Last time we met up, I showed you a letter to the editor (LTTE) of interest lately. It comes to us from Stan Gudmundson, a local realtor who is probably gobsmacked by all the attention he’s gotten since then. He’s pretending to address atheists in the letter. He’s also pretending to seek to persuade atheists of their errors. Both of these pretenses are false, as I showed you last time. But by far the biggest dishonesty Stan Gudmundson commits in his LTTE centers on what he thinks is PROOF YES PROOF of his various claims. Today I want to examine those claims–and to show you why they’re not compelling at all.
For the love of tiny little orange kittens, this guy was JUST. ALL. OVER. THE PLACE.
PROOF YES PROOF.
When I use the term PROOF YES PROOF, I’m talking about people with delusional beliefs and the way they present what they think is evidence for those beliefs.
The less connected to reality the belief is, the more belligerent the believer is about offering up this thing they think is evidence for it. It’s like they are defying listeners to refute this PROOF YES PROOF they think they have. And they have a reason for acting this way.
Christianity might value faith-for-no-good-reason. Its adherents might prefer it over faith that comes from encounters with credible supporting evidence. But they know that faith-for-no-good-reason doesn’t sell well. They need something a little more persuasive than that.
So they flail around until they latch onto something that sounds like evidence. The problem is that zealots don’t have objective, credible reasons for holding their beliefs. So the evidence they present simply isn’t compelling.
That’s where we find Stan Gudmundson.
We’re going to talk next time about faith-for-no-good-reason. I want to give it the space it deserves. For now, here are what this guy considers to be credible supporting evidence for Christianity:
Arguments Are(n’t) Evidence: Electric Boogaloo.
First and foremost, Stan Gudmundson offers up apologetics arguments. He considers them to be a reason to take the Bible as evidence for the claims made by the Bible’s various authors. This is pure circular reasoning, but that’s never stopped Christians from going there. Nor is this the only serious fallacy he’ll make.
From misunderstandings about what atheism even is to dodging his own burden of proof to strawmanning to making equivocations to trotting out a plain old Pascal’s Wager, I don’t think this guy has ever met any dishonest, crooked apologetics trick that he didn’t immediately embrace as the truth. His only criteria for evaluation appears to be whether or not the argument agrees with the beliefs he already holds.
The hilarious thing is, apologetics as a field wouldn’t even exist if Christians really had credible supporting evidence for their claims. If they did, we’d be talking about that, not listening to endless tedious arguments. Christians have been taught that arguments = evidence for many centuries precisely because otherwise, they’d have no compelling reasons at all to believe.
We can feel perfectly free to discard any sales attempt that relies upon a fallacious argument. If making sales matters to Christians, they can damned well learn to sell their religion without fallacies.
As Carl Sagan famously said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The use of fallacies highlights how little extraordinary evidence Christians have for their claims.
Attempts to Warp Science to Support Religion: YAY, THIS AGAIN.
As we often see in fundagelicalism these days, Stan Gudmundson makes Creationism a key part of his defense of Christianity.
I’m really not sure why so many Christians have latched onto Creationism as PROOF YES PROOF of their claims. I suppose they’ve figured out that non-believers don’t think the Bible is accurate in the history and science it contains. It isn’t, but Creationism’s a tiny part of the book’s overall lack of veracity. I suspect Christians think that if they can just go for broke convincing people that this literal story literally happened in every literal detail, then we might be persuaded to trust that the rest of it is equally trustworthy.
But even here, let’s add a cautionary note. Most Christians aren’t Creationists–I sure wasn’t when I was one. It wasn’t a requirement back then for group membership like it is today for fundagelicals. Outside of fundagelicalism, the myths about Creation tend to be taken metaphorically, and nobody has a real problem with that.
It’s a good thing that so many Christians reject literalism to the extent they do. When a Christian tries to wander into science as Gudmundson has here, the results are uniformly hilarious and cringeworthy.
A Fascinating Question He Hasn’t Bothered Learning Answers To.
For example, Gudmundson first declares that he is “fascinated by the theories describing the birth of our universe.” He names the Big Bang, though he clearly has no idea what that theory involves, and then claims that what really interests him is whatever happened before the Big Bang “and how it got there.” He erroneously states that “there is no answer” to that question. Therefore, his belief is the Last Belief Standing. (We’re tackling that idea soon as well. Hang in there! We’re getting to it.)
But he’s wrong. We’re starting to find answers to that exact question. I just doubt Stan Gudmundson would understand a single sentence of any of those answers. I barely do.
I don’t believe in precognition any more than I do Creationism, but it’s hard to read the words of the early Christian leader Augustine of Hippo and not think immediately of fundagelicals:
Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances, … and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do what we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn.
I wonder if Gudmundson would care about that, though, what with Augustine being Catholic and all.
Anecdotes Aren’t Evidence Either.
The third major piece of evidence he offers up is based on an anecdote he relates. He thinks it rises to the level of tangible evidence that his god intervened to save him from “something truly terrible, truly evil.” He gives the story, which involved him visiting somewhere with a friend. While there, he got a creepy feeling and a sense of alarm. These sensations led him to quickly vacate the place. And he even includes a detail about his friend–who was also Christian–getting the same feelings he did.
After giving the story, he insists that it was “as real to both of us as the nose on your face.” Then he finishes with a smug, contentious flourish: “Now, Mr. Atheist, look at all the evil in this world and explain away this encounter to me.”
He means “for me” at the end there, I suspect. He has clearly never considered or investigated any potential explanations for himself.
Instead, he wants us to do his legwork for him. He wants us to prove–to his satisfaction–that what happened to him has a natural explanation.
But disproving his claims is not our job. It’s his job to adequately communicate a credible anecdote. And it’s his job to figure out how his experience demonstrates that his claims are true. He can’t do any of that. So he goes with offensive belligerence instead to try to dodge his rightful burden.
It’s hugely dishonest, but do we really expect any better out of soulwinners?
Why Anecdotes Aren’t Evidence.
That said, I’ll show you why his anecdote doesn’t persuade me.
For one, it’s painfully incomplete. He says he visited somewhere “touristy.” Okay, where? When? In what town? What was the name of the “establishment” he visited?
While there, he says he got a strong warning in his mind and a feeling of “being in presence [sic] of something truly terrible, truly evil.” But was he? Was there anything there at all? People get vibes about places all the time. Out of everything that we can classify as That One Weird Thing That Happened Once (TOWTTHO), a weird or scary feeling about a place is right up there at the top of the list of most common TOWTTHO. Often we find out that really disturbing feelings like the one Gudmundson describes are caused by low-frequency sound vibrations coming from the building itself–and real science has been done around identifying and fixing this problem.
Okay, so he got out of there, he says. Then his friend asked him, “Did you feel that?” We don’t know that she felt exactly what he had; he infers it and expects us to do the same. We don’t know who she is, so we can’t ask her for her side of the story.
Even so, it doesn’t matter if he claims that 500 other Christians felt what he did (seewhutIdidthere?) or if he says one other Christian did, or if he says that a bunch of atheists at the scene agreed with him. Because he is the one person making the claim about this anecdote, we have one claim to evaluate. He can add all the eyewitnesses he wants to his tale and make them all agree with him. Doing so doesn’t make the claim, at its heart, more believable.
And past that problem, we have one that is even more pressing: we know that eyewitness anecdotes do not rise to the level of compelling evidence for supernatural claims. Every believer in every religion in every century in every country in the world has at least one anecdote about TOWTTHO. Just as he has been indoctrinated to take his own TOWTTHO as hard evidence that Christianity is true, they all think theirs do the same for their beliefs.
A weird, subjective experience can be incredibly meaningful to the person who has it, but it isn’t objective evidence for anyone’s claims.
And His Pièce de Résistance.
Oh, but Stan Gudmundson has one card up his sleeve that he unfortunately shows before he relates his TOWTTHO. And you’d be shocked how often I’ve heard this particular PROOF YES PROOF out of Christians just like him. Here it is:
In my case, there is concrete evidence that God intervened in my life. I won’t get into the details except to say it is fact.
That’s what he’s got.
He expects that statement to be persuasive to people who do not accept his supernatural claims’ validity. He has evidence. Yep, he sure does! It’s compelling and “concrete,” too. Totally.
He doesn’t want to share it.
I can’t even begin to speculate about what it might be. I can only relate what evidence of this nature has turned out to be in the past.
Often, this kind of PROOF YES PROOF centers around near-misses from personal danger or natural disasters. We also frequently discover that it involves a financial windfall at a time of great need. Christians move through a world where every single coincidence or monetary miscalculation can be interpreted as a gen-you-wine miracle.
But when Christians offer these anecdotes up to skeptics, often the effort backfires dramatically. It doesn’t take long for them to figure out that it’s not a good idea to offer these stories at all. Instead we’re simply meant to take their word for it that things happened exactly as related, and that they mean exactly what the tale-bearer says they mean.
So What Do We Have Here?
One reason Stan Gudmundson’s various writings interest me is because they are snout-to-tail distillations of fundagelicalism these days.
You know how we have an exact center (more or less) for the contiguous United States? It’s in Kansas. I’ve been there. The Coast and Geodetic Survey says they figured out its location by making a cardboard cutout of the country and balancing it on a point.
Well, if we balanced fundagelicalism on a point, we’d find ourselves looking at Stan Gudmundson. In every single particular, he is a fundagelical’s fundagelical.
When he offers up reasons for us to believe in the same nonsense he believes, he represents a perfect playbook for today’s toxic Christian:
- Vague, unverified threats
- Personal anecdotes
- Forceful assertions
- Aching yearning for the Good Ole Days
- Childish apologetics arguments
- Pure blather and pseudoscience
- Insults and condescension
That’s why his LTTEs don’t ever sound in the least bit persuasive.
Persuasion was never his true goal in the first place.
Sales Aren’t the Real Goal.
You can immediately tell when a Christian salesperson actually wants to make a sale. Such a person will prioritize their behavior to reflect their stated goal of persuasion. When you notice that someone’s behavior doesn’t match up to their stated goal at all, you are encountering clear-cut evidence of another, unstated goal at work in that person.
In this case, Stan Gudmundson states repeatedly in his post that he seeks to address atheists. He begins with a whiny, passive-aggressive complaint about “certain atheists” who “continually proselytize their faith.” All through his post, he directly addresses his enemies using infantilizing language meant to push himself above their level: “dear atheist proselytizer,” “Mr. Atheist,” “Bubba,” and the like.
A number of people headed to his comments to try to teach him about atheism, or to show him the truth about the Creationist pseudoscience he believes.
He did not react well to being corrected. (It is awesome fun indeed when someone who is 100% in the wrong melts down in his own comment section.) His standard response was to reach for yet more erroneous talking points–like to try to claim (falsely) that the Nazis were atheists, or to start rabbiting on about (ludicrous) anti-abortion talking points. He didn’t actually learn a single thing about anything he was ostensibly addressing in his post.
He’s not trying to persuade. In actuality, he’s only trying to insult his tribal enemies–and to do it as viciously and nastily as he can in the limited space he’s allowed nowadays. I can easily imagine that he doesn’t get much opportunity to abuse his enemies in real life as much as he’d like. These LTTEs that he writes all the time are his outlet.
(Think for a moment about how sad and pathetic that is. We get only a small number of decades on this good dark earth, and he’s spending his limited time like this. Sometimes I wonder what humanity has lost out on because some asshat in Stan Gudmundson’s past had to make him terrified of the unknown. It probably happened when he was just a little boy and couldn’t fight back against that indoctrination. Awwww, what’s the harm? THIS IS.)
When a Christian Becomes an Anti-Apologist.
The more we see Christians like Stan Gudmundson offering up completely unpersuasive evidence for their beliefs, the more we are reminded of the total lack of genuinely-persuasive evidence there is for Christianity–or any other belief, for that matter.
Worse yet, this guy’s behavior becomes a point of contradictory evidence refuting his very own claims. At the end of his chest-thumping LTTE, he snidely closes with this choice bit of bluster:
As C.S. Lewis said, we live in occupied territory. Atheists don’t know what it is like to live in God’s grace in the fellowship of believers. How sad. So, we pray for them. Apparently, for some, we must pray harder.
Oh, he must have felt so smug about hitting that “Send” button on his email app! Surely he thought, That’ll show them damn dirty atheists!
But as his post shows us, he doesn’t know what it’s like to “live in God’s grace in the fellowship of believers” either. Nor is he effectively selling membership in his group as a desirable commodity. We’re not sad about losing out on his exalted company. Instead, we feel relieved. He’s the last person in the world we would ever want to share fellowship with. We wouldn’t want to join any groups that are okay with this sort of boorishness. We definitely wouldn’t want to share an eternity with a terrible person like him, or worship a god who condones this kind of behavior!
Stan Gudmundson is an anti-evangelist for his own religion. We know that his claims aren’t true, thanks to his own efforts. He, personally, might be only one tiny little cog in the machine of his religion, but he’s also one of the specific reasons why it is failing so hard.
NEXT UP: Stan Gudmundson gave a lot of reasons for belief here, but none of them were credible at all. Now, I can’t speak for him particularly–but I have some good ideas of why I believed, and I know why other ex-Christians say they believed. Those real reasons don’t look remotely like the arguments and pseudoscience offered up by would-be evangelists. So next time I want to share some of those real reasons for belief–and get into the equivocation fallacy that Christians like this guy commit around the various meanings of the word faith. See you then!
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