The Case for a Creator: Steve Statistics

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of Case, which interviews the creationist Jonathan Wells, haphazardly mixes together claims from many different scientific disciplines and will probably take the most installments of any chapter to fully refute. But we’ll begin with a simpler claim. As I mentioned previously, Strobel seeks to create the appearance of a scientific controversy raging over evolution. His primary piece of evidence is the Discovery Institute’s infamous petition, “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism“:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

The DI has found several hundred scientists and other professionals to sign this statement. But although Strobel highly touts the few luminaries on the list – and I’m not denying their existence – what he doesn’t mention is that a significant number of signatories have no relevant scientific credentials at all. Many of them have degrees only in mathematics, engineering, physics or computer science, and while they may be expert in their own fields, those qualifications have little or nothing to do with evolutionary theory. Would we credit the opinions of biologists who signed a statement proclaiming themselves skeptical of the inflationary theory of cosmology, or chemists who doubted the Turing-completeness models of computer science?

But rather than leave it at that, let’s crunch some numbers. I downloaded the DI’s petition in PDF form, converted it to text, and then wrote a Perl script which scans the list and counts the signatories by affiliation. The categories I used were as follows: biology (a large category including everything from genetics to paleontology to embryology), chemistry, geology (including hydrology), medicine (all forms of medical specialties, including veterinary medicine), health and nutrition, agronomy/agriculture (including crop and soil science, forestry, and degrees related to farming and fisheries), physics and astronomy, mathematics, and engineering. These categories sufficed to classify the vast majority of signatories to the DI’s list. Since the biology-related degrees are most directly relevant to evaluating the truth of evolution, my script was written to give that match top priority, and to choose a less directly related field only if necessary.

This work produced the following summary (you can also download the raw text of the petition and my Perl script):

Biology 146
Chemistry 151
Geology 37
Medicine 114
Health/Nutrition 10
Agronomy/Agriculture 12
Physics 103
Mathematics 45
Engineering 113
Other 23
Total 754

Although there are some biologists on the DI’s list, they’re not a majority or even a plurality. In fact, the largest single category is chemists – a field whose bearing on evolution is tangential at best. Medical doctors, physicists, mathematicians and engineers make up much of the rest of the list.

Still, the DI petition does have some real biologists. The question is, what percentage of the world’s scientists does this group represent? After all, if there were only a thousand biologists worldwide, 146 dissenters would be a sizable faction. If there were a million, 146 dissenters would be an insignificantly tiny minority.

To gauge the answer to this question, we can turn to a very useful data source. In order to demonstrate the true depth of scientific support for evolution, the National Center for Science Education put together an amusing counterpetition, dubbed Project Steve. They wrote up a strong, unequivocal statement supporting evolution and expressing opposition to intelligent design. Then they circulated it in the scientific community, with one catch: they would only accept signatures from scientists named Steve (or Stephen, or Stephanie, or some other variant of that name). How many Steves did the NCSE find?

The answer, as of this writing, is over one thousand. Using the same script as I used on the DI petition, here’s the raw text and the breakdown of the Steves by specialty:

Biology 523
Chemistry 101
Geology 72
Medicine 127
Health/Nutrition 8
Agronomy/Agriculture 2
Physics 141
Mathematics 27
Engineering 49
Other 33
Total 1083

You can see for yourself that, unlike the DI’s list, practicing scientists with degrees in biology make up nearly half of Project Steve. They form by far the largest single bloc and vastly outnumber the signatories from other fields.

To meaningfully compare the two lists and the sizes of the communities they represent, one final question presents itself: How many Steves are on the DI’s list? To answer that, I wrote another script to scan for DI Steves, and here are the results:

Stephen J. Cheesman, Ph.D. Geophysics, University of Toronto
Stephen Crouse, Professor of Kinesiology, Texas A&M University
Stephen C. Knowles, Ph.D. Marine Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Steven Gollmer, Ph.D. Atmospheric Science, Purdue University
Stephan J. G. Gift, Professor of Electrical Engineering, The University of the West Indies
Stephen Meyer, Ph.D. Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University
Steve Maxwell, Associate Professor of Molecular and Cellular Medicine, Texas A&M University, H.S.C.
Stephen Sewell, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, Texas A&M University
Stephen Lloyd, Ph.D. Materials Science, University of Cambridge (UK)
C. Steven Murphree, Professor of Biology, Belmont University

The numbers speak for themselves: the DI has only ten total Steves, as compared to 1083 for the NCSE, and only one in biology, as compared to the 523 NCSE Steves. From this evidence, one can easily extrapolate to the total number of scientists who stand squarely behind evolution as the best and the only scientific explanation for the diversity of life. The ratio of evolutionary scientists to creationists appears to be in the neighborhood of 500 to 1.

Are there some scientists who deny evolution? I don’t doubt it. In a field as large and diverse as evolutionary biology, you’ll always find a few naysayers willing to challenge the consensus view. And you’ll always find scientists, even renowned ones, who are known for their quirks, eccentricities, and fringe views. (The late John Mack, a Harvard psychiatrist who believed in alien abduction, is a case in point.) Having a Ph.D is no guarantee of always being rational. But the lesson of Project Steve is that a tiny, carefully cultivated minority of dissenters in no way matches the overwhelming tide of real, practicing scientists who use evolution in their lab and field work every day. This conclusion holds all the more when those dissenters openly admit they were motivated by their religious beliefs to attack evolution before they ever learned about the evidence. Such is Wells’ first interviewee, whom we’ll meet next.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • AnonaMiss

    In fact that Steve thing probably underestimates the proportion of evolution-supporters with degrees in biology, as biology is among the most gender-integrated of the hard sciences. Even if Stephanies are included, there’s a much smaller percentage of women named Stephanie than of men named Steve; and since Stephanies don’t usually call themselves “Steve” I could see the name of the project causing them to self-select against answering.

    Also that statement of “dissent” is remarkably vague. Hell, if I didn’t know who was running the survey, I might sign such a petition – not because I think the idea of evolution is wrong, just because I recognize the validity of epigenetics and the fact that there’s work yet to be done in evolutionary biology.

    Apparently as far as Creationists are concerned, skepticism and a desire for further study indicate “dissent.” Which makes sense, I guess, as fundies reject even those sinful text-analyzing seminaries in favor of no-critical-thinking-allowed Bible Colleges.

  • TommyP

    I’m sure it understates the evolution supporters as well, but it is SO FUNNY! I love it. It’s a great little thing to point to if you want to quickly dwarf a creationist.
    Thanks for the programming and taking the time, Ebonmuse.

  • http://www.obsessedwithreality.com Freidenker

    Frankly, I’m unconvinced by either surveys. Project Steve is an amusing quip, but it doesn’t actually suffice as a viable statistical survey of evolution support in the scientific community. Frankly, I have no idea whatsoever how many scientists accept or reject evolution, and furthermore – it doesn’t matter:

    even if all scientists all over the world rejected evolution, the evidence for evolution is still there. That there are many scientists who deny the evidence bespeaks of the percentage of the population that cares jack diddly for said evidence. The DI can find a whole lot more – scientists aren’t supermen – a lot of them CAN be idiots. I see Michael Behe and Dembski as prominent examples: very talented individuals who also happen to be complete morons when it comes to their precious beliefs.

    I can’t blame the NCSE for going only as far as “Steve” – to really survey the scientific community for evolution support is truly a stupid thing to do: popularity has no bearing on scientific validity.

  • Wedge

    Freidenker:

    I always had the impression that the Steve Project, rather than any kind of serious attempt at statistical surveying or logical argument, was just a tongue-in-cheek response to the DI petition, to demonstrate how silly it is on all levels.

  • http://www.ateosmexicanos.com/portal/ Juan Felipe

    Great article ebon, it really demolishes the creationist case when you put things in perspective. Besides that, there is still the issue of the vagueness of the statement; many biologist believe that other mechanism aside from random mutation and NS (such as genetic drift) are very important in the explanation of life as we know it; but that doesn’t make them antievolutionist as Strobel would want us to believe. Just compare it whit the much more specific an explicitly anti-creationist statement of the Steve project:

    Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools. (NCSE 2003)

  • http://theinfinityprogram.com Kevin Malone

    Anyone remember that, in 2005, and in Australia alone, an organization representing over 70000 scientists and science teachers, issued a statement calling Intelligent Design a farce, and said that it should not be taught as an alternative in secular schools?

  • http://www.ateosmexicanos.com/portal/index.php Juan Felipe

    If we are speaking about organizations, voices for evolution has an extensive list of scientific and academic organization that support evolution: http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/creation/voices/

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    You don’t have to have an impression, or wonder about Project Steve. NCSE has a page about it which begins:

    NCSE’s “Project Steve” is a tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of “scientists who doubt evolution” or “scientists who dissent from Darwinism.”

    They later add:

    Project Steve pokes fun at this practice and, because “Steves” are only about 1% of scientists, it also makes the point that tens of thousands of scientists support evolution. And it honors the late Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist, NCSE supporter, and friend.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Even if Stephanies are included

    They are, as are estephan and any other cognate of the “steve” root.

    DonExodus2 did his own examination of the “Scientific dissent from Darwinism” list, and put it in video form

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The DI list has other weaknesses.

    Signers list the most prestigious institution they have ever been affiliated with. Many of them list the university where they got their degree, even if their current job is flipping burgers, or some other non-science activity. For example, Bill Dembski is listed as getting a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, even though his current job is teaching theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

    Note the wording of the DI’s statement: it contains nothing about support for Intelligent Design, only doubt about “Darwinism.”

    BTW, here is someone with a B.S. in astrophysics and a Ph.D. in astronomy who supports geocentricity: Testimony of Gerardus Dingeman Bouw

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Having a Ph.D is no guarantee of always being rational.

    Neither are retreats into consensus. I don’t support the teaching of Intelligent Design as science, and I can agree with Ebon that Strobel makes a mountain out of a molehill. Although not an atheist, I’m not much of a Strobel fan at all. To the reasoned, Strobel’s strategy refutes itself just fine. Although the Perl script was neato, still, I have concerns about the methodology Ebon used to minimize the DI’s list, essentially two techniques that I’ve ironically heard him sharply criticize believers for using: A Courtier’s Reply, and an argument from popularity.

    1) Believers make the frequent complaint that their critics are uneducated about religion, and atheists go to great means to diffuse such claims. That’s quite hypocritical though, as for decades, atheists have used believers’ relative ignorance of evolution and science as strong leverage against them – and rightly so. Yet when believers turn the table and suggest that the atheist who misquotes scripture or who says Joseph Smith never claimed direct revelation from God *might* be uneducated about religion, the skeptic gets all snippy and makes retorts like, “What, I’m supposed to know all the nuances of every religion?” No, the more general principle is don’t open your mouth when you don’t know what you’re talking about. As another example, recently I was in a debate about prophecy with somebody who hadn’t read one word of Revelation, and when I suggested that maybe he should at least read the source material, I was met with insult. Yet, isn’t there a direct and valid relationship between one’s knowledge of a subject and their authority to speak on said subject? Surely, of the many reasons skeptics say creationists are absurd, their lack of scientific knowledge is one of them, right? We can agree that the person who doesn’t know a lick of biology or paleontology isn’t really qualified to criticize evolution, right? So why doesn’t the same scrutiny apply to the atheist whose lack of religious knowledge is equally glaring?

    Here’s how this relates to this post: I’m curious how various atheists here would respond to the claim that Ebon’s first strategy is a Courtier’s reply. Among other things, Ebon minimizes the DI’s list by attacking the education and expertise of those who signed it. What makes that different from believers claiming skeptics don’t have sufficient knowledge of religion? It seems either the connection between authority to speak on a subject and knowledge of said subject is valid, or all the same negative connotations that get hurled at believers a la Courtier’s must also apply to Ebonmuse here. I go with the former – and because of this post – I don’t ever want to hear Ebon accuse a believer of offering a Courtier’s Reply again.

    2) In a recent and lengthy discussion of miracles, I was criticized for mentioning the sheer volume of miracle stories as positive evidence on their behalf. The approach was denigrated as an argument from popularity. Here, Ebon’s second strategy for minimizing the DI’s list is dwarf it with counterarguments from the “smarter scientists.” Isn’t that an argument from popularity? Or is Ebon arguing that number of believers is a reliable indicator of a belief’s validity? If the latter, to what degree can that proposition retain cogency? On one hand, yes, I believe the theory of gravity is firmly established. On the other hand, isn’t the very phenomenon we refer to as ‘scientific consensus’ just a palatable euphemism for an argument from popularity? How is Ebon’s strategy any different here? Isn’t he just saying the majority wins?

  • Lux Aeterna

    “Isn’t that an argument from popularity? Or is Ebon arguing that number of believers is a reliable indicator of a belief’s validity?”

    The argument from popularity is a fallacy only when the authorities cited has nothing to do with the topic in question. In this case, a large proportion of scientists mentioned by Ebon has direct expertise relating to the theory of evolution. Would you seriously claim that the fact that over 90% of biologist think that ID is crap has no bearing on ID’s credibility at all? Screaming “argument from popularity” is a poor response, to say the least.

  • Pi Guy

    Here, Ebon’s second strategy for minimizing the DI’s list is dwarf it with counterarguments from the “smarter scientists.” Isn’t that an argument from popularity?

    You can see for yourself that, unlike the DI’s list, practicing scientists with degrees in biology make up nearly half of Project Steve. They form by far the largest single bloc and vastly outnumber the signatories from other fields. [emphasis added]

    Nothing about smarter,. The condition for joining Project Steve was that they currently engaged in the practice of science.

    The point is if you’ve got a sick car, you get the opinion of a mechanic, not a pediatrician. If you don’t like their assessment, you might seek the opinion of other mechanics. The opinion of other pediatricians is still pretty much irrelevant. So wouldn’t it make sense that, if you wanted an explanation of how living things came to be the way they are, you would seek the opinion of people who are actively engaged in investigating, you know, living things?

  • Brock

    cl–
    “We can agree that the person who doesn’t know a lick of biology or paleontology isn’t really qualified to criticize evolution, right? So why doesn’t the same scrutiny apply to the atheist whose lack of religious knowledge is equally glaring? ”

    As far as the Courtier’s Reply fallacy goes, lots of atheists have an extensive knowledge of theology, in this country especially christian theology. I count myself as being moderately well read, both as a recovering christian and as a person who seeks to be well educated. Jorge Luis Borges noted, “Every well educated man should be a theologian. Faith is optional.” IMHO, Ebonmuse, based on my readings of his essays, qualifies to critique theology. I refer you to his essays in the main site, which you may not have read.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    Like YECs who get their PhD in biology, you don’t have to think theology is true to know about it. All you have to do is study it.

  • AC

    I think cl is misunderstanding what the Courtier’s Reply is about. In the original version PZ put on his blog, the Courtier is criticising Dawkins for being ignorant of the specifics of imperial fashion. But the point is that Dawkins is saying that the Emperor has no clothes on. What PZ was getting at, was that Dawkins’ critics weren’t dealing with what he was actually saying, but saying Dawkins is ignorant of things that are completely irrelevant if Dawkins is correct.

    A Courtier’s Reply for evolution would have to be along the lines of criticising creationists of not understanding specifics (say the Red Queen Effect and Punctuated Equilibrium for instance) where the creationist is discussing the basics of evolutionary theory.

    Essentially, saying someone’s argument is a Courtier’s Reply is claiming that it’s a form of straw man argument, rather than trying to defend one’s education on the subject.

    As to the second point, trying to use Project Steve as evidence of evolution would indeed be a grave error. But that’s clearly not what Ebon is trying to do here. He’s using Project Steve as an argument against the notion of a scientific controversy over evolution. In this case, popularity is not an appeal, it is the conclusion. In addition, if the creationist claim is the existence of a scientific controversy amongst biologists, then surely the disciplines these scientists are in is crucially important?

  • 2-D Man

    AnonaMiss at #1 had it right, I think.

    We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

    This statement in no way implies dissent from “Darwinism”, or more appropriately, current evolutionary models. Skepticism and careful examination of evidence and existing models are actively encouraged in science. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the DI changed the title after it was signed, as such people have been known to do in the past.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    As another example, recently I was in a debate about prophecy with somebody who hadn’t read one word of Revelation, and when I suggested that maybe he should at least read the source material, I was met with insult.

    I’d like to point out that there are many claims of prophecy in many different books of the Bible, as well as in the scriptures and doctrine of other religions. Without a detailed blow-by-blow of the debate you mention (which, quite frankly, I don’t want, and would be off-topic) I would not comment on your opponent’s claim. If one rejects prophecy in principle, I don’t see the necessity of examining one particular example in detail.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    “Isn’t that an argument from popularity? Or is Ebon arguing that number of believers is a reliable indicator of a belief’s validity?”
    The argument from popularity is a fallacy only when…

    I believe you are actually writing about the argument from authority.

  • Polly

    cl,

    Yet when believers turn the table and suggest that the atheist who misquotes scripture or who says Joseph Smith never claimed direct revelation from God *might* be uneducated about religion, the skeptic gets all snippy and makes retorts like, “What, I’m supposed to know all the nuances of every religion?”

    So why doesn’t the same scrutiny apply to the atheist whose lack of religious knowledge is equally glaring?

    Except that there’s a major difference between not knowing the evidence about evolution and not knowing the fine points about every religion.

    Beyond the first bald ASSERTION that a religion’s god exists, little to nothing else about the religion even attempts to provide real evidence. Therefore every religion’s specifics are completely besides the point and amount to a steaming, holy-book sized pile of begging the question. Whether one’s god is loving or just or whatever is simply beside the point for atheists.

    (For the record I don’t always agree with Ebonmuse about his bible verse interpretations)

    But, most of the time, the response of “that’s not proper interpretation” makes me wonder, Who told YOU (general you, not you, you) the RIGHT one?
    Knowledge of the facts backing up evolution and, at least, its central tenets, OTOH is critical to say whether you believe it or not.

    2)I don’t think Ebon or Project Steve are making an appeal to authority or popularity. They are refuting Strobel’s attempts to do so by showing that Strobel’s claim about the numbers isn’t even true. Does that mean evolution automatically wins? Of course not.

    BUT, what’s wrong with an appeal to authority? For me personally, for things I have no ability to test myself, I DO tend to place more weight on propositions upheld by vast numbers of experts. Do you get your dentist to fix your car? And if the opposition comes mainly from those with a clear agenda, then that just adds to my confidence in the general consensus.
    Example:
    If I have cancer, do I get the chemo 20 doctors advise or do I take the new wonder drug prescribed by 1 doctor who also happens to receive a large commission from each pill sold?

    I don’t think this is a double standard.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    BUT, what’s wrong with an appeal to authority? For me personally, for things I have no ability to test myself, I DO tend to place more weight on propositions upheld by vast numbers of experts. Do you get your dentist to fix your car?

    A few points here: With the dentist bit you get at the basis of the fallacious argument from authority:

    1) It is certainly fallacious when the person consulted is not an authority on the topic in question (i.e. is expert in a different field, lies about credentials, whatever).

    2) It is also fallacious if there is no validity to the field itself. Astrology, for example; it does not matter how much an astrologer might know about the field if it cannot be demonstrated to work. I think this bears on the comparison of science with theology.

    3) Terminologically, science is concerned with expertise, not authority. Relativity is not considered true because Einstein authoritively declared it to be so; rather, Einstein was considered an expert because he had a thorough knowledge of the way things work.

  • nfpendleton

    To even engage in the scientific exploration of reality, everyone must agree on a objective set of measurments and a univerality of terms. The circus of faith has no such constraints for its interpretation of holy texts or mechanism for reality.

    In the court of serious scrutiny, science is the crime lab data and scene investigation. Religion is a myopic’s eyewitness testimony with a grudge against the accused.

  • Eric P.

    Interesting write-up. I’m all for any analysis that helps to expose the large, gaping holes that accompany the “work” of the DI.

    I would argue that Medicine has a lot stronger bearing on evolution than merely a tangential one. For example, take the evolutionary process behind antibiotic resistance.

    Eric P.

  • Virginia

    Hi Ebon, I did another more tedious analysis, and I tried to include as many into the area of biology, which sort of bloated the figure to 185 (I included biochemists, biophysics). The list has about 48 un accounted for (display merely the organization and the title) – adding it all to 185 I have 233 only.
    So even for the most “optimistic” estimate, it is not even a third of the list.
    My list also included those who are obviously not practicing scientists and some details I just found (I hope to add more details):
    http://sites.google.com/site/hkscienceeducation/file-archive/Disssnt.xls?attredirects=0

  • Andrew

    As far as the Courtier’s Reply fallacy goes, lots of atheists have an extensive knowledge of theology, in this country especially christian theology. I count myself as being moderately well read, both as a recovering christian and as a person who seeks to be well educated. Jorge Luis Borges noted, “Every well educated man should be a theologian. Faith is optional.” IMHO, Ebonmuse, based on my readings of his essays, qualifies to critique theology. I refer you to his essays in the main site, which you may not have read.

    I disagree. Most athiests are familar with FUNDIMENTLIST Christian theology. But when it comes to alternitive interpertaions or understandings of the Christian faith, they come up lost, often not even aware there are other ways of reading the Bible.

    I cant count the number of times I’v listened to an athiest critique some fundimilist belief and I’v responed with either ‘I agree’ or ‘Thats nice, I dont believe that.’

    I could cite a few examples of Ebons site, where he either ignores my views or attempts to deal with them in a way that makes it clear he doesnt understand them.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    I disagree. Most athiests are familar with FUNDIMENTLIST Christian theology. But when it comes to alternitive interpertaions or understandings of the Christian faith, they come up lost, often not even aware there are other ways of reading the Bible.

    Pretty much everyone here recognises there are many ways to interpret the Bible. Personally I understand why that should be when any god worthy of the name should be capable of being clear enough. Also why is your interpretation the right one:why are you a true christian and the fundementalist not?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Additionally, the Courtier’s Reply fallacy is a method of telling atheists to shut up unless they know every nuance of every possible interpretation, which is obviously unnecessary when critiquing a specific ideology. Further, so many Xians have so many beliefs that it’s not at all surprising that you, Andrew, might not believe everything being discussed. That’s why it is incumbent upon the theist to outline his/her beliefs, yet we rarely ever get a theist that is willing to do that, instead wanting only to complain that we atheists can’t ever get their personal, specific beliefs right.

  • Andrew

    Personally I understand why that should be when any god worthy of the name should be capable of being clear enough.

    It is clear enouogh to get the basics and achieve salvation. Its not as clear on the specifics. Thats partly because The Bible was written by a particular group of people living at a particular time and place to a particular group of people living at a particular time and place. And partly because I dont believe God ever planed to give us a COMPLETE revelation.

    Also why is your interpretation the right one:

    Because it’s consistant with what we know of history, science(yes science), literture, and what the Bible says.

    That said I’m willing to discuss an issue if somebody things an interpertation I hold is problomatic, but simply shouting ‘OTHER CHRISTIANS DISAGREE’ at the top of your lungs isnt gonna cut it, show me WHY their interpertations are valid, or mine are in error.

    why are you a true christian and the fundementalist not?

    I wouldnt say fundimentlists arent ‘true Christians’ I have little doubt most of them are saved(assuming they actually believe, which I have no good reason to doubt). That doesnt mean some of their beliefs arent in error.

    Additionally, the Courtier’s Reply fallacy is a method of telling atheists to shut up unless they know every nuance of every possible interpretation, which is obviously unnecessary when critiquing a specific ideology.

    A fair enough point, if you are critiquing a particular belief, its not necessary to have comprehensive knowldge of alternitive interpertations/beliefs. However there are cases of athiests critiquing a belief when they clearly dont understand it. We’ll use an example from Ebon’s site:

    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/2000years.html

    However, preterism cannot stand: the events of the Olivet Discourse unmistakably are meant to precede the end of the world. Mark and Luke’s versions of this episode do not state this explicitly, but Matthew’s does:

    “And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” –Matthew 24:1-3 (KJV)
    Jesus then goes on to list the same signs as he does in the other gospels. The clear message of this text is that these signs are meant to precede the end of the world and not simply some local event. But for the reasons given above, these events have necessarily either happened already or not at all, and yet the world has not ended. Either way, the prophetic claims of the Olivet Discourse are false.

    Ebon notes later one that word ‘world’ here is better translated as ‘age’(which changes the meaning of the verse considerably and fits with Jewish expectations of a future ‘Age of the Messiah’) but dismisses it as ‘imporbible’(never mind thats what the Greek word aion ACTUALLY means).

    Further confirmation is supplied by additional verses from Matthew. First, Matthew 24:22 states that God has mercifully shortened the tribulation period, and if he had not, “there should no flesh be saved”. Obviously, there would be no danger of a local conflict killing everyone on the planet no matter how long it lasted. Matthew 24:30 likewise states that “all the tribes of the earth” will be able to see the Son of Man’s coming in the clouds when it occurs, which only makes sense if what is being described is a global event.

    Preterists have their own interpertations of these verses. But Ebon fails to even make a note of this. Much less attempt to deal with what we believe these verses are talking about.

    That’s why it is incumbent upon the theist to outline his/her beliefs, yet we rarely ever get a theist that is willing to do that,

    Maybe thats because its patently absurd to expect us to write out every facet of our beliefs. It would take at least 20 pages to do so. And even then I gurantee I wont catch every nuience of what I believe.

    That said, I do present my own beliefs on a subject when I hear an athiest critiquing a belief I dont hold(or more often I’ll just step out of the way and let them go). But I keep it to the subject at hand.

    instead wanting only to complain that we atheists can’t ever get their personal, specific beliefs right.

    That might be in part because it is athiests who claim to have ‘examined the evidence’ or say they are ‘educated’(the implication being that theists are ignorant). Both which imply tey have at least a fairly comprehensive understanding of theistic beliefs.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    It is clear enouogh to get the basics and achieve salvation.

    If that were true, then why does Jesus say he speaks in parables, and why does he state that most humanity will go to hell?

    Thats partly because The Bible was written by a particular group of people living at a particular time and place to a particular group of people living at a particular time and place.

    Well, we are not those people and not in that time in place, so I’ll continue to disregard the Bible with your blessing.

    Because it’s consistant with what we know of history, science(yes science), literture, and what the Bible says.

    So, your interpretation of what the Bible says is consistent with what the Bible says? And, how do you show that your interpretations are consistent with history, science, and literature?

    That said I’m willing to discuss an issue if somebody things an interpertation I hold is problomatic, but simply shouting ‘OTHER CHRISTIANS DISAGREE’ at the top of your lungs isnt gonna cut it, show me WHY their interpertations are valid, or mine are in error.

    You’ve got the burden of proof wrong again. If you put forth an interpretation, it is up to you to support it.

    However there are cases of athiests critiquing a belief when they clearly dont understand it.

    I’m not going to argue that here, although most times what the theist means is that the atheist doesn’t understand because the atheist isn’t addressing that particular theist’s interpretation, so therefore it means the atheist is stupid, uninformed, flogging a strawman, etc, instead of the theist recognizing that not everyone agrees with her.

    Maybe thats because its patently absurd to expect us to write out every facet of our beliefs.

    What’s even more patently absurd is the theist to make pronouncement or arguments, not define their terms, and then attack the atheist for not being able to mind-read and know what the theist personally believes. This is especially so if it would take 20 pages to outline your beliefs and that would still not catch every nuance. It’s also absurd to argue that without arguing against every single little nuance that the meta belief can not be criticized or argued against, which is the other part of the Courtier’s Reply fallacy.

    That might be in part because it is athiests who claim to have ‘examined the evidence’ or say they are ‘educated’(the implication being that theists are ignorant).

    What you personally believe about what color the emperor’s new clothes are has very little to do with the evidence as to whether the emperor is actually wearing clothes at all.

  • Andrew

    If that were true, then why does Jesus say he speaks in parables,

    Parables are an excellent way to present complex ideas. Do you really think its that hard to grasp the point of the good Samaritan tale?

    and why does he state that most humanity will go to hell?

    understanding =/= to believeing. As athiests frequently demonstrate.

    You’ve got the burden of proof wrong again. If you put forth an interpretation, it is up to you to support it.

    I’v no interest in making everybody agree with me. So I have no burden.

    I’m not going to argue that here, although most times what the theist means is that the atheist doesn’t understand because the atheist isn’t addressing that particular theist’s interpretation, so therefore it means the atheist is stupid, uninformed, flogging a strawman, etc, instead of the theist recognizing that not everyone agrees with her.

    I can actually agree here. Although I’v seen cases where either

    A. They criticize a belief they dont understand(As per my above example.

    B. They say(or imply) that all Christains believe something, when they dont.

    In Either of these its perfectly justifiable to call them out on the mistake.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Parables are an excellent way to present complex ideas.

    That’s not what he says though, is it?

    understanding =/= to believeing. As athiests frequently demonstrate.

    2 things:
    1. Now atheists do understand?
    2. If we understood the way god intends and it makes sense, then why would we not believe?

    I’v no interest in making everybody agree with me. So I have no burden.

    Wrong. You are making the positive claim, so the burden is upon you. Whether you decide to meet your burden of proof or not is up to you. It’s simply not the case that we should all agree that your interpretation is correct until it’s proven wrong, because then we would have to hold that all interpretations are correct until proven wrong, which we simply can’t do (cognitive dissonance). Actually, this is a good example that I should have used on the other thread.

    A. They criticize a belief they dont understand(As per my above example.

    Don’t understand because they disagree? That’s not the same thing. Also, pointing out the logical conclusions of a belief is often met with the same charge, simple because the logical conclusion is one that the theist doesn’t believe in (even though it follows logically) or simply doesn’t want to accept.

    B. They say(or imply) that all Christains believe something, when they dont.

    Most atheists are pretty careful not to say this.

    In Either of these its perfectly justifiable to call them out on the mistake.

    If it’s a legitimate mistake, then yes.

  • Andrew

    1. Now atheists do understand?

    On some points, yes.

    If we understood the way god intends and it makes sense, then why would we not believe?

    Why dont you tell me. Your the athiest.

    It’s simply not the case that we should all agree that your interpretation is correct until it’s proven wrong,

    And I didnt say anybody should. What I said was that shouting ‘OTHER CHRISTIANS DISAGREE’ is not a valid response to any interpertation I present.

    To use an example from the other thread: If I hold an opinion on original sin that runs contrary to popular fundemlists understandings of the doctrine, that doesnt mean that my understanding is wrong.

    Don’t understand because they disagree?

    No dont understand because they make arguemnts that show a lack of knowldge on the subject. To go back to what I posted earlier: if Ebon points towards verses in the Bible and says they point against preterist beliefs, without even bothering to deal with how preterists interperate them, then he obviously doesnt have a good understanding of the preterist position(or he’s dishonestly giving the apperance that we are ignoring and/or unaware of these verses).

    Most atheists are pretty careful not to say this.

    But some(not all, and if I may add generally not Ebon) are considerably less careful about implying it.

    If it’s a legitimate mistake, then yes.

    even if its not, its justifiable to say they’re wrong.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Why dont you tell me. Your the athiest.

    Thanks for obviously dodging the question.

    And I didnt say anybody should. What I said was that shouting ‘OTHER CHRISTIANS DISAGREE’ is not a valid response to any interpertation I present.

    That’s the logical conclusion of what you said for one. Secondly, I haven’t simply shouted that other Xians disagree. To characterize it as that is to mis-characterize it.

    To use an example from the other thread: If I hold an opinion on original sin that runs contrary to popular fundemlists understandings of the doctrine, that doesnt mean that my understanding is wrong.

    Ah, but you did claim that their understanding was wrong or that when their understanding was described (which BTW, your understanding is not the mainstream or the historical) it was called wrong by you. Now, you change your story?

    No dont understand because they make arguemnts that show a lack of knowldge on the subject.

    Usually, because they don’t agree with the particular theist who is complaining.

    But some(not all, and if I may add generally not Ebon) are considerably less careful about implying it.

    I forgot, you can (reliably) sense when someone doesn’t say something that you want them to say that they really are implying it.

    even if its not, its justifiable to say they’re wrong.

    One isn’t wrong simply because they disagree with you, or are you infallible?

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