's something that I really, I really valued. And I I'm still I still have very fond memories of that work that we did. Within the church.
David Ames 23:21
You know, again, just a lot of parallels my Bible college experience, I had a number of professors that were very focused on critical thinking, I had a mentor, theology professor who, you know, I refer to occasionally on the podcast, and I can see all the positive elements of that relationship and what I learned from those people, even though I'm no longer a believer, and I think you said the most important thing there that it was the, you know, the impact on your life from one human being to another wasn't about spirituality, it was about someone caring for you, guiding you and giving you mentorship
and, and teaching me the value of being a good and empathic communicator. Watching him do public speaking, really lit the bug in it for me and I? I spent hundreds of hours over the last decade doing public speaking both through my work and outside of it. And, and every time I do, I can't I can't ever do it without thinking of him in some way. And like you said, it's that human connection that we we make between us that is really what's changing our lives and something I've just never regretted as the work that he and I did, even though I've, I've had cause to regret some of the things I did and said was in ministry should never, never has it been the work that he and I did.
David Ames 24:58
There's a number of direction means, I want to take, I want to wrap up just one element of what you talked about that I think is really important. And that is, in all of the skepticism and the doubt you were looking for a reason to believe you were looking for evidence to believe the fact that you were unable to find that evidence is not your fault in any way. And I think because sometimes the apologists approach is to blame. The doubter, like it's the doubters fault that they won't accept the argument. But as you pointed out, you begin to recognize the unfalsifiable falsifiability have a premise or it like you say, it can be a sound argument, but it's based on premises that don't have any founding.
Exactly. And that all came even more clear to me when I left ministry and started continuing education. We did, we did join a new church, around the time I left ministry, it seemed to be a bit more progressive. And that was kind of fitting with the more liberal direction that I was leaning in. And I started going to a secular university, taking my master's in psychology and the degree because the science degree it focused heavily on social science, research methods, data interpretation, quantitative analysis. And this work only built on that skeptical, critical thinking foundation I've been building and been strengthening since I was encouraged by my new professors to be absolutely ruthless in my pursuit of knowledge and truth and understanding, especially when it came to things that I wanted to be true. So then I started saying things to myself like, well, you know, even if there's no God belonging to a church is good for community, and the church has a lot of good in the world. So I'm just going to, you know, I became even more agnostic, and then the pandemic hit. And that progressive church we belong to, just took a drastic turn, the pastor that I'd gotten to know and would have considered a friend and had over for beers. He believed COVID was a conspiracy, that there's something satanic going on. He was increasingly going into conspiracy theories from the pulpit, or from the Zoom call. And, and then also encouraging people to break restrictions. And many people in the church started doing that, at a time when, when not only was the pandemic really kicking off, and we were quite uncertain about what the the timeline was going to be like, there were other social issues coming up with the murder of George Floyd. And the pastor and the church really swung in a kind of awful direction on that, too. We tried having some talks in our church as a community about, hey, like, we should talk about systemic racism as a as a church. And the pastor had strong opinions that rationality and human compassion couldn't change. And because he was unwilling to budge church leadership, decided to say, well, you know, we're gonna follow our pastor and align themselves more closely with him, and a lot of people left the church. And it was around that time, I realized, you know, based on a few comments I'd received that, me staying in this religion, we identify myself as a Christian, despite the fact that I was basically agnostic, it's lending validation to, to all those Christians who are actively working towards making the world a worse place, or to oppress or to abuse others. And we often talk a lot, especially in the addictions field about validation how it's why people often will seek to use substances together, not just because it's more fun, but because it lends validation when you're, you know, when you're doing something that you think might not be the best for you. And again, this isn't to cast judgment on any amount of substance use more just to talk about the the psychological work we do to reassure ourselves that we're doing something that maybe not that might not be the best for us, it can be as simple as smoking cigarettes. Validation is also the feeling we seek when we're young and stupid and doing things with our friends that when people ask you, well, why did you do that? Once seemed like a good idea at the time, my friends. And I started realizing that I was I was an academic and social scientist and I was in the church. And there are people who were in the church were looking at me and saying, Well, he's still a belonging. So clearly, what we're doing must be okay. And that that really made me conclude that if I stayed I stayed identifying as a Christian. And I was probably doing more harm than good. And that was a decision I made for me. I don't think that that decision would be right for everybody. I think there's a lot of agnostic theist who choose to remain in the church and who do a lot of good in it. For me, I couldn't anymore. And so in the fall of 2020, I began to outwardly acknowledge the inner experience I've known for some time, right, that I was no longer a Christian, and I was an agnostic. And that was that. And that really kicked off an unfortunate period of time where I was very angry. At the church, I wouldn't say I was angry at God, because all of my angst about God really vanished when I realized I didn't think he existed. At least not in, not in the religious kind of sky god format like, is there? Is there an unmoved first mover? Is there something out there, like think when your previous guests, Doug mentioned, like cosmic brain, and we're all just cells in it? Like, I've got no idea? Yeah, but from a religious perspective, I just couldn't do it anymore. And so I wasn't angry at God. But I was angry at the church at specific Christians, groups that were doing COVID denial or secret mass church services, which we had a lot of those in our area, especially as I worked in health care, doing mental health addictions work, much of which actually revolved around supporting staff in the health care system. And so I was actually involved in several projects, helping to support staff who were overwhelmed by the results of the pandemic. I, you know, I throughout that process, I talked to and interviewed and worked with countless nurses and frontline staff, and frequently they break down in tears during our meetings, just that the death and the, the destruction they were experiencing in the system. And so to go from that, to see people I called friends, you know, sneaking out to do church, or buying fake masks on the internet, or spreading lies about vaccines, it was just an abhorrent to Me and I became very resentful and angry. And I'm sure like a lot of Yeah, like a lot of your listeners, I'm sure, just getting very stuck in that place. And unlike a lot of people with ADHD, when you get stuck in an emotional state, it can be even harder to get yourself out of it. Because your mind is, is racing and going over that rumination of your, of your grief and your anger and your frustration. And I was stuck there way longer than I should have been. And it was, it was some really hard realizations for myself and some conversations with my wife whose bullshit detector is still strong and was blaring when I was in the room to point out, Hey, you're not doing okay, you got to, you got to, you got to stop this. And I realized I was turning into one of those just ain't, you know, angry ex Christians. And that isn't what I want to be. And so I decided that I wanted to take a more gracious and graceful approach to life, I'd been putting the work in over the the latter half of the pandemic to really make some changes and try not to be such a jerk all the time.
David Ames 33:38
Well, I mean, you just stated the premise of the podcast, right? It's like, we want to first acknowledge that to be angry is good, right? There are times when you need that anger to push you out of the comfort zone, and you need to make that change. But that one doesn't want to remain within that anger for so long that it starts to hurt you because it's not really affecting the questions.
Exactly. And what we often say in my field is that anger is a secondary emotion. Okay, you know, it happens because of something else. Anger comes from hurt, anger comes from grief, anger comes from fear. And so I had to kind of get to the roots of my anger, which which was grief. And then and since then, even though I do say, you know, agnosticism describes me perfectly. I identify as a humanist because humanist is a positive term talks about what you're working towards, not what you're working against.
David Ames 34:34
Absolutely. And for sure, when I'm talking to people that I don't know, I'll say I'm a humanist, rather than say I'm an atheist because I want to talk about what I do believe in people. Yeah. As opposed to what I don't believe in right
so a couple of things here. I want to dig into I wasn't in dissipating. But as we're talking, I want to dig into just a bit more, I want to talk about grief. And I want to talk about addiction as it applies to religion as well. But so much of the deconstruction deconversion process is grief, we are losing what can feel like for some people, their best friend, someone who knows them, who loves them. So it feels like loss of a very deep meaningful relationship, we potentially are losing friendships with family or friends, and then ultimately, we're leaving, we're probably losing community as well, for some of the reasons that you might remain for a long time. Because you you need that community and so grieving the loss of all of those things, is quite a lot to have happen all at one time.
Yeah, exactly. And the the, the emotions will kind of compound on each other with interest. And, and especially if you are in communities where apostasy is is taken very seriously and responded to very punitively, then you're, you're going to be experiencing all the same feelings that somebody who's being attacked by anything, you know, attacked by a wild animal, you're going to your experience, your your fight or flight response, right, your your sympathetic nervous system is going to activate and you're going to live in a space where you've got all kinds of stress hormones, and such going through your system and your heart rate is going to be up all the time. And it's it's, it's exhausting. And it's, it's damaging to our, to our systems into our brains, living in a state is not sustainable.
David Ames 36:43
And then I wanted to talk about addiction in the sense of how it might apply to religion, I think the obvious example might be more charismatic Pentecostal expressions of faith that that should be a bit more emotional, there's, there's kind of an obvious dopamine hit in that experience. But even without that, I think you hinted at this idea of affirmation of experiencing the acceptance of the group. And so is this even a topic that is studied at all like that there's an addictive nature within spirituality or religion.
I'm certain if you went down the Google Scholar rabbit hole far enough, you'd find something that somebody has published somewhere about it. I, you know, even working in the addictions field. We don't even use the word addiction that much we use words like substance use disorder, and, and so on. And one of the reasons is because there's a lot of there's a lot of behaviors that are that are harmful, that fall into a category where we would identify it as an addiction, that have nothing to do with drugs, you look at look at gambling behavior, for instance, problematic gambling, also gives dopamine hits, you know, in similar fashions as substances do. You look at sex addiction you look at now, like online gaming, addiction, and, and all those things, there's, you know, the word addiction can get attached to them. And there's lots of you know, there's there's lots of politics around it sometimes. And there's lots of baggage around the word. And what we often talk about is maladaptive behaviors. These are behaviors serving a purpose. Now, all addictions are maladaptive behaviors, but not all maladaptive behaviors or addictions. So some maladaptive behaviors could be, for instance, you, you go through relationships in with certain patterns that always end up in, in tears and self destruction in the end, because that's, you know, that fits your that fits your personality that fits your upbringing, it fits kind of how you were, how you were raised, or the patterns or relationships that you experienced. Now, that might not be an addiction, even though people seem to do it compulsively. But it is a maladaptive behavior. So I would say that there's a lot going on with religious experiences, in particular. So you mentioned dopamine, as well, in neurotransmitters that really gets activated when you're having an ecstatic experience. Another would be endorphins, you know, which are some of the neurotransmitters that get impacted by the brain's opioid system. So things like heroin, that's probably a very similar feeling. So yeah, I think that there's definitely something to be said for looking at looking at people who retreat to those things, as a as a way of unhealthy coping. But I would also say just as much there's there's benefits from religious groups or from community in general that religious groups can provide. I think the important factor to remember there is just like you pointed out earlier, these benefits are occurring because of humanity. They're occurring because of human connection and in connection. I, I worked in ministry for almost seven years, I've worked in the, you know, mental health addictions field for over a decade, I've never seen anybody who just spontaneously got made better from these things, because because God did it. Right, I wouldn't count a lot of people who would say, Well, you know, religion was important part of my recovery, and they would find out how their religious community was there for them. And, and I think that's a, that's a benefit that we should think carefully about losing as we talk about, you know, church, attendance declining, not a bad thing, necessarily, but what are we replacing it with? We need to be diligent and trying to create community. And I think that the community you've created online, as, as part of that, certainly,
David Ames 40:48
definitely, I'm very conscious of, you know, trying to build some form of community, because you can't just say, leave all of these wonderful things about being part of community and give that all away and do it on your own. Now, you know, that is that is not a very attractive message.
Totally. And I think, you know, maybe, maybe adjacent to when we talk about, like mental health addictions and church, could be how the church impacts people's ability to be skeptical and to think critically. You've had people on your podcast before, talk about things like, you know, cognitive dissonance, I think, yes, yeah, it's come up. And, and so when, when, when I talk about cognitive dissonance, what I'm generally talking about is that state of psychological discomfort or distress that we feel when our beliefs are in conflict with, with evidence or with our own actions. So believing in religious ideas, when the evidence contradicts them, like evidence from history, trying to believe in the Bible, or you're still smoking when you know, it's bad for you, those feelings cause cognitive dissonance. And then that triggers something called motivated reasoning, which is a process by which we attempt to reduce cognitive dissonance by accessing, constructing or evaluating arguments in a very biased fashion to arrive at your preferred conclusion. So when I think about churches in psychology, I often think about how we, how we engage in motivated reasoning, as I was doing for many years to try to find the best arguments to support a position. And that's just one example of a cognitive bias, right, like, those things that we do to get to conclusions quickly, and that impair our ability to reasonably solve problems. And there's lots of cognitive biases, and you've had guests talk with them before. And it's it's a fascinating area of study.
David Ames 42:51
Yeah, and this is why I often say that this has nothing to do with intelligence, because actually very intelligent people can rationalize more, right, like they the capacity to an adult, it's all the human condition of that motivated reasoning. And so, again, apologetics being an example.
One other thing I want to jump off of what you just said, too, is sort of the, you know, the, the need for skepticism is important, because, as you saw on the front lines of COVID, that for the people who began to go down the rabbit trail of various conspiracy theories, or even just ignoring the science, right masks, work, vaccines work, that kind of thing, and for whatever reasons, motivated reasons or otherwise, begin to deny that there are real world consequences that the, you know, first responders and the Yes, nursing and Doctor staff were able to see and you are getting to see indirectly, so that beliefs have consequences, and why that skepticism is necessary in the world we live in.
Yes, exactly. I love how you pointed out that intelligence is no substitution for good skeptical practices. I think you mentioned in one podcast, how our scientific thinking is how we guard ourselves against getting taken in by our own cognitive biases. Right? And that's completely that's completely true. And that's the best way I think, to describe it because even very intelligent people have human brains and human brains are designed to do I say designed human brains have evolved to do things to to conserve mental resources in everything they do. It they are just to think, give attention to detail and solve problems in ways that require the least calories possible. Because we're, we're we're evolved to save energy wherever possible, including in the brain. And it's a it's a giant pain in the ass. But it's it's how we're, it's how we're just going to work forever. And if we don't have practices in place, like scientific thinking, like the scientific method to hijack that process, where we're always going to be taken in, by things we would rather believe are things that are easier to believe. And there's, there's countless examples of that. Even very skeptical people, scientific people can get taken in by all kinds of things, if we're not careful.
David Ames 45:37
Absolutely. Because I know the schedule of the podcast coming out prior to your episode will be Tom Christofi X, he has a book called tempted to believe. And he goes into a lot of detail about these various things. And kind of the lesson that I drew out of that is summarized in the Fineman quotes, the first principle is not to fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. I love that quote. And that kind of captures it. So this is less about saying, Oh, look at these other people how they're wrong and more recognizing, how can I go off the rails? How can I start to take in things that don't have evidence that are unfalsifiable that, you know, are, Tom's word is off grid, meaning, you know, something that does not have scientific evidence,
I think that's a very good way to approach it, treating yourself as treating yourself as a gullible person is probably one of the best starting points for engaging in scientific thinking. Because often, we'll see even in even in published peer reviewed research, we'll see people who have clearly started out with their study with a bouquet of axes that they want to grind. And they and they just get there one way or another. And one of the things that we talked a lot in grad school was how to recognize how to recognize bad research. And there's a number of practices people engage in that, that can create the results they're looking for. And that's not meant to say that we shouldn't trust research. But it is meant to say we should really be diligent in utilizing the peer reviewed process. And in looking at where are, you know, where information is coming from following that lineage, from start to finish of information, and it's been a bit of a, you can really, you can really drive yourself bananas during COVID Trying to fact check everything that you see. And I had, I had engaged in a lot of long and useless conversations with friends who just keep moving the goalposts as I kept bringing back all these things you're saying is wrong because of this? And they say, Well, what about you know, Bill Gates and depopulation? No, no, we can we can put that to bed and it's no big deal and, and then say, well, what about masks make people sick? Okay, well, let's go over that. And then, by the time you get through, you're only back to the beginning of the conversation.
David Ames 48:19
Yeah, it's unfortunate that the human condition is such that the easy answer, the simple answer to complex problems is much easier to accept than the real world complexity that actually exists.
Again, this leads into this is a good segue to discuss kind of why we're, we're chatting together. As I mentioned, in the deconversion, anonymous Facebook group, we I think it was even former guest Ian had put up a article by the John Templeton Foundation called here's how religion in Princess even when we walk away, and this is an article that talks about how people remain pro social and pro moral, even when they walk away from Christianity, as we somewhat pointed out, in that the Templeton Foundation does have a bit of a bias. Although they are attempting to do real science. They definitely have a theistic bias. And that does come through in the article. There's some interesting things to talk about it I understand you have some notes about that as well. Just kind of want to get your feel for for the article, and then we'll jump into some of the specifics.
Sure things so we're really talking about two things here. We're talking about the article, the Templeton Foundation, and we're talking about the original research study, which was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. And so the article in Templeton is by one of Templeton's? I don't know if journalists is the right word we'll say journalists, and it's a boat. The research study that That was produced by a number of a number of researchers, some of whom were actually paid through the Templeton Foundation for the study. So that's, that's part of the lineage there. I gave it a quick skim on first glance just through the article itself. And thought, well, there's there's some, I've got some concerns here. And then actually having gone and, and found the study itself in full text and downloaded it and read through it and highlighted it and doing the doing things that I don't get to do as much since leaving grad school. So those kind of fun nerdy things I actually don't think the study is is all that bad in general, and what it's trying to look at, I did have some, some kind of thoughts about both the article and the study. But for me, one of the most useful things to do when when talking about research is to try to say what makes research good. And you know, for the I'm sure you've probably had guests talk with this multiple times at length through the benefits of your listeners who may not have heard those episodes, we generally ask four questions when we're talking about research. The first is, is it valid? Does it have validity? does it measure what it's intending to measure? The second is, is it reliable? Would repeated testing or repeated studies produce similar results? The third, is it generalizable? Can you take those findings and broadly apply them to other settings, individuals or groups? And then the fourth is sort of adjacent to the first three, it's what have a bias, you want to examine bias, you want to know what bias exists without resorting to making ad hominem arguments against the study just because you don't like the people who did it. It's also important to have as unbiased research as possible, which is why research is more valid when it comes from unbiased, unbiased sources. So independent drug studies, for instance, are more valuable than ones paid for by pharmaceutical companies, right? And we can all kind of guess why.
David Ames 52:15
It's great in your own paper, but yeah,
exactly. So so going into the study itself, like the article was clearly written, to kind of showcase how Hey, like, even when you leave religion, stuff sticks with you. And there are a few kind of bits and pieces we can dig into about that. When I look at the study itself, which is always where I try to start, I do agree with the author's assertion that religious nuns, those who those who grew up without any religion, are different than religious dons, those who D converted at a later date. The name of the study itself is religious identity and morality, evidence for religious residue and decay in moral foundations. And right off the bat, my, my thinking here is, I questioned the use of the phrase decay and moral foundations. Yeah, in the title. First of what first reasons because it's not actually in the study anyway, they don't say decay of moral foundations in the study. It's not a social science term, like decaying world foundations. When you see it in articles online, you generally it's describing like the moral decline in society. So also, its decay in moral foundations isn't really what they were studying. They were referencing how a specific moral values associated with religious beliefs may linger for a time after you leave that religion. So for example, you know, you're a conservative Christian, you, you leave the faith, you become an atheist for whatever reason, and you still kind of don't really feel super keen on gay marriage, you know, and then after a while, you realize, okay, no, that's yeah, I am okay with this, actually. And I think it's a good thing. So that is how specific moral values will change over time. They didn't find and they they weren't even looking for if people who leave their religion have their overall morality, decay. That seems to be the implication in the title and that there may be an unintentional implication like, I don't think it was just based on how I'm reading. How I read this and how I read the article and knowing what I know but the Templeton Foundation I, I think that was probably intentional to create a bit of a slant. It's also something that you frequently find in ideologically driven research, you find data and then you present it as something slightly different, or meaning something slightly different than it is actually means, which calls into question the validity of your research. It's where we have to look very carefully at the studies themselves, and not just the journalistic articles about those studies.
David Ames 55:12
Before we keep digging into this, I want to touch on just one thing that you mentioned that does drive me nuts and, and I get it right if you are doing sociological studies, you have to create categories, and you have to pigeonhole people into categories. But one of the things that that is a bummer to me is that the Dunn's the people who are not just nuttin, which can mean you know, you could be spiritual but not religious, but completely done with theistic worldview, or supernatural worldview is very hard to capture. Not everyone says that they are an atheist, like that's a pretty that's a pretty strong bold term that not everyone is comfortable with. And in the studies, you know, do you think that will begin to get more targeted to separate? The nones no NES from DUNS?
I hope so. And I hope that more groups than this will start doing that research. It's been a it's been a minute since I've done a lot of deep digging into the current state of the psychology and sociology of religion, you know, that that world? Yeah, mostly because my, my work generally revolves around more social psychology or psychopharmacology. And that's where I've really been just kind of, were public health psychology, that's where I've been spending all my time. I think a deeper dive into the psychology, religion, sociology, sociology of religion, we'll likely find some research that kind of goes dip his toes a little bit further into this. But it's not something that I've had the time or the inclination to really spend a lot of time on right now. I if there hasn't been that real distinction made in the past, from the sounds of it, but to hear the authors say it, this is an understudied area. And they had some, you know, they had some previous papers they referenced, but if it's under studied, and we're just really getting getting used to the idea that hey, there's, there's more than one kind of non religious person out there, I would expect that this is going to become more and more relevant as church attendance drops, as religious affiliation drops. And as, as our world continues to evolve, as a result of increased scientific knowledge and increased knowledge of increased general knowledge of things like the, the evolutionary origins of human morality, I think that there's a lot of people who are learning a lot of things that's making it difficult for them to stay in their religious tradition, whatever that is, this is only a group that's going to be growing in the future. And, and new and growing groups are social science, research, bread and butter. That's, that's what we're interested in. We want to know what's happening here. We want to know if it's gonna happen elsewhere. And we're all giant nerds. And that's what we're here for.
David Ames 58:17
So your, your reference there to kind of the evolutionary source of morality, I think, is what's critical here. So my response to the journalistic article, I didn't dig as deep as you did, but to the journalistic article is that they have the cause and effect backwards. So they seem to be implying that religion causes morality, and therefore it's surprising when someone leaves religion that they remain moral and pro social. And I tend to think that it is the reverse that the people who are pro social and and have a moral sense of moral conscience, tend to become religious. And if those same people leave, they remain so and so it's not surprising. But I wonder what you think in that on that area?
I think that's a really good way to put it. That very pro moral people will often gravitate towards systems that are going to allow them to practice that morality. There's a lot out there. Right now in the apologetics world. Generally, when I'm talking about apologetics, I refer to it for refer to it as philosophy but done badly. So you see, you see, you see things like the argument for morality. William Lane Craig is especially fond of this one. And it will talk about how like there's there's no possible origin of human morality or universal human morality except for God, because there is clearly universal human morality. Clearly there must be God. And that's in like the most nutshell this kind of version. But looking at the field of evolutionary Psychology, which is something I've really just scratched the surface of as a, you know, as an ongoing student. The origins of altruism morality, are very easily explained and even observed in nature and in, in natural selection, it makes perfect sense how pro social behaviors would contribute to group survival, right? That makes total sense how acting in ways that are altruistic that benefit the group at large, will result in the increased odds of group survival against the forces of nature. We can even observe this kind of morality in animals. And there's many studies out there looking at morality in rats or other other creatures, a rat will go through great lengths to free another rat, if that rat is trapped, and won't even save food for that trap rat, like in advance of it getting out of its trap, we see several examples of how these behaviors will benefit the group growing up, especially in very pro social species like rats and like humans. So we have with ample evidence for the development of moral systems based on the promotion of well being and the reduction of suffering in in animals and multiple species. Why would humanity be any different? That's often been something that I've, you know, over the years become increasingly convinced that that that the argument from morality is one of the most easily dismantled, double, but most tightly held reasons for people to continue in their religious belief, when they're faced with evidence to the contrary, the argument morality is an incredibly powerful poll. Yeah,
David Ames 1:02:06
you mentioned William Lane, Craig. But I also think of CS Lewis. So Mere Christianity, this basically begins with with that he uses the term fairness that we have, in his terms, innate sense of fairness. And yet, the idea of an evolutionary morality explains both the commonalities and the differences between cultures. And if there were, from the theist point of view, an objective moral standard that we, you know, somehow intuitively innately knew we would expect a lot more conformity throughout culture.
Yeah, and we really don't see that. Right, we see, we see drastic differences that you wouldn't expect to find if the law of God was truly written in all of our hearts, but the you would expect to find through the results of in group formation, and how those in groups protect the members and how they punish deviation. You know, that's a that's a system that very succinctly explains variations in human behavior and human morality, and does so without appealing to the existence of a being who is apparently giving us a universal morality, but being kind of bad at it. Exactly. And I'm not surprised to see the Templeton Foundation kind of circle back to that argument for morality as a, as a foundation for some of the ideologically driven research that they're that they're doing. That's that's their, their purpose is to find, to find the intersections of science and faith, which, in general, would be something that I would support, I would like people to be more scientific about everything your faith included. But the foundation is a bit problematic, because it it really builds itself as a scientific foundation, doing research with religion, but it's a religious organization, doing research with some science. A few examples are in, in other studies they've done and other pages on their website, talking about the decline behind the decline in Youth Mental Health, you know, and they, they reference well, it could be due to a push to have children wrestle with questions of their own gender identity early in life, which is, you know, another ideologically driven statement. They, they celebrate problematic figures like Mother Teresa, who, you know, there's a lot of history there that I think many Christians don't realize is deeply concerning about how her funds were spent and how she actually was treating people. And then just, again, as I read through a number of the articles on their website, I found a lot of issues with how they were referencing studies as having established facts or having established data. And then when I would go and find those studies and read them, isn't actually what the research was saying. And they were making pretty big stretches in getting to their conclusions. Like there was one that they said, well, reduced participation in religion might have health consequences. So, you know, if you if you reduce your participation and your religious group, you may have increased, you know, rates of some health issues, which isn't actually what the research showed, it showed that certain groups that had higher standards for things like smoking and alcohol consumption, if you were participating in those services more frequently, you are less likely to be having the associated health issues with those specific behaviors. So that's, again, you know, taking something that we found and research and representing it as something slightly different to try to make your point. Yeah, that's, that's first level college stuff, I tend to get frustrated by that kind of stuff pretty quickly when I found it. And Templeton isn't unique in that there's a number of you know, far right organizations, the the Heritage Center, in the United States, for instance, is notorious for publishing research studies where they engage in piles of questionable activities like confusing correlation with causation, mislabeling their graphs, something called P hacking, which is where you just kind of keep changing or adding variables until you get sufficient numbers that you say, Okay, we found a result, and now we're going to run with it. Something statistically significant. Yeah, yeah, exactly. And then just like drastically, misrepresenting what their results actually show. Yeah. I've, I've put far too much time in on social media, trying to convince people like, No, this is actually not legitimate what you're reading and this is why, and it's unfortunate, but those pesky cognitive biases that we've talked about have really make it challenging to change people's minds.
David Ames 1:07:24
Well, you've just given us another reason why skepticism is important.
Daniel, before we wrap up, is there a topic that I haven't asked about that you definitely wanted to get across anything else that you wanted to say?
So my gravitation towards humanism has led to interesting conversations and connections in my personal life. Now more than ever, I've really leaned into the office of the skeptic, even though it's no longer one that I hold in the church. I don't shy away from uncomfortable questions, or even more uncomfortable answers. And that has been such a valuable change in my life, and has led me to some incredibly, incredibly valuable and beneficial relationships that I've started developing, including with several people who I went to Bible college with all of whom are atheists now. Oh, wow. You've really connected over that. Have I lost friends? Yes, absolutely. And that has been sad. Have I lost opportunities? Yeah, I, I have lost opportunities that I could have had to teach at my alma mater, the Bible college, I went to and asked me to come back and teach a number of courses, and I had to inform them that I was no longer a Christian, and I'd be happy to come and teach if they would have me and, and they said, you know, wasn't gonna work for them, which I understand, you know, no hard feelings whatsoever. But it's also led to other opportunities. I, I now write a mental health column for the local paper. And I've been using that platform to discuss things like critical thinking cognitive biases, why our brains struggle with scientific thinking, and even tackle some theist objections to atheism, like the psychological origins of altruism and morality? Well, there's been some challenges, I would say that the biggest challenges have been caused by my own development and my own need for maturing and growth. And I've definitely come to the conclusion that the best days are going to be ahead.
David Ames 1:09:53
That's amazing. I want to give you just an opportunity. If you have any recommendations for things what should we be reading Is there other podcasts besides this one, YouTube channels, that kind of thing that would be beneficial for people.
So I've been really interested since I went on this part of our part of my life's journey in the works of Carl Sagan. So the demon haunted world was an incredibly important book for me. And it really opened up my eyes to how how scientific thinking could work and the, the benefits of that and written in such a beautiful and poetic way that nobody could write quite like Carl Sagan and I, you know, I just, I just love the way he presents the world, and is able to write and be so hopeful and so kind, and so gracious. In the face of, you know, all the issues he is passionate about, including agnosticism and humanism and science education. And you know, I think I there's a YouTube video out there with his speech, the pale blue dot, where he, he gives this speech and it's got, you know, various scenes from science and from films. And I watched that once a year as a, as a spiritual pilgrimage. I guess you could say,
David Ames 1:11:26
yeah. I often say, by the way, that I am a second night, atheist, you know, in the vein of that in the sense that I still have so much wonder and awe at the world at the cosmos, that there's no loss of that, you know, joy and wonder and mystery, while still having high standards for evidence.
Yeah, I completely agree. And like I said, nobody could, we could say it quite like Carl, exactly. Another. Another book that I would recommend, is one that I'm starting to get into how minds change the surprising science of belief, opinion and persuasion, by David Mcrainey. Really a very good, very good entry point, if you don't have graduate level education and psychology, right into the real depths that cognitive science can bring in the richness of human experience, and how we, you know, how we learn and grow and how we resist learning and growth, right? He's a science communicator, and I think he does a very good job of, you know, bringing some of these things across. I think those would be some of the ones that I would recommend the most I'm working my way through some of the classics, you know, the, The God Delusion and some Christopher Hitchens, but also acknowledging that sometimes the perspective they bring can encourage the feelings I was having when I was feeling stuck in anger. So treating those books like they're hot cups of tea, yeah, taking them in steps. You know, I love it and, and moving on. And if, if anybody is interested in learning more about ADHD, especially as as an adult, I would suggest the book scattered minds by Dr. Gabor Ma Tei. Dr. Mateos work was the reason why I sought a diagnosis at age 27. Reading him describing his experiences as an adult with ADHD. The hair went up on the back of my neck. I you know, I felt like he'd been looking over my shoulder my whole life. He described you know, having to have a novel in his pocket at all moments in case he was in line at the grocery store because even 60 seconds of idleness was enough for his brain to consume him utterly. And I just about threw the book across the room I but it was it was one of the best things I could have done for myself because it contextualize my life and my experiences. So well. So scattered minds, the origins and healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. It's, it's a, it's a great read and can really if people are wondering, is this what's going on? For me, that might be the book that puts them over the edge.
David Ames 1:14:32
Excellent. Those are amazing recommendations. Daniel, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Thanks for having me.
Final thoughts on the episode? As I said in the interview, there are a lot of points of comparison with Daniel story and mine. The thing that I really really resonate with is his idea of the Office of the scout Deke, for those of us who are inquisitive, we get tagged with that idea of having discernment. But there are definite limitations on that discernment. You can only question so far. I love the framing that Daniel brings to that of taking on the Office of the skeptic, even though that kept him in the faith longer than he would have otherwise. The other thing that I really related to was that recognition of the difference between psychological explanations or spiritual ones, he told the story of the individual who after having their medication, completely calm down. So was that a demonic attack? Or was it the person just didn't have their meds? In the slow creeping realization that there are naturalistic explanations for every spiritual experience that one has, including one's own. Yet another thing that I really relate to in Daniels story is the recognition of the limitations of apologetics that even the critical thinking believers have limitations and the flaws within apologetic arguments become overwhelmingly obvious. unstated, or even sometimes stated premises are unfounded, don't have any evidence, or as Daniel points out, are unfalsifiable. And so it is assertions all the way down. There is no foundation to the apologetic arguments. That's sad, especially when like Daniel, you're an inquisitive person, and you're actually trying to find a reason to remain in faith trying to find reasons to believe and you're struggling to do so on, you're going to what are considered the best intellectual arguments for Christianity, and you see the flaws immediately. There's some grief involved. Even today, I often will read an apologetic that I have not heard before, and there's some tiny part of me that hopes that it'll be worthwhile that it'll have something real to say. I have yet to find that apologetic that doesn't have obvious premises that are unfounded entirely. Daniel's observation about apologetics and the limitations of intellectual curiosity within a believing structure like Christianity is that some things are too sacred to be questioned, that captures why those limitations are there. Of course, the conversation revolved around the Templeton Foundation article and study about how religion and Princess even when we walk away, as we discussed in the conversation, the obvious theistic bias of the Templeton Foundation comes through. But I really want to hammer on the point that the causation is going the wrong direction. That pro social and pro moral people tend to become religious. And if those same people leave religion, they remain pro social and pro moral, is not the other way around. And yet the theistic organization like the Templeton Foundation wants to make the argument that religion is the cause or faith is the cause of morality. I want to thank Daniel for being on the podcast for sharing with us his insight and his educated perspective on research, his eloquent expression of the need for a scientific mindset and for skepticism, as well as his honesty and talking about ADHD, his personal deconstruction process. Thank you, Daniel, for being on the podcast. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is again the need for skepticism. A couple of weeks ago, we had Tom Christofi AK on talking about his book tempted to believe. And this episode with Daniel just reinforces the need for a skeptical mindset to protect yourself from all of the sources of misinformation, disinformation, and untruths. Again, I want to say that skepticism is not cynicism. This is not about destroying sincere things, or just sacred things for the sake of destroying them. Skepticism is about the desire for truth. What is real, what can be substantiated? What can we hold on to that will be unshakeable? The irony is that is the verbiage and rhetoric of Christianity that Jesus is supposed to be the rock that that is supposed to be unshakeable. As we heard from Daniel, as he delved into the apologetic arguments, finding that there were deep problems with those arguments, and that it turns out to be a subjective experience, from our own faith experience to the person who told us about faith from the person who told that person from the person who told that person all the way back down to Paul and Peter, and maybe Jesus Himself. These assertions of the supernatural and atheistic deity are unsubstantiated all the way down. But this need for skepticism goes beyond faith and religion. Just in the last handful of years, we have had a masterclass in misinformation and disinformation both in US politics and now in world politics. And the need to be able to discern what is true validatable falsifiable versus what is assertions what is rhetoric is critically important in today's day and age. And as Daniel and I pointed out in the conversation, that beliefs have consequences, if you believe that vaccines don't work, that is more than a personal decision for you, that affects everyone around you that affects every human being you come into contact with. If you believe that masks don't work, that affects more than just you. And these are just the obvious examples. There's 1000 others of how taking on misinformation for you personally affects more than just you. If the word skepticism is too harsh a word for you use the idea of the scientific mindset. both Daniel and I are huge fans of Carl Sagan. And his book demon haunted world that Daniel mentions is an amazing book, in that you see how Carl Sagan loved the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence, but that he held his standard, the scientific method and the scientific way of thinking to such a high degree, that standard was so high, that even though he was out to find that evidence, he could not say that extraterrestrial intelligence exists until he finds that evidence. Likewise, I've had conversations with believer after believer after believer who want to lower the bar of evidence. I literally had a conversation with a believing lawyer who wanted to lower the bar to say that the hearsay of the Gospels and the hearsay of the New Testament was valid evidence. And my point is, if Christianity is true, and this is the most important thing in the universe, the most important decision that any human being will ever make, shouldn't the standard of evidence be the highest it can possibly be? For something so important? And the fact that it isn't, and that apologists want to lower it is the indication that it is unfounded and untrue. As we said before, we've got some amazing episodes coming up. We have Jessica Moore, who talks about surviving purity culture and what you do after that, and we have another Arleen interview of boundless and free. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful.
Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links or books on restful atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate, podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular grace. You can send me an email graceful firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out the website graceful atheist.com My name is David and I am trying To be the graceful atheist, join me and be graceful human beings
this has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Stay skeptical? This week’s guest is Thom Krystofiak, the author of Tempted to Believe: The Seductive Power of Claims About “The Truth.”
Thom grew up Catholic but as an adult began practicing Transcendental Meditation. He followed gurus and groups for decades but was never quite convinced of the more spectacular claims of TM.
Thom shares about his experiences in the TM movement and what pushed him out. He also discusses important questions people, regardless of their belief or skepticism, could ask themselves: What do I mean by truth? How do I find the truth? And how much does truth really matter?
I am, by nature, a skeptical man. My skepticism shows no signs of mellowing, but grows sharper and deeper with time. And yet I have spent my life surrounded by believers.
[Is it] better to be fooled many times than to be a skeptical man[?]
Am I missing something?
“Why is that I’m not susceptible to any of the beliefs the people around me hold…”
“[Flying] wasn’t happening yet for us as individuals, but maybe if we put three thousand people together in one place…maybe that’ll be something!”
“…the rise of fake news and alternative facts and the more bizarre conspiracy theories…all of these things are based on beliefs and they’re based on beliefs that do not have evidence…’”
“Some of our greatest societal challenges…resonate with these same principles: How much does the truth matter, what do you mean by the truth and how do you find the truth?”
“It’s not just a matter of, ‘Do you accept evidence at all as a valid way of finding out what’s true?’…it becomes a much more difficult task of sifting through competing versions of evidence.”
“Some people have given—either themselves or others—the license to make things up…”
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David. And I'm trying to be the case with our community manager Arlene continues to run the Tuesday evening after the podcast drops hangout. If you want to be a part of that, please join the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Thom Krystofiak. Thom has written an amazing book called tempted to believe the seductive power of claims about the truth, quote, unquote. What Thom has done here is really describe what skepticism is, why it's necessary and how to be skeptical without being cynical, and without being a jerk about it. What I think you're going to find interesting is that Thom's religious experience, although he grew up a Catholic is really about his time in the transcendental meditation movement, and more from a new age point of view. So what's interesting is, he's bringing skepticism from that perspective. And he begins the book by asking the question, Am I missing something? And the book is really the answer to that. I loved this book, I this is the book that I wish that I had had when I was going through my own deconversion. I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Thom, and I hope you and to help you go out and get the book. tempted to believe. Here is Thom Krystofiak to tell his story.
Thom Krystofiak, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Thom Krystofiak 2:06
Thank you, David. It's a pleasure.
David Ames 2:08
Thom, you've written a book called tempted to believe the seductive power of claims about the truth. And as I just mentioned to you offline, this could not be more timely. I said in previous promotion of this particular interview that if I were going to give it a subtitle, I would say it is skepticism without being an asshole. I might have been a little bit more catchy. Yeah. And that is kind of right in the lane of what we're trying to do here on the gristmill atheist podcasts. So you are incredibly welcome. So glad that you're here.
Thom Krystofiak 2:47
Thank you, thank you so much.
David Ames 2:49
What I'd like to do is begin with, you know, your personal journey and for lack of a better term, your spiritual journey and what that was like, and then we'll jump into the book after that. Okay.
Thom Krystofiak 2:58
Yeah, let me try to boil it down. as briefly as I can, you know, I did not go through a difficult deconversion process in my, in my life, I was raised as a standard Catholic, I went to Catholic schools all the way through high school, including Jesuit High School. But, and I of course, absorbed all that as you do as a child. And you're more or less, I'm more or less assume that was just the way things were. But, you know, my my leaving the church or leaving belief of that kind took place quite naturally. For me, it was just the way my mind started asking questions, even when I was, I suppose around 16. And then, strangely enough, one of the Jesuit priests sort of there were some liberal priests in our, in our school, he thought it was a wise thing and what was called theology class, to assign Sigmund Freud's the future of an illusion, which is, which is all about Freud's idea that religious beliefs were illusory. And here's the psychological reasons why. And that really spoke to me. But in addition to that, my own thinking just about how is it that we can possibly know all this really definite stuff about the nature of the universe, so that'll happen. And so it was, it was, it was graceful. For me. It was graceful both for me, and it was, it was treated gracefully by those in my life. You know, luckily for me, I didn't have a problem with my parents, you know, freaking out that, that I had left the fold that they had invested in, you know, in so many different ways, right? There weren't that kind of they were those kinds of people, so I didn't have that issue. Even my teachers at school they knew by the time of my senior year of high school, they knew where I was but they didn't cause trouble either. So I had a graceful exit, it was easy. Okay. Then what happened to me is when I was in college, I started for whatever reason, beginning to have a sense that perhaps there's something more to this reality than what the day to day that we're all in meshed in. Now, whether recreational drugs had anything to do with that, or whether it was just some sort of natural curiosity, I don't know. But I was interested in the possibility. And so when I heard various people in groups talking about ways to open to greater realities, I was intrigued. And I explored a few of them. But the one that got me was Transcendental Meditation. And the reason it got me ultimately, in the beginning, was because they had embraced scientific approach to verifying the benefits. Right. So I mean, the kinds of benefits let's put it this way, a scientific approach to to verifying some changes that happened into people and people who practiced TM. You know, they certainly couldn't verify the broader claims that they may have been interested in. But they, but they had that scientific attitude, they had done some pioneering research that was published in Science Magazine and Scientific American. And, and I will say that, that hooked me I said, okay, if I'm going to try something, this is the one. So that's what I did. I liked it, I liked the way it work, the effects it had on me. And so I, as, as the years of few years unfolded, I got seriously interested and became a trained teacher of Transcendental Meditation, which, you know, this is, as people may know, this is a, a program or a practice that was brought out to the world by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In the old days, I mean, some decades ago, a lot of people would recognize that name. These days, not so much, probably. But, you know, he was the guru of the Beatles, etc. That's the way he was always talked about in the press way back then, you know, millions of people learned all around the world, 10s of 1000s of people were teachers, it was a big deal. And as you can imagine, we we'd go, we were in the training was done in Europe, I was in Europe anyway, I was pursuing my own studies, but the trainings were generally in Europe, and they would last, you know, over the course of the entire training might be six months or more. And so you're completely enmeshed in this world of people who are absolutely enthused not just about the practical fruits of meditation, but about these ancillary claims that are more and more extraordinary about, about what the universe was about, and what human life was capable of, and so forth. And being in meshed in math for six months. And having, you know, you naturally have a desire to do well and be part of, you know, to be a good teacher and be part of this whole thing. I naturally was drawn to at least partial acceptance of some really extraordinary things. Now, I don't I don't think I ever became a full on believer in the sense that many people are believers and things about some of these claims. But they certainly enticed me and made me think they were possible. And so I'll just briefly mention a couple of them. So the the biggest thing that happened during the time I was doing that training was an advanced program was cut was brought out, in addition to the regular 20 minutes, twice a day of meditation, which was the whole thing in the beginning, an advanced program was brought out which was basically human levitation, the ability for the human being, to fly, not just some sort of internal thing that felt like you are floating but actually, the claim was, yes, we're talking, floating, flying through the air. And, and I was, you know, some people did it before I decided to try it, because, hey, why not? This is, this would be fantastic. If
David Ames 9:32
it was. Yeah.
Thom Krystofiak 9:36
You know, it's a little weird to say that I would even be willing to try it because it's so outrageous. No, that's such an outrageous claim. It flies in the face of just everything we know about physics and science. And that doesn't mean I don't rule things out is completely impossible if they fly in the face of current scientific knowledge. You know, there are things we can learn that we haven't learned yet, but this is pretty cool. pretty far out there. So, but nevertheless, I was far enough into it to say this is worth a shot. And some people had done it that I knew before I did a little bit before I did. And it came back with some, you know, reports that sounded like they were verifying the thing in some way. Anyway, so I jumped in and did it. And it was extraordinary. It was absolutely one of the most extraordinary things I've ever done in my life. And I think a lot of people might say the same, just the way the body reacted to this, essentially just a mental process. That was that was engaged. And it's, it's something that I think would be a great subject of scientific research exactly what is going on there where the body does some things it's never done before, in response to a mental stimulus. And so it was wild. It was incredible. It was energetic, but it wasn't flying by. It wasn't levitation by any match.
A couple of years later, after I had done this, and then come back, and I was teaching meditation, and here in the US, I, marshy put out the word that he wanted to gather 3000 people, this was in Amherst, Massachusetts, to do this technique of skill of yogic flying together for the first time in human history, you know, and I said, okay, at that point, I was willing to entertain the possibility that, okay, it wasn't happening yet for us as individuals, but if we put 3000 people together in one place, and we're all doing it simultaneously, maybe that will be something and something extraordinary. And, as I said, in the book, when I when when I did that, for the first time in that large group, I was expecting something to happen. You know, exactly what, who knows, but something really different from what had happened ever before. Right? And it did. So, you know, that's not to say there were it's not, it's a rich internal experience. It's something that people get value out of, and a number of ways by doing it. Maybe even some integration of brainwaves, and mind and body and all these things have been explored. But certainly it wasn't what the claim was, it didn't happen. Of course, it hasn't happened since. So that's one thing. And then my wife and I moved to a little town in Iowa called Fairfield, Iowa, which had about 9000 people at the time. And again, Maurice, she made up made the call in 1983, to say, let's get 7000 people into this little town of 9000. And all do this together. And that will really crack the world open. It wasn't so much, oh, we're gonna fly. Isn't that really cool? It was more. His focus was always what can we do as individuals that will affect the collective consciousness is the word he would tend to use the collective consciousness of the whole human race? Is there somewhat, and he certainly believed, apparently that, that, that that should be possible. And originally, the idea was, well, let's just get enough people to practice TM just to meditate, and that will change the world. And then as that wasn't happening fast enough, he said, Well, let's get this advanced group. And let's get them together. And then we'll see what can really happen. And so we said, Great, we quit our jobs, we moved down here along with 7000 people, it was an, again, a really amazing experience. And then, many of those people were encouraged later to stay, to form a permanent community to keep doing this together. And they built two large dome structures where the people would come every day and twice a day and do this. So the idea was, well, we'll keep doing this and then we will finally crack it all up. So this group here in Fairfield, that up maybe about 3000, stayed over time, not the first day, but they managed to arrange their lives so that, you know, they could somehow support themselves. Some entrepreneurs came started some businesses brought businesses, people managed to support themselves and got rolling here, and states, so maybe two to 3000. At the peak, we're here. And there's still probably 2000 here. And this group of people that I was now fully enmeshed in because I never lived in a community of two or 3000 people who believed a lot of very extraordinary things I'll just mention a few in a moment. And so all the people around me that I associated with believed a raft of things and these would be The one I already mentioned, you know, possibility of human levitation. Another one would be the fact that certain practices, they're called the Yagi O's, and in Sanskrit or an Indian lore, but these are basically just practices, performances can influence by performing some ritualized event, chanting some stuff in Sanskrit pouring some materials on some objects, you know, whatever the ritual was, that can eliminate problems change the course of, of a person's life accompany even as a society. And of course, the idea that a large group doing something together like this would like, like these practices would utterly transform human human life on a collective level. And belief in astrology, it's called Jyotish. Again, the Indian version is called Jyotish. But it's essentially just astrology, that it's a perfect predictive science. And on and on, so I'm surrounded by a belief in karma, you know, the fact that everything that's happening to us was because of things in past lives, or parent lives, and it's all highly orchestrated. And reincarnation, you go on and on. And this was the assumed coin of the realm among the people I was living with, including my wife. And I was curious about some of these things, but really not not a believer in any of any of them. Yeah. Especially, you know, as the flying, it became clear that wasn't really happening that one drifted, drifted away, even from my consideration that it's any kind of likely event at all.
So this was the origin of the book for me over the book that I wrote, because in my own internal exploration process, which was, why is it that I am not susceptible to these beliefs that everybody around me is holding to one extent or another in the early days, especially? And it was just a fascinating question. It wasn't just a intellectual academic thing, like, Oh, I wonder why it was also it wasn't like I had tension about it, or felt that I was horribly missing something. But I did wonder if I was missing something. Because a lot of a lot of these people were quite admirable, quite intelligent, etc, accomplished. And they managed to believe these things and found some sort of benefit in their lives from believing these things, apparently. And I wasn't. And so I'm going, what, what am I missing here? And so I just tried to dive into that, and exploration on many, many different fronts and different levels to see. Was I missing something? Or were they just applying criteria about reality that I could not subscribe to, due to lacks a lack of evidence, basically. And that, you know, that's essentially what I what I came to, and feel comfortable with. And that, to me, let me say one more thing that a major demarcation or separation that I make in the book is between something that someone chooses to have in their life because they like the way it feels, they just like, like having in their life, and making a definite claim about something about the universe or the world, or how human life works, a claim. So to me, a claim is something about, about an event that will appear in the material world, I claim that astrology will predict this in my life. Well, I want to see that prediction come true. It's a claim or the claim that you can levitate we want to see we need to see the levitation otherwise, let's not talk about it in that in that term. You know, if doing a certain spiritual practice or ritual is supposed to alleviate a problem, let's see does does that actually play out? And so yeah, my focus was on on claims. I'm happy to have people have whatever they want in their life that makes them feel satisfied as long as they're not bending the reality and making claims factual claims about the nature of human life, that really cannot be not only cannot be established, but all the evidence that we do have, seems to contradict it. And as as the years went on here, I mean, we've been here for 39 years. Yeah, so. So it's a long, it's a lifetime, you know. And during that time, many of the people, at least the people that are my closer friends, have had us not the same degree, necessarily, as I am in this journey, but a movement in that direction. And I'm pleased and happy to report that to some small extent, at least, some of the people who've have read my book have had some of that perspective solidified. And it kind of brought together some of the maybe thoughts they started having, but brought together in a more coherent way. That is, how do we want to look at this world? How do we want to evaluate claims about this world to make sure that they're, they're valid, and that they have substance,
David Ames 21:08
that so many things, I want to respond to their couple things, just just to say that one of the things I've really appreciated about the book is the humility and the kindness with which you describe some of these, in your words, off grid claims. And there's an empathy for the human condition and are and you know, the title of the book, tempted to believe that we are all tempted to believe in things that may or may not have enough evidence for it. Again, very much in line with what we're trying to do here with the podcast that just, you know, we're all human beings, we're all susceptible to these things. And, and yet, we are all after the truth, we're trying to find the truth. So I really appreciated that. One of the things I think, for my listeners is going to be interesting, my listeners tend to be former evangelical Christians, on some part of the spectrum from D convert from deconstruction, you're just doubting to full blown D converted atheists is that this comes at it from an orthogonal an angle, many of those evangelicals, when they were believers would have seen transcendental meditation as evil. And so it's, it kind of sneaks in past some of those defenses. And yet, I was amazed at the parallels, right? This is, again, the human condition. And last thing I'll say is, I also very much appreciated that you acknowledge the difference between the potential positive benefits of the experience and community versus a claim about the way the the universe actually works, and making a really hard bright line between those two. So for example, if you find, you know, performing the ritual of, you know, beneficial to you for your mental health, if you find meditation, or any of these, these kinds of practices, beneficial, more power to that person, not, that's fine. It's when the person begins to claim that this is affecting the world in some way that is beyond the realm of physics, that that's when we start to care about the truth.
Thom Krystofiak 23:09
Right? Well, that's great. And, you know, I appreciate your noticing what you're calling the humility in the book. And that has been an advantage. I just ran into someone at the grocery store yesterday, he goes, Thom, I love your book. And I didn't know she was reading it. And not not a close friend, but someone I an acquaintance. And she mentioned the same thing that compared to what what you often expect in books that are trying to deconstruct for former beliefs. You often have people like Richard Dawkins would be the extreme example of someone who is often described as caustic, and dismissive and so forth. And yeah, I mean, I didn't want to do that. And I don't feel that so. So that's cool. The one thing I didn't say yet that I want to say, and I think it's germane to what you were just speaking about is that, well, let's let's get into it this way, that the whole idea, the difference that you just summarized between doing something that feels beneficial, or that you'd like to have in your life, versus making a claim about how the universe actually works in observable ways. That's a that's a bright line. You know, that's a clear distinction. Some people many people don't care about the second thing. They don't care if it can be proven if there's evidence for it. They just clearly don't. And, and you go, Okay, well, is that all right? Is that is that just another way of being? And to some extent, I want to sort of go in that direction and be again generous to say, well, that's the way that's the way their life is going. And those are their values, but This is the other area that was not the impetus of my book, but sort of got sprinkled in as the time went on, with the rise of the incredible the rise of fake news and alternative facts and, and really bizarre, more bizarre conspiracy theories and so forth, and the divisive pneus. In our political sphere. All of these things are based on beliefs, and they're based on beliefs that do not have evidence. And these things are not a matter of, oh, well, this is someone's internal life, it's their spiritual life, or whatever it is. And, you know, we shouldn't be too concerned about what they're doing inside their own head.
But when it starts to manifest, as it really seriously has, not just in America, but really around the world, when these kinds of alternate realities, not based on facts start being treated as if they were facts, and building entire, you know, political movements on them. We've got problems. And so this is what started to become more apparent to me even though it wasn't part of my original impetus, that the same kinds of questions that we're talking about here about how you evaluate what's true or not, or whether it's important that you evaluate things in a certain way as to being true or false. Whether you apply the rigors of evidence and rational thinking or not. It it's it's become a matter of really deep societal importance outside the realm of religion or New Age beliefs or, or the kinds of things I was talking about in my background, well, outside of that sphere, as important as all those fears are, we have another big thing on our hands. And it's completely related, just as you said, even though my book is not talking about the typical journey that that a lot of your other guests and people have gone on, you found that it was resonant with some of those same same processes. Well, now we're having, to me, some of our greatest societal challenges outside of those realms, also resonate with the same principles, which is, how much does the truth matter? And what do you mean by the truth? And how do you find the truth? And, to me, the greatest challenge that we face, perhaps, is that people totally disagree about that. What's interesting, though, is there are people who go, especially in the spiritual realm go, I don't, I'm totally not interested in objective means of proving any of this. I have my own internal truth that I am totally solid and clear about, you know, that's one thing where you just sort of deny the applicability of any kind of objective truth you go. That's that's not that's not relevant here to me. And that's, that's a, that's a tough issue. But that's, that's mostly on the subjective or spiritual realm. When you get into these other societal realms, where people are arguing about what's true, or what isn't true. A lot of times the people who are saying really outlandish things,
Unknown Speaker 28:43
claim to have proof. They're
Thom Krystofiak 28:46
not saying, oh, proof doesn't matter. This is just the way I feel I have an intimate experience with Jesus Christ or with whatever. Don't talk to me about proving it's irrelevant. They're saying, No, we can prove this. Yeah. So if you, for example, I don't want to offend any particular groups that you have your listeners, but it's an obvious, obvious example, in our society. If, if Donald Trump or some or his fall, so many of his followers are going to say, the election was stolen, they don't say, I have a feeling the election was stolen, or, you know, my, my spiritual guide told me the election was stolen, they say it was stolen, and we have evidence, right, you know, and then they bring it to court. And of course, all the courts so far, have failed to agree that there was any kind of evidence, but nevertheless, the claim is made or a lot of conspiracy theorists will claim that they have evidence certainly the big one is the nine 911 truthers who, you know the idea that it was an inside job and it was totally put up fake thing. They'll put out reams of really impressive looking video discussions with some experts and so forth, proving that there's no way these towers came down in this way from from airplanes. And so this is what gets doubly difficult. Because it's not just a matter of do you accept evidence at all as a valid way of finding out what's true? They'll go, yes, of course we do. And we've got evidence. And then it becomes a much more difficult task of sifting through competing versions, right of evidence, and say, which one of his really holds up. And the problem is that none of us most of us are incapable of doing all of that background, evidential research or checking ourselves. And so we naturally have to ferret out which of the experts or authorities out there in the world are the ones that we have reason to think are reliable. And then we follow those. So this gets really thorny. And that's why the only the only hope I see is in a greater depth of education emphasis, I don't know if this will ever be happening in our educational systems, to the process of doing exactly that. How do you weigh how do you ferret out the the reliability of a piece of evidence of an authority of suppose it expert? You know, how do you weigh these things? You can't just take the one that feels?
David Ames 31:44
Exactly. And I you do talk about that a lot of just, and within the world of disinformation that basically, we just pick the paradigm that makes us feel the best. And that's no way to do this. I want to jump on this just for a second and say, This is why the book is timely for a number of reasons. You know, I think, you know, even beyond the political and the religious, you know, we're under an onslaught of advertising being thrown at us and with social media, and what have you that we are constantly evaluating claims, whether we know it or not, and being conscious of that, and having a standard is just deeply important. And in particular, and in time of disinformation. And in a time where technology is going to only get make the problem worse for the foreseeable future, that we will have more and more claims that we have to evaluate, having a sense of what the standard is for good or sufficient evidence is just absolutely critical.
Thom Krystofiak 32:44
That's right, and it's going as you say, it's going to get more and more intense. Speaking about social media, you know, you get, you get the problem of what are called Deep fakes, which are, there's, the better and better ability is of technology to create a video of you saying something that looks exactly like you're saying it even though you would never say that and never did. And so, it's going to go to a completely different level of difficulty, to tell the difference, and to see how any, any sort of authority is going to try to step in, to prevent some of these clearly wrong attempts to fool people. So it's, it's one thing in the old areas, you had stories, you know, if you go back 1000s of years, you had people telling stories about the origin of life, or some savior or some holy man. We, we basically had stories and that worked incredibly well. You know, you have billions of people subscribing to essentially stories that were created 1000s of years ago, or laid down 1000s of years ago, stories passed on were very potent, and they always will be, although, as we've been seeing, at least in in Western societies, for the for large degree, in more industrialized Western societies, that the grip of some of those religious stories has been greatly weakening, you know, in not true all over the world, but certainly true and like in Europe, and, and so forth. And even in the US among, among young, younger people. So some of these stories are not having the same potency that they had before. But but now we're gonna get a whole as you said, a whole onslaught of things, whether it be in advertising or even more, more dangerously, in those parts and those people who use social media to try to change your, your critical beliefs, about about things that really matter. It's one thing to convince you that this is the best bike to buy, you know, Hi, some advertising, you know, it's another thing to convince someone about the reality of some political claim or some or some factual claim, and to do it in a way that that you're completely incapable of, of yourself telling the difference. That is truly alarming. So, yeah, so it's not just a matter of individuals getting better at being able to tell the difference between some someone who's trying to fool him and someone who's giving them a good solid piece of information. It's, again, as I said, the question is going to be to what extent government or society is going to have to try to put some controls over this rampant growth in MIS misinformation that gets more and more sophisticated.
David Ames 35:50
And again, this is the I don't want to say argument. But the reason why skepticism is necessary. I think skepticism as a word has negative connotations, people think cynicism. And the thing I really related to you, and I think that my listeners will relate to is finding yourself what feels like alone? Why am I the only one who in your words is not susceptible to these these claims like that is the deconstruction deconversion experience, we find ourselves in this hermetically sealed bubble of people saying the same things, reinforcing the same things. We've heard the answers, we understand the answers, but the answers are not satisfying. And the the temptation is to say, maybe there's something wrong with me. And and yet, again, this entire book, and everything you're talking about here is about why skepticism is necessary. And that if the truth matters, you know, we can't we can't make someone value the truth. But if they do value the truth, there has to be some process some way of understanding, again, have good evidence or sufficient evidence, and can therefore be accepted or that need to be discarded.
Thom Krystofiak 37:02
Yeah, absolutely. It's an interesting process that you and your guests and others go through in terms of that, that we could say, a light a light bulb turning on or something, something inside being activated, to start to wonder about these things. And that that really is the essence, you know, it's like, do we wonder about what's true? I mean, obviously, all scientists have always wondered about what's true. That's that, that sense of, and they do it in a way that is, that is not constrained by necessarily what came before. It's not like, Oh, we've always been told that rocks fall, because it's the nature of things to go towards, you know, the center of the earth. You know, with no idea of gravity, just that it's the nature of things. And someone starts to wonder about that. You just have to wonder, how does, how does this really work? And what's really going on here, that, that light bulb coming on, which doesn't come on for some people? Yeah, it just, it just doesn't, they're, they're happy with, with the world that they're living in, and the beliefs and practices and community that they have, it's working, it's working for them? And it's only when a question comes up internally, to wonder about it and to ask certain questions. And I don't know how that exactly happens. But why it happens for some and not for others. Exactly. Yeah. It may just be that some people are temperamentally more open or ready to ask certain questions than others than others are.
I was on a podcast called Buddha at the Gas Pump, which is a fabulous thing. It's actually it's a friend of my longtime friend of mine, is behind it. He's interviewed like, I don't know, six or 700 people, and they tend to be people from the spiritual world, about all kinds of things. But he, he also had me on, and he was very forthright and discussing the kinds of things that we are. And anyway, as part of that, there was a group that he has, I don't know, maybe 15 People who email around on these questions. And it's fascinating because that group kind of bifurcates and some of them are strongly in the camp of I have had this experience which was so strong, and so opening or was clearly a direct perception of truth. But that's the end of it. That is just the end of it. and it has, there is it's not like they they're incapable of asking questions about all kinds of things, but they're not interested in asking questions about that.
David Ames 40:11
Thom Krystofiak 40:14
Yeah. And there's a difference between someone who's protected by, by a religious tradition, or the fact that their parents and their schooling and all of the people around them believe it. And it's, it's a whole community thing. And it's just been deeply bred into them. And someone who was absolutely sure, because they had some sort of awakened awakening experience. And, and they don't, and I keep, from now on then trying to get them to think about the idea that it is absolutely true and wonderful that they had this amazing experience. And it had great benefits in their lives, they feel freer, they feel wider, they feel, you know, less anxious, less concern, they feel more connected. These are all great things that anyone would love to have. So there's no question about it happened. You got these fruits. That's wonderful. Yeah. But there's an the tendency to want to claim things about the universe, about the nature of life in general, beyond the experience, and they it's almost always happens, that somewhat someone, even if they have an experiential basis, for some, some wonderful thing, they ended up wanting to make claims about the universe, like everything that consciousness was primary consciousness existed eternally, and it created a matter matter came out of consciousness, sort of like God, sort of like God, God was there eternally. And all this stuff that we see he just created somehow. Similarly with that, so they tend to go in that direction, even though it's that's a claim about things that goes way beyond anything that could ever be established. Right.
David Ames 42:14
You have some amazing quotes in the book. That's the other thing that I really appreciated about it is like this is well researched. And some of my favorites were from Fineman. The one that I've heard before, but just really struck me was, the first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. I feel like that really expresses this. I think Neil deGrasse Tyson said it this way to relate to religion to what you just mentioned, that experience can trump evidence as we have to actually work fairly hard to overcome that feeling of experience that we've we've gained some insights about truth beyond just the the warm and fuzzies. And you know, the sense of awe. Last thing I'll say on this is just that it's the human experience to experience all and all as a good thing. It's when we start to attribute unverifiable or unfalsifiable claims based on that experience at all. Yeah, that's
Thom Krystofiak 43:12
right. I mean, the quantified men, you know that you're the easiest person to fool. Towards ties directly into the opening, you know, the opening aphorism in my book, you know, whether it's better to be fooled many times, yes, than to be a skeptical man. It's all about the fooling. And whether William James, I get into this a bit as well, William James, who explored spirituality and religion and psychic phenomena, as well as being the founder of American psychology. And philosophy really, is quite an amazing man. But, you know, when he wrote the book, or the essay called the will to believe he started it off with a preface, where he was saying, the person who, let's say, is going to be skeptical about about all these things, is, is is demonstrating that he's, he's afraid to be duped, he doesn't want to be duped. And he's saying he's putting that above some of the fruits that he could get, if you would just let it go. You know, this fear of being duped which is exactly, you know, kind of what, five minutes talking about to you know, the first principle is you must not fool yourself. Why not? Why not? is sort of the interesting question. That's the, the ultimate question, really, why not? And, you know, William James, I think he kind of went off the rails as far as I was concerned, because he was saying things like, Well, if you're always going to be skeptical, you're never going to get married. You're never going to take this new job that might have a risk in it. If you're always doubting everything. You're never going to do anything. In your life, and you go, Yeah, that's true. But that's all very pragmatic stuff. That's Those are choices that you make in your life. You know, whether you doubt whether this investment is going to be rewarding or not, is not the kind of doubt we're talking about. It's not the kind of skepticism we're talking about. We're talking about skepticism about claims about reality and how it actually works, not whether this woman is going to turn out to be the perfect wife for me. Right. So you know, so he ended up being really pragmatic when he was talking about doubt and faith and the will to believe, saying, We have to believe stuff. And of course we do. I believe that it's a good thing that I am, you know, this investment I just got in recently. I believe that's all right. I don't know. But I have a strong feeling that it will be a good idea. I don't hold back and go Well, I just don't know. I just don't know. So we're not talking to some kind of debilitating, absolute skepticism or doubt about everything.
David Ames 46:03
Right. I'm talking about solipsism. Yeah, exactly. Yeah,
Thom Krystofiak 46:08
we're only talking about when people make substantive claims about how things are, then make a difference that make a difference to the rest of her life goes. You know, that's where you might want to have some questions. Yeah.
David Ames 46:27
I wanted to circle back really quick to how some people who who make off grade claims say that they have evidence in my world, in my listeners world, that tends to be apologists. And there's a whole field of evidential apologetics that suggests that there is all of this evidence. And it's clear that it's basically, you know, circumstantial, hearsay, and embellished legend with kind of an objective point of view, when you're talking to that person, they are 100% convinced that they have evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, let's say, you know, there are historical record and, and so one of the, again, one of the experiences of, of deconstruction, deconversion, is when you begin to recognize, I no longer find that, that evidence such as this convincing, that isn't sufficient to the magnitude of the claim, I just want to like, talk about a bit more about the challenge of coping with people who are claiming they have evidence, but that evidence isn't sufficient for the claim.
Thom Krystofiak 47:34
Yeah. It's a matter of how much yeah, how much leeway you give this the sources of authority in your life. And how much leeway you give to the stories and, and the types of evidence, you know, generally, people who are believing in these, a lot of religious things and other off off grid claims, will give a great deal of leeway, you know, they will give the kind of spaciousness that they would never give, let's say in a court of law, or in some actual proceeding in their own practical life, where they're trying to nail down what really happened or what really is the truth. You know, I mean, Thomas Paine had that story, you know, that. If, if anybody were to come before a magistrate, with the four gospels accounts, which, about the resurrection, which have completely different details, and to some extent, contradictory details about precisely what happened when and who did what, you know, what is this? I mean, you can't possibly accept it, you go. There's something funny going on here. This isn't this isn't this isn't anything like an objective? evidential account? So? So yeah, it's, it's something some term that I use somewhere in the book was some people have granted either themselves or others the license to make things up. You know, you allow things to be declared and accepted as truth. Because of what they the fruits that they give you. And you give a lot of license to the quality of the evidence. Yeah, I've, I've certainly, I, you know, I always like to look at things like, Oh, someone and apologists trying to present the strongest proofs for God or something or for the resurrection. I always think they're going to come up with something really cool, you know, here that I can sink my teeth into. And I'm always I'm always dissatisfied, but I I have there something in me that wants us to, it's not like I want to believe in that sense. It's not like, Please convince me but, but I would, I love to I would love to be blown away. weigh, but the strength of evidence or the strength of an argument. You know, my wife always jokes with me. I don't happen to believe in UFOs, even though that's not that could be a physical reality. I mean, it could be, but I don't think we've got the evidence. I personally don't think we've got the evidence right now. And, but, but she knows that I would love to have a UFO land on my lawn? I would, I would love it. It's not like, no, no, no, I don't want to believe in that stuff. Right. I'd be happy to believe in it. Yeah, if there was good evidence. And so it's not that some people have a desire for belief or to believe certain things, and others don't. I have. I have I don't know about desire, I kind of have a desire to be to be confronted with a, an alien on a UFO. I mean, why not great, or, or a ghost or something? I mean, I don't believe in any of these things. But how cool would that be? Yeah, if it was really something I could sink my teeth into?
David Ames 51:11
Yeah, a few things about that. Like, I avoid talking to apologists, but when I do I point out that if you really could prove the point you're trying to make you can win a Nobel Prize, right? Like, you know, you discover alien intelligence, you know, you are a million dollar winner. They're like that, you know, all you have to do is have the evidence to back it up. And so I would love to see that kind of evidence for for something that was an amazing claim like that.
Thom Krystofiak 51:37
Yeah, I mean, you know, there's this guy, what's his name? Greer, the Disclosure Project? You know, that's an example of someone who has assembled huge amounts of military guys or intelligence guys are this that the other thing and all kinds of other fairly obscure evidence, but mounds of it, that it's totally convincing to large numbers of people? It's like this is it. This is evidence this is this is it? Yeah. But as you say, the truly convincing evidence is never forthcoming. Yeah. It's just not.
David Ames 52:22
You talk about a number of scientists that have, you know, a sense of wonder about the universe. And the immediate person who comes to mind to me is Carl Sagan. And his candle in the dark book, I think, really touches on this, you know, he tells the story of being a young boy, and just really being fascinated with UFOs and extraterrestrials and but his scientific nature took over and even though he would love to be able to have said, there are in fact, extraterrestrials, you know, he could not find the evidence to do so. And what I appreciated about Carl Sagan and I often say like, I'm a more of a Sega nite, atheist than a Dawkins, I guess, in the sense that I have this wonder at the cosmos, this wonder at the universe, and that, and he expressed that so so well, contrast that a bit with you also have a chapter where you talk about people who become dissatisfied, or with the scientific view of the world, and, and basically make a conscious choice to go from a more scientific view of the world to an off grid view of the world.
Thom Krystofiak 53:34
Yeah, no, that's great. I mean, the example of Sagan who is so great, someone who, as you said, was entranced with with some of these greater possibilities, like aliens and, and so forth, but couldn't go there unless the evidence allowed him you know, he was one of the strong guys involved with SETI, you know, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. And, but if the evidence wasn't there, he couldn't do it. And yeah, I mean, people who get, I mean, one example in the book was, this was a long time ago, but the former president of Columbia, who just came out with this remarkable statement that that where science was going meaning mostly Darwinian theory at that time, was undermining some of his beliefs in the divine origin and so forth of everything. And he just came right out and said that I would, I would rather rest in my satisfying even if they'd be deceitful dreams. Science is is not going to do it for me. And that that's an interesting problem. You know, people will, will wonder whether a view that is based on reason and science Ansan looking for evidence, therefore necessarily putting aside a lot of the things that humanity has taken sustenance for, spiritually for, for millennia, what exactly that's going to do like, some people like Sagan are going to be a brilliant and full of awe and wonder and great people, no matter what other people, if you totally remove these sustaining beliefs that they have, or if somehow they they get weakened, or lost in them. We don't really know what what what that's going, what that's going to do. And so some people do question certainly question whether science, a scientific view, has enough stuff to offer the human psyche. Yeah, those who are enamored by the wonder of the universe and of life and, and evolution and, and at every scale, it's just so remarkable from the, from the farthest reaches of the cosmos down to the tiniest bits of matter, you know, it's all uniformly amazing and wonderful, and those who are susceptible to that kind of joy or or interest are well rewarded by that kind of interest. Some people are not character are not temperamentally or characteristically as susceptible or open to those kinds of joys and those kinds of rewards. And so this is, this is an interesting question that I don't have a solid answer to, you know, those who either tired of science or are not susceptible to the charms of science, whether they just need something else. And so the people I talked about in the book, one was the guy who's known as rom das now, who was Richard Alpert. He was a psychologist at Harvard, with Timothy Leary. And they both did LSD experiments at Harvard, and got thrown out for that reason. And Alpert, when he went to his, his, his dismissal meeting, or his review, or whatever, said, I'm not a scientist anymore. I'm giving up my badge. You know, I'd rather I want to, I'd rather go to India, which he did. Where, where there are these miracles being talked about? And I'd rather believe these miracles, then be a scientist and study, you know, bring out the data anymore. And, you know, there are people with that kind of orientation, that, that they they'd rather have, sort of an extreme example of, of what Barnard Columbia said, where he'd be happy in his deceitful dreams, if they were, if they could sustain him. You know, deceit is as far as being full deceit was not necessarily a problem for some people, if they get the fruits and this is, this is a whole other area of challenge. I mean, I think, I think there's probably, I don't know, what percentage of the people on this planet are, are enthused could be enthused by, and nourished by and by the joys of, of scientific knowledge or true revelation based on evidence about the way this amazing world actually works in our lives and our bodies in the universe. versus those who are, are a little bit cool on that, or cold on that. And once something else, once once some other they want the miracles they want. They want some stories, they want some, some rich, you know, mythology, that's, you know, another person I talked about in the book was Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote, Eat, Pray, Love, that great best seller. And at one point in her life, she says, I'm tired of science, I'm tired of skepticism. I want to feel God in my playing in my bloodstream. And that's exactly what we're talking about here. That especially if she was depressed, your marriage broke, fell apart, whatever she was in a state of pain, and she's going I want the pain to go away. Yeah, I want something that will help get this make the pain go away and replace it with something else. And, you know, science won't necessarily always be able to step in when you have certain kinds of emotional and psychological pain. I mean, forget about pharmaceuticals or whatever. But I mean, in terms of scientific knowledge isn't going to unnecessarily come in and infuse you with all this joy, if you are truly in a needy, needy state emotionally, psychologically, so these are some of the other challenges to this whole.
David Ames 1:00:13
Yeah, for sure. And I agree with you that I think their new atheist perspective of the end of religion is ridiculous, that's never going to happen. I also found it interesting reading philosophical history that this question has been asked over and over again, what happens if we take the gods away? What, you know, what happens to society, you know, and the attempt to create civil religions and that kind of thing, the way that I, we try to approach it here is to say, you know, that, I think my conjecture is that our relationships with other human beings, is the point is the meaning in life, as it were, not that that the universe has meaning, but that, that we create that between us and that trying to provide some level of community for people to have had a soft place to land as they let go of some of these off grid claims. That's kind of what we're trying to accomplish here.
Thom Krystofiak 1:01:03
Absolutely. You know, and something I mentioned that people are probably aware of that. There's an interesting example of Scandinavia, which is the least religious least conventionally religious part of Europe, perhaps the world. They have really stepped away from there. They were, of course, Christian, primarily Christian, Jewish, whatever, but primarily Christian in the earlier times. And that has dropped away in Scandinavia to a degree that hasn't been seen in virtually any other society. And if you look at, there are studies that are done of the happiest cultures on Earth, the happiest countries, the the healthiest countries, meaning not just you know, their physical health, but their overall well being. Scandinavian countries are almost always at the top of those of those of those studies. And so, that to me, is now granted, people will say, Yeah, but you know, they're building on this history of Judeo Christian stuff of values. And, and sure they are, but so are all of us. I mean, we're all in Western societies, we're all in mashed in a society that has a lot of roots that way, and we're familiar with all that. And various stories that still resonate with us, you know, the story of the Good Samaritan, or whatever, that's a universal story that is just incredibly moving on an empathetic level. It's not, it's got nothing to do with, who is the god? Or what kind of God is it? Or what's what sort of deal does he have? It's just, here's a human being, how do you treat them, and, you know, but we're all enmeshed in these moral exemplars, whether it be from religious stories, whether it be from other stories, historical stories, you know, we all have plenty of stories, and plenty of examples, even just movies, books, whatever, where there's good people, and that resonates with us, or we know people, you know, we people in our own lives, who were just so touching that they were so loving, or caring or connected, and that resonates with us. And we resonate to with other people's needs and suffering. And so we have that basis. And so in Scandinavia, sure, you can say, yeah, they had Judeo Christian background, well, sure, we've all got all kinds of backgrounds, but what they've managed to do is take the fruits of those some of those stories or feelings and, and myths or whatever, and they're just in the background, they're part of their ethical life, probably. And they move forward without necessarily subscribing to these more outlandish or extraordinary claims about the universe. Without without the gods really without, so the question of what's going to happen without the gods, we don't know if it would always be like Scandinavia, but but Scandinavia being the premier example in the world. Right now. Is, is encouraging. It's encouraging.
David Ames 1:04:23
And just to wrap this up, one of my favorite definitions of religion is from Anthony Penn. And it doesn't require supernatural claims. It is the collective search for meaning. And so a sense of we are a community and we support each other and we care about each other and we are even pushing each other to good works as it were, you know, like it all of that is good. And it's only when we start to make, in your words, you know, claims about how the universe works, where the story becomes literal in some way. That that's the problem.
Thom Krystofiak 1:04:57
Yeah. When things sort of solidify I and solidify that way into discrete doctrinal claims, whatever, obviously one of the side effects of that throughout history has been wars fought over these doctrinal differences. I mean, you know, the idea that you have to take these wonderful aspects of human life and, and, and define them and say you must subscribe, or if you don't subscribe any longer, we're going to shun you, you know, these kinds of prac. This kind of adherence to the specificities of these discrete claims, has obviously been harmful in a whole bunch of ways. And if if it were possible to, to have religion in the sense of you just described it, which I think to some extent is what's going on and a lot of Scandinavia and elsewhere, is it would be, I think it would be a wonderful thing, it would be a win win, yeah.
David Ames 1:06:00
So heading towards wrap up here, you start the book with a couple of questions. Is it better to be fooled many times than to be skeptical? And are you missing something? We'll end with the beginning a bit here. But like how you resolve that for yourself, personally? How do you answer those questions? And again, I appreciate that's the entire book, people will go and buy the book.
Thom Krystofiak 1:06:22
Well, you know, the book is really a journey that's rather than the book being, I ask a question at the beginning, and then I answer it for the next 300 pitches, you know, it's more, let's, let's look into this. And so it's looking at it from this angle, from this angle from this aspect of history and this aspect of philosophy, this aspect of religion, this aspect of science, it's just looking at it from different facets and illuminating different ways of, of exploring the question. So it's in the book is an exploration rather than a declaration of my of my answer, but but in the last chapter, I think I say So after all that, yeah. Is it better to be fooled? And I admit that it is. It is, for me better to be fooled in certain circumstances. And I talk about that a lot. We don't need to get into it much. But I talked about that, that if if if I was in some horrific situation in the morphine had run out, and they could give me a saline solution, which has been proven to work as a placebo after you've gotten some morphine for a while, and then they give you saline for a while, and it works just about as well as the morphine because the body has that incredible response. Please fool me. Yeah, don't tell me. Sorry, Bob, the morphine is gone. Yeah. You know, I mean, fool me. But I go to some lengths to try to explain why that, to me is an acceptable kind of fooling. And the basic reason is that morphine is real. It's a real thing. It's not like an angel that they're telling me about, which I don't believe in, it's morphine. And that's real. And they're saying, this is morphine, they're fooling me about a specific fact, but not about the fact that morphine works, which is what's working in my brain. So there are ways that I'll be happy to be fooled, but they're more like that. They're more like these technicalities. No, I don't, I don't believe for me. And this is where it comes down to something, David, it's like, who are you? Are you a person who cares about the truth? Who cares to really feel grounded? In what am I doing here? In this world? Who What am I? What is all this? If those are questions that matter to you, then then being fooled about those things is completely off the table. It's completely unacceptable if that's, if that's a high priority for you to feel that here I am in these in these small number of decades on this planet? And do I is it important to me that I make my best efforts to really understand what is true, what is going on what this is, what life is, what all of this is how should I live my life, all of these things? If that's a critical priority, which it is for me, then the idea of being fooled about those fundamentals is completely a non starter. It's just and I you know, I understand that some people in my mind might be fooled about those things, or feeling great about it. Yeah, I'm not trying to take that away from them. I'm not pontificate. I don't go after my friends who are believers and just, you know, assault them with my skepticism. But, but, but for me, for anyone who is has that kind of orientation towards towards a grounding in reality, or grounding and truth, the kind that we're talking about, it's just not it's just not a possibility. And the second question, Am I missing Something I'm not missing something that I that I haven't clearly missing something that they have, you know, they've got some stuff that I don't know. But I mean, that's true all of us have people have stuff that you don't have one way or another. But the question is whether you would really want want that. And no, I'm not missing something that at this point in my life, I wish I had, I wish I had faith or I wish I could believe these claims that I can't find evidence for. Because they'll do something for me. I can't put those two together with the desire to be grounded in truth.
David Ames 1:10:38
The book is tempted to believe I want to give you just a second to be able to promote that how can people find the book and any anything else that you'd like to promote?
Thom Krystofiak 1:10:46
Okay, thanks. The book is just simply available on Amazon, both in terms of print, print, book and Kindle. So it's just Amazon, you can just say tempted to believe they will, unfortunately, Amazon always keeps older editions around once they've been published. And I did a preliminary version, mostly because I wanted to have some readers have a book in their hand, as I was finalizing it. Okay, so there was a preliminary version, which is still out there. This is this is the one with the dynamic blue cover with an incredible picture on it. It's not, it's not the one that with text only. And it's the one with, you know, all the reviews and so forth. So it's pretty obvious, tempted to believe on Amazon. And, you know, not necessarily terribly germane to the things we've been discussing here today, but some of my shorter writing over the years on a variety of topics. And other things is in my website, which is simply my last name, which is Krystofiak, which I will spell. It's, it's K, R, Y, S, T O, F, as in Frank, I A K. That's krystofiak.com. And then there's some things there that also talks about the book.
David Ames 1:12:03
Fantastic. And we will have those in the show notes. And I will try not to murder your last name again. Thom, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Oh,
Thom Krystofiak 1:12:12
it's been a great trip. Thank you.
David Ames 1:12:20
Final thoughts on the episode? I love this book. I loved this conversation with Thom, this is so important topic. Skepticism is it's it touches every area of our lives from the onslaught of advertising that we face every day to the misinformation and disinformation that political entities put out to apologetics. And this comes from all corners. It is not just Christian apologetics that I'm talking about. Thom comes from the Transcendental Meditation perspective, and having new age friends who are making in his words off grid claims. And I identified so much with the I feel impervious to these claims. Why is that? What is there something different about me. And so it's Thom's humility that comes through in the book in the conversation that is so profound. When you hear the word skepticism, the first thing that might leap to mind is really argumentative debate style cynics. And it is actually the exact opposite is humility, of recognizing the human condition and our susceptibility to believing things that we want to believe that we want to be true. And believing things that fit within our in group. And skepticism is actually from humility of recognizing I could be wrong. Therefore, I need some evidence to know whether this thing is true or not. The other thing that I think Thom does really well in the book, I'm not sure we completely got to it in the conversation is acknowledging the reality of the experience. These literally all inspiring experiences. Create in us a sense of having touch to the Divine, having touched the transcendent, having gained secret knowledge. When you have the experience, you can't help but make those connections. And part of skepticism is recognizing that it is our ability to fool ourselves as the Fineman quote says that is the problem. And so we are protecting ourselves by looking for objective evidence. But it is the empathy for the human condition that Thom has in the book that really speaks to secular grace, secular grace for our son elves when we believe things that don't have evidence and secular grace for those people, we'd love to believe things without evidence. The book is tempted to believe by Thom Krystofiak is amazing, you need to get this book you need to read it. It is one of those things that I'm telling you, we'll help you through deconstruction and deconversion. We will, of course have links in the show notes, as well as the link to Thom's personal sites. I want to thank Thom for being on the podcast and even more so for the book. I said to him Off mic that This truly was the book that I wish I had had when I was going through my deconversion. So thank you, Thom, for writing such an empathetic, humble and true book. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is about humility, about our own ability to fool ourselves. The Fineman quote is, the first principle is you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. If you really absorb that, if you really feel that viscerally. And for those of us who have gone through deconstruction and deconversion that should feel pretty real and present in our lives, you can begin to recognize when you are fooling yourself in lots of different contexts. I'd love a quote from Alice Gretchen when she was on, she said that she stopped being good at fooling herself. And I feel the same way. And if you are like me, and you find yourself skeptical, and you're like Thom and unable to accept claims without evidence, that is okay. It's actually a good thing. And it will protect you from, as we've already said, advertising, politics, disinformation, as well as religion, or supernatural claims. But it ultimately begins with, I could be wrong. And really knowing that and feeling that. So the skepticism that Thom is talking about, the skepticism that I'm talking about is less about saying where someone else is wrong, and more about recognizing where we have been mistaken. We have lots of great interviews coming up. We have got Julia from Germany, who is a doctor and at one point in time in her life, given up her medical career to participate in a healing ministry. And her deconstruction is just powerful and deep. We have Jessica Moore, who is a part of the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, and is now dealing with purity culture, and surviving the aftermath of purity culture, as well as a number of other interviews that are coming up that are gonna be fantastic. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful.
Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links or books on Bristol atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular grace, you can send me an email graceful email@example.com or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai