Hemant Mehta Gets Interviewed, Defends Reality

by Jesse Galef

My friend Hemant Mehta (FriendlyAtheist) had a great interview with blogger Nancy Duke on the Chicago Coalition of Reason billboard, atheism, and religion.  The questions gave away her semi-hostile position, but I feel like Hemant did a great job answering in a positive way:

ND: What is ChriFSMas?
HM: Christmas for the Flying Spaghetti Monster followers.

ND: Are you equating Jesus to a Flying Spaghetti Monster? That doesn’t sound like a “Friendly Atheist.” In fact, it sounds a little mean.
HM: Well, the ChriFSMas thing is just a play on words, but there is a FSM movement where the argument is: There’s as much evidence for a Flying Spaghetti Monster as there is for any other God. So, why not worship the former and not the latter? It’s tongue-in-cheek, but I think it makes a good point. In any case, I think Christmas is a good time for everyone to give presents and spend time with loved ones. It’s not limited to Christians.

Oof.  She’s clearly looking for a fight.  An interesting exchange came near the end:

ND: One more question and then a few quick hits to wrap it up. You mentioned that after research, you couldn’t find evidence to support any of your previous religious ideas. But isn’t that the point? Isn’t faith supposed to be based in a belief of not needing evidence, not needing proof? It wouldn’t be faith if you needed evidence and facts, because that’s called science. So, why use science or atheism or anything else to debunk religion when religion is based on embracing something you cannot prove, i.e. faith?

HM: Yes, relying on faith is the opposite of relying on evidence. However, I was always taught my beliefs as if they were facts. I don’t know of any Christian churches that say, “We believe Jesus resurrected after three days but we don’t actually know that for sure.” No, they say it as if it were true and proven and factual.

I discovered at 14 that my beliefs, which I always believed were factual, were just ideas that people of my faith shared and there was no good reason to believe any of it was true. I guess I discovered that my faith was indeed faith. And I decided I wanted to rely on things that were evidence-based and actually factual. That led me to atheism. It doesn’t say that God doesn’t exist, but atheism says that there’s no good evidence for God’s existence, so why bother believing in one. To me, that’s honest.

Bewildering image and caption:

Facts are fun! …

This meme is what we need to combat in America, and Hemant does a good job explaining why he dismissed faith.  It’s not a reason to belive something is true.  It’s funny that both sides are saying “there’s no evidence for this belief!” but meaning it in completely opposite ways.  It is central to our arguments that people need reasons to assert something as true.  If they don’t accept that basic tenant of thinking, literally any belief is acceptable.

A big distinction that I make time and time again is that we’re never looking for proof – we’re looking for a reasonable amount of evidence to support the level of belief.  It would be a positive step if churches did what Hemant suggested – admit their own uncertainty and instead use stories as non-authoritative metaphors about life.

I’m a bit puzzled – and concerned – that Duke had a small clipart of someone pointing to a chart with the caption: “Facts are fun! … Sometimes.”  What in the world is that supposed to convey?  In context of the discussion – it was right next to the above blockquote – it wasn’t saying that sometimes the world isn’t as we wish it to be.  No, it seems to be dismissing the very value of facts when assessing a worldview.  “Facts are great unless they contradict my beliefs!”

How do you respond to such brazen disregard for logical thinking?

[Update:] You raise the point that this might be a Poe, especially given the “Keeping democracy intact since 1912” slogan. If it’s satire, it’s remarkably subtle. I’m looking into it. What do you guys think?

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