Seidensticker: Christians R Intellectually Dishonest Idiots

He Also Projects Onto Me These Bigoted Ideas, as if I Hold the Same About Atheists

Bob Seidensticker runs the large and popular atheist blog, Cross Examined. We recently had a lengthy dialogue about worship of God and several other rabbit trails. His words will be in blue.

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This exchange was from our recent dialogue:

Your comments in this dialogue were posted under a very extensive article on hell, in which I dialogued with a very thoughtful and skeptical philosophy grad student. You could have chosen to discuss that and my actual arguments about it, but you chose to pick out merely one or two sentences, to comment on.

Presumably this is a compliment, for the sake of brevity? You’re welcome.

Or are you pointing out the inevitable atheist deceit and trickery?

I haven’t said one word about “deceit” because I don’t believe it. I virtually never contend that anyone is deliberately lying. I can only remember two people I publicly characterized as inveterate liars (James White and James Swan), and they were both Protestant anti-Catholics: not atheists: ones with a long, sordid record of such lying about Catholics and Catholicism, that couldn’t possibly be denied (I had extremely extensive interactions with both).

Mine was a simple point (not rocket science), namely: you keep bringing up hell, which is off-topic. Yet you chose a lengthy dialogue of mine about hell to comment under. And when you did, you picked out one sentence of it only. Thus, my present point is: if you are so intent about debating hell, then do it! Don’t just engage in “hit and run” / “gotcha!” polemics: throwing out hell as often as you can (thinking it is some fatality to our position), without ever talking about it in depth. You had your chance to do that and chose not to. If you want to have a serious, in-depth discussion about it, by all means, what stops you?

My attitude about whether atheists are deliberately deceitful or inveterate liars (I say they are not!), has been made clear in many papers of mine. For example, way back in 2003: Can Atheists Possibly be Saved? Are They All “Evil”?:

I’m not doubting anyone’s sincerity or intellectual honesty (including that of atheists). . . . I do not think all atheists are inherently dishonest and willfully blind (though some might indeed be). . . . I don’t question anyone’s sincerity or intellectual honesty. . . .

I believe atheists’ self-report. I think people can get to a place where they truly don’t believe something, by various means. I have no problem with that. If all atheists were rotten rebels who know the God of Christianity exists, and reject Him, then they would all go to hell. But I am already on record, stating that I don’t believe that. I think many, many factors are involved in both Christian or theistic belief and atheist belief. . . .

I don’t say the primary atheist problem is intellectual dishonesty . . .

Likewise in 2015, in my paper, New Testament on God-Rejecters vs. Open-Minded Agnostics:

We can’t tell if a person’s atheism is from an outright rebellious spirit or out of misinformation or lack of information and knowledge. In my long experience in debating atheists I almost always find that it is the latter (from my perspective). The Biblical “fool” refers to those who know there is a God and reject Him. This is my point. We can’t “know” that about any given atheist.

We must assume good will and good faith, and that directly affects our attitude in approaching others. I know full well what it is like for others to casually assume that I am a wascally wascal and scoundrel and all-around jerk and bum, evil and wicked, unregenerate, filled with only evil motives, etc. . . .

So, to my atheist friends: I know exactly how it feels to be on the receiving end of these uncharitable and empty-headed attitudes. . . .

All I’m saying is that there is also a less culpable category of those who do not yet believe in God; so that we can approach atheists with much more courtesy and grant them the benefit of the doubt and good faith.

. . . we should approach all atheists and agnostics with charity, civility, tolerance, and courtesy — freely granting them the benefit of the doubt, and believing the best of them, not the worst.

Again, in the same year, in my paper, Legitimate Atheist Anger  I wrote:

Nor does Christian belief require that all atheists automatically go to hell. An atheist can quite possibly be saved, as I have written about. Only God knows who is saved and who isn’t. I don’t think “all” atheists are dishonest or wicked or immoral. I approach every individual as a sincere person in good faith, and try to think the best of people, not the worst. . . .

I know (and greatly lament and regret) that atheists are treated very harshly and poorly (abominably) by many Christians. The human tendency in all groups is to do so with the outsider. Sadly, Christians are little different in this regard. I have always stated that this is the case.

These are my opinions, and they have been consistent for as long as I can remember. I have more than 2000 posts online. If anyone can find an opinion of mine different from these, they are welcome to do so. Go for it! And if you find something where I went after the intellectual honesty or character of atheists as a whole (demonizing or abominably caricaturing them), I will immediately retract it, publicly, with apologies.

Now, I was curious to see whether Bob Seidensticker in particular made such sweeping claims against the intellectual honesty and sincerity of Christians. Sadly (and most disappointingly), he has done so. In a post dated 9-21-15, Bob writes approvingly of a portion of an Amazon review of a Christian book: “One Amazon reviewer of this book titled his comment, “I don’t have enough intellectual dishonesty to be a Christian.” Pretty sweeping, wouldn’t you say? Christians are dishonest folks, by their very nature. That’s how I interpret such a statement, anyway. Can anyone show me that it means anything different than that? In case anyone missed his point, he prominently cited the same statement at the end of another portion of the multi-part post a week later.

Is this simply one isolated incident: perhaps a misunderstood slip-up that he can now correct? Nope. He has an article entitled, “A Call for Honesty in Christian Scholarship” (9-25-17). No nuances or qualifications there! Imagine if I had written a post called, “A Call for Honesty in Atheist Scholarship”, I would have hell to pay and be accused of everything under the sun, including bigotry, hatred, Christian self-righteousness, feeling superior, looking down my nose at the “infidels”, wanting people to go to hell, etc.

Bob sez that Christian scholars can’t be honest, by definition (this reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s ludicrous contention that theists virtually cannot be philosophers at all). We must always be suspicious of their honesty and sincerity. In a word, they’re crappy scholars, not even worthy of the title. Seidensticker writes in the same article:

There is a stick raised above these Christian scholars that demands that they toe the line or else. With some conclusions predetermined to be correct and others incorrect, how do we know that their work is an honest search for the truth? We don’t, and indeed the work of every Christian scholar constrained by a faith statement is suspect.

I could have a field day with the hypocrisy and double standards and condescension of such an outrageous statement (and indeed have written about this very attitude many times), but I will refrain for the sake of length and my own finite patience. He refers to “a faith statement that prevents honest research”: as if no one who believes in religious tenets in faith can be an honest scholar or thinker.

Then there are the usual garden-variety, “Christianity is a denial of reality / mentally ill” sorts of statements:

Religion is mental shackles, it’s blinders, it’s make-believe. Drop religion to see reality clearly. Read stories of ex-Christians who are much happier now that they can follow the evidence where it leads rather than shoulder religion’s cognitive dissonance. Religion is constrained by Man’s limited imagination. Replace the God goggles with science glasses and you get the universe. (Theology, the Queen Clown of Sciences (Plus the Argument From Dullness, 5-27-15)

Note the dripping disdain and implications of the choice quotation that Bob offers at the end of this pathetic post:

For anyone to slam atheists as dull 
because we rely on evidence and reason 
to decipher the truth is hardly a criticism at all. 
It’s a sign that the best your side has to offer 
is creative fiction.
— Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist

Right. Christians have no love at all for evidence and reason: gullible fools that we all are (somehow having brought about modern science, despite all these handicaps). And this is the “friendly” atheist, huh? God help us if we ever meet an “unfriendly” one!

Bob preaches to his cheerleading choir again in his paper, “The Frustration of Arguing with Christians” (5-17-17):

Evidence didn’t matter much to the medieval doctor, but you’d think that it would be important to a Christian today, living in 21st century society and with a modern education. The problem is that we’re the same superstitious humans with imperfect brains that we were a thousand years ago. And if we’ve been indoctrinated as children, our adult intellect is usually focused on defending our stance, not questioning it.

On 10-30-17, Bob was quite content to offer up a guest post by Richard S. Russell, entitled, “Why We Atheists Ridicule Theists.” This is one of the especially charitable, non-insulting pieces that Bob claims he exclusively offers for the perusal of readers. Here’s my favorite part:

[Y]ou religionists wonder why we jeer, scoff, roll our eyes, and poke fun at you. Put yourselves in our position, and imagine the self-restraint we have to use to hold it down to only that. The only reason we take you at all seriously is because you wield political power and have historically shown that you’re perfectly willing to barbecue people like us for pointing out your idiocies, so you’re not merely pathetically funny, you’re irrationally dangerous.

Bob, in his “nice” and oh-so-tolerant way, added in the combox:

Cuz Jesus totally predicted that. “Yea, brethren, ye shall get much crap from those who prefer ‘reality’ to faith!”

And again:

Straight-up ridicule should be used with caution, I agree. But on the other hand, when someone thinks he has a good argument and gets a faceful of ridicule plus arguments that he can’t respond to, he may be a little more cautious next time. He’ll pare away the stupid arguments. In the short term, this will make his overall list of arguments stronger (and shorter). With luck and a push from his conscience, he may pare that list down to nothing. . . . ridicule isn’t 100% bad. . . . that humiliation might plant a seed that eventually grows into skepticism.

One more example will suffice to complete our survey of Bob’s seemingly total intolerance of Christian thought. He writes in his jeremiad, “ONE Bias that Cripples Every Christian Apologetics Argument” (12-8-16; update of an article from 8-19-13):

Every apologetic argument? Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration. But if not universal, it’s nearly so. The bias is this: Christians want to interpret or spin the facts to support their preconception. Instead of following the facts where they lead, these Christians would prefer to select and interpret them to show how they can still justify their worldview. They don’t want to follow the evidence where it leads and they certainly don’t want to question their position; they want to stay put and shore up their position with sand bags. . . . 

This is the fallacy of special pleading—having a high bar for evidence from the other guy’s worldview but a lower one for yours.  . . . 

Christians, be honest with yourselves. If your worldview is nonnegotiable, admit it—to yourself at least. In this one area of life, you don’t much care what the evidence says. But since you didn’t come to faith by evidence and don’t have much use for it to support your position, don’t pretend to be an honest participant in the intellectual debate.

Isn’t that delightfully charitable? True to form, Bob gives us an acidy tidbit of a quotation at the end of the article:

You will not find an American astronomy, a Baptist biology, 
a capitalist chemistry, a mammalian math, or a feminist physics. 
There’s only one worldwide version of each, because they’re all based on facts, 
not accidents of birth or matters of opinion. 
Conversely, religion is nothing but opinions, no facts involved, 
which is why anybody’s word on religion is just as good as anyone else’s 
(to wit, no good at all). 
— commenter Richard S. Russell

How ironic, then, that Bob sent me an email a few days ago, asking that I remove a ban on him on my blog. I didn’t recall why I had banned him, but he insisted that he doesn’t insult Christians (apparently he has a reputation as a particularly “nice guy” in the atheist / anti-theist online community). I then told him that he was likely banned for sweeping indictments / insults of Christianity, which also violate my rules for discussion (just as the same sort of statements against atheism would). He again assured me that he didn’t do this, so I unbanned him in good faith, and we have engaged in two dialogues in the last few days (one still to be posted on my blog). In our last one I wrote:

I don’t waste time with unserious atheists. I love almost more than anything to debate serious ones, who don’t start with the false premise that all or most Christians are anti-scientific, anti-intellectual troglodytes. I don’t say that about atheists (most I’ve met are very sharp and love both science and reason). . . . I agree with President Reagan: “trust but verify.” I’ll be looking over many of your articles and we’ll see if you make these sweeping condemnations or not. If you don’t, I’ll be the first to sing your praises as a non-insulting atheist. But if you do, I’ll expose it.

I have now looked over many of his articles, and sadly, have found that he engages in the same anti-Christian bigotry that so many “angry” / anti-theist atheists online do. Thus, I have now exposed that, just as I promised I would do if I found it. I guess because he does this sort of thing so often he projected and assumed that I do, too, towards atheists, which is absolutely untrue, as shown above. So he was quick to play the “you think atheists are deceitful” card.

He judged wrongly, and so did I, in charity, about him supposedly not making these prejudiced, derisive, sweeping claims about Christians. If we don’t expose these outrages for what they are, and protest them, they will only get much worse, folks, as our society continues to rapidly become all the more secularized and more anti-Christian.

No one can have a good, constructive dialogue with this sort of baggage and bilge underneath in the foundational premises of one of the participants: because good dialogue presupposes a minimal level of mutual respect. If we think our opponent is a dishonest, reality-denying, anti-science, anti-intellectual, intolerant idiot and troglodyte going in, the dialogue ain’t gonna go very far, because, after all, what could such a person possibly teach us, if we think that of them?

Dialogue is about learning as much as it is about teaching. It’s not a superior-subordinate scenario, but rather, a good faith conversation between two perceived equals, both ostensibly seeking truth or at least additional facts or food for thought. Otherwise, it will quickly break down, as mine with Bob already appears to have done (though he hasn’t totally closed the door to possible future ones).

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Photo credit: photograph of a 1983 pin by JD Hancock (5-17-09) [FlickrCC BY 2.0 license]

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