Transcript: Dear Christian

Tonight I’ll be giving my talk Dear Christian at Grand Valley State University.  I first wrote the talk for Skepticon III and ages ago I posted the transcript at Atheism Resource.  Here is the transcript from the talk in full.

Dear Christian,

We have had several talks over the years and in every one of them I ask you why I should believe the things you believe. These often seem to go the same way, and so I think we need to have a little chat so that we can move forward.


First we need to cover the issue of respect, since when I explain why the reasons you give are unconvincing, you frequently insist that I respect you in response. This has always puzzled me. If an atheist believes in something for bad reasons, I immediately consider them to be gullible, since that is exactly what gullible people do. If the gullible atheist is someone I respect, I immediately apprise them to why I think their reasons are inadequate. If they are a respectable person, then they do not need me to placate them, catering to potential hurt feelings and allowing them to march into tomorrow with inaccurate beliefs. That would be the very definition of disrespect and, barring any other relevant information about you, I clearly respect you just as much as I respect atheists, or any human being for that matter. Because I respect you, I will not coddle you. It is well-meaning people that should be respected, not ideas. And frankly, respecting bad ideas is far too close to affirming them for my tastes.

Confusing Questions

Faith’s non-reliance on reason is part of the reason our conversations seldom go anywhere, but there are others. For starters, you often do not answer the questions I have asked. When I ask you why you believe the things you believe you often proceed to tell me what you believe.

Why do you believe in god?

Well, we believe that mankind is born in sin…

What you believe does not concern me so much as why you believe it (which is presumably why I should believe). That is why I asked that question.

You will also argue for something’s possibility, asking me “Isn’t it possible that a god created everything?” Often you will cite that I don’t know everything, so isn’t it at least possible? Sure. But let’s not confuse possibility with plausibility.

Virtually all ideas are distantly possible – gods who drowned the Earth and left no evidence, unicorns are possible too – maybe we haven’t looked in the right forests, maybe leprechauns hiding on Mars or there might be microscopic smurfs hiding under your seats – but conceding their possibility is not the same as conceding that they are remotely likely or that anybody has any evidence for any of it, and you’re still gullible if you believe things without evidence, even if I admit there’s a non-zero possibility that it’s true. Outside of religion, who but an absolute imbecile believes something simply because it’s possible rather than because it is the best supported explanation?

Read the Bible!

When speaking to church-goers I am always sure to ask one very specific question: why should I believe the things you believe? Most frequently I am then told to read the bible. I am told that it is an amazing book that pulls you in and contains wisdom that contributes to humanity’s collective understanding to this very day.

I can only respond that I have read the bible – more than once. I stopped being a Christian because I read the bible.

But I am not an isolated case! The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a survey not even two months ago which indicated that atheists, on the whole, generally are more informed about the tenets of the various religions than religious people.

The survey revealed some interesting things…

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes literally the body and blood of Christ. (But I’ll bet that PZ Myers sure-as-hell knows that)

More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation.

More atheists were aware of these things. We’ve read the book.

But how many of you have read the book? According to Bill Keller Ministries, a Christian group, statistical research shows that less than 10% of Christians have read the bible. Ironically, a survey conducted by Knowledge Network at the behest of Christianity Today found that 74% of professing Christians believe the bible to be the authoritative guide to faith.  If only there were a commandment forbidding people from pretending to know things they didn’t. Not that you would have read it.

Perhaps this biblical illiteracy is understandable. The bible is a hulking read at about 1,200 pages long after all. However, I can’t help but wonder how many Christians have read at least two Harry Potter books, which should say something about god’s abilities as a communicator.

I also wonder just how it is you determine that the witches in Harry Potter are obviously fiction, while the witches in Leviticus were real.

Science and the Bible

You will often tell me how science and the bible are compatible. It seems clear to me that the science of biology has quite a bit to say about people rising from the dead or being born of virgins; I think physics may have a bone to pick with someone walking on water; I think chemists may shit a brick at the notion that a human body could be converted to a pillar of salt; and I think astronomers may just have a problem with the Earth’s rotation coming to a halt as it does in Joshua 10. These things are called miracles because they violate science – and the bible is chock full of them.

If you still think science and the bible are compatible, let’s look at what would happen if the Earth stopped spinning. For this to happen would violate the conservation of angular momentum. As the Earth spins, it has kinetic energy that must be altered in some way in order to stop the rotation – this variable would have had to come from somewhere, and good luck in peer review saying it was magic.

Even if a mechanism existed to stop the Earth’s rotation, the atmosphere would continue to rotate at a speed of 1,100 mph, which is enough to produce sufficient force to rip even buildings and trees into the atmosphere if the Earth’s rotation were to cease. Were this to happen, no human being would live including Joshua and the Israelites.

Likewise, the water in the oceans would continue to rotate at those speeds, even if the planet itself stopped. For this to be avoided would require a violation of the law of inertia. It would also result in largely catastrophic events that would leave a wellspring of evidence. We have found none.

In response you will often say absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. If something didn’t happen, what more evidence could we possibly have than the lack of any evidence?

For the cherry on top, the book of Joshua also says that the moon’s motion was halted. If this happened, the moon would crash into the Earth.

Take a moment and compare the likelihood that the Earth stopped spinning against the fact that it’s easy to make shit up.

Deference to Experts

So you cannot believe the bible gives an accurate account of these things while simultaneously believing that science is consistent. Forgetting the examples I previously mentioned, you will frequently counter the bible’s contempt for science by setting up a binary situation, usually by asking a question like “If there’s no god, then how do you explain the origin of life?”

Simple: A self-replicating molecule formed when a series of fatty acids congealed into vesicles which, made permeable by convection cycles in a prebiotic Earth, trapped nucleotide monomers which self-ligated via hydrogen bonds and covalent bond ligation, polymerizing within the vesicle to form a primitive cell after which the surrounding ions increased the osmotic pressure allowing the cell to acquire lipids from other vesicles, which catalyzed competition and, thus, evolution. See?  Simple.

It’s entirely possible that that explanation registers as little more than word soup. There was a time when I didn’t understand it myself. I fixed that by making an appointment with biologists (who then sent me over to chemists) at my university and asked them to explain it. What I did not do is walk up to any layman on the street and ask them to explain it to me. That you elect to do the latter is suspicious, and leads me to believe you’re not really looking for an answer. It doesn’t matter if the layman has no clue whatsoever how life began – that is not evidence that a god exists. Just because someone doesn’t know how life began does not mean that you do. “I don’t know” is a perfectly viable answer.

Even you, dear Christian, have no issue deferring to scientists on a host of things you don’t understand. You will eat our abundant food, drink our clean water, fly on airplanes, and communicate by phone, almost universally with no idea how science has given us those things. But when it comes to evolution or abiogenesis, all of a sudden suspicion seems so sneak in. Why? Do you think this is the greatest coup in the history of the planet? That scientists have laid low for the last thousand years unveiling the mysteries of the world and rapidly improving our quality of life to gain our trust so that only now they can deceive us into thinking there are natural explanations (and thus, more probable explanations) for the diversity of life?

There ARE Religious Scientists!

But wait, you will often say. There are religious scientists out there. Yes, there are, though the percentage of them that are religious is significantly lower, such as with the National Academy of Science where only 7% believe in god. But for those scientists who do believe in a god, they do not believe in god for scientific reasons – otherwise they would be publishing papers in peer-review and engaging in scientific research into the matter.

But wait, you will often say again. There are scientists with groups like the Discovery Institute doing such work. Then why is their work not represented in the scientific literature, if not for science spending the last thousand years setting up a dastardly conspiracy? Here, let me explain how academics, including academic science, works…

The Poincaré conjecture is a century-old math problem. It is one of seven Millennium Prize Problems for which one of the world’s most prestigious mathematics organizations has offered a $1,000,000 prize to anybody who can solve one of them. It is also the only one that has ever been solved. It was solved in 2006 by a Russian mathematician named Grigori Perelman. The journal Science called it the scientific breakthrough of the year. This was the first time the honor had been bestowed in the area of mathematics. So complicated was the problem that it took a team of world-class mathematicians four years to confirm Grigori’s proof as correct. When they attempted to award him the prize money, Perelman refused. Repeated attempts were made to get Perelman to accept the prize, and each time he rejected it. For his accomplishment he would later win the Fields Medal, which is often referred to as the Nobel Prize of mathematics. Again, Perelman declined.

So here we have a man who is not asking for accolades for his work (in fact, he’s flat out refusing them), and yet the academic and scientific community is trying repeatedly to award him his just due. On the other hand we have the Discovery Institute incessantly whining that they are not being given the proper accolades, and scientists are just brushing them off. Why do you think this is?

The dichotomy between academia and the way creationists work is even more pronounced than that. When Perelman came up with his answer, do you think he wrote a book attempting to convince plumbers, secretaries, restaurant managers, and all other manner of laymen that he was correct? Do you think he launched a political campaign to try and get his work into the public school curriculum? Or do you think he did the responsible thing and went first to professional mathematicians to make sure that his work was sound, laying it before the judgment of people who have spent their lives studying mathematics?

It should worry you that groups like the Discovery Institute are more concerned with the minds of the non-scientists. It’s how they get away with getting you to repeat a positively idiotic line like, “Evolution is just a theory” or that the second law of thermodynamics invalidates evolution or confirms god’s existence. It’s not that science is an anti-god coup. The fact of the matter is that scientists would catch them lying, but maybe not you. They’re counting on you not doing your homework. Not only are they depending on you to swallow the misinformation, they’re hoping you will help them to spread it further. Sadly, most of you have not disappointed them. In short, they’ve played you like a cheap fiddle. In the future I hope you will remember who they are and how they operate.

Science Can’t Go After the Supernatural

So it makes no sense to think that science is anti-god, but maybe science is incomplete. Next comes the claim that science is biased – it can only go after the natural, but it cannot go after the supernatural. Neither can you, because human beings can only go after the natural. The second you experience a sensation, whether it’s visual, auditory, emotional, whatever, that sensation is natural. Sure you may feel that god exists, but that feeling is produced by a litany of chemicals in the brain, and the catalyst for their release may or may not be god. Either way, you are naturally feeling them.

If god exists, he made us that way. It is a strange god indeed who would create us with only eyes, ears, taste, nothing but receptors to the natural world, and then cover all natural evidence of his existence. If such a god exists, the only reasonable conclusion is that he does not want any of us to believe in him.

We Do not Choose Our Beliefs

This is especially true because of the way he made our brains. So often, dear Christian, you talk about how we must choose to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. I counter that this is asking the impossible. Why? Simple. We do not choose our beliefs.

You may test this by climbing to the top of a tall building and then attempting, through force of will, to convince yourself that gravity doesn’t work (or that it’s just a theory). Or try choosing to believe that you open doors by doing a jig, rather than by turning the handle, and try to leave your house in the morning.

God made our brains this way. I’m not an atheist because I’ve chosen to be one. I’m an atheist because no religious person, to my satisfaction, has given me a legitimate reason to believe that they rightly possess knowledge of god’s existence and I am therefore powerless to believe otherwise. I contest that only a malicious god would make belief in the absurd the only means to escape eternal torment after making me with a brain incapable of doing so.

Your salvation can only be that you think you have a good reason to believe in god. And so we trudge forward…

Argument from Design

But god, you’ll tell me, is self-evident. Just look at that tree, that building. They’re so complex! Mustn’t they have had a designer?


Lots of complex things are produced all the time in our universe by natural, mindless forces acting upon inanimate objects. Snowflakes, for instance, are always unique and they are highly ordered. Yet we do not need to invent a snowflake-making god, since we are fully aware of the processes that crystalize water in that fashion. The same can be said for exceedingly complex things like stars, which are formed when a large hydrogen cloud collapses into itself in a process called the Jeans instability. We do not need a god to explain the stars, and we especially don’t need a god who created the stars in the same day when stars are still being made throughout even our own galaxy.

Our personal complexity is explained perfectly soundly by evolution – unless the same science that gave us laptops and projectors is really out to get us.

Science is not Faith

But don’t I need faith to believe that science works?

Fuck. No.

Let’s get one thing straight: the universe operates on a set of rules, and this is the only assumption science makes. This is how we’ve been able to throw things to the edge of our solar system with uncanny accuracy and invent light bulbs, by counting on the consistency of the universe. And it works.

You already accept the universe is consistent. If you put your finger on a hot stove and burn yourself, then you pass the same stove a week later, you’re probably not going to put your finger on it again. Such inductive rules could not be formed without consistency. This is why you’d be shocked as hell if an animal spoke to you, but less shocked after it had happened twenty times.

And for all of us the assumption of consistency is confirmed every single day. At that point it really stops being a terribly problematic assumption. Our problem is that you use consistency to get about your daily lives, but then want to tell me that a Canaanite Jew rose from the dead.

Faith is NOT a Good Thing

While we’re on the subject of faith…

You’d think that the scientific discrepancies with the bible would be enough to confirm the bible, and thus the religion based upon it, as fiction – but you, dear Christian, always have a trump card. That trump card is faith, which you will no doubt hide behind once all other arguments are exhausted. When you do, I always ask you to distinguish faith from gullibility for me. After all, the word “gullible” was invented for people who believe things without adequate reasons. So why is belief for the sake of belief suddenly a virtue, rather than a point of embarrassment when it is applied to god?

Reasons allow us to elevate one truth claim over another in terms of their credibility. It’s the reason we think the Earth is round, rather than flat, for instance. But faith doesn’t seem to do this. I cannot help but think that you surely realize this, and that you see the hollowness of faith in the hands of non-Christians. A Muslim believing because faith is insufficient to convince the Christian, for instance. In the hands of religions incompatible with your Christianity, faith is merely the means by which people maintain a series of errors, errors that could cost them eternal paradise (and then some) – not a virtue at all.

At its very best faith, it seems, is an immeasurably poor means to separate one idea from another in terms of credibility. In fact I can only wonder if there is any idea so at odds with reality, so positively lunatic, that faith cannot be used in its defense. It seems to me there is not, which reduces faith in my eyes to nothing more than gullibility pursued, and that is something no respectable person should be proud of. If you are honest with yourself, can you really expect me to think you are justified in believing impossible things merely because you have faith?

Faith and Morality

So why have I elected to be so vocal about your religion? Because Christians are good people with good intentions. Sadly, good intentions are not enough. Almost all of us have good intentions and are trying our very best to be moral. The problem is that what is moral changes based upon what is true. I’ll give you an example.

Imagine for a moment you are the mayor of a city and one day a man bursts into your office screaming that an Earthquake of sufficient magnitude to level the city will strike tomorrow and that everybody needs to be evacuated. However, upon talking to the man you remain unconvinced. In this situation both parties agree that if such an Earthquake is imminent that leaving its inhabitants to die would be immoral. You simply disagree on the reality of the Earthquake.

And so it is with religion. If what an individual says about god is true, then I’d wager most of his moral judgments logically follow. The nub, what changes everything, is whether or not that god exists.

This is how Christianity and the bible are used by perfectly well-intentioned to engage in actions that are counter-productive to societal well-being. Can there be any doubt that Christians who engage in this behavior do so because they are well-intentioned people who simply believe god commands it?

That’s not MY Religion

At this point, many more moderate believers will respond that the Christians I’m speaking of are not true Christians and will assure me that god commands something else. I will counter that I don’t believe it is enough for you, dear Christian moderate, to simply assert that your theology is different. The villains of faith are trying to act in accordance with god’s will, as are you. You just believe god wishes something different. But both your reasons for believing you are privy to the will of a Creator equally suck, and I cannot criticize unreason on the one hand while giving it a free pass on the other just because it happens to line up with reasonable conclusions sometimes. Faith is the corrupting factor in our religious enemies, and I cannot allow you to keep it alive because you have survived its application. As Sam Harris concisely put it; we do not need bad reasons to be good, and I will not disrespect you enough to treat you like you do.

Bad ideas survive because of bad reasoning. It makes no sense then to advance the apotheosis of bad reasoning as the best (or even as a good) antidote for them. If we do, then what you deem as ‘good’ is very much the enemy of our effort to be better.

It has not been faith that has cured illnesses over the year, but medicine. If god exists, he created a world in which finding enough food was a day-to-day challenge. Through the application of reason, we have conquered that hurdle. If god exists then when he created the world he constructed tropical storms, presumably in such a way that they do not give warning of their approach. But with our minds alone we have robbed hurricanes of the element of surprise. Throughout human history we have faced a plethora of challenges, all of which we have conquered by keeping reasonable ideas and by rejecting unreasonable ideas, based entirely upon the consistency of the universe – because it works. It works so well that our lives are a veritable Utopia compared to those of generations before us. Reason is clearly mankind’s salvation, not faith. Not Jesus.

Even if I lament that irrationality barricades itself within good-natured people, I see what irrationality can do to their good intentions. I see how often believing inaccurate things takes someone’s good intentions and twists them into evil in both religious and non-religious people. The problem, the enemy, is not human nature (as many Christians would have us believe), but irrationality, and nothing canonizes irrationality as a virtue like faith. Because of this I must continue to fight faith with all of the facts at my disposal. Because of that, dear Christian, I must continue to assault your cherished beliefs. How can you blame me?

It is not because I hate you, but because it would be immoral not to, and I don’t wish to live as an immoral person.


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.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Oooh – very good! I cut and pasted your description of abiogenesis into my file of great quotes.

    On one of these topics I’d take a different approach, though. In your section on science and the bible you talk about miracles, and how they couldn’t happen, and specifically discuss all the bad things that would happen if the earth stopped rotating. A typical xian answer to that would be “Well duh! It’s a miracle right? God would also prevent all that other stuff as part of the miracle! He shows he’s god by violating physical rules when we wants to.” So the way I would approach miracles is to say “Suppose that the sun ‘stopped in the sky’ the way the bible said, and the earth actually stopped turning for a day. That would have been seen all over the world, not just in the ancient Hebrews’ little corner of it. People all over the world would have seen this, and many of them were literate, and would have written something down about such an amazing occurence, or preserved it in their mythology. We have records of appearances of supernovas and comets from many sources, including the Babylonians and Chinese, but no other mention of the sun stopping for a day.”

    Likewise, some of the other big bible miracles should have gotten a notice. No scribe in Egypt wrote down anything about the ten plagues? None of the supposed thousands of witnesses in Roman-era Judea wrote about a wandering apocalyptic preacher who was curing leprosy and multiplying food? Jerusalem has a zombie invasion and nobody writing at the time mentions a single word about it? If this kind of miracle were actually happening, we would expect some independent sources to back it up, not just books written much later by people pushing belief in their new cult.

    Where I would tackle the “science in the bible” angle are the parts where there’s no miracles, but the bible writers just plain get stuff WRONG. Like where they say that locusts have four legs, or that bats are birds, or that pi is three. Or that the mustard seed is the tiniest seed but grows into a mighty tree. How is any of that compatible with science?

  • Jim Baerg

    BTW I think any discussion of Science being or not being able to investigate the supernatural should reference this essay.

  • Sarah Farley


    I was a student in the audience listening to your talk at Grand Valley. You probably remember me by my festive sweater and the question I asked, “Have you ever read ‘Heaven is for Real’?”

    So I’m curious, what’s your reasoning on near death experiences?

    Furthermore, what is so bad about believing in something that doesn’t have a scientific explanation?

    • Konradius

      Let me (also?) tackle this.

      My reasoning about near death experiences is that the brain does funny things when deprived of oxygen. Some people see this as a high. I do not recommend you do this, but people have been known to strangle themselves (temporarily) to induce this brainstate. Google autoerotic asphyxiation for more info on this.

      Anyway, those funny things include hallucinations, like seeing a light at the end of a tunnel etc. Near death experiences are basically repeatable and testable. No need for supernatural hypotheses.

      So, what is so bad about believing in something that doesn’t have a scientific explanation?

      Well, like what? Most experiences have something of a scientific explanation. And anything you experience is open to inquiry. Do it a little bit more rigorous than normal and you might call it scientific. Don’t agree with something? Great! Criticize it and you have the beginnings of peer review.

      The best sceptics are not the ones who dismiss any ‘supernatural’ claims out of hand. They ask extensively what the claim is and try to find a better explanation than the first one that came up.

      The problem with ‘supernatural’ claims is that they are in conflict with loads and loads of experiences that do have a good scientific explanation. Now sometimes this might lead to a new scientific discovery. (I have personally often wondered if ‘seeing auras’ might be a colour/personality synaesthesia)
      Most of the time the experience turns out to be far more mundane than the wild beliefs that spring out of it. Is that bad? Perhaps. It is bad if you value true beliefs.

    • John Eberhard

      “Furthermore, what is so bad about believing in something that doesn’t have a scientific explanation?”

      Like magic, voodoo, Santa Claus, astrology, acupuncture that doesn’t really work, homeopathy that doesn’t really work,witches–and executing real people accused thereof,bleeding and leeches for healing? Think about it.

      Every single advancement we have ever had has come from scientific (natural) explanations, usually one that replaces a non-scientific supernatural explanation. We have never, ever had a supernatural explanation replace a scientific one. Never. Ever.

      Think about it.

    • B-Lar

      I recently started grappling with the concept – could god have a unique and important function even if he doesnt exist?

      Working with the assumption that god only exists in the mind of the believer, I think that he facilitates some mental processes (like self forgiveness and introspection) and while these processes are perfectly possible without him, he acts as a kind of catalyst.

      I dont think its possible to get the catalysing effect without absolute unshakeable belief.

      I cannot think of anything (that any secular or faithful human would need) that absolutely requires god in order to function. If you (or anyone else) can think of anything that would help with my deliberations, please mention it.

      • Cthandhs

        I think you could replace god with a decent therapist for that one.

      • elronxenu

        Christians commit atrocities and then forgive themselves for it. Or the Church takes normal human desires, turns them into sin and makes the believer feel guilty. The church is ready to absolve the believer of this manufactured guilt.

        Introspection is great, so long as the revelations thus obtained stay inside a person’s head, rather than extrude into the real world and compete against facts and reality.

        In other words, even if God is only a concept inside your head, it’s still a harmful one.

      • Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

        You don’t need to have unshakeable belief to catalyse anything or to induce altered states of consciousness. All you need is a willingness to suspend disbelief or play pretend. You can watch a horror movie and really feel scared, read about a fictional tragedy and feel desolated, pretend that Santa is real and really get excited, practise solemn worship of a god you don’t believe in and still feel reverence. We even call this action “make belief”.

        • B-Lar

          The intersting question is, does the process actually work if you are just playing pretend? I am not a psychiatrist but I would imagine that having a pretend god would not provide the foundation for any real emotional or mental change.

          Certainly a therapist would be considerably more appropriate from a rational point of view but that is still not cut and dried. You can of course get good and bad therapists and even then they can only be a guide who points the way. They cannot act as the kind of redemptive cureall that a beief in god can be. Saying that though, I think one reply had an excellent point that within faith there is a framework for absolution on a factory scale which is not respected by its adherents.

          I think that the concept of god is inherently harmful because it is not based on truth and solutions founded in reality are going to be greatly superior. I am however trying to find one unique redeeming feature of god so as to test my own skeptical bias. The mind is mysterious and it would be an intersting twist on the religious problem if a belief in a nonexistant entity could be shown to have any kind of entirely positive effect that cannot be replicated without such a belief.

  • Makoto

    Religion and morality is one of those things that I often discuss with my “faithful” friends and family. They often claim that atheists are immoral, crazy, evil, etc, etc..

    I bring up the “Christian Militia” types – they say those aren’t real Christians.
    I bring up the pedo priests – they say those aren’t real Christians.

    I ask what makes for a real Christian – believing in Jesus, giving back to the community, living a good life.

    Well, most “Christians” fail at least 2 of those, while I can name dozens of atheists who give back to the community, live a good life, and are an example of how to be a good person.

    They’re fairly stubborn on the “fact” that atheists are naturally bad, but I try… and I don’t advertise my leanings because I don’t want to induce stress into my parents, who aren’t exactly spring chickens. I just try to nudge them when I think it’s somewhat safe.

  • Irreverend Bastard

    Bookmarked because of total awesome.

  • Richard

    Wanted to read that transcript for a while, simply lovely. :D

  • B-Lar

    Shit the bed. That rocked my balls into an undiscovered dimension. I am printing the hell out of it.

    JT, you are the goddamn man.

  • Ellen

    Hello commenters, lurkers! For those of you who attended this talk, here are some links if you’re interested in CFI on campus at Grand Valley. We have our facebook page:

    And we have the event page for our new Theology group meeting next week:

    If you liked the Q&A discussion and want to ask more questions, discuss your thoughts on theology, I suggest check either of these groups out! Thanks!

    President, CFI GVSU

  • Art Vandelay

    Furthermore, what is so bad about believing in something that doesn’t have a scientific explanation?

    What were you doing during the talk?

    • Sarah Farley


      • AlsoSprach

        No, it’s not rude at all, it’s pointing out something legitimate. A belief or explanation being non-scientific semantically entails it being supernatural. The best we get to say when an event doesn’t (currently) have a scientific explanation is ‘we don’t have an explanation.’ Full stop. Is anyone then, from that point, entitled to hold a supernatural explanation based on faith? No, a thousand times no.

        All non-scientific beliefs are equally justified; in that they are 0% justified. If one believes, non-scientifically, that Khorne the Blood God demands widespread human sacrifice, that idea is EXACTLY as justified as ‘Aliens created our universe, then hid their tracks expertly,’, which is in turn EXACTLY as justified as ANY religious explanation or belief.

        Don’t confuse scientific/non-scientific with objective/subjective, by the way; plenty of subjective experiences can’t be easily accessed by others, but are nonetheless scientific (natural) events, easily explained through neuroscience etc. I’m noting this because it is often enough pointed out to me after the above that ‘you can’t say everything is objective.’ To which I say: ‘we’re not talking about the same thing anymore. Can we discuss Science vs Unreason again, please?’

  • Rieux

    Good speech, JT—but re this, near the end:

    Bad ideas survive because of bad reasoning. It makes no sense then to advance the antithesis of bad reasoning as the best (or even as a good) antidote for them.

    Do you really mean “the antithesis of bad reasoning”? That seems to me the opposite of what you’re trying to say. Could the word you intended be “apotheosis,” instead? Or, perhaps, “the antithesis of good reasoning”?

    • JT Eberhard

      That is precisely what I meant. Will fix now. Thanks for the heads up. :)


  • adamlouw

    One of the many things as a Christian that stumps me in the conversations between Christians and atheists is how stupid they both are which means they have something in common. Why the hell would an atheist know more about faith than a religious adherent? Why do atheists hang around religious forums? Are they closet religious adherents or something in that they so desperately want to believe, so they are seeking, but cant because of the way the story specifically the Christian story was told in the past?

    I normally argue that atheism is the civil religion of many countries in the West because it seems to be the dominant narrative that frames society and also because of the way that popular atheists speak of science making religion redundant. For instance Dawkins’ opinion that science and religion are in competition which is kind of interesting because is Dawkins implying that science is the new religion because science’s scope does not necessarily touch on the abstract for instance physics cannot interpret minute nuances of poetry or describe beauty.

    Carl Sagan whose writing is infused with a kind of theology that seems to parallel a christian scheme such as he has an account of ultimate reality: the universe, he has an account for sin: the reptilian part of the brain that is understood to be the centre from which lust, territoriality seems to originate, he has an account of salvation through knowledge and quite possibly knowledge from extraterrestrials which in some astrobiologist’s opinions could help save us from facing disasters. Now them saying this means that we have no entered the realm of myth by infusing this soteriological aspect to aliens which by the way there is no evidence despite Drake’s equation that seems to point to the bifilic nature of the universe (which in all honesty Sagan does point out that there is no evidence for intelligent E.T.) we see the budding of shall we say a meme?

    The institution of Christianity such as preaching, etc and all the other BS is dying here in the West and that is something I am glad to see because I am convinced that not only is Jesus unshering in a new reality, but also that it was not his intention to initiate a new religion.

    • AlsoSprach

      “Why the hell would an atheist know more about faith than a religious adherent?”

      Indeed! Why would a parent know more about fairy tales than a fairy-tale adherent? Nonsense. Our beliefs either hold water, or they don’t. As for why we make our voices heard in religious forums: 1. we are people, and have something to say; and 2. we are revolted by the unreason put proudly on display there.

      Science will always fail to be a ‘new religion.’ Religions are subscribed to on the basis of faith, and science rejects faith because of its implicit absurdity. One can have faith in an infinite number of possibilities, and there exists no set of rules by which one discriminates and chooses from among them. If atheism is a religion, refraining from stamp collecting is a hobby.

    • Rieux

      Why the hell would an atheist know more about faith than a religious adherent?

      For one thing, as others here have pointed out, it’s because a huge proportion of atheists were once believers; we know plenty about faith because we once had it. Atheists in the English-speaking world, on average, also know much more about Christianity than the average Christian does; whereas religion is overwhelmingly the result of ignorance (among other things), atheism routinely results from education, understanding, and social security. Social science overwhelmingly refutes your laughable notion that atheists are “stupid.”

      Why do atheists hang around religious forums?

      I imagine there are many reasons, but surely one of them is that many atheists recognize that religion is an extremely consequential force in human society, and we note that it does overwhelmingly huge amounts of damage to human lives—our own lives and those of billions of others. We discuss religion in public in large part because we think (1) religion is a severe burden on humanity and (2) our species would be far better off discarding it in favor of more reasonable and humane ideas.

      …in that they so desperately want to believe, so they are seeking, but cant because of the way the story specifically the Christian story was told in the past?

      No, of course not. “The Christian story” is ludicrous and disgusting, and that has nothing directly to do with “the way” it “was told in the past.” Which provides a rather strong reason to criticize it openly and advocate that humanity leave it, along with other similarly ugly and destructive stories, behind.

      I normally argue that atheism is the civil religion of many countries in the West because it seems to be the dominant narrative that frames society….

      Yeah, right. Your unhappiness that “the West” is generally free from overt theocratic enforcement of your dogma does not render atheism “the civil religion” of anyplace. If you knew the first thing about what atheism even is, you couldn’t possibly entertain such absurd notions.

      …and also because of the way that popular atheists speak of science making religion redundant. For instance Dawkins’ opinion that science and religion are in competition which is kind of interesting because is Dawkins implying that science is the new religion because science’s scope does not necessarily touch on the abstract for instance physics cannot interpret minute nuances of poetry or describe beauty.

      (I get that you believe in God, but does that have to mean that you don’t believe in commas? Do you think people enjoy reading such unpunctuated stream-of-consciousness sludge? Or does your new way of telling the Christian story include believing that commas make baby Jesus cry?)

      “Dawkins’ opinion” is a simple and obvious fact—that religion always has made, and continues to make, empirical claims about the world that are always in principle (and frequently in practice) examinable by science. Moreover, in every single instance in which a religious explanation and a scientific explanation for a given empirical phenomenon have competed, the scientific explanation has proven correct. Every single time, for the entirety of human history. As a result, science demonstrably has “ma[de] religion redundant” in a huge proportion of religion’s former jurisdiction, and your kind has been reduced to defending fewer and fewer and tinier and narrower Gaps into which you can still try to cram your God.

      …Which leads you to one of the few Gap-refuges allegedly remaining, “the abstract[:] for instance[,] physics cannot interpret minute nuances of poetry or describe beauty.”

      It’s worth noting at this point that whereas atheism is frequently connected with thorough understanding of one or more religions, religion is all too often associated with total blithering ignorance of science.

      Why, pray tell, would we expect physics to “interpret minute nuances of poetry or describe beauty”? Given that “poetry” is a creation of human beings and “beauty” is a phenomenon in vertebrate brains, do you seriously not have sufficient basic scientific literacy to recognize that the sciences relevant to those items are not physics but (among others) anthropology, sociology, biology, biochemistry, and neurology? What kind of ignorant doof would expect physics to address poetry or beauty?

      On the other side of the coin, and apropos of your silly notions about “science’s scope”—what reasonable basis is there to believe that religion’s “scope” encompasses anything whatsoever? Why should anyone accept that religion has anything worthwhile to say about “minute nuances of poetry,” “beauty,” or absolutely anything else? The false bifurcation you’re tossing out is anything but new—it’s been creationists’ stock-in-trade for centuries—but why do you pretend that science’s limitations provide the slightest credibility to religion?

      Carl Sagan whose writing is infused with a kind of theology….

      No, that’s just your overwhelming bias talking. Rational accounts of the universe and how it works have nothing to do with fairy tales, yours or anyone else’s, and it’s an insult to Sagan and to the broader exercise of dealing with the universe humbly and rationally that you see fit to compare it to your ugly and parochial myths about “ultimate reality,” “sin,” and “salvation.” This is just your attempt to re-extend your religion’s “scope,” and it’s a bad joke.

      Now them saying this means that we have no entered the realm of myth by infusing this soteriological aspect to aliens which by the way there is no evidence despite Drake’s equation that seems to point to the bifilic nature of the universe (which in all honesty Sagan does point out that there is no evidence for intelligent E.T.) we see the budding of shall we say a meme?

      Did I mention that you’re a terrible writer? Here we have one well-nigh impenetrable sentence, sixty-nine words, and zero commas. (Your “I normally argue” paragraph was perhaps even worse: two sentences, eighty-nine words, and zero commas.) Somewhere an English teacher weeps for you.

      The institution of Christianity such as preaching, etc and all the other BS is dying here in the West and that is something I am glad to see because I am convinced that not only is Jesus unshering in a new reality, but also that it was not his intention to initiate a new religion

      Swell. Come back when you have evidence for that “new reality” (not to mention that “intention”) other than laughable figments of your ignorant imagination.

      • JSC_ltd

        That was one of the best things I’ve ever read online. Thanks, Rieux!

  • Ubi Dubium

    “Why the hell would an atheist know more about faith than a religious adherent?”

    First, the evidence shows that atheists clearly DO know more about faith, regardless of what you may think. You can check out the results of the recent Pew study of religious knowledge.

    And you, like many, make the assumption that atheists aren’t experienced with religion. Most atheists are former religious believers, and it was often learning more about religious faith and beliefs that led them to discard religion.

    Over and over I have read comments from atheists similar to this: “I was a true believer. Then my pastor suggested I read the whole bible. So I did. What it said was so disturbing that I had to go learn more, to try to understand how this could be god’s book. The more about religion I learned the less I believed.”

    Many atheists are not “un-churched”, they are “over-churched”.

  • adamlouw

    I see you are spewing the same old rubbish as usual. Don’t you have anything new? You see you remind me of literalist fundamentalists because all you see is the material your narrow vision similar to theirs is blinded because you think that science is going to save you? There is a long line of scholarship in Christianity that does meld reason and faith together. Yes, not everything atheists say is rubbish they do make a number of good points. As for your humane perspective well I am not convinced by athiest morality because I suspect they would lean to much on evolution. You may want to take a look into your little narrative just as I am into mine. You take atheism uncritically and you say we are ridiculous. have you put as much thought into atheism? I mean I would have gone with agnosticism myself. Shame couldn’t you understand my writing I thought you were clever? I mean judging my punctuation, ha ha, that is ridiculous! Notice I have no paragraphs that is all for you!!!

    • John Phillip, FCD

      @adamlouw; I suggest that before you go any further in proving youur ignorance that you get your definitions in order. Agnosticism is simply the position that one can’t know whether there is a god or not. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in god. Humanists may be atheist, many are, they may also be believers, as many I know are.

      It is possible to be an agnostic theist, i.e. believe that there is a god without actually knowing it to be true. I know some xians who hold this view. It is also possible to be an agnostic atheist, i.e. not seeing any evidence for god thus lacking any belief in one but ultimately not knowing whether there is one or not.

      In fact. most atheists are, if wishing a strict definition, probably agnostic atheists, if only because while all the evidence to date points to no god, there is always the possibiliy, however infinitesimal, that there is one. Show the average atheist real evidence and they would accept that such a thing exists. Though I doubt many, if any, would actually worship him, especially if it was the monster god of the Abrahamic faiths. Well not unless force was used, always the fallback of the religious whenever they have the power to do so.

  • J-Dog

    Beautiful! This is the fitst post of yours that I have read. I will be back, becasue your address is spot on.