Post-Chicago Update + Radio Interview

I had a lovely time at Chicago Ideas Week, and my 15 minute talk on the Ideological Turing Test and how to have better fights should be online in about a month. For a preview of what my co-panelists and I talked about, you can check out the image above. Chicago Ideas Week contracted with Ink Factory to have posters drawn during each of the talks that highlighted key ideas.  I’m standing in front of the illustration they generated during Religion: Exploring the Unexpected.  I’m trying to point at the bit on the left that was drawn during my talk.  (It’s the bit that where it says ‘DATA’).  Though I was also responsible for this:

I’ll bet a lot of you can accurately guess the context.  (It’s something a little more specific and nerdier than just “Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone were nice”).

I may not be able to give you the video from Chicago yet, but I can link you to a radio interview I did on The Drew Marshall show a week ago.  We talked about my conversion, the parts of living a Christian life that I find hardest, and I did a quickie pitch for Bayesian statistics over frequentist methods.  (In my defense, Drew was asking for it).  You can listen to the interview here.

I wasn’t talking much about the Ideological Turing Test on the program, but I was thinking about it afterwards.  After Drew had thanked me, and I was off the line, his co-host said I didn’t sound like a Christian.  I don’t know whether it was the math or the Dungeons and Dragons analogy or what, but it reminded me of when, in the first year of the Turing Test, one of the Christian competitors skated to victory when a lot of atheists assumed Christians wouldn’t find SMBC funny.  Run into enough anomalies and you might want to wonder whether it’s your model or the world that’s wrong.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

    Is that a tau around your neck, or a cross with the top bar not coming through at the resolution? If it’s a tau, Franciscan, pi-bashing, both, or other?

    • leahlibresco

      The latter (in the former dichotomy)

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

    Can you tell us (me) about the Drew Marshall show? I don’t know the cultural context. I assumed from the interview that he’s an atheist, but I couldn’t make out his co-host, and of course I could be wrong with all of my indicators. He might think you’re crazy for becoming Catholic, not for becoming Christian, after all. So, what do people expect from Drew Marshall?
    I like the description of being a paladin, though wouldn’t you say that paladins do believe that their relationship with the Good is reciprocal? Depending on the edition you play, paladins derive powers from the Good, and the gods are clearly invested in their paladins’ behaviour (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0407.html). Or is that the point? You’ve always thought of yourself as a paladin, and now that identification makes sense?

    • leahlibresco

      Just spent a long while rereading the archives (and was particularly delighted to reencounter this). The framing of the paladin probably has more to do with how my atheist friends and I thought of it when we were playing DnD in AP Comp Sci. Paladin was more of a caste with big constraints than a religious profession in our campaign.

      I didn’t know any more about Drew Marshall than what’s on the website. Poking around on wikipedia and links, it looks like he was Christian (and had some ministry role) but now doesn’t believe in God but also prefers agnostic to atheist.

      • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

        Gotcha, and thanks.

    • jenesaispas

      http://www.drewmarshall.ca/bio.html
      Sounds like spiritual but not religious.
      So sad… like he feels as though he has to apologise for everyone else, (I kind of feel like he has depression? Probably just me.)

      • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

        Whoa, he’s Canadian. I‘m the one who should be on the hook for context here. Huh. Never heard of him.

  • jenesaispas

    Oooh! “truth takes time but once you’ve got it act on it”- one for the t-shirt line? :)

  • Jack

    You can learn the most interesting stuff about Drew Marshall here. I’ve listened to his show several times since then and even chatted with him on the air once. His show is definitely Christian in orientation, although his own feelings on the reality of God are still in flux, and he interviews a wide variety of folks.

    I heard your interview last Saturday, Leah. Seems like you’ve confused not only your old atheist friends, but also a few Christians, too! You handled the interview well, though. Maybe I say that just because I’m keen on Bayesian statistics, too.

  • David
  • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

    Chicago Ideas Week contracted with Ink Factory to have posters drawn during each of the talks that highlighted key ideas… — What a brilliant idea. I would buy one of those as a poster, any chance they will be selling them?

  • Steve Schuler

    Leah,

    Having followed your blog intermittently for about a year, more frequently since your conversion, I find myself quite perplexed as to just what it is that you actually believe. I listend to your interview with Drew and got the sense that he and his co-host were left somewhat befuddled as to what motivated your conversion and what you believe as well. I found your comment comparing Catholicism to math pretty interesting since, while I am not adept at mathematics and don’t ‘like’ math in that sense, I certainly don’t deny the ‘truth’ of math. On the other hand, while I do ‘like’ some aspects of Catholicism I certainly can not find enough ‘truth’ in it to make a believer out of me. This also applies to all of the other branches of Christianity and the other surviving religions that I have looked into. What would constitute a True Christian or Catholic I have no idea. A fairly recent poll that I read indicated that about 25 percent of self-identified Catholics believe in reincarnation, which does not particularly surprise or upset me. For my purposes if a person identifies as a Catholic, or anything else, I accept their chosen identity but do not presume to know what they believe on the basis of the label that they embrace.

    If you don’t mind I’d like to ask you three fairly straight forward questions that I think can be adequately answered with a simple yes or no response.

    First, do you believe that Jesus is the only begotten son of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary?

    Second, do you believe that Jesus was crucified, died, descended into Hell, was then physically resurrected?

    And finally, do you think that there is sufficient evidence that it ought to convince an unbiased rational person of the truth of either or both of the preceding questions?

    I hope that I am not asking you questions that you have previously been asked and answered on your blog, but do hope very much that you will answer them again if you have.

    • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

      “A fairly recent poll that I read indicated that about 25 percent of self-identified Catholics believe in reincarnation, which does not particularly surprise or upset me.”
      When I was much younger, I found out a friend believed in reincarnation and I attributed that to his being Catholic. I don’t know whether this indicates that quite a few Catholics do publicly believe in reincarnation or that I knew nothing about Catholicism at the time. (Probably the latter?)

      • Fr. Terry Donahue, CC

        I think such poll results show that some Catholics either don’t know Catholic teachings or pick and choose which they accept. There is a clear statement against belief in reincarnation in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
        “Death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When “the single course of our earthly life” is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: “It is appointed for men to die once” (Heb 9:27). There is no ‘reincarnation’ after death.” (Paragraph 1013)

        Pope John Paul II commented on reincarnation in a 1998 General Audience:
        “…many have noted the fascination with a belief like reincarnation, which is rooted in the religious soil of certain Eastern cultures. Christian revelation is not satisfied with a vague sense of survival, although it appreciates the intimation of immortality expressed in the teaching of some great God-seekers. We can also agree that the idea of reincarnation arose from an intense desire for immortality and from the perception that human life is the ‘test’ in view of an ultimate end, as well as from the need for complete purification in order to attain communion with God. However, reincarnation does not ensure the unique, individual identity of each human creature as the object of God’s personal love, nor the integrity of human existence as ‘incarnate spirit’.” http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/1998/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_04111998_en.html
        For more discussion you can also check out paragraph 9 of Tertio Millenio Adveniente: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_10111994_tertio-millennio-adveniente_en.html

        • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

          Oh, absolutely. Reincarnation is not a tenant of the Catholic church formally.
          If I recall my class on Catholicism in undergrad correctly (and I may not), a fairly high percentage of Catholics do not agree with the Catholic church proper on a statistically significant number of doctrinal and practical issues. So when we say, “what do Catholics believe?,” we are asking a different question than if we asked, “what does the Catholic Church profess?”

      • Ted Seeber

        I recently saw a poll about Christians believing in Reincarnation- and realized that the question *completely* fit the Communion of Saints.

        Shouldn’t the concept of reincarnation actually include, say, a body? Even if it isn’t a human body?

        In other words, define your terms.

    • leahlibresco

      Yes. Yes. Possibly.

      • Steve Schuler

        Thanks much for your answers, Leah.

        For what it’s worth, I’d describe myself as generally inclined towards metaphysical agnosticism, and it is probably fair to refer to me as being agnostic rather than atheistic (in the broader sense of that term). The problem of evil and the hiddeness of God seem like insurmountable obstacles to making a philosophically compelling case for theism, however attractive theism may be as a justification for a belief in objective morality. While I don’t totally discard the possibility of the existence of the supernatural, another substantial obstacle to accepting supernaturalism is the bewildering assortment of irreconcilable and contradictory forms of supernaturalistic religion and I do not think that it is possible to make a particularly compelling case for the ultimate truth of any one of them over all of the others, with that task being further compounded by the incredible fragmentation of beliefs, doctrines and denominations within each of the major world religions, not to consider the further splintering of beliefs within the various denominations into sub-denominations. Of course I could go on at some length, but I’m sure you’be heard it all before.

        I have been investigating religion/spirtuality pretty earnestly for a little over 40 years beginning when I was 15 after a near ‘born again’ experience that was primarily twarted by my familiarity with the Bible, which I gained as a youngster raised with a Christian education. Although I was not reconverted to Christianity that experience pretty much brought an end to my budding career as an evangelical atheist, an occupation that I still have not resumed. I have been unable to find anything that I can begin to accept as some sort of ultimate truth in any religion that I have looked into, at least so far. This actually has been disappointing to me and it is not the result that I would have preferred. I might add that I have been conducting something like the ‘pray for truth’ experiement over the course of these forty years (a considerably greater time comittment than the forty day duration in the experiment you’ve written about) and so far the result has been a strengthened agnostic atheism (in the narrower sense of that term), so if there is a God who is guiding my quest for truth He seems to have a preference for apostacy, at least in my case. Still, it is an ongoing experiment. You said in your interview that, “truth takes time but once you’ve got it act on it”, and I might feel envious of your brief but evidently fruitful quest for truth if I believed that you’d actually got it, but I don’t think that you have.

        My younger brother, who I have a really great relationship with, converted to Catholicism over 20 years ago and remains an active believer fully involved with Catholicism. While I have been forthright with him about what I think, and we still talk about matters philosophical and religious, I do not try to sway him from his faith. His answers to the questions I asked of you have been, predictably, “yes” to the first two and, not as predictably, “no” to the latter as he thinks that faith is not the product of reason, although many attempt to rationalize it as such. My attitude towards him and his religion, and towards the religious in general is that, while I do not think that supernaturalistic religious beliefs are true, there may be benefits that religion affords to the believer that are more valuable than those enjoyed by the non-religious, and who may be only a little closer to the truth. I don’t think that my own disbelief is really a matter of choice for me, and perhaps belief is not a matter of choice for the believer either.

        Thanks again for your answers to my questions. Without asking you I didn’t think that I should presume what you think and believe, although I will make the tentative presumption that you don’t believe in reincarnation (but please correct me if that is a false presumption).

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