An Atheist Gets Interviewed in a Mississippi Church

Interview an Atheist at Church” Day is today, but one video is already up and it’s fantastic.

Neil Carter, who blogs at Godless in Dixie, was interviewed at the Meadowbrook Church of Christ in Jackson, Mississippi:

In one of the more hostile states toward atheists, Carter defused the situation immediately, putting the audience at ease, welcoming their questions, and letting them know this wasn’t a debate but a conversation. If you want an example of what an ideal Christian/atheist dialogue looks like, watch this video. The questions begin around the 30:00 mark.

Neil spent about 15 minutes early on talking about the misconceptions people have about atheists. If nothing else, watch that section (beginning at the 7:05 mark) because he does a wonderful job of explaining and rebutting the stereotypes. You can also watch just that portion of the interview here.

Let’s hope today’s interviews with atheists go just as smoothly.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • SeekerLancer

    Kudos to the pastor for staying on point and avoiding apologetic debate. Good show. This is the kind of thing I hoped for out of this event. Neil did a wonderful job of dispelling misconceptions without being confrontational.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

    The minister in the last few seconds sums up how much of a waste of time it is for us to reach out to theists with this kind of dialog. First he says, “the barbarians are at the gates.” I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that, but to me it came off as derogatory and then after he challenges his parishioners to accept the Atheist, he calls him, “a person created in the Image of god.”
    Neil’s basic message throughout the conversation has been about inclusion and acceptance. The minister even eludes that he and Neil have had a dialog going on long before Neil spoke to the church. But yet, in his closing words he describes Neil as being created in the image of gawd. I wouldn’t have a conversation with a Muslim and then say to his face how great of a christian I think he is. To me saying such a phrase is as insulting to me as saying, “I’m going to pray for you so that you may come to know the lard jebus in your heart.” Like I am flawed somehow or disabled in some manner that keeps me from fully grasping their delusion.

    • SeekerLancer

      I disagree. I read the “barbarians” thing as a sarcastic jab at xenophobes. As for the god stuff he was talking to the congregation and espousing his beliefs. The point of Neil’s speech was not to convert anyone, just to try and get them to understand who atheists are and to be treated with respect. I think you’re seeing disrespect from the pastor that isn’t there or at least is not intended.

      I’m pretty sure the pastor was aware Neil doesn’t believe in god, but he phrases it in a way that parses with his belief. Though he may have used a method that sounds dumb to us (made in god’s image) the message was atheists are humans too, treat them as such despite your beliefs. That is at the very least a step in the right direction.

      I felt like the audience was civil and at least partially receptive. Keep in mind this was in Mississippi so that’s quite a feat. Neil said it best when he stated that deep seated beliefs are very difficult to change. It doesn’t happen over night or in a single discussion. These are baby steps we have to take if we’re to get anywhere.

      • nptphoto

        Interestingly, I saw the ‘barbarian at the gate’ as a funny way of saying that there was a crowd at the door waiting to get into the room. The church I used to belong to used the ‘fellowship room’ that had the coffee and cookies, as an adult education room. Heaven forbid if the education would go over the time allotted. The barbarians were the parishioners who wanted coffee. I noticed that both the pastor and Neil would quickly look over their right shoulder occasionally. I’ll bet that’s where the clock on the wall was and you got to stay on schedule, don’t ya know. I did not see this as a serious jab at anyone.

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

          many pagans thought of early christians as barbarians. just sayin.

      • Jerry Neill

        Thanks for giving the benefit of the doubt to the pastor here :-) which is in the spirit of the whole conversation and project! I think “we” found the experience a great learning venture and a forward step into living as people who all want to work for the common good. Or, what it means to love someone without having to make them just like me. I’m open to learning what the means from different perspectives and have found this engagement so helpful.

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

      I stand corrected on the Barbarian quip.

    • PegK

      Agreed. The conversation was quite respectful until the end when the pastor basically said, “you are wrong.” He could just have easily said “we are all humans and should treat one another as such.” There really was no need to add in religiously motivated language. It wasn’t at all necessary to the point of the conversation and seemed to be pandering to the group.

  • viaten

    Though he talked about it, I wish he would have included on his list that atheism or “not believing” isn’t a choice either. It seems some believers think if atheists can make a choice to not believe, they could just as easily choose to believe but just refuse to. Perhaps it’s because believers can only see becoming an atheist as an explicit choice from their frame of mind.

    On a side note to item 3, a few atheists also say to believers, “Deep down you really don’t believe. You just don’t know it or won’t admit it.” In some cases there might be some truth to it but it doesn’t seem to be a helpful thing to say. If people “believe” they believe in God, it seems it’s the same as just believing.

    • SeekerLancer

      I agree it’s presumptuous and it instantly shuts down any meaningful conversation.

    • Hamilton Jacobi

      It would be interesting to compare people’s responses to a person who says, “I don’t believe your god exists” versus a person who says, “I don’t believe gravity exists.” Is the response defensive and angry, or is it a snort of derisive laughter? Perhaps this sort of behavioral observation is more useful than professions of belief in deciding how confident a person is in his or her beliefs.

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      Yes, I agree that saying “Deep down you really don’t believe” is not useful. Better might be “There are some people who say they are believers, but deep down they don’t actually believe. You may find that this is the case for you someday. Don’t be afraid to think about this.”
      Better to nudge people into thinking than to attack them, which only makes them dig in more deeply.

      • viaten

        Good point. That is a better way to say it. It might be good to also point out that such believers are as decent as anyone else. There seem to be at least a few types of ex-believer atheists. Those that say “I believed as strongly as anyone. I was so sure.” and “I don’t think I ever really believed but just took it for granted that I did.” and “I was going along with all of it hoping ‘true’ belief would come someday.” Pointing that out to believers might make them think about what kind of believer they actually are and what believing actually is.

  • Jack_Ma

    Neil missed a golden opportunity when asked if he, like his audience, ever experienced periods of doubt. The question presumed that Neil would understand that as a bad thing. Neil could have pointed out that implicit presumption and highlighted it as a fundamental difference between them. Neil values doubt as healthy and eschews certainty as unhealthy.

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

      He’s, as he said, has only been an “unbeliever” for four years. The impression I got was he is still full of doubts. His pitch is pretty solid but I suspect he is just using what he learned in the seminary, to speak publicly. He referred to himself as a secular Humanist and I think he sees himself as that, in the way I wrote it with the “s” in lowercase. Plus he also quipped he was an Agnostic and then went back to expressing his Atheism as if he were speaking about in the second person. So I’m not sure if he, at this point, grasps the difference between explicit and implicit belief.

  • viaten

    On items four and five, I think believers ask “Why do you hate God?” and “What happened?” simply to go no where near the question “Why don’t you believe in God?”. It’s too big a can of worms for them.

  • deltmachine

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  • Ton_Chrysoprase

    Great example of staying on point and open up an impossible audience.

    I feel a bit thrown under the bus, though. I do consider myself an anti-theist in the same sense other anti-theists I have heard about seem to define the term: having a preference for a world without religion. That doesn’t at all take away from good things done by people for reasons I don’t believe in – although I tend to be more impressed by people who are good because it’s the right thing to do, not because they want to avoid punishment. In any case, I think the overwhelming majority of Christians I met fall in the former category anyway.

    Also, I don’t think the juxtaposition of Atheist and Agnostic is particularly helpful – I am yet to meet or hear of a gnostic Atheist.

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

      Atheist and Agnostic are often used to imply Strong verses weak Atheism or Implicit verses Explicit Atheism or Negative verses Positive Atheism all of which have their own distinctive meanings. An gnostic Atheist might be referred to as Ignostic.

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

        I think that anti-theistic and atheist are now becoming more popular ways of describing the difference between negative/positive atheism. but honestly there really isn’t any single descriptive word or word combination that describes someone who doesn’t believe in the paranormal and the supernatural and the metaphysical and deism. Maybe just Humanist or Natural Humanist would suffice.

        • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered
          • Ton_Chrysoprase

            Thanks. My problem is more that we have an excess of definitions for the various terms, which mostly are internally consistent and therefore viable. In absence of a clearly superior one, I’d suggest we just stick to the one that is closest to the meaning of the words used (i.e. theism/atheism for positive believe/no positive believe and gnosticism/agnosticism for the degree of certainty).

            I know this is not a winning proposition, but the alternative is constant misunderstanding or worse heated debates entirely due to the lack of a common frame of reference.

            • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

              This is why diction and context are so important. In casual conversation say between friends diction is not so important but between people who have fundamentally opposing opinions on a subject clarifying word meanings can help avoid future conflict.

              • Ton_Chrysoprase

                Not sure… I feel that Atheists cede way to much ground by engaging on the terms of theists. Me experience is that Atheism comes in two varieties: agnostics who are afraid to use the term and agnostics who are not. There may be people who don’t allow for the infinitesimal chance that there is a god, but I never met them. The rest is really mostly a question of debate culture – the two people always cited (Dawkins and Hitchens) are Brits and thus come from a culture more attuned to the Socratic method and the idea that listeners should be at least partially required to make an effort.

                On the other hand you have theists that range from mild deists to fundamentalists of any religion who base their every action in some religious precept.

                If in this context the onus of defining one’s decision is on the atheist, I fear we are being had.

    • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

      In a church setting (especially in the South) if you’re not going to use the terms with which they are familiar, you’re not going to communicate well.

      In terms of belief, I am an atheist because I do not believe in any particular gods. In terms of knowledge, I am an agnostic because I cannot know for certain that NO gods exist. To my mind, those are two different categories altogether. I have met some who claim to be gnostic atheists, and I do not identify with them. So depending on the context of the particular conversation at hand, I might identify myself alternately as either an atheist or as an agnostic. It depends on which element is being asked about: knowledge or belief.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

        maybe i’m failing at philosophy here, but i’ve always hated that argument. “i cannot know there aren’t pink elephants on the far side of the moon.” “i can’t know there are no gods.”

        what exactly is the difference?

        the assumption that gods must exist is the ridiculous concept. and anyway: which one(s)? i can list about 1,000 without really trying; but they can’t all “exist” at the same time. or so their followers say.

      • r.holmgren

        I was trying to not comment. I really was. And then I get to Neil’s “I am an atheist because I do not believe in any particular gods.”

        Why is that? Why do you not base your beliefs on evidence that SUPPORTS YOUR beliefs rather than on your perceived absence of evidence for the beliefs of someone else. Again:

        If they really were logical and rational, those who claim to be
        scientifically based thinkers would instead be saying something like:

        . I don’t believe that material things can begin to exist without an
        external cause because this has never been observed, tested or
        verified.

        . I don’t believe that everything material can come from literally
        nothing material without a material cause, because this has never
        been observed, tested or verified.

        . I don’t believe that an infinite regress of cause is tenable, because this has been scientifically / philosophically refuted.

        . I don’t believe that the material infinite is tenable, because this has been scientifically / philosophically refuted.

        . I’m not going to change the definition of nothing to mean there was actually something because this is a ludicrous, absurd, illogical and an irrationally desperate thing to do.

        BUT give me one example of these things occurring and I’ll start
        believing that this is a material universe only, i.e. I’ll start
        being an atheist.

        Until then, I must believe that a Creator (not god(s) but a Creator) of some sort is the most logical explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. In fact until the above scientific facts are overturned, I’ll accept that the existence of a mathematically precise, life supporting, moral universe is best explained by the existence of an immaterial Creator.”

        • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

          If I understand you correctly (or what you are quoting), you are saying that unless I can provide an explanation for the universe, I must by default believe that an invisible spirit is behind it. Why is that? Why must that be the default position?

          I don’t see what’s inaccurate about saying “I am an atheist because I don’t believe in any particular gods.” How would you define the word atheism?

          • r.holmgren

            No, there nothing “inaccurate” about saying what you say. It’s just, I think that if I was an atheist I would find it troubling that I don’t have “positive” evidence FOR my belief (or non belief if you wish). More than than, it would be troubling to find the growing amount of scientific evidence (some of it above) showing why my belief is illogical and incoherent.

            There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’m an atheist because I don’t believe what you believe.” It just seems that, well, that it would be more intellectually fulfilling to have evidential support. Maybe you just have a very low good enough threshold. And that’s okay.

            The thing is, the existence of a material universe requires an explanation and at this point in time, materialism just doesn’t cut it. In fact, every year the evidence builds in the other direction. I’m not saying you can’t be an atheist at some point in the future – as the evidence warrants. I’m just saying that right now seems a tad early. I’ve always said that agnostics are the only ones who go as far as the science allows and that atheists and Christians go the rest of the way on faith. From my interaction with atheists and what they tell me about how they view themselves, faith is really not supposed to be part of the atheist’s mind-set. Perhaps I’m generalizing too much. Obviously you can believe what you want.

            • Phasespace

              It’s just, I think that if I was an atheist I would find it troubling that I don’t have “positive” evidence FOR my belief (or non belief if you wish).

              Think of it this way: Suppose I walk past you on the street and you hear change jingling in my pocket. There is only one presumption that you can make about that with a reasonable degree of certainty:

              I have at least two coins in my pocket.

              However, you don’t really know anything more than that.

              You don’t know how much the coins are worth.

              You don’t know where they came from.

              You really don’t know anything else about them, other than that they exist. Not only that. If you were told by some random third party that I frequently carry around a pair of extremely rare nickels worth millions of dollars, you would be well inclined to doubt such a statement, and you would be wise to do so.

              Therefore, it is unwise to draw any conclusions about those questions for which you have no means of drawing a conclusion about.

              Similarly, I have all the evidence I need to conclude that the universe does, in fact, exist, in some form that we interpret materially. However, I most certainly do not have enough evidence to draw a conclusion about the ultimate origins of our reality. And neither do you.

              Claiming that there is no evidence for Creator God is indeed an extraordinary claim.

              Claiming that inanimate and inorganic material evolved into life is indeed an extraordinary claim.

              Claiming that everything material came from nothing material without any cause is indeed an extraordinary claim.

              These are only extraordinary claims to a person who has the hubris to presume that they understand the universe a lot better than they actually do, both on a physical level as well as an ontological and epistemological level.

              For example: It is highly unlikely that I would accept the evidence you would present for a creator god. What’s more, I doubt you have the qualifications that I think are needed to have the authority to make such claim to begin with.

              The thing is, the existence of a material universe requires an explanation

              Why, exactly, does the existence of the material universe require an explanation? On what grounds does the universe (or your God) owe you such an explanation to begin with? Such an explanation may exist, and perhaps, someday, we’ll understand enough about the universe to figure out what it is. Personally, I find the subject fascinating, but the conclusion that you want to make isn’t possible based on what we currently know.

              In fact, every year the evidence builds in the other direction.

              It is most certainly not the case that evidence is building “in the other” direction. You’ve been listening to William Lane Craig too long. The truth is, the evidence isn’t building in any particular “direction” at all. If the evidence can be said to being built in any direction, it is a direction in which the Christian conception of God is increasingly difficult to fit in. I would go so far as to say it’s an impossible fit, even so, the field is wide open for other things. However, I personally think that such speculation is unwise.

              • r.holmgren

                “You really don’t know anything else about them [the coins],”

                That’s not quite true.
                . I know that someone put the coins into the pocket. To say that they put themselves into the pocket would be an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence.

                . I know that they didn’t evolve. That would be an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence.

                . I know they didn’t come into being out of literally nothing material. That would be an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence.

                I know that they didn’t bring themselves into existence, or that they came into being without an intelligent designer. That would be an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence.
                =====

                “Therefore, it is unwise to draw any conclusions about those questions for which you have no means of drawing a conclusion about.”

                The thing is, most of us can’t resist. I’m surprised that you can remain totally impartial, especially given your “fascination” with the subject.
                =====

                “And neither do you”

                Yes, if you check, I think you’ll find that I said that both atheists and Christians come to their conclusions based upon faith.
                =====

                “These are only extraordinary claims to a person who has the hubris to presume . . . ”

                No, they are extraordinary because the scientific method of knowing:
                Observe
                Test
                Verify
                has shown that to date there are no known exceptions to things like:
                . Something material coming into existence without an external cause.
                If you know of one I’d encourage you to post it here so I can see it, and then to the Nobel Science Association
                . Life coming from non life, or inanimate, inorganic gases evolving.
                If you know of one such case I’d encourage you to post it here so I can see it, and then to the Nobel Science Association.
                =====

                “It is highly unlikely that I would accept the evidence you would present for a creator god”

                But you see, that’s my point. I’m not asking you to believe what I believe or to accept what I consider evidence. What I’m interested in (and it’s beginning to look like I don’t write very clearly) is Why DO YOU believe this is a materialist universe? We always hear, “You can’t prove a negative,” (God doesn’t exist) yet atheists certainly believe this negative that can’t be proven.
                Fine.
                Great.
                Don’t go that direction. Instead, wouldn’t you be better off
                finding out what the evidence is FOR YOUR beliefs; evidence that doesn’t contradict science? Why don’t atheists want that? It just boggles the mind that those who hold themselves out as the pinnacle of rational thinking would settle for so little.
                =====

                “Why, exactly, does the existence of the material universe require an explanation?”

                Perhaps you should as those like Hawking and thousands of others who spend their whole lives trying to figure out the answer. I’m just some goof who, like you finds it fascinating. Ask those who seem to think it vital for our well-being.
                =====

                “the conclusion that you want to make isn’t possible based on what we currently know.”

                So you’re saying that you haven’t make any such conclusion; you’re neither a theist nor an atheist?

                • Phasespace

                  I know that they didn’t bring themselves into existence, or that they came into being without an intelligent designer.

                  Sigh. You’ve completely missed the point of what I was saying.

                  If you were to claim that you know that I have precisely 3 quarters in my pocket, instead of a couple of rare nickels, on what basis would you make that conclusion? You have evidence that *something* exists in my pocket, probably some coins, but why on earth would you suddenly claim that I must have precisely 3 quarters? Assuming the existence of a God in the face of what we are able to discern about the universe is the same kind of overreaching conclusion.

                  But you see, that’s my point. I’m not asking you to believe what I believe or to accept what I consider evidence. What I’m interested in (and it’s beginning to look like I don’t write very clearly) is Why DO YOU believe this is a materialist universe? We always hear, “You can’t prove a negative,” (God doesn’t exist) yet atheists certainly believe this negative that can’t be proven.

                  Fine.

                  Great.

                  Don’t go that direction. Instead, wouldn’t you be better off

                  finding out what the evidence is FOR YOUR beliefs; evidence that doesn’t contradict science? Why don’t atheists want that? It just boggles the mind that those who hold themselves out as the pinnacle of rational thinking would settle for so little.

                  I’ve just answered this question, right above, in plain black and white. If it isn’t clear enough for you, I’ll try to indulge you as best I can. When you understand what I’m saying above, you’ll start to understand what atheism really is, and not the strawman you keep arguing against.

                  Perhaps you should ask those like Hawking and thousands of others who spend their whole lives trying to figure out the answer. I’m just some goof who, like you finds it fascinating. Ask those who seem to think the answer is vital for our well-being.

                  I am one of those thousands of others like Hawking. The answers we’re looking for, and our motivation to find them, aren’t what you think. The meaning of answers “vital” for our well-being apparently means something significantly different to me. To me, in understanding the universe, I gain a better understanding of how it works, and in doing so, I enable people like you to live a better, longer life from the fruits of that knowledge. I am also simply curious. I have a desire to know, and to try and figure things out. However, I am also all too aware of the problems of overreaching conclusions. Scientists do, by and large, avoid making overreaching conclusions because we know where the lines are between established science, cutting edge research, and pure speculation.

                  So you’re saying that you haven’t made any such conclusion; you’re neither a theist nor an atheist?

                  With respect to the Christian God, I am most definitely an atheist. The universe does not work in the ways we would expect it to under that sort of conception. For example, there should be no need for theodicy if the universe really operated in a way consistent with Christian conceptions of God.

                  Having said that, the universe is most definitely compatible with other conceptions of God (or Gods), although I think it is unlikely that any of those conceptions are true. I think it unlikely, for reasons similar to why you wouldn’t conclude that I carry rare nickels in my pocket. In that respect, I am an agnostic.

                • r.holmgren

                  “Assuming the existence of a God in the face of what we are able to discern about the universe is the same kind of overreaching conclusion.”

                  Well, I disagree. Seems like a poor analogy
                  =====
                  A material universe appears to be all that exists,”

                  And again, I disagree.
                  =====
                  Other planes of existence may be real,”

                  To accept the even possible existence of the supernatural realm is certainly not traditional atheism. Although, as is shown here, the definition of atheism evolves practically on a daily basis to suit the situation.
                  =====
                  Scientists do, by and large, avoid making overreaching conclusions”

                  Correct, but atheists and atheist driven science does not.
                  =====
                  “Why does the universe (or your God) require an explanation?”

                  Well, what is science if not the search for cause? You may call it “understanding” but to me it amounts to the same thing.
                  =====
                  “The universe does not work in the ways we would expect it to under that sort of conception. For example, there should be no need for theodicy if the universe really operated in a way consistent with Christian
                  conceptions of God.”

                  Oh, my, I could not disagree more.

                • Phasespace

                  Well, I disagree. Seems like a poor analogy

                  It isn’t. When you consider that human psychology and sociology is fully up to the task of explaining why people come to believe in supernatural things. You cannot rule out such a strongly probable alternative explanation and hold to a less probable one. Hence, the over reach of your conclusions.

                  A material universe appears to be all that exists,”

                  And again, I disagree.

                  And your evidence for disagreement is what, exactly? Note: I’m not asking you to respond to me with your evidence here (you can if you like, I suppose), I’m just asking you to think about the different pieces of evidence that you already accept that both supports and undermines your disagreement. You most definitely do accept evidence that undermines your position, even if you don’t realize it. Apologists go to great pains to rationalize these problems away, but they are only rationalizations.

                  Other planes of existence may be real,”

                  To accept the even possible existence of the supernatural realm is certainly not traditional atheism. Although, as is shown here, the definition of atheism evolves practically on a daily basis to suit the situation.

                  Why? However, I should clarify one thing, what I was referring to isn’t necessarily “supernatural” as a believer usually conceives of it. It could be, but believers rarely think of this stuff outside of the spiritual house of cards that has been built up around religious belief. So, we’re probably stuck, hopelessly talking past each other on this point.

                  The definition of atheism hasn’t evolved as much as you think. What you are actually encountering is not an evolving definition, but exposure to a diversity of different kinds of thinking about it. Just as there are many different opinions among Christians about what it means to be Christian.

                  Your view of what atheists really think is incredibly rigid and narrow. Most atheists I know don’t have a problem with the statement I made about the possibility of other planes of existence. They would say that they are rather agnostic on the subject, just as I am, erring on the side that they probably don’t exist… except perhaps as predictions made by some theories in physics.

                  In other words, please stop putting words in my mouth. You’re doing exactly the thing that Neil warned against in his interview above.

                  Scientists do, by and large, avoid making overreaching conclusions”

                  Correct, but atheists and atheist driven science does not.

                  Nobody is immune from making over broad conclusions, that fact doesn’t mean that there are no methods that help to let us know when we are doing it. My coin analogy exposes one of those methods.

                  Please provide an example of atheist driven science. That is a very strange term that needs citation.

                  Oh, my, I could not disagree more.

                  Well, of course, you disagree! :) But can you provide a convincing counter argument that doesn’t ultimately resort to deep sounding prose that seems profound but is ultimately incoherent? Or worse, a fallback to mysticism? If I had ever seen such a thing happen, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

                • r.holmgren

                  “Please provide an example of atheist driven science. That is a very strange term that needs citation.”

                  Science – Life does not arise from non life – Observed, tested, verified.

                  * Atheist Driven Science – “inanimate / inorganic gases evolved into life.” Richard Dawkins

                  citation * Rod Holmgren – on “The Friendly Atheist” comments section, 7/13/13
                  =====
                  Science – Big Bang Cosmology – The material universe came into existence from literally nothing material, “By nothing, we mean that the universe had a radius of zero.”
                  Alexander Velinkin

                  * Atheist Driven Science – The universe came from a hot dense spec of matter (never explaining of course where this spec existed) and that this spec always existed from eternity past.

                  citation * Rod Holmgren – on “The Friendly Atheist” comments section, 7/13/13

                  We could go on to the multi verse which has not one spec of evidence for its existence but will be pushed for by atheist driven science since for an atheist the metaphysical implications of a universe with a beginning at to painful to endure.

                • Phasespace

                  Science – Life does not arise from non life – Observed, tested, verified.

                  I’m sure you remember from your high school biology class the question about whether or not viruses are alive, right? This question is about to get a whole lot more complicated with the discovery of easily created. naturally occurring, simple, self-replicating molecules that are capable of non-destructive mutation. These things, are, in effect, virus precursors under the right conditions.

                  Your “observed, tested, and verified” statement is on extremely shaky ground from a scientific perspective.

                  Atheist Driven Science – “inanimate / inorganic gases evolved into life.” Richard Dawkins

                  citation * Rod Holmgren – on “The Friendly Atheist” comments section, 7/13/13

                  You’re going to have to help me out here with some better context, because that doesn’t make sense. The only reference that I can find with regard to this subject is an appearance by Dawkins on Colbert, where it seems like he might have been talking about chemical reactions that occur in interstellar clouds that chemically processes the precursor material that ultimately forms stars and planets and even us. That isn’t atheist driven science, that is what we actually observe happening, right now, out in space with radio telescopes. If that is what you are talking about, I call foul. Especially when it ties directly into what I said just above.

                  Science – Big Bang Cosmology – The material universe came into existence from literally nothing material, “By nothing, we mean that the universe had a radius of zero.”

                  Alexander Velinkin

                  * Atheist Driven Science – The universe came from a hot dense spec of matter (never explaining of course where this spec existed) and that this spec always existed from eternity past.

                  That is really silly. There are a number of slight variations to a lot of cosmological theories that have slightly different boundary conditions for their starting points. Calling that “atheist driven” just shows how poorly informed you are about cosmology and the various different models that different people are developing.

                  You would do well to note that Mr. Velinkin has also stated that this zero radius universe was not a zero energy state. It may have been a metastable state that lasted an indeterminate amount of time, or the state could have been achieved by a contraction of space-time in a previous universe and ours is the result of a rebound from that zero-radius state. It is also possible that it could be the result of the Higg’s instability, since it is looking like the mass of the Higg’s boson is within the range that might just make our universe unstable at some point down the road.

                  We could go on to the multi verse which has not one spec of evidence for its existence but will be pushed for by atheist driven science, since for an atheist the metaphysical implications of a universe with a beginning at too painful to endure.

                  This is the biggest whopper of all. Despite the nonsense that Paul Davies has been spreading lately, multiverses are actual predictions that fall out of several different independent theories in physics. There are several different multiverse predictions that fall directly out of quantum theory in a couple of different places, and in addition, multiverses are an integral part of some versions of string theory. Multiverses fall right out of the wave equations in string theory. It’s not “atheist driven science,” it’s math. If one of these versions of string theory are ever proven right, then a multiverse pretty much has to exist, even if the math tells us that we’re tightly constrained to interactions that only occur in our universe.

                • r.holmgren

                  “Your “observed, tested, and verified” statement is on extremely shaky ground from a scientific perspective.

                  So you know of exceptions to Life only comes from non life? Or are you counting the above speculation as an exception? It sounds like Franklin Harold “Life arose here on earth from inanimate matter, by some kind of evolutionary process.” He states it as a fact, and then, “This is not a statement of demonstrable fact, but an assumption.” Yes, it’s assumption, speculation, pure
                  and simply, but no one is going to stop him from carrying on as though it is fact. And within this same context Richard Dawkins says, “As a lover of truth, I am suspicious of strongly held beliefs that are unsupported by evidence.” Like his and your belief in a muli
                  verse? As for his life from non life speculation stated as fact, I’d try “The God Delusion.”
                  ====
                  “because that doesn’t make sense.”

                  You mean inanimate inorganic gases evolving into life doesn’t make sense? Well, not to anyone who doesn’t want to go beyond the evidence. However, on atheism, life exists, so it must have evolved from non life. There are no other options – except of course some other non supernatural dimension was involved.
                  =====
                  “Calling that “atheist driven” just shows how poorly informed you are about cosmology and the various different models that different people are developing.”

                  By models you mean:
                  Oscillating
                  universe -
                  Baby universes -
                  Multi
                  verses -
                  The Cyclic Ekpyrotic
                  Scenario -
                  The Chaotic Inflationary
                  universe -
                  Brane-cosmology
                  Inflationary multi-verse -
                  Bubble universes floating in a sea of false vacuum -
                  The many worlds hypothesis -
                  The black hole hypothesis -
                  Quantum gravity models -
                  Vacuum fluctuation models -
                  Imaginary time and imaginary space –

                  Okay, let be state my meaning more clearly. It’s the “CONCLUSION” that is atheist driven. The conclusion, the atheists conclusion of each one of these unworkable models is that a Creator is not needed. Even imaginary time and space is better than a universe with a beginning.
                  =====
                  “It may have been a metastable state that lasted an indeterminate amount of time, or the state could have been achieved by a contraction of space-time in a previous universe”

                  So here is where we’re at:
                  You use the existence of this universe as evidence for the existence of a multi verse, something for which I say there is absolutely no evidence

                  I use the existence of this universe as evidence for the existence of an immaterial Creator, something for which you say there is absolutely no evidence.

                  To start talking about Higgs and space-time and energy, moves the discussion completely away from Big Bang cosmology which says that until the singularity matter / energy; space / time did not exist. And it moves the discussion into the realm of atheist Origin of the
                  Universe Mythologies (mentioned above) – all of which are needed to avoid a universe / matter / energy with a definitive beginning. Whether it’s our universe or a multi verse either matter had a beginning from nothing or matter is eternal, a material infinite, an infinite regress of cause, all of which used to be, if not outright refuted, at least thought of as deeply problematic – until, the consequences of a matter having a beginning out of nothing started to be understood – by atheists.

                  In order to answer the question, “Where was this energy, or where was this hot dense spec of matter – prior to the existence of space / time, atheists have no other alternative BUT an eternal multi verse.
                  =====
                  Higgs, string theory, quantum theory, you’re talking about things, all of which are related to matter and energy, none of which existed nor had anything to exist in until the singularity. Again -

                  You use the existence of this universe as evidence for the existence of a multi verse, something for which I say there is absolutely no evidence.

                  I use the existence of this universe as evidence for the existence of an immaterial Creator, something for which you say there is absolutely no evidence.

                  There doesn’t really seem to be much further we can go.

                • Phasespace

                  So you know of exceptions to Life only comes from life? Or are you counting the above speculation as an exception?

                  It’s not speculation. The molecules I’m talking about exist. They are known to form naturally under conditions that have existed on this planet in different places, at different times. The molecules are simple forms of RNA, and enzymes. Do these things qualify as “alive?” It’s a tricky question, as I mentioned, we’re talking about what looks like a fine continuum rather than a clear dividing line. Ignoring this point is not improving your position. By failing to address my points directly and instead and twisting them to your narrative, you are once again, arguing against a strawman of my position and you are necessarily admitting defeat by doing so.

                  You mean inanimate inorganic gases evolving into life doesn’t make sense? Well, not to anyone who doesn’t want to go beyond the evidence. However, on atheism, life exists, so it must have evolved from non life. There are no other options – except of course some other non supernatural dimension was involved.

                  Ok, you’ve complained about condescension. Go back and read what I’ve quoted of your writing, and then read what I wrote where I asked you quite nicely for a clarification of the context in which that statement about “gasses” was made, and your response above was to completely ignore the request for clarification and respond in a condescending tone. All I did was take a stab at what I thought Dawkins might have been talking about based on what context I was able to dig up, and I’m not even sure I’m right about that. The entirety of your last post was nothing but a textbook example of the lack of charity that the religious grants to any argument that challenges their faith. The next time you complain about an atheist taking a condescending tone with you, maybe you should take a look in the mirror first and wonder if you are getting what you are giving. I’d also recommend you check up on a few choice words from Augustine about how the religious should interact with people who don’t share their faith. It might teach you some humility.

                  With that said, I’m done with you. I will leave you only with this little tidbit to chew on, since you seem to be so hung up on the universe requiring a creator:

                  Premise 1. A metaphysical nothing is a state in which there is no space, no time, no matter or energy.
                  Premise 2. A metaphysical nothing, by definition can have no laws that govern it. There can be no law of gravity, or electricity or magnetism. No law of conservation of energy. No law of causality.
                  Premise 3. A metaphysical nothing can have no laws that govern such a state as any governing law would create a state that is no longer nothing.
                  Premise 4. A state that has no laws that govern it is necessarily unpredictable and unstable.

                  Conclusion: A metaphysical nothing is an inherently unstable state. This state, completely lacking any laws that govern what can or can’t happen in that state must necessarily and inevitably spontaneously transform into a more stable state, or perhaps even a series of states of increasing stability.

                  …like, perhaps, an expanding singularity.

                • r.holmgren

                  First of all, there is nothing condescending about it. That is exactly what Dawkins has said, “Here we are, so it must have happened this way.” If you don’t like it, take it up with him. Also, I did give you a reference, or at least a direction that think is correct, “The God Delusion.” I think, although I may be mistaken that both these quotes come from there.
                  —–
                  “The molecules are simple forms of RNA”

                  Mmm, you’re referring to the tests taking place in Sweden?

                  As with matter coming into being, or material things beginning to exist without an external cause, we know of no other causes of code, specified, formulated complexity than by an Intelligent Agent. Observation, testing and verification shows that to be a scientific fact. This, even though you seem to not only change the definition of atheist to suit the situation but now you want to change the definition of the scientific method of knowing to suit the situation.

                  Every experiment created to prove “nothing did it” reinforces the absolute necessity of a Mind to arrange the proper components to impart the needed information for life to exist. We know that in the experiments you refer to, without intervention by an Intelligent Agent, unwanted by-products in natural conditions would interact with desirable products to form useless compounds. In these
                  types of experiments, Intelligent Agents must manipulate the conditions before they set up a “simulation” of how “nature” created life. Each and every decision that the scientist makes is an Intelligent Design decision to either remove one by-product and not another or to empower one compound and not another. Each of these
                  actions puts into the system huge amounts of specific information.

                  Any success that these experiments may have, have been achieved by Intelligent deliberate and conscious actions of an Intelligent Mind. The experiments themselves are clearly NOT simulations of actual
                  events and are instead a clear indication of an Intelligent Agent working to bring about a desired outcome – completely and totally unlike evolution and the way we are told that it works.

                  Computer Based Algorithms are probably the clearest case of Intelligent input. None of the experiments to date would have been possible without functional information being put into the system, information that simply would not have been there in the conditions atheists tell us
                  existed at the primordial earth. Computer programs to simulate natural selection all have a target selection programmed in. There was / IS no such foresight in nature.

                  “Target selection” does not simulate natural processes.

                  Rather, it highlights the Intellectual powers of the computer programmers. Every computer algorithm is a testament to Intelligent Design.

                  Any ribosyme replication has been brought about by the Intelligence of the Ribozyme Engineers:
                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones who enable self-replication to proceed.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones who select molecules that have a slightly enhanced ligase capacity.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones that preserve the optimal molecules.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones that enrich the molecules by repeated selection and amplification.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones who intervene before any of the other ways that polymerases perform.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones who anticipate the future function in a way that is not possible in nature.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones who choose RNA sequences knowing beforehand the required condition to bring about self-replication.

                  And then you say, “Look! Life could have arisen by natural means.”

                  As for the “tidbit” you left for me to chew on. Thank you. I will spend some time with that. Although the fact that there is nothing, not even a “state” to “become” unstable or unpredictable seems to bring a halt to something that at first glance only seems interesting and makes the conclusion a philosophical time-out for tea before getting back to some real work.

                • Phasespace

                  Yawn, the Christian that claims to really be interested what an atheist thinks, continues to ignore what the atheist tells him, puts words in the mouth of said atheist that were never said or even implied. Then pats himself on the back for his skill in slaying his strawmen.

                  You are a loathsome individual. I’m sure Jesus is proud to have you on his team.

                • r.holmgren

                  Too right! “I came to save sinners, not those who think they are righteous.” Jesus

                • Mary

                  “I know that someone put the coins into the pocket.” Well, actually, you don’t know that. Perhaps the coins fell into the pocket. They were sitting on the dryer while he folded the laundry, and they fell in. Darn gravity.

                • r.holmgren

                  Ya, that’s probably what happened, Mary.

            • http://www.facebook.com/kent.randi Kent Randi

              Do you have positive evidence for your non-belief in Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

  • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

    Hahaha! The ‘barbarians at the gate’ comment was because the childcare room was immediately across the room from us and we could hear that civil order was breaking down in there. Time was up. The barbarians were toddlers :-)

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

      Now that I know the context I’ll retract my criticism.

    • Leiningen’s Ants

      Context makes things hilarious! FACT! :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/mybrid Mybrid Trees Wonderful

    Excellent job Neil.

  • PegK

    I have been called anti-Christian and anti-Catholic by family members for simply expressing an opinion. Even if the opinion is not purposefully directed toward any religious belief but the opinion goes against another’s belief system somehow I end up being labeled “anti-theist.” I have also heard the “Christians in America are persecuted” claim from family. Why is it that when I am constantly bathed in religious rhetoric at family functions I would be considered disrespectful or intolerant to consider that “anti-humanist” or “anti-atheist?”

    • litesp33d

      In the God Virus Darrel Ray gives a plausible reason for this. Religion does at least two things. One is to tie you to its particular sect by emphasising how the sect is the one true way. The other is to set up controls by invoking barriers or defence mechanisms against infection by another competing virus. Remember despite their claims that they do good in the world religions primary aim is to get your time and money and also to get you to make new converts. Any threat ftom an alternate view automatically triggers these defence mechanisms in the ‘true’ believer often generating fear which becomes anger. It is also why you are discouraged from mixing with and visiting other religions as they use the same techniques.

  • Ibis3

    Hey Neil, I see you’re reading these comments. I thought you did a pretty good job getting across the atheist/humanist view point. I’d be very interested to hear what the congregation thought and if you changed any minds.

    There’s just one thing I think might be improved upon if you do more of these outreach sessions: explaining and validating the anti-theist position. Even if you prefer a softer, more inclusive approach, you could explain that anti-theists don’t generally take their approach out of meanness or spite, but because they feel angered by the harm religion does and see no way of divorcing good religion from bad because it’s all built on the same philosophical ground. What works to justify Pastor Bob’s soup kitchen also justifies Scott Roeder’s murder of George Tiller (i.e. it was “God’s will”). Also, that most anti-theists would be pretty much satisfied with a secular public sphere, especially when it comes to government (no religion in schools, or prayers before city council meetings, or Christian monuments in front of court houses, no hobbling of scientific, evidence-based public policy on religious grounds…).

    • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

      Thanks for the feedback. I’ll always have to frame what I’m saying with my audience in mind, and in this setting (an evangelical church in the Bible Belt) I have to pick my battles. I don’t expect I’d get very far in helping them understand the anti-theist’s perspective. For the moment, I’d just be happy to see them move an inch or two in the direction of suspending judgement towards people like me.

      • GeraardSpergen

        I think you did a great job of tailoring your presentation to the audience. I enjoyed that.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Justin-Powell/100001820427190 Justin Powell

        I can commend your effort for this, but you would also be asking them to cherry pick which teachings in the Bible they should use for unbelievers. You’re acknowledgement of two approaches to dealing with “outsiders”, either the hellfire and brimstone approach, or the loving and caring inclusive approach, was representative of the Bible more than you know. We must reach to psychology and biological dispositions to explain which one of the options the Christian naturally takes.

        • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

          Well, if I’m correct, and the Bible is a fallible book, then cherry picking would be the only option available to someone wanting to be “biblical” because the book contradicts itself. That being the case, I’d like to encourage cherry picking in the direction of inclusiveness :-)

      • Ibis3

        The concern I have is that they might say to themselves “oh he’s a good atheist, so I can suspend judgement on him, but all those *other* atheists are rude and mean, so they must be angry at God/have no morals/are only interested in persecuting believers” etc. As you say, it may not be possible to delve deeply enough into the anti-theist position to get them to understand it (as we know, not all atheists understand it), but maybe there’s a way to speak of it in a positive way.

        • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

          Maybe there is. I’ll have to think on that some more. I keep thinking, however, of Daniel Dennett famously saying: “There is no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/kent.randi Kent Randi

        But earlier you said; As I said, “Some of us, in fact, by virtue of our particular life situations feel compelled to devote ourselves to advancing these friendly conversations because our most important relationships will benefit from them. Some of us have people we love dearly on both sides of the battle lines.”
        Which is it?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Dispelling the most common misconceptions right at the beginning in Neil’s eleven points is a very good idea, because it prevents having to deal with those questions when the written questions come in from the audience. The conversation can move on to more substantive issues.

    I thought the interview was handled very well by both men, and along with introducing important points, it accomplished the most basic purpose, to humanize the image of an atheist in the minds of the congregation.

    I hope I get a chance to do this.

    • http://profiles.google.com/rbh.third RBH Third

      I was scheduled for an ‘Interview an Atheist’ session at a nearby Baptist church yesterday, but had to postpone it for two weeks due to an upper respiratory infection. I’m glad that happened, because now I have Neil’s performance to model my own on. Thanks!

  • Timmah

    The “Why do you hate god?” question is one of the more common ones and he answered it perfectly. It gives people real pause to ask them “Do you believe in Zeus/Thor/Ra? No? Why do you hate Zeus/Thor/Ra?” Because they have to honestly answer that they don’t, they just feel that they are made up. YES that is exactly how I feel too about those gods… I just think that same way about YOURS too.

  • viaten

    Concerning believers having doubts about their faith and being concerned and worried about it, I’ve heard preachers say, “That worry you have is because you actually do have faith deep down or else you wouldn’t be concerned”, a somewhat clever tactic that probably works on some believers.

    • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

      Along the same lines, I am often asked the question, “Do you doubt your doubt?” I suppose it sounds clever at first hearing (Dennett calls those “deepities”) but the question tells me that they assume that once I switched to atheism I shut down my critical thinking skills. I suppose, for some, doubt is a scary thing because they are told they should believe. But out here in atheistland, doubt and skepticism are virtues.

      • viaten

        I have heard that expression and I’ll add it to my deepities list. No doubt doubt and skepticism are virtues. But those who find it scary are probably driven by superstition and a fear of hell. It seems they think, ironically, if they stop believing in, or even doubted, hell they might end up there. It seems Pascal’s Wager underlies some people’s belief though no believer I know of would admit that or even admit that’s how they started out moving towards faith. But some believer’s just love to lay Pascal’s Wager on non-believers, as if it were powerful “Jedi-like” logic. By the way, I liked your “Jedi mind trick” analogy.

  • viaten

    I like the “Jedi mind trick” analogy, but it seems when believers quote the Bible to a non-believer, it seems they know it’s almost certainly going to be rejected but entertain the idea that it would work. Some believers just go with “But it’s in the Bible” as if that has enough authority on its own when they don’t know the verses. Or else it’s “I just know in my heart” as if to display a sincerity such that you have to accept statement. They know that will be rejected to, at least the claim, but maybe not the supposed sincerity. It seems it all goes toward affirming their faith, to define themselves in relation to non-believers.

  • ZenDruid

    Great job, Neil.

    When the question came up as to whether you could be a Christian without religion, I was kind of expecting you to mention either the Jefferson bible or the gospel of Thomas. Imho, both of them are accessible to humanists.

    • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

      One would have to define what “being a Christian” means. It’s a highly elastic term, subject to wildly varying interpretations. There are versions of Christianity which are virtually synonymous with Humanism, and I can be cool with those even while not subscribing to any of their beliefs about the supernatural.

  • ZenDruid

    Great job, Neil.

    When the question came up as to whether you could be a Christian without religion, I was kind of expecting you to mention either the Jefferson bible or the gospel of Thomas. Imho, both of them are accessible to humanists.

  • cgosling

    This was useful, not for Neil as much as for the Christians present. No matter how many times they hear us explain why and what we believe and don’t, they continue to ask the same questions and have the same arguments about why we are wrong and why evolution is not true. I’ll bet if Neil asked for a show of hands as to who believed in a Godless evolution, there would be ho raised hands. The argument for belief in God and not in evolution have not changed for hundreds of years. Same questions, same answers, same questions.

    • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

      Hardly anyone in the South accepts evolution…not even the biology teachers. After the talk concluded, one of the youth approached me and he asked two questions. First he asked for an explanation for the finely-tuned universe, and second he asked if I was “one of those people who believe in evolution.” My answer to his first question was very quick. But I had to clarify for the second that evolution is not necessarily an atheistic concept. Many Christians (e.g. Francis Collins, and the folks at Biologos) accept evolution. Now, in another setting I might go a little farther and ask some questions about the obviously unguided nature of evolution, but even that isn’t a conclusive thing. Either way, sometimes I’m amazed we’re still talking about this.

      • cgosling

        Thanks Neil – It’s true that the Southern churches are a hotbed of antievolution sentiment, but elsewhere it may not be so. Occasionally when I attend church with my wife here in Indianapolis, I notice that the wealthy/educated/professional congregation looks divided when it comes to prayer and church doctrine. Here are a few verses describing that:

        During SundayServices

        During Sunday services in the midst of sacred song,
        heads are bowed in prayer, hands with clasped palms.
        Religious thoughts may not hold your attention nor grip your
        busy mind;
        your thoughts may often wander; perhaps of the secular kind.

        What about the business deal or the raise you didn’t get?
        What about your sexy friend or that football bet?

        What about the college boards or next year’s tuition?
        Will your car last the year, what is its condition?

        Does the pastor make any sense as he rants and raves?
        Do his words make you fearful or calm oceans’ angry waves?
        I don’t believe these bent bodies, clasped hands and bowed
        heads
        really mean they’ve swallowed what the preacher said.

        Those, who use a little reason and make a scientific choice,
        need more than threats and bribes so they might rejoice.
        They may be closeted atheists or agnostics, if you like.
        They really may be humanists of the secular type.

        They come to church with family, to see their social
        friends.
        They come to put in an appearance; this way the week it
        ends.
        They come to church because their parents did so and told
        them to do the same.
        They come to church not because they believe what the
        bible claims.

        Children of all faiths believe as their family does
        about miracles and myths, and silly things because
        to doubt those stories is a sin, dogma is from God’s own
        mind.
        Don’t think for yourself they say, you must leave science
        behind.
        Trust in what the bible says, believe it as you are told.
        Don’t doubt what the preacher claims; his word is good as
        gold.

        During Sunday services in the midst of sacred song,
        heads are bowed in prayer, hands with clasped palms.
        Now is the time to question the stories you were told
        in youth when you were timid. Now is your time, be bold.

        • Camorris

          This might be lyrics for a good song. I wish I knew how to compose music.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charlie-Sitzes/1501487089 Charlie Sitzes

      Hi Craig
      If we look at the definition of delusion: “a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence” it helps resolve part of the puzzle. The discouraging part is that there is no cure for delusion. We have medications available for psychotics, but nothing to cure delusion.

      I really enjoyed the interview.

      • cgosling

        Charlie – We at CFI Indiana are considering a friendly “exchange of ideas” with a religious group of some kind. I hope it come to pass.

  • Robyman4

    Well done, Mr. Carter. But the pastor’s “can I close this in prayer?” bit at the end was a hoot – it’s his church, isn’t it? So I’m betting he would have done whatever he wanted to do even if someone objected.

  • whataboutthekids?

    Neil, the similarities we share on “arriving” at our beliefs (as most clearly defined as “secular humanism” or in my case “metaphysical naturalism”, though I hate definitions) are refreshing. Growing up in a devout southern baptist literal interpretation of the bible environment, it’s only recently (i’m now 35) that I have been comfortable discussing my position with my friends and family (yet to breach the subject with my parents as it will crush them). What I found most interesting about your talk was how easily you breezed over the fact that your four daughters are practicing (I believe you used the word “devout”) christians. The catalyst that brought about my refusal to further deny what I truly believe was in fact the simple question of “what do I tell my kids about my spiritual beliefs”. Ultimately, I believe I would have been content to go through life half-heartedly believing in some variation of a theist position, essentially placing my bet through salvation/good works to avoid hell and appease my friends and family. BUT, when I really started to dissect what I wanted to pass down to my children (12, 8, 7) it hit me like a ton of bricks! How and why would I ever perpetuate something that I now completely refute as utter nonsense to those that I love and cherish the most. This was my santa clause moment. Now, I struggle with how to communicate with my kids as they are receiving a plethora of information and experiences (grandparents take them to church) that have been designed down through centuries to hook them and never let go. Back to the question for you…if indeed you talk to your kids about your beliefs, how do you provide it in a context that is appropriate and arm them with responses to inevitable questions from theists that they can execute without being ridiculed by friends and family. I want my kids to first live a tolerant life, but secondly, I want them to be healthy skeptics and challenge anything that doesn’t fit into the known natural laws of our universe. I’ll avoid the apologetic arguments, but having recently introduced to them a few works by Stephen Hawkins (we love Netflix) and seeing their thirsty minds gobble up truth/science on the biggest scale, it’s going to be very difficult for me to withhold further enlightenment…

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charlie-Sitzes/1501487089 Charlie Sitzes

      I had the same question. Why would an atheist stand by and allow their children’s minds to become contaminated? It’s beyond understanding.

      • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

        (See my comment above. That’s all I’ll be saying about this.)

    • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

      Ah, you noticed how quickly I buzzed past that, huh? I didn’t feel the question was appropriate for a YouTube video so I didn’t include that. The best way I know to answer that question is to say that their mother is a devoted Christian (as I once was with her) and the task of raising them is a team effort. For me that means compromises must be made for the sake of stability in their lives. Thus far they have been spared the tension between their father’s atheism and their mother’s Christianity. But one day they will be facing it, and I’m not too worried that they won’t turn out well. They’re sharp girls, and very sweet. They’ll make their way through that minefield when the time comes. And if our mutual resolve to do what’s best for them remains (and I wouldn’t bet against that if I were you) they will come through that with good relationships with both of their parents.

      They will have to decide for themselves what path they will take when they are grown.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.c.straka Jeff Straka

    Great interview, Neil! Another interview is available – it’s with atheist Gretta Vosper at her experimental “hybrid” church: http://www.westhill.net/west-hill-podcast/2013/5/5/may-5-2013-interview-an-atheist-at-church.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.jacobsen.58 Michael Jacobsen

    I was one of the atheists interviewed in church yesterday. The pastor and the congregation that hosted me were wonderful gracious hosts who took a genuine interest in my point of view. I think this program was a fantastic idea which really helped to build some bridges in our community. I hope there will be more genial, face to face exchanges in the future. It beats taking endless pot shots at each other across an anonymous cyber battlefield.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adam.s.zens Adam Spurgeon Zens

    The number one misconception that he lists for perceptions about atheists should also be given a number one misconception about theists. :)

    Theists don’t think that atheists can’t or do not behave morally…it is that they cannot ground their morals (logically or metaphysically) in a non-belief or non-theological system.

    That’s the biggest misconception that the public holds about theists in my view.

    • Anna

      Actually, many theists do in fact believe that atheists cannot or do not behave morally. That’s not a misconception; that’s a sad fact. It’s brought to our attention every time someone comes here asking what stops us from committing crimes like rape and murder. Unfortunately, such questions are an all-too-frequent occurrence.

  • anjana

    read more about why do churches have towers http://infoskool.com/why-do-churches-have-towers

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charlie-Sitzes/1501487089 Charlie Sitzes

    Neil I enjoyed the interview and how I wish I could have seen it before I was invited to speak to a room full of preachers, one Muslim and one Jew here in Bloomington,IN.

    The one thing I am having trouble getting my head around though is the statement (assuming I heard it correctly) that your daughters attend church. The mind of a child is so easily contaminated. Or do you occasionally have a decontamination session? :)

  • Toth

    Mostly good, but I could have done without all the bashing of antitheism. I don’t expect you to defend antitheism, if that’s not what you espouse, but you didn’t need to feed into the “arrogant, militant atheist” meme that the audience was probably already predisposed to accept.

    • http://twitter.com/godlessindixie Neil Carter

      I’m hearing this a lot. I could use help for future reference. Which parts of my talk did you feel was “bashing of antitheism”? I thought I clarified that I simply didn’t identify with it but I have been surprised to hear how many feel I was doing much more than that. So if you don’t mind taking the time, tell me which things I said you feel were too harsh.

      • Mary

        I didn’t think you bashed anti-theism. To me, you just distanced yourself a little from anti-theists, and you have the right to do that if you think it will help the audience to understand your perspective. Some atheists really ARE on a mission to cure the world of God, and most Christians have encountered those atheists at one time or another. If you are at peace with letting people be, then it’s important to point out. Perhaps you could do it simply by saying, “I’m not trying to tell anyone not to believe in God. I am not compelled at all to change you or to challenge your faith in God.” If you put it that way and don’t mention anti-theists at all, then maybe no one will see any bashing?

  • Mary

    Neil, I just wanted to thank you SO MUCH for posting this video. I have been looking FOR YEARS for a presentation of my situation (de-converted very serious Christian, now 37) that I could share with my parents who are still devoted Christians. I “came out” to them several years ago, but we have not talked at length. I am much better in writing than in oral presentation, and I knew that they still had a lot of questions. I just could not find any book or blog entry or video that was respectful enough of Christians and also explained my point of view (without getting into debate or outright bashing). YOU DID IT! My father called yesterday afternoon to discuss your video with me. It was such a refreshing conversation. Thanks to your presentation, he seems to really understand what it’s like to be me and to fear the response of most of my family and friends. He asked me point-blank if he and mom had responded kindly enough and are treating me well!

    The other question he had was about the moral thing. He said he understands that atheists can be moral, but he doesn’t understand where the “compass” comes from. To what can we refer to keep us going along the good path if we don’t have scriptures. I tried to explain that I still have to live with myself every night, and to me, treating others the way I want to be treated just makes sense. And so does the medical oath to “do no harm.” I tend to try to strike a good balance between doing no harm and ensuring that I am honest and true to myself. After talking for a while, he seemed to really get that I can have principles that came from my upbringing that I still value.

    The final question he had is one I see echoed in these comments. He mentioned your daughters and led into the question of when it will be appropriate for my parents to share their faith with my daughter. I basically said that since they are her grandparents, there is this built-in amount of respect and almost adoration that she has for them, and I think they should be careful with that. And I told him I want them to wait until she is at least school age. AND I asked if he and mom would keep an open mind and examine WHY they feel the need to share their faith when they find themselves wanting to do so. Is it because they truly think something is missing in HER young life? I told him that we plan to raise her with a solid structure of morals and a lot of loving happiness. If they only want to present religion to her because they are compelled to do it for themselves, they might want to question that and reconsider. I also told him that we are going to raise her to be an open-minded critical thinker, and she will be exposed to all sorts of people and their beliefs, and that we will not purposefully steer her away from Christianity. [Of course, I honestly think that if we can help her to be a critical thinker, she won't end up a Christian, but we'll see. That grandparent idolization is strong.] He seemed to feel better, and we agreed to be open and to respectfully work together as my daughter gets older.

    The whole conversation really helped me. I know there are still a LOT of people in my life who would not understand me now, and I don’t know if I will ever be open with them, but at least my parents have taken another step or two towards me. I also shared your video on facebook as something worth watching, but only one christian friend has indicated she watched it. IF ONLY people would listen, they might be more friendly when I do come out. :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/kent.randi Kent Randi

    I posted this on his blog, but instead of an answer received a false dichotomy.

    “too many diverse kinds of theism out there.” So which theism were you addressing when you carefully prepared this talk, worked on the Keynote or Powerpoint slide show and created miles of distance between your kind of Atheism and the Anti-Theists who get sh&% done?

    Your lengthy prose above reminds me of someone trying to convince themselves rather than an audience. If you were wrong, admit it and move on. If you felt justified, offer a precise explanation instead of some drawn out wordy diatribe.

    Have you any examples of when an alliance between atheists and Christians has produced any notable benefits that prevented their abuse and intrusions into secular society? Or is this a more personal attempt to make amends for daring to think for yourself and win back the fair-weather Christian friends you once had?

    Above you make a false dichotomy. You offer only two alternatives, one peace loving fuzzy coated kumbaya mantra and the polar opposite with “swords raised attack”. Do you really believe those to be the only options? This type of defense is embarrassingly transparent.

    You took what was to be a National effort to raise awareness and give general insight of Atheism to Theists and instead used the opportunity for personal gain while scapegoating the Anti-Theists for whom without you would not have had the platform to begin with.

  • JA

    I like the fact that the pastor stated up front that he was going to hold back the ‘apologetics questions’ and read the more general questions about atheism that dealt with culture and society.

  • litesp33d

    If the perspective is that you are wrong and I am right the barriers immediately created mean that no dialogue can take place. I can see that Neil has taken quite a time to think of answers to such questions that will open the door. If the answer to what do you think of Jesus was ‘I don’t think Jesus even existed’, it would be like putting a glass container straight out of the freezer on to a very hot surface.

    His answer may help people explore the what is/was Jesus question more and one way to get closed minds to open is that. If people read and research more the natural, rational conclusion becomes obvious eventually.

    For eons the religious have been taught not to have anything to do with atheists by their clergy. Now they are opening up due to the growing numbers of atheists around the World we should assist them on that journey not ridicule their existing beliefs. For many it is often not their fault that they have not been exposed to alternative material.


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