More atheist-bashing in Slate

One of my resolutions for 2014, which I’ll undoubtedly violate repeatedly, is to spend less time dissecting atheist-bashing articles, for the arguments against atheists are simply recycled endlessly. But even if I can’t keep my resolution, I’ll try to be briefer, as in the case of poet Michael Robbins‘s review in Slate of Molly Worthens’s new book Apostles of Reason, a history of modern evangelical Christianity.

Unfortunately, Robbins can’t stick to the book, but winds up using his article, “Your being here: the fundamental questions at the heart of the wars between fundamentalism and modernity,” to club atheists. Discussing a transformation among some evangelicals from “naive theism” to doubt that can shade into unbelief, Robbins simply goes off the rails:

One unfortunate consequence of this background shift is that as unbelief seems to more and more people the only plausible construal, they find it difficult to understand why anyone would adopt a different one. Thus “they reach for rather gross error theories to explain religious belief,” and we are subjected to ignorant books by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. Take Dawkins on Thomas Aquinas, for example, a discussion so inept that it’s as if Noam Chomsky had decided to publish a primer on black metal. (See David Bentley Hart’s elegant demolition of Dawkins’ analysis in The Experience of God.)

The “undergraduate atheists,” as the philosopher Mark Johnston dubbed them in Saving God, have been definitively refuted by Hart, Terry Eagleton, Marilynne Robinson, Johnston himself, and others. As intellectual bloodbaths go, it’s been entertaining—like watching Jon Stewart skewer Glenn Beck. But of course Richard Dawkins is merely a symptom. I have encountered atheists who seem not only to have never met an intelligent, educated believer, but to doubt that such a creature could exist.

I don’t know what Robbins considers a “definite refutation” of “undergraduate atheists”, but I’ve read Eagleton and Robinson, and they have no new arguments for God’s existence—arguments that are, after all, the focus of New Atheism.  All they do is carp endlessly about how Dawkins and others don’t truly understand Sophisticated Theology™, as if that’s what most believers embrace. Please, Drs. Eagleton and Robinson (and, for that matter, Mr. Robbins), do tell us the definitive proofs of God’s existence that Sophisticated Theologians™ have adduced. Because if you don’t, then the simple request, “What reason do you have to think that?” is a definitive refutation of all religion, sophisticated or otherwise.

Yes, of course there are intelligent, educated believers, just as there are intelligent, educated creationists and homeopaths—but they all have at least one blind spot. Just because someone is intelligent and educated doesn’t automatically make all her arguments valid.

But Robbins’s big beef about the atheists is actually quite funny:

Such unbelievers seem to me to have missed something quite fundamental about the nature of being, as it appears to the human animal, something that the major theistic traditions attempt to address with rather more nuance and generosity than contemporary updates to logical positivism can muster. You don’t, obviously, have to believe in God to feel humbled and bewildered before what Heidegger called “the question of the meaning of Being.” (Indeed, I often think the notion of “belief” is more trouble than it’s worth.) But you do have to acknowledge that there is a question, “the major question that revolves around you,” as John Ashbery puts it: “your being here.” And you have to recognize that it concerns something outside the scope of the natural sciences.

If, as we suspect, there is no God, then—contra Robbins—there is no question of “the meaning of Being.” There is only the question of how things came to be. If you presume that that “means” something, then you’re presuming a Meaning-Giver, i.e., a god. Robbins tells us that we have to acknowledge that that’s an important question, but I dismiss it as a Deepity.

I also reject his insistence that we “have to acknowledge that the question is meaningful” or that it has an answer “outside the scope of the natural sciences.”  Those sciences tell us how the universe came about (the Big Bang, which may be one of many Big Bangs that created other universes), and they certainly tell us how humans and other species came about, via evolution.  Yes, it’s humbling to realize that a simple naturalistic process can evolve a fly out of nonliving matter, or that physical processes can bring a universe into being, but my real humility is not before the meaningless Big Questions, but before the authority of fact.

Theistic traditions try to imbue humanity with Purpose and Meaning, but to do so they do what they must, which is to make up stuff about gods. Robbins apparently considers this admirable. But what would really be admirable is to finally expose theology and “major theistic traditions” for what they are: fictions that once served as explanations to our prescientific ancestors, but are now passé, and whose embrace should embarrass a thinking person. As for nuance and generosity, well forget about them, for they’re trumped by the truth. It’s not “generous” to cater to beliefs that are not only unfounded, but imposed on others who reject them.

To that end I’ll quote from an email I got this morning from a Christian who pretended to be interested in whether one “kind” of animal could evolve from another (he had apparently seen Ray Comfort’s new film, “Evolution vs. God: Shaking the Foundations of Faith”). After I spent several emails giving him the explanation that it takes millions of years to create a new “kind” of animal (whatever “kind” means), showing him examples of evolutionary transitions between fish and amphibians, mammals and reptiles, birds and mammals, explaining that we can’t observe major evolutionary transitions over a human lifetime, and finally referring him to several books about fossils, the Lying Christian dropped his cover and got to the point in a followup email:

I want to tell the following things because I care about you and others. I care about where you will go when you die. Isn’t it worth thinking about? The Bible says that God “has put eternity in our hearts” and “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse”. Also, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness”. Don’t suppress the truth or God’s Word.

“Unrighteousness” is lying, cheating, fornication, adultery, hate and many others.  [JAC: clearly my correspondent, who lied about his motivations, is guilty of “unrighteousness.” He’s going to Hell LOL!]

The Bible also says “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God”. Because God loves us so much He sent Jesus to die on the cross to take the punishment for your sins, to declare us not guilty, so we wouldn’t have to go to Hell. Please consider God’s free gift of salvation from Hell. I am pleading with you to give God a chance. Just be as honest and open as you can. God is “rich in mercy” and if you turn from your sins and trust in Jesus, God will forgive you, save you and give you eternal life. The Bible says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Kind Regards,
[Name redacted]

Why don’t I ever learn that these people are not sincere?

The writer was not an American but a Kiwi—from New Zealand (Ray Comfort’s birthplace). It’s time for Robbins to understand that this is how most believers see their faith, not through the beer glasses of Terry Eagleton, Karen Armstrong, or Marilynne Robinson. And this is how discerning the “Meaning of Being” makes people behave.

I showed Chief Editor Hili-Cat Robbins’s article, and this was her reaction:
P1050184

91 Comments

  1. Dermot C
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    Beyond sneers at new atheism passim. in Eagleton, it’s very difficult to argue with the bloke, like wrestling jelly: he very rarely propounds anything of substance to counter, content merely to sneer as if he knows something you don’t. I caught him out a month or so ago, and wrote this retort to the LRB: needless to say it wasn’t published – they really don’t like sharp criticism of goddiness.

    Terry Eagleton, in reviewing ‘Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait’ (LRB, 5 December), states that the doctrine of Creation has ‘nothing to do with how the world got off the ground’. As a matter of historical fact, for at least 1,500 years Christians from St. Justin Martyr to Bishop Ussher debated precisely that point; they differed merely in when the creation happened. Certain sects still argue the toss. This is not, pace Eagleton, what new atheists imagine but what certain Christians themselves believe and incessantly proselytize. The good Professor blames Prometheus for the insatiable eagle.

    Furthermore, it is accurate to characterize it as bogus science for it is trivially simple for physicists and biologists to point out the impossibility of the first creation account in Genesis: and they often have to in the face of mainly American Christian fundagelicals.

    Science has pushed theology so far to the margins of knowledge that Professor Eagleton can write, with the queasiest of irony, ‘…as with any other piece of God-speak this cannot be taken literally’. Parenthetically, it is not clear whether this is Eagleton’s editorializing or Aquinas’ opinion, or both. In any case this leaves the sophisticated theologian™ in the happy position of making up any idea she damned well wants. And to know that it’s not even wrong.

    Eagleton as usual seems more concerned with attacking Dawkins. As he knows, the argument is over science versus faith, over what we can know against how we privilege the imaginings of some advocate of theocracy – a word coined by the first century Pharisee Jew Josephus about his own polis.

    Slaínte.

  2. McCthulhu
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 4:38 am | Permalink

    Fear us the usual cause of religion and those that feel they are clever and sophisticated have a great fear of not being “special”. Robbins is another of those who just can’t accept that life can be an accident in a universe that is essentially detrimental to life. Why seemingly smart people still have to hold on to paleolithic belief systems just to maintain that imaginary friend to stroke their ego is beyond me. Is it because they have emptied their lives of any positive connections that the imaginary is all that remains to them? Enjoy nature, friends and family and leave the world better than when you entered it. I don’t need to fabricate bullshit stories to make my time here any more meaningful, and having the bullshit imaginary friend stealing credit for any of that just cheapens everything and gives no credit to ourselves and fellow humans for doing pretty well, considering the universe really is dangerous to us all.

  3. Posted January 8, 2014 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    I think one of the most liberating moments of life is when we understand that there’s no ‘meaning’ to be had. Dictators will kill and sometimes never face justice. Tsunami’s wipe out towns, and no amount of prayer can change that. I’ll never understand why peoplw choose to put artificial burdens on themselves by purporting to be able to control what they obviously can’t.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      A phrase I read at the weekend:

      “What is the point of my life? In an existential sense, there is no point; life is a backdrop on which we paint meaning.”

      Some people paint with a science shaped brush, some with an aesthetic brush, some with a god-shaped brush. But even the most sophisticated god-shaped brush is one you make up yourself…

      • John K.
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:29 am | Permalink

        Very nice.

      • Robert
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        I love that, could you tell me where to find it?

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Tolkien convinced Lewis that the Christ story is a true myth. If you get that then you get true religion according to Robbins. So much for Dawkins, who obsesses about creationists – as if they know a darned thing about true myths! Yeeah! And that Aquinas! WTF did he ever understand about true myths? But wait a minute – Robbins thinks Dawkins’ take down of Aquinas is risible. Does that mean Aquinas’ proofs are true myths also. Please explain O wise one. (Mr Robbins). How do the the logical “proofs” of Aquinas fit harmoniously with the true religious myths of T & L? I don’t believe the logical proofs or mythical truths are anything but wishful thinking. Show me it ain’t so.

      The truth – non-mythical – is that the “truths” of religion are born of need. Pure and simple. Those truths are simply inventions born of desire for our apparently meaningless existence to have meaning. It’s not rocket science, it really isn’t.

      If it looks like it’s meaningless; feels like it’s meaningless; screams like it’s meaningless – then don’t scream: BUT it’s not meaningless!

  4. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    One of my resolutions for 2014, which I’ll undoubtedly violate repeatedly, is to spend less time dissecting atheist-bashing articles, for the arguments against atheists are simply recycled endlessly.

    If you can keep this resolution I’ll quit smoking.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      Since these articles are usually my favorites, I hope Jerry breaks his resolution. Looks like you do, too ;)

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        Yeah, that was a freebie. :-)

  5. Alex Shuffell
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    “And you have to recognize that it concerns something outside the scope of the natural sciences.”

    Why? How does he know that? If Theologians could answer these questions then atheists and unbelievers wouldn’t have “missed something quite fundamental about the nature of being,” only by asking these two questions we are trying to understand what they are talking about. To understand if they are just making it up or if they actually have figured something out. Because I always have these two questions in my mind when I’m trying to understand something it makes reading theology unbearable as I’m always smacking into dead-ends of thought, it also makes science much more interesting.

    • darrelle
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      Why? Because if they give that up they are done for. That is the last thing they have left. Science has pushed them all the way back from “god create the world in 7 days, created man from a handful of dirt and woman from the man’s rib,” to the pitiful, “And you have to recognize that it concerns something outside the scope of the natural sciences.”

      It is ironic that science has achieved this merely as a byproduct, not as a goal. But of course religions feel that it is all about them and therefore science must be intentionally aimed right at them.

      • Sastra
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

        When you unravel all the religious assertions about the world (God created man; God created earth; God created the universe) back to their source, you get to the main confusion: reality is fundamentally mental. Values, virtues, thoughts, choices, emotions, and morals lie underlie the very origin and/or nature of the material world. Theists think this changes how we analyze the claim.

        If someone were to casually say something like “my decision on whether I ought to have children is not something I can use science to decide” we’d normally let it slide. Although we could nitpick here and there if we wanted to go all reductionist or separate and analyze any fact questions — we know what they mean. Sure. Generally speaking, when someone talks lightly about values, virtues, thoughts, choices, emotions, or morals we don’t drag out the natural sciences. We speak on the level of psychology, or philosophy, or what it is that the individual wants on the personal level.

        Supernaturalists think that supernatural claims require the same treatment. They’re “outside the scope of the natural sciences” and get to be discussed as if we were talking about meaning.

  6. Alex Shuffell
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    At the start of Robbins’ “review” he mentions he is a liberal Christian being “firmly opposed to the doctrine of hell”. Does liberal Christian mean that you take more of the Bible to be metaphorical?

    • Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:30 am | Permalink

      generally, yes – the Buybull isn’t read literally, allowing it to be taken seriously

    • Dominic
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      Does he still believe in a ‘heaven’? And, pardon the expression, how the hell does he know? personal information? hotwire from his god?

    • darrelle
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      Yes indeed, at which point the obvious question is, well if you don’t believe any of this shit here why the hell to you believe this other shit over here. If you don’t believe the specifics that the religion was founded on why believe any of it?

      Religion, the less convincing the evidence is the harder it is to refute.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      I think that being a “liberal Christian” entails that you think the new atheists are just as wrong as the Christian fundamentalists.

  7. Occam
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 4:59 am | Permalink

    A good thing: Robbins quoting Heidegger.
    Indeed, Robbins quoting Heidegger as if he understood him.
    An assay that rarely fails, whenever a fuzzy mind falls for the tricks of that prolix charlatan. Like a blinking marker: « Bullshit avalanche ahead. »

    So here’s a further test for Robbins. Translate — don’t paraphrase — and analyse the following single sentence from Besinnung (Heidegger Gesamtausgabe Bd. 66, p. 21):

    “Das ,Sein’, wird so ,konstitutiv’ als ,Werden’ begriffen; da aber die Form des ,Werdens’ die ,Zeit’ ist, ergibt sich auf diesem machenschaftlichen Wege der Seinsauslegung ein selbstverständlicher Zusammenhang zwischen ,Sein’ und ,Zeit’ – Gedankengänge, die nichts gemein haben können mit dem, was unter dem Titel ,Sein und Zeit’ anfänglich erfragt wird, Gedankengänge aber auch, die nichts ahnen können von dem, was sie übermächtigt hat: vom Sein als Machenschaft, die erzwingt, daß auch noch das Denken ihres Wesens von ihrer Art sei, was einen Zustand zur Folge hat, der diesem Denken, und das heißt der Metaphysik, versagt, auf die Wahrheit des Seyns jemals auch nur als Fragbares zu stoßen.”

    Got it? Bonus points for a plausible explanation of the difference between Sein and Seyn.

    No? Didn’t think so. License revoked.

  8. Matt G
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    Sometimes being really, really smart is a liability – it can make you very good at rationalizing your beliefs. Then comes the arrogant feeling that because I’m so smart, I can’t be wrong.

    • Kevin
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:11 am | Permalink

      People who think that an atheist can not comprehend the inner workings of a smart religious person are making an error.

      There are some atheists who cannot understand how there could be really dumb atheists. This is also an error. It is the capacity or willingness or wisdom (experience) of the invididual to understand and then choose to make use of that knowledge.

      How many times, I have heard from people, “How could you act so dumb, for someone so bright!” I am confident most people have been rewarded with phrases uttered to them.

    • onkelbob
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      Just because someone is intelligent and educated doesn’t automatically make all her arguments valid.

      I chalk it up the natural extension of Dunning Kruger, where just as the less informed are supremely confident in their position, those who well informed in one field believe that ability extends to all fields. It’s how I explain why so many engineers are climate change deniers and creationists. Chomsky pointed out that sports radio proves Americans are not stupid. The callers and hosts demonstrate the ability to process complicated statistics and recall obscure factual information. We not we’re smart, we just refuse to acknowledge we’re ignorant.

      • Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        Oh, I like the Chomsky reference! (Citation?)

        /@

      • Filippo
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        Which leads to a comparison of “stupid” and “ignorant.” “Ignorant” and “ignoramus” technically ought not be pejoratives, but in this contemporary culture it is so treated. There are a lot of very non-stupid (smart) people who are very willfully ignorant.

        Is there a single noun name for willful ignorance? “Philistine”?

        • gbjames
          Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

          Republican?

  9. gbjames
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    People like [Name redacted] could save everyone a lot of time if they could bring themselves to give up the pretense of asking questions. They have no more interest in the questions than they have in running naked through the streets of Milwaukee during this polar vortex event. It is just another case of lying for Jesus.

    And then they turn around and tell us all about how religion is the source of humanity’s moral sense. Perhaps, in their case, it is partly true.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      (and sub)

    • Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

      It is, as I hinted before: It’s the most moral thing that an evangelical can do, to seek to save the fallen. The end justifies the means.

      /@

      • Filippo
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        ” . .to seek to save the fallen.”

        “Go ye unto all nations . . . to Judea and Samaria, and unto the ends of the Earth”

        “The Great Commission.” or so I was told in my evangelical Southern Baptist upbringing.

        • Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

          What I always got a kick out of is that said Great Commission came with it explicit instructions from Jesus to non-believers as to how we’re supposed to be sure that those who’re trying to preach the Gospel to us are legit, the real deal.

          Specifically:

          Mark 16:14 Afterward [Jesus] appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.

          15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

          16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

          17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

          18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

          19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

          20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

          I’d love to put that to the test — to accompany an evangelist to St. Luke’s just up the street. They can lay hands on every sick person there. After all of them have recovered, I’ll hand the evangelist a nice, tall glass of ammonia to be chugged, followed by a chaser of bleach. If the evangelist makes it that far, we’ll talk.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Yeah, you see that same MO in the comments as well. All nice & polite until a sudden snap & then the inevitable threat of hell comes out!

  10. Bruce Gorton
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Even with a God the universe wouldn’t have any particular meaning in the sense the religious beat their chests over.

    After all, their God would itself have to be meaningless – as it wouldn’t have a creator to imbue meaning into it.

    • Matt G
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      Many of the arguments the religious use against atheism are just as much a problem for them. If they ask “Why does the Universe exist?”, we can ask not only “Why does God exist?”, but also “Why did God do all these things?”. Why create a big Universe, so much of which is inhospitable to life?

    • darrelle
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      William Lane Craig has an easy answer for that argument. Can’t you see that a necessary aspect of a perfect being is that it always has & always will exist? A precursor would mean imperfection, therefore that can not be the case. Ergo, you are RONG!

      • Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        OK, W. L. Craig, why has that god guy never produced any evidence that she/he/it exists? Understand, I’m not requiring PROOF, just a tiny shred of evicence that might lead someone who wasn’t a goddy already to conclude that there might be one, somewhere in the universe, maybe.

        • darrelle
          Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

          Ya just gotta have FAITH! Donchya know. Requiring reasonable evidence shows disrespect, and you know what that means. Fire & brimstone for you. So sad, but if the Big Guy says it, it is moral & right.

          HE gave you free will but if you use it, you’re screwed. For life.

          • Posted January 8, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

            I can’t wait. To quote Mark Twain, “Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company”.

            • Michael Fugate
              Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

              I am always reminded of a postcard in my grandfather’s collection.

              There’s only two things to worry about – either you’re well or you’re sick.
              If you’re well there’s nothing to worry about.
              If you’re sick there’s only two things to worry about – either you get well or you die.
              If you get well there’s nothing to worry about.
              If you die there’s only two things to worry about – either you go to heaven or you go to hell.
              If you go to heaven there’s nothing to worry about.
              If you go to hell you’ll be so damn busy shaking hands with all your friends you won’t have time to worry.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          Jeeze, abeastwood! Haven’t you ever seen a tripartite frozen waterfall? How much more evidence to you need?

          • Posted January 8, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

            No, I haven’t seen a tripartite frozen waterfall. I may see one soon on the banks of the Hudson River. I’d be inclined to attribute it to the polar vortex…

        • Filippo
          Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          Well, I ancestors had the (alleged) miracles, revelations, and the prophets?

          Ain’t that enuff?

          • Filippo
            Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

            “I” = “our.”

          • Matt D
            Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

            Not when almost all those “ancestors” were less educated than a five year old is today.

  11. francis
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    //

    • Dominic
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      To which I would add \\!

      I suppose I could agree that using the term ‘blind-spot’ might let us call irrational people ‘intelligent’, but I am not totally convinced that there can be an ‘intelligent’ religious person. To be religious means one must believe in the irrational. Is that what intelligence is?

      • didymos
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        By that logic, Isaac Newton was a moron.

        • Matt G
          Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

          People can be perfectly reasonable and rational in certain areas. This is where “motivated reasoning” comes into play. All bets are off where people’s prior ideological commitments are concerned.

        • Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

          Newton lived loooooooooong before science had settled the “hard problems” religion was then considered necessary to solve. Indeed, he was the one who solved some of the biggest of those problems.

          All things considered, I’m more than happy to cut the guy a bit of slack on the subject.

          b&

          • Filippo
            Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

            I agree with you, but,just congenially curious, by what year at the latest would you no longer cut one (whether or not a Newton) slack? 1859, with Darwin? 1905, with Einstein? 1953, with Watson and Crick (and Roslyn Franklin ;))?

            • Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

              Well, it’s a sliding sort of thing, obviously.

              But I’d be charitable and make it 2013, the year that the LHC team completed the Standard Model with the confirmation of the Higgs. Up until then, there remained the (remote) hypothetical possibility that some as-yet-unsuspected force existed that could be a carrier for the spiritual phenomena claimed by supernaturalists of all stripes. But now we know that, though there’s still lots to learn about physics, we have all the pieces of the puzzle that could even in principle influence human-scale events.

              Those unaware of the discovery of the Higgs and its significance can, of course, still be granted a bit of slack. But we really are at a point where the only excuses are ignorance or insufficient intelligence to comprehend…or willful self-deception (aka, “faith”), which is much, much worse than either other option.

              Cheers,

              b&

  12. Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    The Bible sure seems obsessed with light. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing for optogenetics. Jebus says we can haz good mental health.

    • darrelle
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      Peoples is scared of the dark.

      Lying in bed, covers pulled up to chin, all body parts 100% on the bed (nothing dangling over the side), eyes glued to the slit of light peaking through the slightly cracked open door.

      • Dominic
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        Scared of the darkness or what might (not) be lurking in it?

        • darrelle
          Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

          Me? Both!

          Theology? We can make up an infinite variety of just so rationalizations in answer to that, or any question!

      • Marta
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        You’ve described my fear of the “Blob” in the 50’s movie, exactly, right down to keeping my one exposed eye on the crack of light under the door. God = blob. Who knew?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Theologians just need Riddick!

  13. John K.
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Sophisticated Theology™ seems to me to be mostly an exercise in “metaphoring” away problems. The neat little trick of discarding inconvenient parts while still holing on to them and the rest of the book. That, and explaining why problems are not really problems, and why you are not smart enough to simply shut up unless you accept the religious viewpoint.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      Yes. I always view Sophisticated Theologians as darting about here and there holding goalposts, dodging balls and screaming over and over “Haha! You MISSED!”

      • Kevin
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        Sophisticated just makes it worse. Even regular religious people and Mediocre Theologians usually quip, “You don’t know what I know, You don’t know what I know. And you can’t because you don’t believe.”

        Most children behave and know better than this.

  14. darrelle
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    This poet’s article is truly pathetic. He sure is offended about something. I feel sorry for him that he is so indignant about atheists that he was driven to show his ass like that.

  15. Rob
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    OK [Name Redacted], if you’re reading this, a question for you.

    How do you objectively know the Bible is true? Do not argue by assertion, and your argument must also eliminate all other “Holy Books”, current and future, without any special pleading.

    Your explanation must also account for all of the contradictions present in the Bible, as well as explain the differences between the different sects that have chosen different books.

  16. Greg Esres
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    “I care about where you will go when you die.”

    Perhaps these people should spend more time asking God to change is mind and let everyone into heaven, as befitting his infinite compassion.

  17. Greg Esres
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    “elegant demolition of Dawkins’ analysis in The Experience of God.”

    God, it’s almost 400 pages. We need to see more 20 page books.

  18. Tulse
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I have encountered atheists who seem not only to have never met an intelligent, educated believer, but to doubt that such a creature could exist.

    I don’t know any atheists like that, because all the atheists I know started out as intelligent, educated believers. It’s bizarre to me that religious apologists don’t acknowledge that a large proportion (I’d guess substantial majority) of atheists used to be believers.

  19. Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    (Dear redacted)

    Send him the standard letter ; the one that says that we have no fleas in our carriages… In cases of Religious Brain Disorder, send him this one…

    Dear redacted,

    Thank you for your letter, and for your kind concern for my future.
    In return I have become so very concerned about you now, and your own chances of getting to heaven.

    I assume that you have heard of the Koran, the bible of the Muslims who number, according to them, about a billion people. You see, if you have heard of the Koran, and yet refuse to bow your head to Allah, then you shall rot for an eternity in hell. You seem such a nice person that I would hate that to happen to you. Therefore I urge you as a matter of priority to get along to a mosque, and tell the Imam that you have decided to become a Muslim, and need to start studying the Koran in Arabic, which is the custom. (But I strongly advise you not to consider any suicide-bombing; especially near Paducah, Kentucky, where there is a decent Diner)

    There is just one thing you might be able to help me with. I know that your Christian god made the whole universe, but why is it that so few people have ever heard of him or believe in him? By my calculations only about one person in every 3,400 will get to heaven. Maybe it is because they should have been vigilant and have killed anyone who picks up sticks, or opens agate, or cooks dinner on the Sabbath. Or torn their eyes out for accidently looking at someone else’s spouse. In Europe less than 2% of people go to church. I wonder if almost all Europeans will go to hell. And the Chinese. And the Indians who believe in Hanuman the Monkey-God. Billions of them.

    What if you had been born in China, or India, or the Arab countries. I hope that you would have trusted in Jesus, even if no-one had heard of him or spoken of him, and have contacted Amazon to buy a bible online. You’d have to have your bible delivered in a plain-wrapping, ‘cos they kill people of a different religion, I’m told.

    Finally, how come you don’t trust the scientific theory of evolution? The Popes do, and the head of the English protestants; the Archbishop of Canterbury, does. He even instructed his aide to write an apology for opposing Darwin all those years ago. If you want to write your apology for opposing Darwin, you should address it to me.

    In the love of the one true religion…

    Tom and Jerry

  20. Robert Seidel
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    [He doesn’t mention lying.]

    Mistake there? He/she mentions it first in the row, even:

    “Unrighteousness” is lying, cheating, fornication, adultery, hate and many others.

    • Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      Yeah, mistake. I’ve fixed it thanks. He’s now guilty of unrighteousness.

  21. Amy T
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    This story was told to us, first-hand by a good friend of ours here in Colorado at the New Year’s gathering a couple of days ago.

    ****** was a volunteer for many years at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. Some conference was scheduled, and experts from far and wide were invited to be a part of a symposium. One guy was from East Africa, and. although I can’t recall what his expertise was, it doesn’t matter.

    She picked him up at the Denver airport, and there he was, in a business suit, looking the ultimate professional. She didn’t want to presume, but decided to ask whether he might consider coming to her son’s high school class – a sort of cultural enrichment. He agreed.

    The day came for the class visit, and he showed up in the full regalia of a Masai warrior. Cool first impression, eh? Anyway he gave his presentation, which went down very well, and, after an appreciative round of applause, he agreed to take questions.

    One student asked “What do you think about the missionaries who are sent to your country?”.

    Without hesitation, he said “Fuck ‘em!”.

    • darrelle
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      I like that guy. Can’t think of a better answer.

  22. Sastra
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Why don’t I ever learn that these people are not sincere?

    Because you can’t be sure they aren’t. Including “lying Christian.”

    That final email is boilerplate witnessing, the mental equivalent of a habitual tic and would be exactly the sort of thing a devout Christian who has just been rattled to the core WOULD send you. So it’s quite possible that the writer was sincere and that your explanations hit home. I’m tempted to say that its sudden switch of subject and formulaic aspect makes it even more likely that his or her questions were sincere, but that’s probably bias on my part.

    It is very rare that Creationists, theists, or anyone with a passionate bee in their bonnet about some topic will say “you’re right” to someone they’ve just been debating with. And in religion people seldom change their minds in some swift and sudden Road to Jerusalem moment. You know that. They brood … and think. On their own, and over time.

    The fact that this Christian even bothered to go to an actual expert on evolution to ask questions separates them from the majority. Don’t bet against this person being a lot less confident in their convictions now than before. If nothing else, he or she is probably a lot less confident in their arguments.

    Before they lie to anyone else, they lie to themselves.

  23. Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    The sad thing about those still clinging to religion is that that ship sailed so long ago it’s grown wings and a rocket engine.

    There is absolutely nothing in religion or theology that isn’t childish faery tales or ignorant superstition or incoherent and profoundly unsophisticated sophistry. Robbins is a perfect example.

    Now, there’re lots of powerful psychological reasons why smart people believe dumb things…but, at the same time, there’s no reason why they should ever be proud of or forgiven for doing so.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Kevin
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      This a good occasion for a heavily modified Steven Weinberg quote:

      With or without religion, smart and dumb people can do good or evil. And just because religion is easy to understand does not mean smart people will see through it. Likewise, dumb people can see through religion without understanding a thing about it.

      Aside, I really do not believe that anyone is actually dumb. (cf. above Chomsky example)

      • gbjames
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Oh, let me assure you. Some people are dumb.

        • Posted January 8, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          And they can be seen, too.

          b&

          • Kevin
            Posted January 8, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

            Funny, but I thought that movie was dumb.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 8, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

              So you see dumb movies.

              • Kevin
                Posted January 8, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

                I praise Ceiling Cat when I see a movie that isn’t dumb.

  24. Robert Bray
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    When Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in his ‘Defence of Poetry’ (1821) that ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,’ he was half right. Poets and poetry, far more now than then, are almost completely unacknowledged in our culture–and if they happen to be taken at all seriously it isn’t as legislators.

    Poets like this one are alienated because they think they should be our guides to truth; whereas society largely treats them as voiceless, impotent. But they soldier on in the social silence to which they’ve been relegated. And the ‘truth’ they attempt to embody is most often phenomenological (remember the recent posts discussing Curtis White?). And that is where most of the Sophisticated Theology comes from too. Since our poet in question also proclaims himself a Christian, he believes his world view doubly right, a synergy that produces ‘truth.’

    Ironically, it was a poetic genius who put the case for naturalism oh so beautifully: Wallace Stevens in ‘Sunday Morning.’ The Christian woman in the poem says, ‘But in contentment I still feel/ The need of some imperishable bliss.’ But the other voice in the poem denies this possibility:

    She hears, upon that water without sound,
    A voice that cries, ‘The tomb in Palestine
    Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
    It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.’
    We live in an old chaos of the sun,
    Or old dependency of day and night,
    Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
    Of that wide water, inescapable.
    Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
    Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
    Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
    And, in the isolation of the sky,
    At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
    Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
    Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

    • Michael Fugate
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      The same goes for theologians. Robbins mentions David Bentley Hart and, as a theologian, Hart laments the current marginality of Christian theology (not theology in general)in the western university and public sphere.
      see here:

      http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/theology-as-knowledge-33

      Hart truly believes that Christian theology is the “queen of the sciences” and should be guiding the university curriculum. But what pray tell does Christian theology do?

      James Stoner states the following:
      “The questions theology asks—about the nature of God, what can be known in revelation, how to live in the light of these things—are universal. Just to know how to formulate them as questions and where to look to weigh the most plausible answers is a kind of knowledge in itself.”

      The problem is that a Christian will give a very different answer than a non-Christian destroying anything resembling universality.

  25. gluonspring
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I followed the comments on the Robbins article shortly after it went up (when there were a mere 200 comments). At least when I was reading them, the comments were very harsh on Robbins. Robbins himself joined in the comments and it was a pathetic showing. For a bit I thought maybe Robbins was a pseudonym for David Johnson (http://bit.ly/1cBaSu8) as they both have the same approach to people raising specific questions about their wild assertions: imply the questioner is ignorant, refer them to a long list of books or “the entire history of Western philosophy”, but never, ever, make a coherent argument themselves.

    Eventually Robbins deleted all of his comments from the Slate article, which is for the best, because he came across as that most frustrating kind of person: the arrogant ignoramus whose own pretense prevents them from seeing how foolish they look.

  26. Frank Stabile
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Articles like this remind me of something Christopher Hitchens mentioned in an interview. Every morning he said he checked the Washington Post for horoscopes and the New York Times for the slogan “All the news that’s fit to print” because those things always bothered him. If he felt irritated looking at it each morning, he knew he still had a pulse. That is basically how I feel with creationism. I read the articles and watch creationist videos because it gets my blood boiling and makes me want to read more, write more, and learn more so that maybe I can defend evolution with a sliver of the argumentative power Dr. Coyne wields. So for me it is frustrating obviously, but also in a way invigorating.

  27. Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    As a Kiwi, I can only apologise and say that according to our 2013 census – atheists or “no religion” folk are in the majority for the first time. Reason will prevail, eventually.

  28. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    But you do have to acknowledge that there is a question, “the major question that revolves around you,” as John Ashbery puts it: “your being here.” And you have to recognize that it concerns something outside the scope of the natural sciences.

    Ha ha! He thinks this is such a gotcha! No, I’ll acknowledge that this is a question, but it’s a silly one that shouldn’t be asked. I’m so tired of reading or hearing popular media that proclaims that you must do what you were meant to do. What?! Don’t look at me like I’m a hopeless abomination when I say, “there is no ‘meant’ to do”. Do you like what your doing – there you’re doing it. Stop obsessing & get on with your life.

  29. Michael Fugate
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, a creationist wanted me to read an article on how the impossibility of abiogenesis = proof of god. When I told him it was a waste of my time, he replied:

    Now, Michael. Wouldn’t you agree that, given an evolutionary worldview, ultimately everything is a waste of your time?

    If that’s the kind of worldview you subscribe to, Michael, you have no basis for complaining about anybody “wasting your time.” Your whole existence is already an absolutely meaningless nihilism. In fact, the whole biosphere is, in your view, just a tiny transient island of life between two vast oceans of dead, dark nothingness.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      Ah, the nihilism accusation. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a term created for this sort of thing.

    • Richard Olson
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

      ‘…biosphere is…just a tiny transient island of life between two vast oceans…of… nothingness.’

      wtf? What two oceans is he talking about?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      I would say there was absolute valid grounds for complaining about ‘wasting my time’. It’s *my* time, I’ll waste it in a way that *I* find interesting. You can do what you friggin’ like with yours, just keep it away from me.

      Or words to that effect…

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

      And even if he had a point all of his work would yet be before him. It could have been Zeus, after all.

  30. RGBowman
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    In the 12,000 years of known, human, recorded history, religion has failed to get anything right about the universe, nature, and/or us. That’s 6,000+ religions; hundreds of thousands of sect, cults, and denominations (Christianity, alone, can claim 32,000+ denominations). Along with billions of people each claiming that only their faith has this special, intrinsic knowledge, because they believe in xyz deity, or deities. Even The Law of Large Numbers states that by now, religion should have gotten at least one thing right, if any of its assertions were true. Statistically, religion isn’t even in the parking lot, much less the ballpark.

    In dealing with Tommy A, why should anyone care about his writings? All he did, by and large, was to ingest the rediscovered philosophy of Aristotle’s Third Period, and regurgitate it with a bunch of Jesus and Christian doctrine mixed into it.

    Does anyone honestly think that if Aristotle knew what we now know today, he’d still argue for the unmoved mover, Aither, the ascension or descension of the four elements, the Earth at the center of the universe, blah, blah, blah?

    If one really wants to press Robbins, there was Tommy A’s attitude that theology should be treated as a science. Ergo Dawkins. (Also, see first paragraph) And on a side note, A’s position on heretics: exterminate ‘em!

  31. Posted January 9, 2014 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    It is said that Aquinus stopped writing abruptly after his eight million words of nonsense. Was it his deconversion moment?

  32. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 9, 2014 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    the Lying Christian

    It seems it always comes to this. But what can we expect out of something founded on a Big Lie?


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