You can be skeptical and friendly at the same time.
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I visited Kensington Community Church in Troy, Michigan last week and wrote all about my experience there.
The audio of the event is now available for downloading. Here’s the MP3.
My part begins near the 1:15 mark.
I’d love to hear your thoughts if you get a chance to listen.
I didn’t know you appeared on WotM Radio. I listened to your appearance for the first hour, but I don’t think I can listen to the second hour after that, especially with the ending note of “the Bible says you have no excuse not to believe in God and it calls you a fool.”
Just wanted to take a quick minute to thank you for coming out last week to Kensington Church. It was great to have you. I think the conversation that you and Steve had on stage was great. I think your perspective was great for a lot of people to hear. I think sometimes people shelter themselves too much from whats going on outside of their faith or the “church”. Speaking for myself, you and your friends are always welcome here.
Great work, Hemant. You really presented yourself and your beliefs well. I hope you made everyone there stop and think about their view of atheists. The pastor seemed pretty cool, too. I hope to see more positive dialog like this between believers and non-believers.
That was wonderful. Thank you so much!
Thanks for doing this, Hemant, and thanks for making the audio available in a convenient form. And thanks to the pastor of the chuch for having you over.
It was interesting and fun to listen too, but I have to say, it’s a good thing you didn’t get into a debate on the merits of atheism, because your description of how you became an atheist, and your arguments in favor of being atheist didn’t sound convincing or argument-winning to me.
The feel I got was overwhelmingly positive. I know you achieved more for atheism in the minds of the audience than the ‘hammer it home’ style of someone like, say Christopher Hitchens ever could in that situation. Thanks for doing this. You’re a credit to atheism and you give me a feeling of hope.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic to even imagine that you could give the same optimistic presentation in a Muslim mosque?
Thanks for posting that — it was an engaging listen. I especially liked your point that you would hope that most Christians would support the issues that atheists bring lawsuits about.
Re altruism and evolutionary biology — your explanation had some errors. F’rex, the question isn’t whether humanity’s survival is at risk by this altruistic act, but whether the survival of the participants or their offspring was put at risk by the participants spending the weekend and some cash helping the couple. (Quite obviously, it wasn’t.) There are a lot of levels of altruism in evolutionary biology, and they all have different pay-off schemes. The way that the altruism of your example pays off, survival-wise, is that in a culture of “helping out others when you can,” you have (hopefully) decent odds of someone helping you out when you need it. The risk, of course, is that the culture might inadvertently be supporting expensive freeloaders. The usual way to mitigate that risk is by having smallish, closed groups, where you can know who’s freeloading and who isn’t, and then shun freeloaders. This is probably one of the reasons we associate altruistic behavior more strongly with small towns than with urban areas — it’s easier to keep track of who’s freeloading and who isn’t. (It might also be one of the reasons we think of small towns as being socially rigid — ready to shun people who don’t “toe the line,” so to speak.) Mind you, what goes before this is a description of what’s possible, evolutionarily speaking. It’s not an argument that this is what is in fact going on with humans. Experimental ethics being what they are, it’s very difficult to know the evolutionary basis for this or that human trait/behavior.
That said, however, this is one of the strong suits of churches — the group is small enough that it’s possible to know who is helping out and who is freeloading, and you can bring strong social pressure onto the freeloaders to knock it off. Of course, churches do spend a lot of time helping people who are out-group, but there are other ways to explain how that pays off. One possibility is that altruism brings in converts, resulting in a net pay-off to the group. Another (probably more compelling) possibility is that it’s a way of maintaining group commitment through what’s known as “expensive signalling.”
As you rightly surmised, Dawkins does not see a contradiction between “selfish genes” and the evolution of altruistic behavior. There’s a question as to how easily “true” altruistic behavior can evolve; the fact that we’re looking at it around us, though, nudges me toward the position that it probably did, at least once, evolve among some ancestor of the apes.
Re the way the numbers of irreligious and neo-pagans/new-ageists have been climbing in tandem, I would suggest that being religious has a lot of facets and elements to it, and that while your path was to go straight from religious to atheist, many people don’t shed the whole suite all at once. You can reject a particular faith without becoming an across-the-board skeptic/rationalist, after all — there’s no contradiction there. It’s kinda like wondering why people who took off their shoes didn’t go on to take off all their clothes, too. It depends on why they took their shoes off, doesn’t it?
You did very well. Friendly and engaging. It’s very important when you meet the religious to be pleasant, since you may be the first contact with an open-atheist.
The host guy sounded really nice too. He must disagree with you on everything, but he was nice and not at all aggressive.
I listened to it a few days ago. Thoughts (forgive me when I mess up due to faulty memory):
The way you answered the ‘why do good’ question was great. The ‘eating babies’ stuff, outside of internet partisan discussions, is pretty much unknown. I don’t think people knew what to make of it.
…drat, there was something else, but I can’t remember it.
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