Jonathan and 50/50

There is an idea amongst some atheists that if we fail to cloak our disgust with religion that the adherents of said religions will stop speaking to us.  This idea is empirically denied since I have leagues of them hanging out in my inbox and facebook wall dangling bad arguments in front me like a delectable treat, practically begging me to take a piece out of them in public.  Some will say that I’m antagonizing the believers.  I say I’m giving them what they clearly want.

Anyway, the other day I wrote a piece on how analogous faith is to insanity.  ‘Jonathan’ didn’t think I was being fair.

Why is it crazy asses are the only ones considered by non-believers when it comes to someone claiming the voice of God to begin with?

You’ve just made my point for me.  All the things that make this guy a crazy ass (your wording) are what amounts to noble faith elsewhere.

You can’t say he’s crazy for hearing voices.  Most Christians believe god speaks to them.

You can’t say he’s crazy for believing the voice is god.  Most Christians believe the same.

You can’t say he’s crazy for obeying the voice.  Most Christians consider obeying god to be a virtue.

So what is it that distinguishes this person from other Christians?  Any Christian out there can only really cite that this guy’s voices he believed to be god told him something different.  The thing is, that his voices claiming to be god had a different take on what he should do is not the part that makes him crazy.  If the voices tell you to donate $50/week to the United Way, that’s still no less crazy than the nutter who plucked his eyes out.  It’s more beneficial, but no less crazy – and we damn sure don’t need craziness to tell beneficial acts from harmful acts.  We sure as hell need the crazy to confuse the two though, which is precisely the hang up I have with religion – it’s close enough to insanity (indistinguishable if you ask me) that it confuses what is beneficial with what is unfair or harmful.

I’m not one to claim to speak for God; however, speaking from a Christian perspective, when checked against what we know of God, we can discern with reason foolishness apart from piety.

You don’t speak for god, but you’re ready to assert what we know of god?  That’s an amazing level of humility and pretension all within the same sentence.  It’s kind of impressive…in a way that makes me want to headbutt a cinder block.

First, we don’t need the bible or any religion’s presumptions about the nature of god in order for the last part of Jonathan’s sentence to be true.  We can discern, with reason, foolishness from piety all by ourselves.  We can also tell, when we are not contaminated by faith, when pious conclusions and foolish conclusions are the same.  It’s very simple, really.

Reasonable conclusions: People don’t rise from the dead.  People don’t walk on water.  I should be charitable because I live in a world I share with others and it will make the world a better place.  Killing people for working on a particular day was never a concept that benefited humankind.  Ripping your eyes out is probably a bad idea.

Foolish conclusions (also pious conclusions):  Ages ago, some dude rose from the dead because the rules of biology were suspended for only him.  Ages ago, some dude walked on water because the rules of physics were suspended for only him.  I should be charitable because a voice in my head tells me to, and I unquestionably trust this voice for some reason.  Killing people for working on a particular day at one point represented the zenith of moral wisdom.  And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee… (Mat 5:29)

And second, what you know about god amounts to what you know about Goldilocks.  You know what some people wrote in a book ages ago and, frankly, most Christians don’t even know that.  And the contents of that book represent the opposite of reasonable conclusions, which is what necessitated the concept of believing things on faith in the first place.

Anyway, what your argument boils down to here is that god is really speaking to you, but not to the guy who plucked his eyes out (lest they offend him).  Yes, charity is reasonable while ripping your own eyes out is not, but not because god is really speaking to one of you.  You can’t say that this guy is crazy because he heard voices, nor for assuming the voice was god, nor for obeying the voice without question, because the ‘good’ Christians you reference do the same thing (so did Abraham, for that matter).  Pointing out that the voices are telling multiple people different things and saying it’s up to us to partition piety from foolishness (as if the two were somehow incompatible) actually works against you.  That so many people hear conflicting things should point you to the conclusion that hearing voices is unreliable  (unless you think god is really telling everybody different things).  That Christians are eager to trust the voice, despite watching the folly of others trusting the voice, only adds to the crazy, it doesn’t rescue the Christians.

Now, there are certain arguments which, once a believer begins to utter them, I begin to salivate.  I count the seconds waiting for them to finish so I can hang them up like a pinata and use them to make a public statement about how religion is not only propped up by horrible arguments, but also how it suspends a person’s standard set of checks against gullibility.  Jonathan continued with just such an argument.

I think it takes as much faith to be an atheist as it does to believe in (a) deity(ies).

Why does Jonathan believe this?

Accepting that God is not outside the realm of possibility – or even probability for that matter – it is then equally possible that God may choose to speak through any one or number of us.

But Jonathan, what if I don’t accept that god’s existence is anywhere close to probable?  I mean, you didn’t really give me a reason to accept that premise.  Possible =/= probable.

It seems patently clear to me that the existence of a god is not probable in the least.  For one thing, we have found no evidence of god’s existence.  For another, everything we have explained has turned out to be the result of natural causes.  Everything.  What need do we have a god when natural causes, which we know exist, produce order all by themselves?  At this point it’s as certain that god does not exist as it is that smurfs exist.  It is more certain that no god of compassion or intelligence exists in this pitiless, chaotic universe.

Then we get an argument I’ve never heard before, which is a change of pace.

…speaking again from a Christian perspective, part of the discernment between that which was spoken by God or by man would have to be determined by the purpose of the act; primarily whether or not it glorifies God.

So logic/reason, the means by which we usually ascertain if somebody is bullshitting us, is not how we determine whether or not some person is really hearing the voice of god?  All that matters is that the voice is ‘glorifying god’?  And what exactly do you mean by ‘glorifying god’?

Do you mean that the command of the voice is to do something beneficial?  In that case, a lot of the people in the bible heard voices that weren’t glorifying god.  And if those people weren’t glorifying god, it’s probably time to flush that book.  Do you mean that anybody who has a voice telling them something different from your voice is failing to glorify god?  In that case, you have a self-sealing prophecy on your hand that all the other people hearing conflicting voices of god could use to disregard you.  Do you mean that it must reflect what’s in the bible?  Again, you’ve made a self-sealing prophecy where disproof is impossible (you’ve also created a problem for all the people in the bible who heard god’s voice).

The purpose of saying something is not at all what determines its truth – it’s how reasonable their statements are and how well they are supported by evidence.  You, Jonathan, are saying a lot of things that you simply cannot support.  How do you know the nature of god?  How do you know what does or doesn’t glorify god?  Fuck, how do you know a god even exists?  How do you know his existence is probable?  You say all these things, but you don’t give me cause at all to think you have a single decent reason for believing any of it.  Likewise, if somebody claims to be hearing the voice of god, without some evidence behind that claim, it doesn’t matter of they’re speaking in tongues or if the voice is telling them Jesus is a super groovy dude, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are transplanting their own ideas onto a serotonin rush or that they are genuinely nuts.

Jonathan also says a couple times in his postings that he is careful not to be judgmental, as if that somehow translates into making him the better person.  Hogwash, says I.  Bad ideas deserve to be judged.  They deserve to have their flaws pointed out.  And if somebody continues to hold onto them, and to use bad arguments in public after those arguments have been dissected, the person carrying those ideas deserves to be not only judged but shamed.

Just as atheism makes sense to you, Christianity makes sense to me and Islam makes sense to someone else, etc.

Just because it makes sense to someone doesn’t mean it makes sense.  People draw lousy conclusions all the time!  People are in error all the time!  And at best, considering the above options, only one of us can be right.  And since these beliefs influence our moral choices and, according to the latter two, hold the means to eternal suffering in the balance, the wrongness of at least two of them is not something so inconsequential.  That is something that makes judging those ideas a necessity.

Truth is, unless one has undoubtedly stood in the face of the Almighty, none of us have absolute evidence to the existence or non-existence of God.

The hell?  Ok, so nobody has absolute knowledge.  Some ideas are still way more likely to be true than others, and some propositions, while still remotely possible, are all-but-certainly false.  God is one such proposition.  I have spectacular evidence for the non-existence of god: the complete lack of any evidence for one!  What if somebody said the following to you?

Truth is, unless one has undoubtedly stood in the face of the Almighty Spiderman, none of us have absolute evidence to the existence or non-existence of God Spiderman.

Is this a good reason to believe in Spiderman?  No.  Is it a good reason to think that anybody claiming that belief in Spiderman is justified is anything other than out of their mind?  No.  Presented with this statement, the response is obvious: there isn’t any evidence of Spiderman, and so no sane person should believe in him!  The same is true of god.

Therefore I see it as a 50/50 equation.

Really?

So until we see something (or stand in its presence) it’s a 50/50 equation that it exists?  Wow, so the existence of anything I dream up, no matter how absurd (people rising from the dead) cannot ever be less than 50%?  Hot damn!  Nymphomaniac supermodel physics majors hiding in my house?  50/50!  Gremlins hiding in airplanes?  50/50 (I guess I’m never flying again…)  Six-headed, silver-feathered snakes slithering about the Amazon coughing up solid gold hairballs?  Similar creatures in the Gobi Desert?  50/50!  Let’s launch a pair of expeditions – odds are will find one of those cold-blooded gold mines in one of the two places!  How about the fossilized remains of an alien whose body is composed of pure diamond buried in my back yard?  50/50 chance!  Let’s grab Dana Hunter, some pick axes, and some tequila and go get ourselves retired!

And think of all the things I’ve never ‘stood in the presence of’.  Atoms!  Never seen ‘em.  50/50 chance!  Albino foxes.  I’ve never seen one, so I guess it’s only a 50/50 chance that some exist somewhere.  Hell, I’ve never seen a black hole.  Neither has any other human being.  This confuses me since physicists say there are more black holes in the universe than grains of sand on the Earth.  Don’t they know there’s only a 50% chance that even one black hole exists?

Evidence, and lack of evidence, changes the odds, Jonathan.

I could go on, but I’m just so sick of it.  All Jonathan’s subsequent arguments are just as awful.  Prepare for all the common objections.

1.  JT, you’re taking the worst of the worst and using it to caricature faith.

No.  Fuck that.  Go to a church sometime and talk to the people in the pews.  This is what you get from the vast majority.  These are the types of arguments that always get left on my social sites or get sent to my inbox.  The arguments used by religious people are consistently this rancid.  Don’t get mad at me for taking people to task when they voice opinions they’ve spent extremely little time formulating – get mad at the people treating their beliefs with less importance than I am!  It’s not like my standards are insanely high here.  I’m not asking for much.

2.  Why do you care so much?  Aren’t you just being a bully?

No!  Bad ideas often do considerable harm on an individual level and always do considerable harm on the societal level – and religions take bad reasoning and transform it into a virtue.  The concept of faith tells us that not only is it ok to be irrational, but that we sure as shit better be or face eternal punishment.  This is not conducive to the construction of a reasonable society.  Since ideas are the lifeblood of our species, it’s important we not only take note of that type of toxin but work to eradicate it.  Religion is intellectual poison and it’s high time we started saying so without apology.

Religion keeps people credulous, and since we share this planet with our neighbors and must work with them in order to live harmoniously, credulity in our neighbors is not something we should just shrug off.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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