Comment roundup 11/16: Argument with Stan.

My mother posted this picture to her facebook this morning.

Omnipotent God chooses not to use his power to simply forgive humankind, but instead implements a solution which requires that he impregnate a teen girl in order to give birth to himself so he can have himself slaughtered to save human beings from the Hell that he created.  He then decides to communicate his scheme through conflicting accounts penned decades later by anonymous authors and subjectively handed down by flawed translators who can't even agree on the interpretation of "virgin."  Think about it.

Omnipotent God chooses not to use his power to simply forgive humankind, but instead implements a solution which requires that he impregnate a teen girl in order to give birth to himself so he can have himself slaughtered to save human beings from the Hell that he created. He then decides to communicate his scheme through conflicting accounts penned decades later by anonymous authors and subjectively handed down by flawed translators who can’t even agree on the interpretation of “virgin.” Think about it.

First came one of mom’s facebook friends.  We’ll call him Bawb.  Bawb has since deleted his comment, but he charged saying my mom was uneducated, that explaining would be a waste of time, but that he would pray for her.  I didn’t take too kindly to that.

It’s fairly impressive that you can be so insanely arrogant in a comment where you offer no reason whatsoever that we should believe the things that you do.

C’mon, if she’s so uneducated, why don’t you explain where the logic in her image fails or what part of it is factually wrong? Otherwise your comment is the equivalent of “Nuh uh, you’re stupid” with “I’ll pray for you, because fuck it if I’m going to try to reason with you like someone who really cares” tacked onto the end.

I highlighted the part above because it will come into play later.  Then came another one of mom’s facebook friends.  We’ll call him “Stan.”

STAN:  Carol. I never knew you didn’t believe. Or can’t believe you don’t don’t believe. Living where you do, the beauty of your surroundings, You think it just all popped up and “was”?

Mom had some back and forth with Stan before I came in with…

” You think it just all popped up and “was”?”

Three things to say there…

The first: cancer, AIDS, hurricanes…these are all parts of “it all”. All surroundings are not beautiful. If a god exists, he seems as pitiless and indifferent as a universe without a god.

Second: even if Carol, or anyone else, had no clue how it all came to be, that doesn’t mean that you or your religion does. Put up evidence or admit you don’t know.

Third: we know how much of it came to be, from the Big Bang through accretion theory to evolution. God didn’t make the stars, a process known as the Jeans instability did. There was once a time when nothing was explained, and ever since that time everything we have explained has been found to be the product of mindless forces acting upon inanimate objects. Every. Single. Time.

Conversely, there have been countless occasions when religion (citing, as you did, the things we didn’t know) assured us that it had the answer for something. And countless times, science replaced the religious answer. However, there has never been a single occasion when it was the other way around, when religious answers replaced scientific ones. This should tell you what science is finding (hint: not god).

Stan fired back, initially mistaking me for my father (which is incredibly flattering).

JT. Wow. I was I merely talking to Carol about her not believing. No where did I try to shove anything down anyone’s throat or force my belief. I asked questions more out of curiousity and was not being argumentative. At all. I have never talked to an atheist and having talked to Carol for years, I never knew she was atheist. I will not argue my religion over scientific study. One is a mans belief, and the other is man doing things over and over and over again until he comes up with the answer he wants. I will respect your beliefs, please respect mine.

To which I thought “Oh hell no…”

“I was I merely talking to Carol about her not believing. No where did I try to shove anything down anyone’s throat or force my belief.”

I don’t recall saying you did. I was saying you were wrong, not that you were forcing anything.

” I asked questions more out of curiousity and was not being argumentative.”

I took the opportunity to answer your questions. That is why you ask questions, right: to get answers?

” I have never talked to an atheist”

Here’s your chance. :)

“I will not argue my religion over scientific study.”

I don’t blame you, since belief in science as our best way of understanding the world would immediately unmake your religious beliefs. People do not rise from the dead (otherwise biology is wrong) or walk on water (otherwise physics is wrong) or get converted into pillars of salt (otherwise chemistry is wrong).

I don’t say this to be hateful, but to help you understand why “If not by god, how did X happen” is not a good reason to believe in god.

“One is a mans belief, and the other is man doing things over and over and over again until he comes up with the answer he wants.”

I believe you have it backwards. It is faith that can defend any conclusion. From people rising from the dead to riding into heaven aback a winged horse (see the Hadith in the Muslim faith), there is no conclusion so flagrantly at odds with reality that faith cannot be advanced in its defense.

Science, on the other hand, cannot defend any position. In fact, science rejects almost every conclusion, save for the few confirmed by the evidence. Gold foil tests, for instance, will never do anything aside from establishing the existence of atoms. And where prayer will never, with any reliability, reveal the path of an oncoming hurricane, science can do it every time.

Science is very precise in its conclusions, and those conclusions always work well enough to transform our world (the computer you’re typing on is a testament to that). Faith, on the other hand, owes allegiance to nothing – especially the truth.

” I will respect your beliefs, please respect mine. “

But I do not respect your beliefs. You’ve not defended them. I respect you enough to think you can talk about your beliefs and examine them. But I do not respect your beliefs. They strike me as very, very silly (see the picture mom posted for just the beginning of why I think this is the case).

This can be changed, of course. You could defend your beliefs with solid evidence and reason, at which point I would respect them. Until then, sorry, your beliefs should not receive respect by default, and they will not receive it from me.

And you need not respect my beliefs by default either. Of course, I have put a fair amount of research and thought into mine and have defended them at length. I assert that my beliefs deserve respect on the merit that they can be defended.

Stan came roaring back with…

Then at least respect your mother enough to not use that type language around her. Christian, atheist or scientist aside, respect and decency around mothers and women in general is a common courtesy. Good day, sir.

I resisted the urge to say what I was thinking, which was “Well aren’t you a condescending little shit?”  Instead I said…

No answers to any of my questions, just an insistence that by saying “fuck” I’m disrespecting my mother? Fuck that. I respect my mother just fine, and using a particular word around her doesn’t affect that in the least.

Stan rebutted with…

You have quoted science at length, but have you witnessed anything you posted first hand or are you just quoting it from what you have read in a book written by man or been taught by man?

Your refusal to respect your own mother leads me to believe that I could argue all day long with you and gain no respect either. So instead of going tit for tat, I will go read my Bible and in two hours go serve at my church for Operation CHRISTmas Child. I will leave you to your science books. Good day to ya, Sir.

Oh snap!  Stan capitalized CHRIST in Christmas.  Methinks he’s onto our forthcoming war.

“You have quoted science at length, but have you witnessed anything you posted first hand or are you just quoting it from what you have read in a book written by man or been taught by man?”

Yes, because you personally saw Jesus rise from the dead. Kudos though on throwing an argument out there. That’s a good step.

As far as the efficacy of science, yes, I have seen it first hand. So have you. Without it, your life would be far more miserable.

And as far as scientific experiments go, no. Many of them I’ve not seen first hand. So? I could replicate them if I so wished.

And as far as the Big Bang and stellar formation, no, I’ve not seen them first hand. So? By your logic, this would be a reasonable conversation:

“Hello police? Somebody robbed my house! The door is kicked in, all of my stuff is missing, and there are tire tracks in the front yard!”

“You say your house was robbed, were you actually there to see it?”

“Well no, but…”

“I’m sorry, in that case I have to regard your explanation for what happened to your things as a theory on equal-footing with the possibility that trouble-making pixies made off with your possessions.”

“What? Pixies? But there’s no evidence to support that idea! That doesn’t explain the tire tracks or the busted door…”

“Were you there?”

“No.”

“Then I’m sorry, we just don’t have enough to go on to know your house was robbed.”

All the time humanity is trying to piece together things we weren’t there to see, and we do it based on what we can presently see. That is how science and, well, reason work. Do you really wish to imply that because I wasn’t there to see the Big Bang, that despite the copious amounts of evidence we have for it that a Canaanite Jew rising from the dead is just as likely? Because that’s what you’re doing.

The fact remains: all the evidence runs against your beliefs and for mine. I’ve just been able to give the evidence the authority without trying to come up with justifications for previously held beliefs like “you weren’t there to see it.”

” are you just quoting it from what you have read in a book written by man or been taught by man?”

What’s wrong with the knowledge of man? The knowledge of man has given us abundant food, clean water, medicine, cell phones, airplanes, indoor plumbing, light bulbs, etc. Everything we know (including the bible) is the knowledge of man! Did you not arrive at the conclusion that god exists via the knowledge of man?

Anyway, back to what I said earlier. The contents of science books has transformed the world and is verifiable if anybody wants to examine them or repeat the experiments. You’re trying to suggest that all claims to knowledge are equal, which is positively ridiculous.

“Your refusal to respect your own mother leads me to believe that I could argue all day long with you and gain no respect either.”

You’re certainly not going to gain my respect by continuing to insist that your standard for respect should be mine and mom’s. That’s actually disrespectful to us, which is ironic coming from someone who has so frequently insisted I respect him.

You could halt the loss of personal respect to me you’re accumulating by producing an argument that isn’t transparently bad. You should be eager to do this because the accuracy of your beliefs is important to you, not just to convince me. Do you really think the arguments you’ve given me so far are anything other than horrible?

“So instead of going tit for tat, I will go read my Bible and in two hours go serve at my church for Operation CHRISTmas Child. I will leave you to your science books.”

Instead of defending your position you’re going to go read the bible. No surprise here.

Lovely capitalization of CHRIST. I celebrate the holiday because I like colorful lights, time with my family, generosity, and good will toward men. You’re free to celebrate it because you think 2,000 years ago a guy rose from the dead. Of course, to the people who get pissy because they feel I need to celebrate it for that reason, I can only say “good.”

And the sneer at “science books” at the end was palpable. If you have to jeer at science, from a computer produced by scientific knowledge, before driving to your church in a car produced by scientific knowledge, in order to keep your belief about people walking on water, how could you possibly think that I’m the one you’re passive-aggressively deriding?

And people wonder why I so loath religion. It creates a culture of anti-intellectualism in otherwise good people like you, Stan.

Of course, Stan wasn’t nearly as done as he’d said he was.

Faith — believing in something unseen. I will live my life on faith. Live your life on what books have taught you. You believe science and man has provided for mankind and I will believe that God has provided man with the knowledge and wisdom to use what He has provided for us. One day we will find out who is right, but trust me, if you are indeed right then I will just shrug my shoulders. If you are wrong, and in my opinion you are, your disappointment will be far greater than mine.

Oh shit!  Pascal’s wager!

You can continue to insist that you’ll believe as you will, but doesn’t it bother you that you’ve only been able to crank out terrible arguments for the truth of those beliefs?

As for the latter part of your comment, that argument is called Pascal’s wager (google it for a list of all the ways it has been rebutted). By that logic, any proposition that includes a threat should be believed. An example would be…

“Sure you don’t believe there are smurfs in the middle of the sun who will break your fingers over and over again after you die if you don’t believe. If I’m wrong, so what, but if you’re wrong, your disappointment will be much greater.”

The smurf hell probably doesn’t instill even an iota of fear in you. Neither does the Islamic hell, I’d wager. This is about how worried I am of your belief about Jewish people rising from the dead and walking on water being true, along with the threats of hell that come with it.

Our beliefs should be the product of reason and research, not of caving to threats. If a god exists, he should want us to come to belief at our most erudite, and for good reasons, not because we’re threatened. That culture of doing things out of fear, rather than reason, is another entry on the lengthy list of reasons I find religion, including yours now, to be despicable. It’s also why you should find it despicable as well.

Stan didn’t like that.

I found God through things He has done for me not of threats he has made against me. I have remained civil throughout this whole discussion. You calling my religion and beliefs despicable has exhausted my patience so I will GRACEfully bow out.

Gracefully as a chainsaw…

“I found God through things He has done for me not of threats he has made against me.”

Then your use of Pascal’s Wager to me is pretty bizarre.

And what has god done for you? It must be something grand, since he has ignored millions of starving children the world over who are praying with all manner of desperation until they’re blue in the face in order to do things for you, who lives a cushy life in a first-world country. Do tell what god has done for you.

” I have remained civil throughout this whole discussion. ou calling my religion and beliefs despicable has exhausted my patience “

You said I was disrespecting my mother and passive-aggressively threatened me with hell. I said threats were despicable. If you’re trying to paint me as the more derisive of the two of us, that dog don’t hunt.

“I will GRACEfully bow out.”

Very subtle with the caps on “grace”. I hope you don’t think that lends the idea that someone innocent getting punished for a crime you didn’t commit is either sensible or moral. It doesn’t.

No, in this case you’ve managed to use grace with the same sneer at me as you ungratefully made at science. It’s a way to say that even though you can’t come up with a single good reason to believe the things you do, you’re still better. That’s petty, not graceful.

Anybody want to bet that Stan will stay “gracefully” bow out?  I know where my money is.

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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