You lovely commenters.

In response to my reply to Matthew the other day, a commenter named Jayman entered the fray to defend the Cosmological Argument.  I sat down with a perfectly open mind which Jayman extinguished with one of his first points.

In response to me saying…

“We trust the experts because we have solid reasoning and evidence to support the conclusion that the consensus of physicists dwarfs our individual knowledge about physics. This isn’t faith, it’s not being arrogant as all hell.”

Jayman said…

That’s a definition of faith: “confidence or trust in a person or thing” (first definition given at You have trust in experts. Theists have trust in God.

No, theists do not have trust in god. God has not come down and told them how it is (which would be within his power).

Theists have trust in other human beings who, themselves, trusted other human beings and interpreters  on down the line until you get back to a small cabal of people in a very ignorant part of the ancient world (compared to, say, the Chinese) who said “We’ve spoken to god!  He’s not going to speak to you, but he spoke to us and you should listen to what we have to say!  We’ll even write it down in this book.  Oh, and he rose from the dead.”  If you encountered these people directly today you would immediately write them off as mad.  You wouldn’t even trust them face-to-face.

The reality is that both atheists and theists trust humans.  Atheists just trust the humans who gave us cell phones.

As a side note, this is what baffles me with the evolution debate.  Even if you knew absolutely nothing about science, your options are to trust the consensus of scientists who have transformed this world into a Utopia for humankind, or to trust a group of people who didn’t know enough to wash the hand they wipe their ass with before eating and whose ignorance of the universe would be dwarfed by a modern day five year-old.  To call the choice the theist makes merely “wrong” is to obscure the breadth of how humiliating it is.  It is to reject this century for the first.

Anyway, the rest of Jayman’s comment was thoroughly and beautifully dissected such that I don’t feel moved to do any more than boggle at the comment above.  Well done, all.

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.

  • Mr. Lynne

    How can I see the thorough and beautiful dissections if you don’t provide links?

  • iknklast

    We trust in science because science works. Tim Tebow throwing a pass looks like a human throwing a pass, not God. An airplane flying in the air looks like a marvelous invention; science is doing things God never did. Thanks to science, man can now fly. God could have done that for us, but chose not to. Thanks to science, women are now much more likely to live through childbirth than when they trusted in God. We don’t trust blindly in science – we witness the amazing things we gain from it, and say it is good.

    • Randomfactor

      Science can now do things, create conditions, that DO NOT EXIST in the natural universe (unless some species out there is also doing Science.)

      Yeah, there are some things we can’t do yet. Give us time, we’ve been at it only 300 years. We’re going to have to stop our collective suicide-by-CO2 first.

      • John Horstman


  • invivoMark

    It’s just like you said, JT: all theistic arguments are bad arguments. It’s really not our fault that shredding a theist commenter is so easy to do. :-)

  • Glodson

    And I don’t just trust what I read from any expert. There needs to be evidence, and what the expert has to say must make sense. It takes work, in that I try to think about what I’ve read and see how it stacks up against what I know. I don’t just put my trust in them blindly. When I read an article or a paper in a journal, I don’t just believe it. I have to work out their line of reasoning, and see the evidence. Even trusting that an experiment has been done is based on reason, not blind faith. It is because I know that people who can check up on the issue will do so.

    So my trust in experts stems from my own ability to verify a claim. It is possible for me to check up on it. We can verify this independently. How can I verify the theist claim? How can I check to see if the god they speak for exists? How can I say that even if that god exists that they actually speak for it? Yea, this kind of trust isn’t the same as one is easily checked and the other is a claim that is impossible to independently verify.

    • invivoMark

      There is one flaw in your methodology. If you only believe things that make sense, then it would be impossible to believe quantum physics.

      • Mr. Lynne

        Quantum physics does make sense in that it explains evidence that doesn’t make sense without it. The evidence is counter-intuitive so it *totally makes sense* that the models that explain it are also counter-intuitive.

        • invivoMark

          That makes no sense! :-P

      • Randomfactor

        Let’s make it: we only believe in things which produce testable predictions which actually turn out to be correct.

      • Artor

        It’s not a matter of making sense- it’s about repeatable results and testable theories. Quantum physics is weird & contrary to our intuition, but science is up to the task of figuring it out, even if it doesn’t make sense. I can trust that.

      • Glodson

        We don’t hold the strangeness of Quantum Mechanics to be true arbitrarily. We have experiments that confirm what the theory says. We can test it. And many people grossly misunderstand this branch of physics. It does seem strange, but it is testable. Last I check, Quantum Chronodrynamics was one of the most accurate theories in all of science. And the Standard Model looks to be complete, as the Higgs has been observed.

        And we test things to a precision that is astounding. These results are founded in evidence, in experiment. If an experiment, a repeatable experiment, shown that the theory broke down, it would be amended or discarded if it could not be salvaged.

        As such, your counter-example doesn’t work, as I believe the strangeness of Quantum Mechancis to be true because it is backed up by mountains of evidence. If there was no evidence for the theories dealing in the realm of Quantum Mechanics, it would not have lasted for nearly 100 years.

        Finally, it seems odd to us because we don’t live on that scale. Just as Relativity is tough as we don’t move fast enough to have a visceral feel for the warping of spacetime. It is hard to imagine Uncertainty, and the wave-particle duality, and entanglement, and quantum tunneling, and a host of other phenomena. But they all have been observed, and are consistent with the theories, and even a consequence of said theories. To paraphrase Bohr “no one understands Quantum Mechanics,” however that doesn’t make it any less true.

        • invivoMark

          Sure, I absolutely agree that quantum mechanics is backed up by mountains of evidence. But unless one understands that evidence, one has to take the word of experts that the conclusions are correct.

          My point is simply that it can be impossible to judge what an expert says by how much sense it makes to me, because I may be completely uneducated in the expert’s field. Without even understanding the basics of the field, it’s impossible to judge how much sense a specific concept makes.

          For instance, we know that the universe is flat. Now, I know that this has something to do with the spacing of hot and cold areas in the CMBR, and that the spacing is very close to 1 degree. This doesn’t make much sense to me, but I submit to the experts that they are correct in their interpretation. If, on the other hand, I didn’t know about the CMBR and how scientists knew the universe was flat, then I would have to simply take the experts’ word for it. I can’t judge the conclusion by how much sense it makes, because I don’t have the first clue of what type of universe geometry makes sense and what types wouldn’t make sense.

        • Zme

          @Glodson: re: “Quantum Chronodrynamics”
          Unless physicists, unbeknown to me, have managed to unify Doctor Who and dryer sheets into one theory, I think you meant “Quantum Chromodynamics”.

          Also, it’s “Quantum electrodymanics” (the unification of the weak and electromagnetic forces) which has been incredibly accurate in its predictions. “Quantum Chromodynamics” (which is an attempt to add the strong force with its “color” carriers to the current unification) has been less successful. Of course the big one will be when gravity gets in on the unification act…the confirmation of a particle that might be the Higg’s boson just keeps the theoreticians on the right track. Then there’s dark matter and dark energy…

          • Nate Frein

            Unless physicists, unbeknown to me, have managed to unify Doctor Who and dryer sheets into one theory [snip]

            Them silly physicists would if they would just get around to reversing the polarity of the neutron flow!

          • Glodson

            Come to think of it, I believe you are correct. QED is a bit more accurate. But the larger point remains in that our theories are incredibly accurate. And we are refining the to be so. Which feeds into my overall point in that when we are talking about an expert, a physicist in this case, I don’t trust this person without reason. And we can check their work. Whereas a theist cannot show me that god exists, or that even if a god does exist that their holy book is the word of that god. I can vet an expert, I cannot vet god.

            @invivoMark: The thing is that we don’t have to just take the word of an expert even if the knowledge it outside of our field. We can look into it, and research it ourselves. We can put the effort in to check there work. And even if we just take their word for it, others can still check up on them. Should the expert being lying, or mistaken, this information can be corrected. Which is a far cry from the blind faith of the theist. So even if we are talking about something we are ignorant on, we can double check the expert still. Yes, it requires work, but the knowledge is out there for all of us, even if sometimes it takes a great deal of effort to understand it. I enjoy reading articles on biology, but I don’t read them as often as I like as it takes me forever to get through them as I have to go back and research the basics so I understand it.

          • invivoMark

            Sure, I agree with that. My main point, if I had one, is that it’s too much to expect a person to become informed in every single field of science. Some people just don’t care to do that, or don’t have the time, or just can’t grasp the concepts. It is still reasonable for such people to believe what the experts say on their topics. But, like you say, a person could hypothetically learn the relevant material, and check that what the experts are saying is sensible given the data that we have. And that’s exactly what makes the experts believable: they can be held accountable for their statements.

  • Mr. Lynne

    How can I find the thorough and beautiful dissection without links?

    Oh yeah, better luck with Tebow’s Tears this week (last week was uuhhgleee).

  • Jerkoff

    Uh oh! I’m one of those Kansas City trolls that JT banned back at Freethoughtblogs! I’m walking, living proof that Christianity doesn’t make people morally better. In fact, I’m evidence of how Christianity can often have the nasty effect of augmenting the most vicious qualities and of lending confidence to what would otherwise be the most shameful ignorance.

    I got lucky and got a comment through because JT lost his old spam filters when he moved. That comment used to be this comment, but now it’s gone. I guess now would be a good time to explain to people what happens to trolls on wwjtd.

    JT loves having Christian commenters. Sure, he’ll take them to task, but as long as you’re arguing in good faith you’re welcome to comment. However, if you’re just a spiteful little troll with nothing to contribute, whether you’re an atheist or a Christian, JT reserves the right to edit the hell out of your comment before banning you, like he’s just done to me. Oh, and he might just make your name link to Greta Christina’s blog for good measure.

    As they say in the wizarding world: mischief managed.

    • invivoMark

      I don’t get it. Was there some sort of relevant point hidden in that text spew? If so, I missed it entirely.

      • JT Eberhard

        I edited his comment. He was already banned.

        • Drakk

          You know, given the move I’d be in favour of getting rid of the ban list, or at least starting afresh.

          If this is the war on religion FtB always felt like the command bunker, you know, everyone’s making intelligent contributions and you want to keep it that way. You don’t let the monkeys jump around while the generals are talking.

          Patheos is more like the frontline trenches. It seems to me like the whole point of being here is to expose the trolls’ idiocy. Let them back in I say, and we’ll hit them all the harder.

          • JT Eberhard

            For the most part, I agree. There’s a few that will stay banned, but I’ll let some other slide.