Finally, Dawkins converts people to Christianity

One of the staple criticisms of Richard Dawkins—the Official Lightning Rod of New Atheism™—is that his stridency turns people away from evolution as well as from atheism, so that he actually converts people into both creationists and, if they were originally nonbelievers, religionists.

The former criticism is nonsense, of course. I’ve never in my life met someone who told me, “You know, I’d accept the truth of evolution if only Dawkins would shut up about atheism!” In contrast, there are hundreds of people whom Richard has drawn to the truth of evolution through his many books and lectures on the topics. For those who says he’s hurting the cause of science, let them adduce some evidence!

Until today, the other criticism—that his strident and shrill “militancy” has the same counterproductive effect on nonbelievers, turning them into Goddies—has also gone unevidenced. But there was, again, plenty of evidence to the contrary. Exhibit 1 is what used to be called Dawkins’s “Converts Corner,” now called simply “Letters, Converts.  There are 120 pages of these, each page containing 12 letters. If you do the math, that’s 1440 people who wrote in, most testifying that Richard’s writings, especially The God Delusion, helped wean them from their childish superstitions.  And until now that mountain of evidence completely refuted any claims that Richard turned atheists into believers.

Now, however, we have precisely two testimonies of how Richard has changed atheists back into believers.

They’re both recounted in an article in the Torygraph by Damian Thompson, “Is Richard Dawkins leading people to Jesus?” That’s a pretty provocative title given that the “people” number two—or rather, as we’ll see, 1.25.

Here’s Thompson’s first story about a friend:

My schoolfriend Michael – an atheist for decades – rang me the other night and told me he’d returned to the Catholic Church. “And you’ll never guess who converted me,” he said.

“Your wife?”

“No! It was Richard Dawkins!”

He explained that he was, and is, a huge admirer of Dawkins the biologist. (I’m with him there: I read The Blind Watchmaker when it first came out and was blown away.) “But then I read The God Delusion and it was… total crap. So bad that I started questioning my own atheism. Then he started tweeting.”

Like a loony on top of the bus, no?


Well, this person’s atheism must have been pretty shaky to begin with if it was finally overturned by tw**ts. After all, the strongest argument for atheism, the lack of evidence for Gods, isn’t much affected by what Richard says on Tw**ter.  And if “Michael” said that The God Delusion was “total crap,” well, even if he didn’t like the lack of Sophisticated Theology™ in that book, it’s hard for me to see anything there that would drive someone into the arms of Jesus. It’s as if you read a bad critique of homeopathy on the internet by someone who, say, mistook it for herbal medicine, and became so incensed that you started taking homeopathic medicine. As with God, the lack of support is widespread if you simply look beyond one source. There are, after all, more books on atheism than just The God Delusion.

Thompson also links to an article by Judith Babarsky at the “Dead Philosophers Society” at the Holy Apostles College and Seminary, “Reading Richard Dawkins led to my conversion.” An excerpt:

Truthfully, I found [The God Delusion] a waste of my time as it afforded me no cogent arguments concerning the existence or non-existence of God. In fact, not only was Dawkins disrespectful of opinions other than his own, I found his statements about Jesus to be so ill-informed (and, mind you, I was no fount of scholarly information myself) that I resolved to actually learn something about Jesus Christ.

Reading Dawkins challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone and honestly confront the issues holding me back from a full commitment to faith. My sense of The God Delusion is that it is written as a testimony to Dawkins’ belief system (which I call fundamentalist atheism) and that the author cherry picks convenient quotes to bolster his opinion that esteemed scientists (such as Einstein) couldn’t possibly be ignorant enough to actually believe in a supernatural God, no matter what they may have said to the contrary. In fact, anyone with any intelligence at all couldn’t possible believe in a supernatural God. Dawkins is preaching to his atheist choir and evidently they loved the book based on their many five-star recommendations of it. But in that sense, Dawkins is no different than the many Christian authors who write in a similar manner. There is a pre-judgment that whoever disagrees with the premise of the book is, essentially, an idiot! Well, I don’t like to be called an idiot.

. . . And that was the beginning of the last leg of my journey to conversion to Catholicism.

Babarsky gets this wrong: Dawkins wasn’t preaching to the choir, but to those on the fence. And the evidence (yes, that’s right, evidence) suggests that he was extraordinarily effective. The notion that he was calling believers “essentially, idiots” is Babarsky’s own take, not something Richard says in this book. Her “conversion” was apparently based on a reflexive reaction to her own offended sentiments.

Unfortunately, Thompson misrepresents this letter, for at the beginning Babarsky says this:

Recently returned from a Mission Trip, we headed straight to our family week long beach vacation. On fire from my week in Canada surrounded by mostly Catholics, I must have appeared overly zealous to my eldest stepdaughter. An avowed atheist, she recommended I read Richard Dawkins’, The God Delusion, which had been suggested to her by her fallen away cradle Catholic boyfriend. Never one to shrink from a challenge to my admittedly unexamined faith in one God, I was intrigued and logged onto Amazon to check out the book. I immediately bought it and began reading.

She was already religious, and not just superficially so, as she’d been on a “Mission Trip.” She was also primed for Catholicism. All Dawkins’s book reportedly did was give her the shove to fully embrace the Catholicism she must have been contemplating.

So let’s calculate. If we count Babarsky as, say, 0.25 of a reverse convert, since she was apparently a committed Christian to begin with, we have 1.25 reverse converts to Christianity here, compared to about 1440 converts to nonbelief. The ratio of Dawkin’s effectiveness, then, if you count a ratio of 1 as “neutral” (as many converts to nonbelief as to belief) and 0 as “totally ineffective” (no converts to nonbelief, some to belief) is 1152.   I’d say that’s a high index of effectiveness!

But Thompson, riding the Journalistic Gravy Train to Hell, must conclude otherwise (you can’t praise Dawkins in the Torygraph), and ends his piece like this:

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might conclude that Prof Dawkins secretly converted to Christianity decades ago, and then asked himself: “How can I best win souls? By straightforward argument, or by turning myself from a respected academic into a comic figure fulminating against religion like a fruitcake at Speakers’ Corner, thereby discrediting atheism?”

Really? REALLY? Dawkins has converted over 1100 individuals to nonbelief for every person he’s reportedly turned to Christianity. How does that make him effective as a tout for Jesus?

I don’t like to call people names here, but Thompson, in this last paragraph, not only completely distorts the facts, but gratuitously insults a gentle though passionate man, one deeply wedded to reason who, because of that, has attracted the opprobrium of faitheists and underemployed journalists everywhere. I’ll equate Thompson to the south end of an equid facing north.



  1. darrelle
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Isn’t that cute. Yet another example of indignant believers / accommodationists exhibiting all of the bad characteristics they accuse Dawkins of, only much more so.

    Projection. Hypocrisy. Willful ignorance.

  2. Jonathan Smith
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    How suprising that none of these “retro converts” became Muslims,Hindu’s or Buddists?
    They went back to their cultural religion,which just happens to be Christianity.

  3. Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    I’ll equate Thompson to the south end of an equid facing north.

    You’re calling him an orchestra conductor? That’s really harsh!

    …but not undeserved….


    • Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      .. the south end of an equid facing north…

      or the opaque warm-ish material that is occasionally exuded from the aforementioned end?

    • Old Rasputin
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      You’ve probably heard this one, but…

      What do you do with a horn player who can’t hang with the rest of his section?

      Take away his horn, give him two sticks and send him to the back of the orchestra.

      And if he can’t even hack it as a percussionist?

      Then you take a way one of his sticks and move him all the way to the front.

      • Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink


        Or, even more relevantly…

        What’s the difference between a bull and and orchestra? (Other than the Berlin Philharmonic, of course!)

        The bull has its horns in front and ass in back.


  4. Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Well, anyone who reads the Torygraph must be pretty brain-damaged to begin with. G*d knows what it must be like working there alongside such stalwarts of reason as anti-climate science Christopher Booker: a nightmare, I’d guess.

    • Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:02 am | Permalink

      Oops: sub.

    • Gordon
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      When I was in the UK I liked its daily WWII coverage which is probably still going. Basically the front page for the same date 70 years earlier and a fascinating insight to the daily reporting of large and small incidents.

      • Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        When I was in the UK I liked its daily WWII coverage

        I gather its sports coverage is/was excellent, too. But in general the two Torygraph papers seems to be jostling in the gutter with the Mail.

        • Gordon
          Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

          It also has this gem online today: “The US is an oligarchy, study concludes”. However I assume it will get wider coverage.

  5. NewEnglandBob
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    More Lies For JAYZUS! It’s the Christian way.

  6. Barry Lyons
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    The year is young but I would like to say, at this juncture, that “I’ll equate Thompson to the south end of an equid facing north” is my favorite sentence of the year.

  7. Sastra
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    When “former atheists” convert to theism, the first question atheists usually ask is this one: what argument convinced you that God exists? We want to know their reasons, the evidence for the hypothesis. The situation is viewed very much as it would be in science. “I think this phenomenon is better explained by Theory B than Theory A.” “I think you’re wrong: tell me why.”

    When “former Christians” become atheists, however, my understanding is that most of those who still believe don’t want to get into a rational debate. “Who hurt you?” is common. What did a church do, what life event made you depressed, what did you ask of God which you think God didn’t give?

    It’s so often the same story when people criticize Dawkins. “He calls believers ‘stupid.'” “Really? Where?” “His arguments are shallow.” “Which ones?” “He thinks all religions are fundamentalism.” “Show where he says that.” And so forth.

    There is a common belief in our culture that religious faith is a sacred, personal area and that any criticism of religion/spirituality is like an attack on someone’s values — and thus an attack on the person themselves. Both of the ‘converts’ stories carry more than a whiff of this concern for ‘respecting’ religious views by identifying them with the believers.

    • Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      yeah – religion is as much a part of the faithful as the hair or eye colour they were born with

      except that none are born with religion and most are bathed in religious indoctrination from the moment they’re squeezed out – IOW learned behaviour regarding an idea, just like any other

      and some people change their hair and colour of their eyes

    • Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      “It’s so often the same story when people criticize Dawkins. “He calls believers ‘stupid.’” “Really? Where?” “His arguments are shallow.” “Which ones?” “He thinks all religions are fundamentalism.” “Show where he says that.” And so forth.”

      I had a long back and forth on with the guy (a Mr. J.A. MacGill, if I recall) who gave the top-rated negative review of The God Delusion. Our dialogue went exactly as you describe! MacGill writes well, and his commentary came off at first blush as serious criticism of TGD. But when pressed on, for instance, why the Ultimate 747 argument was “specious”, it became clear that he hadn’t actually thought about it that much. He just didn’t like it. And so it went for the rest of the discussion – I would press him to support his claims, and he would just follow up with additional unsupported criticisms.

      It became obvious that despite his obvious education and erudite writing, his negative opinion of Richard and TGD was an emotional reaction, not a rational one. But it drew Dawkins-haters to his review like flies to shite.

    • Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      I have the most respect for theists who don’t try to “prove” anything with empirical evidence. They just believe because they are infused with the holy spirit or something. Fine. I’m not, we’ll just have to find things that we DO agree on….and we do.

      It’s the tortured e logic of theology and miracles and the shaking fear of godless atheism that is hard to take.

      Believers are mostly fearful people, in my experience, and there certainly is enough to fear about the uncertainty of an afterlife, etc. We are all in this together, and will all face that uncertain future.

      Compassion is universal. Let’s agree on that.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        “Believers are mostly fearful people, in my experience, and there certainly is enough to fear about the uncertainty of an afterlife, etc. ”

        I have found that many people are into the rituals very deeply. Little children need routine, and I believe some people have never grown out of that.

        • Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

          Sure, there is merit to some of the institutions of organized religion, such as structure, social interaction, community service, didactic philosophical studyetc.

          While I disagree with the specifics laid out by guys like Alain de Botton, et al, regarding a secular religion, I cannot disagree with the concept entirely.

          The Unitarian-Universalists come pretty close, IMO.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        desertviews wrote:

        I have the most respect for theists who don’t try to “prove” anything with empirical evidence. They just believe because they are infused with the holy spirit or something. Fine.

        Interesting, because I see it the other way around. I have the most respect for theists who try to make rational arguments, who bring up empirical evidence. I respect this because it shows both a respect for the idea — why should we believe it is true? — and a respect for ME.

        Why? Because the underlying framework is that this is a matter of reason and I am a reasonable person. I can be persuaded. I’m wrong because I’m making the sort of errors all people make when they’ve unaware of the facts or are coming at the evidence from flawed assumptions. And they think that if I just understand the strength of the case for God (or YEC or ESP or HEF) I will change my mind.

        I respect that. Even if their arguments are crap and their evidence is painfully inadequate, they’re still treating me as an equal. And in listening and countering their arguments they understand that I respect THEM. There’s a mutual agreement of what’s called “good faith” — meaning we’re both being honest.

        But bring in RELIGIOUS Faith? The Holy Ghost? The Love of God? “I just believe because I can’t help it?”

        To HELL with that. It’s worse. It’s a lot worse. It changes the question of whether God exists or not from a hypothesis to a moral test. It’s a question of whether someone is willing to open up, reach out, search, and receive. Believing in God is no longer framed as an intellectual search, a matter of the head — it’s a matter of the heart.

        And I’m on the side with a small, cold, narrow little heart. The common ground of reason is gone and shifted to emotional willingness. The other side has framed it so that someone without “good” faith is now acting on bad faith.

        I mean really — consider the same situation happening in any other area. If you and a friend have a disagreement on, say, reading — the most effective way to teach children to read — would you rather they say you’re wrong because:

        1.) your studies are out of date and you don’t know how language and the brain works?


        2.) you simply don’t love children or literature enough?

        But hey, that’s okay, they accept YOU for what you are … and want you to accept THEM for what they are. Happy, happy — no argument, no debate, no more confrontations. Isn’t that nice?

        I will take honest aggression over a deceptive passive aggression any day.

        In fact, I think that’s one of the main points of gnu atheism. It’s the accomodationists who accept “faith” as an acceptable answer.

        • Posted April 16, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          But, then again, Kierkegaard …


          • Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

            Kierkegaard has long held my vote for the most consistent Christian ever – or at least post Enlightenment.

        • Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

          What @Ant said.

          It’s like being lovestruck. Believers can try to reason it through, going about all the tortured logic and proofs that all fail. In the end, someone in love cannot help but have that emotion.

          Sastra says, “And I’m on the side with a small, cold, narrow little heart. The common ground of reason is gone and shifted to emotional willingness. The other side has framed it so that someone without “good” faith is now acting on bad faith.”

          Is emotion ever willing? Is it free will? Believers simply cannot help but believe. I respect someone who recognizes this and doesn’t try to BS me with so-called rational arguments.

          • Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

            “It’s like being lovestruck.” Yes! It’s an enduring infatuation: the state of being carried away by unreasoned passion or love [Wp; my emphasis]. I’ve had this thought before.


          • Sastra
            Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:04 am | Permalink

            “Believers can’t help but believe?” No. That’s the way they want to frame religion — that’s the way they NEED to frame religion — in order to protect both their beliefs and themselves from recognizing their own duty to 1.) care about whether their beliefs are true (as opposed to just useful) and 2.) admit that they CAN be mistaken.

            Yes, it’s like being in love. I know that they’re allowing their emotions to color and even override their judgement. But if we atheists accept that this is intractable or — worse — that it’s okay because religious claims ought to be treated like emotions if that’s how they’re arrived at — then the accomodationists are right and Dawkins and the rest of us need to STFU.

            • Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

              Disagree. No need to STFU. You can point out to someone that they are infatuated with an image of a person, not the real person. (With religion there’s only the image, of course!)


              • Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink


              • Sastra
                Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

                I agree. Being in love is not intractable or untouchable. My concern was with the claim that the religious “can’t help themselves.” The Little People Argument.

              • Posted April 17, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

                All right, then!


            • Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

              “But if we atheists accept that this is intractable or — worse — that it’s okay because religious claims ought to be treated like emotions if that’s how they’re arrived at — then the accomodationists are right and Dawkins and the rest of us need to STFU.”

              I guess that’s one way to look at it, but I would politely disagree. If religionists admit that belief is emotional and not rational, then believers would STFU about teaching religion in science class, etc. We would not run our country’s policies on some heartfelt emotion.

              Having an emotion is different from acting emotionally.

              The issue is when believers try to make it a rational decision to believe, then craft public policy accordingly. It’s not rational and it makes for bad public policy.

              If I’m going to defend determinism when it comes to every other aspect of life, then I’ll do the same when it comes to religion.

              Dawkins (and others) serves an important niche in giving voice to the correctness of agnosticism/atheism and this is a form of evangelism. As one theist said (I can’t remember who), “the atheists have all the good arguments.” Indeed.

              • Sastra
                Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

                And I will politely disagree with this. If believers admit that their beliefs are emotional and not rational then there is no reason whatsoever to keep their beliefs out of the public square of government and science as long as they still think their emotions led them to a better understanding and acceptance of the facts. And they do.

                “God” is not supposed to be an emotion. It’s not supposed to be a personal preference like a taste in music or food. Religion is not supposed to be personal therapy with imagined mental props. This is how it’s often evaluated by us outsiders — and that is usually encouraged because it defangs us — but it’s not what the believers themselves believe. It can’t be or they’d be no different than atheist (and they sure as hell don’t want that!)

                God is supposed to be a real Being which is discovered through an emotional path much the same way we discover moral truths like “life matters” or “be fair” or “kindness is better than unnecessary cruelty.” When it comes to the supernatural the religious deliberately conflate feeling with fact. It’s the art form of category error.

                And then religion is the impetus to live according to this new knowledge. If believing in God makes a difference to how people view reality then belief in God makes a difference in reality. And now this can go anywhere. God cannot be a secular humanist and His followers can’t be secular humanists.

                People believe in God because they think evidence and experience supports this explanation — but that you’ll only see this when you’re receptive. That’s where religious faith comes in — subjective verification turned into a virtue, with God and Spirit and the whole supernatural grab bag being like ideals made real. People are no more going to keep their religion to themselves than they are going to keep their ideals to themselves.

        • Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

          For me, “respect,” may not be the right word; rather, I’d have the most sympathy for those who have had a powerful personal experience and who have not had the exposure to the modern reasons for understanding why those personal experiences are actually extremely unreliable. Those people actually do have evidence, and they have every reason to believe that that evidence is the ultimate gold standard of evidence.

          Those without such an experience are somewhat gullible (though often understandably so given childhood indoctrination) and those who know better are scam artists (most of the priestly classes, and increasingly likely so the higher in the hierarchy). Many have the excuse of cognitive dissonance, but most of the “pros” are in it for the fame, fortune, and females (or equivalent).



          • Sastra
            Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

            I came across a good phrase from Steve Novella the other day: Neurophysical Humility. He defines it this way

            Neuropsychological Humility – Being a functional skeptic requires knowledge of all the various ways in which we deceive ourselves, the limits and flaws in human perception and memory, the inherent biases and fallacies in cognition, and the methods that can help mitigate all these flaws and biases.

            When people who have had a powerful personal or mystical experience claim that they now ‘know’ things which can neither be proven to others nor critiqued by them, they lack neurophysical humility.

            • Sastra
              Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink


              That’s “neuropsychological” — not neurophysical.

            • Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

              That is exactly correct; these people lack what you’ve identified as, “neurophysical humility.”

              My only point is that there are many who have no way of knowing that neurophysical humility is ever called for, let alone any idea of what it is. Those people are at least sincere and honest and have every reason to believe they’ve come to the proper conclusion.

              There are, of course, plenty of people who should (and often do) know better; they’re nowhere near as deserving of sympathy.


              • Sastra
                Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

                Oh, I am sympathetic to the people themselves. I can understand why they think they have good reasons to believe. In fact, I’m sympathetic to all of the believers, including the fundamentalists. In the same circumstances it’s quite likely I’d be one too. We’re not so different: that is our point.

                My complaint wasn’t directed towards the believers and why they believe but towards their subsequent tactic of removing the question of whether God exists or not from an empirical issue to one of “faith” (i.e. the heart.) It’s a “choice.”

                While this stops the argument, it does so at our expense. To us, it’s an empirical issue and one which puts us on the virtuous side of honest rigor. It’s not a question of whether we can gather together the selfless strength and love to embrace Truth emotionally — which is their peace offering to us.

                Nodding and smiling when they frame it this way because wow, they’re not trying to change us is self-defeating.

              • Posted April 17, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

                Agreed. It’s important to understand the psychology at work as well as the sociological and educational factors that can make religion reasonable within certain contexts, but that, of course, does not make those contexts themselves reasonable and is itself no reason to abstain from working to remedy the contexts.


            • Posted April 17, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

              Novella’s definition, and your explanations, are helpful. Thank you, Sastra.

              Sympathy may be a better term than “respect”, I’m just trying not to condescend. I see a lot of individuals struggling and making their way the best they can. Theism works for them, they love it. Just like I do not love their mother or spouse like they do, I’m not expected to love their god. It doesn’t work for me.

              Sastra says, ““God” is not supposed to be an emotion. It’s not supposed to be a personal preference…and that is usually encouraged because it defangs us — but it’s not what the believers themselves believe.”

              Good point. You are correct that when cornered, most theists would disagree with god-belief being an emotional construction. Perhaps I’m giving them too much credit, but I do sense that many have a genuine love for this goddy stuff (like my 15 yr-old niece and her boyfriend), and evangelicals notswithstanding, some (at least some I know) kinda get that it’s a unique personal experience.

              You’ve given me a lot to consider. Thanks.

        • Posted April 19, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

          Excellent! Well said and very true.

          Back in the day when I was a believer (not Xian but New Agey god) I thought my now-husband was “missing something” and that he was just too emotionally closed off to “get it.”

    • Ceres
      Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink

      When “former Christians” become atheists, however, my understanding is that most of those who still believe don’t want to get into a rational debate. “Who hurt you?” is common. What did a church do, what life event made you depressed, what did you ask of God which you think God didn’t give?
      Well from experience , I think there are a lot of people who give up religion for emotional reasons.
      “He calls believers ‘stupid.’” “Really? Where?”
      Are you saying he doesn’t? His book is pretty heavy on that kind of rhethoric. I’ll provide some examples of him saying stuff like believers are silly/stupid if you really disagree
      “His arguments are shallow.” “Which ones?”
      There’s a whole lot wrong with what he calls the core argument of his book.
      “He thinks all religions are fundamentalism.” “Show where he says that.”
      A large part of his critique of religion is based on it being anti-science and violent. Those conflate fundamentalist strains with more moderate strains.

      • Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

        *I’ll provide some examples of him saying stuff like believers are silly/stupid if you really disagree*

        Please do!


        • Ceres
          Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

          I put 2 quotes in my response to Sastra

      • Sastra
        Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        Ceres wrote:

        Well from experience , I think there are a lot of people who give up religion for emotional reasons.

        Sure, but if their emotional reasons didn’t lead them to the firmer ground of intellectual reasoning, then they’re likely to go right back — or at least retreat to some halfway measure. And in my experience Christians confronted by a ‘fallen’ friend do not want to deal with intellectual reasoning. It makes them uncomfortable.

        And yes, I am saying Dawkins doesn’t call believers “stupid.” He may call the beliefs stupid, but that’s far from the same thing. So I’ll echo Ant’s request.

        There’s a whole lot wrong with what he calls the core argument of his book.

        I disagree.

        A large part of his critique of religion is based on it being anti-science and violent. Those conflate fundamentalist strains with more moderate strains.

        A large part of his critique against religion is based on the method of faith and how easily it leads to anti-science and violence… and how immune it is to rational criticism

        Moderate and liberal strains of religion are improvements only because they emphasize the secular over the supernatural. This is no more a virtue which must be conceded to religion than eating more vegetables and getting some exercise is a benefit we’ll grant to alternative medicine.

        • Ceres
          Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          As for Dawkins calling people stupid
          “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”
          I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him say that of other people who hold religious beliefs
          … at the Crystal Clear Atheism convention, atheist Richard Dawkins was asked what the difference was between Christians and atheists. “Well, we’re bright,” said Dawkins.

          I don’t have his book on me now but I remember there being statements to that effect in there

          • Ceres
            Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

            *in there too
            I meant in addition to the stuff he’s said in public like that quote.

          • Sastra
            Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

            When Dawkins uses the word “ignorance” he does so in the technical sense, as unaware. In the US it includes a pejorative connotation which is not necessary. An ignorant person is honestly mistaken. So it seems to me that this list — ignorant, stupid, insane, and wicked — is simply an exhaustive numeration of all the logical possibilities for every error. What would you add?

            Please note that Ant and I asked for an actual quote in God Delusion where Dawkins says all religious believers are “stupid” — and you provided something about creationists.

            Please get that book out and check. I suspect your memory is flawed: like most people (including us), you ‘remember’ what you expected to find.

            As for the “Brights” comment, you don’t understand the context. He was making a joke based on punning with the neologism “Bright.” I was at that convention.

            Using the word “Bright” to describe “people with a natural world view” was introduced by Mynga Futrell and Paul Geisert at an earlier Alliance convention (which Dawkins and I both attended) and it wasn’t supposed to indicate intelligence but happiness. This was emphasized. It was a well-meaning attempt to be more positive about what we believe and less negative about what the religious believe. Dennett later tried to eliminate the popular misconception that it was a slur by coining the term “Supers” to refer to those who have a supernatural world view — to little avail.

            Ironically, the Brights Network (and thus those who self-identify as “Brights”) is not happy with New Atheism and could well be considered accomodationist.

            • Posted April 17, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

              You’re way ahead of me, Sastra.

              I imagined that Dawkins was alluding to the Brights, so thanks for confirming that.

              (I don’t necessarily see them as accommodationist, just that they’re prefer to avoid a “religion is bad” stance, fully focusing instead on “rationalism is good”.)


        • Ceres
          Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

          I disagree.
          You think the 747 gambit (which he calls the core argument of his book) , is defensible?

          • Sastra
            Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

            Yes, I do. If an “explanation” is more complicated, more uncertain, more bewildering, more obscure, more controversial, and more unlikely than what it was introduced to explain, then it’s not a good explanation.

            The insistence that God is not complex but basic and simple is based on the intuition that the Mind is basic and simple. Science created havoc with the Ghost in the Machine, and it is fine and proper to turn it on the Ghost in the Universe.

            • Ceres
              Posted April 17, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

              1. Could you define complexity?
              What do you think of this critique btw.

              • Sastra
                Posted April 17, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                Complexity: the state or quality of being intricate or complicated, composed of many interconnected parts.

                I think Craig’s critique is wrong for several reasons, but it provides a beautiful example of my previous point regarding the prescientific assumptions on the simplicity of mind. They’re required for ‘God’ to appeal to our common ‘folk’ sense — but they aren’t supported by our discoveries.

                Here is another way of making the same argument:

                “Mental things, brains, minds, consciousnesses, things that are capable of comprehending anything — these come late in evolution, they are a product of evolution. They don’t come at the beginning. So whatever lies behind the universe will not be an intellect. Intellects are things that come as the result of a long period of evolution.” (Richard Dawkins)

                It is not enough to insist that “But God is a Mind that did not evolve” if the plausibility of “God” is directly drawn from what we already ‘know’ about our own minds.

              • Posted April 17, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

                There are many different definitions of, “complexity,” each suitable for different contexts. One might even go so far as to suggest that complexity is a rather complex subject….

                However, in this particular context, no definition at all is needed. The claim is that a mind is a complex object, and complex objects can only be created by minds — which have been specified, you might recall, as complex objects. And there’s one super-mind that created all the other lesser minds. But that super mind must itself be complex, according to the initial assumptions, and therefore, again according to said assumptions, must have been created by some other mind. This leads us to an infinite regress of ever-more-complex super-duper minds. And such an infinite assemblage of complex minds is obviously even more complex than any individual mind — yet it equally clearly cannot possibly be the product of a mind. Thus we have a proof by contradiction that the initial premises are invalid. Perhaps minds aren’t complex; perhaps complex objects can arise by means other than mindful creation — and this particular syllogism is incapable of answering that question.

                That brings us to Craig.

                (Craig, by the way, repeatedly and emphatically defends genocide and mass rape and slavery, and publicly prostrates himself before the altar of the ultimately evil enemy of humanity in pledges of service and devotion. I’m not kidding.)

                Craig is stuck in the world of Aristotelian Metaphysics, a pathetically and laughably discredited pre-scientific superstition that sees teleological purpose in everything. It was Aristotle who proclaimed that all motion requires a mover. Aristotle also had a very primitive problem with infinities, and resolved questions of infinite regress with the special pleading of a Prime Mover. We’ve known since Newton that the planets move because of inertia, not because some divine charioteer is schlepping them across the dome of the firmament. And we’ve known since Darwin that designs no more need Designers than motion needs a Mover. Craig’s insistence to the contrary is as incoherent and absurd as if he stamped his feet and demanded we tell him what moves inertia so it may, in turn, move the planets.

                The rest of us have moved on from that sort of nonsense, just as we’ve abandoned the notions that infestations of evil daemons causes disease and that there are only four (or five?) elements of which the world is composed and that the stars control our destinies. Craig apparently never got the memo.

                You can see his incompetence at play in his recent debate with Sean Carroll. Craig kept playing “Cargo Cult” science games. He’d find some technical paper that he himself clearly doesn’t understand, skim the university’s press release for something not entirely contradictory to the constructs in his own favored faery tale universe, and then distort the principles put forth in the paper by unreasonable extrapolation to claim that they proved that his faery tale is really the real world. And he kept doing so, repeatedly, after not only Sean (a leading cosmologist) but, in at least one Marshall McLuhan moment, the paper author himself patiently explained to Craig just how far off the rails he’d gone.

                So…pro tip: if you want to be taken seriously in academic circles, put as much distance as you possibly can between yourself and Craig. The dude’s a joke, and not the funny kind.



            • Ceres
              Posted April 17, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

              the state or quality of being intricate or complicated, composed of many interconnected parts.
              Most theists hold God isn’t composed of any kinds of parts. How is he complex by your definition?

              • Posted April 17, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

                By that definition, this god of “most theists” with the eponymously-confusing name of, “God,” is simply a childish magical phantasm. It’s the Deus ex machina (less the machine) that the storyteller uses to get out of whatever impossible situation the storyteller has worked himself into and isn’t bright enough to figure out how to escape from.



              • Sastra
                Posted April 17, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

                Definitions have to be consistent. If we examine the concept of God and consider all its many attributes and their analogies in our experience, it is clearly intricate and complex. The claim that no, despite appearances God is simple is based not just on special pleading but on prescientific intuitions about our own minds — which SEEM simple but are in fact incredibly complicated.

              • Posted April 17, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

                Expanding just a touch on Sastra’s last point about the complexity of minds…

                …well, we’ve known since very shortly after the invention of beer that minds can very reliably and predictably be altered in specific ways by purely physical substances. And that knowledge has only become more and more refined over the millennia since then, such that pretty much any part of a mind you might care to name can be altered in very specific and predictable ways by certain physical alterations — whether through drugs, surgery, electrical stimulation, or crude variations on those themes (such as Phinneas Gage’s railroad spike). Even if we don’t yet know how all the pieces fit together, there can be no question but that all the pieces are themselves physical, and are emergent properties of the interactions of different cells in different parts of the brain.

                And from the world of math and computer science, we have the Church-Turing Thesis, which holds that anything that can be computed can be computed by a Turing Machine with sufficient resources. The This hasn’t been formally proven, but it can be considered complete over the domain of humans, because…

                …over in the world of physics, the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood, and they’ve been understood for quite some time. And those laws are Turing-computable; as a worst-case scenario, unless everything we think we know about physics is actually wildly worng, you could construct a mind by brute force by creating a physics model of a brain sufficient detail. Further, physics places very stringent constraints on conservation of various properties (at least at human scales; at cosmic scales you need different models), and those constraints mean that, if there was anything going on in the mind that wasn’t part of the brain, we would have long since discovered that interaction. Claims to the contrary are exactly equivalent to a claim of perpetual motion, and deserve as much consideration.

                A last caveat: you can always construct a self-consistent conspiracy theory which concludes that everything we think we know about science really is worng. We could be in a Matrix-style computer simulation. We could be in a Star Trek holodeck. Your tinfoil hat could have slipped and aliens are beaming thoughts into your brain with mind rays. But…the thing is, not only are such theories utterly useless, the conspirators themselves can’t rule out the possibility of even deeper levels to the conspiracy. We could be in the Matrix, and the programmers of the Matrix could be in a “real” universe with Jesus as the Ground of Being…but Jesus himself couldn’t rule out the possibility that he’s just a small part of Alice’s Red King’s Dream — and the Red King himself may well be Zhuangzi in butterfly form, and so on. So if even the gods themselves cannot in principle know the ultimate nature of reality and their role within it, of what sense does it make to pretend that they actually are gods?



              • Posted April 17, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

                Great points Ben. Even if conclusive proof were offered to all humanity that a god exists who made this Universe, if we play the game about “non-material” things existing, there is nothing this being could do to prove that something greater yet doesn’t exist. All he/she/it could do is show that no evidence of something greater is known. Why push it back one level? Why not just apply that logic to this world?

                As for the “non-material” gambit, Craig and others like him play fast and loose with the definitions. Non-material needs to be precisely defined. In terms of science, if something effects our Universe in a detectable way, it can be incorporated into the “material worldview.” We can play semantic games all day, but this is at least a coherent definition and I’ve seen people such as Michael Shermer make this exact point both in writing and in debates. If non-material things exist and they don’t have knowable effects, we’re right back to the meaningless infinite regress we started with.

                Dark matter and dark energy come to mind in these debates. These things may be made of something as yet undiscovered, but they are measurable and if we do discover their makeup, science won’t declare them non-material and outside of the realm of science.

              • Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

                There’s another way to frame the “non-material” question.

                Does the “non-material” interact, even indirectly, with human-scale phenomena? If so, then either it is fully accounted for by the Standard Model or it is a claim of violation of conservation — a perpetual motion machine.




            • Ceres
              Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

              I’m postingt lower down , as this thread is getting hard to follow.

    • Jim Jones
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      It’s so often the same story when people criticize Dawkins. “He calls believers ‘stupid.’” “Really? Where?” “His arguments are shallow.” “Which ones?” “He thinks all religions are fundamentalism.” “Show where he says that.” And so forth.

      This is unsurprising. Don’t seek meaning in these phrases – they contain none.

      “The average man never really thinks from end to end of his life. The mental activity of such people is only a mouthing of cliches. What they mistake for thought is simply a repetition of what they have heard. My guess is that well over 80 percent of the human race goes through life without having a single original thought.”

      ― H.L. Mencken

  8. Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Unbelievable. I found nothing in The God Delusion offensive, but it is blunt. However, that is one of the main points–we’ve elevated religion to such a privileged place that one may find it offensive if the book is read with preconceived notions of what lines of discourse are acceptable. Deeply held emotions play into that too.

    Personally, I wanted to know how we can know religion is true (specifically Catholicism, it was a question I remember asking my father when I was as young as 7 or 8). Dawkins does a great job refuting many commonly held notions, and if the sophisticated believers say that those notions are all wrong to begin with, then a thorough examination of faith is in order anyway.

    This is where the sophisticated theologians (and the Catholic church) play both sides. So long as you believe in The Ground of Being, very few of them will attempt to talk you out of believing in a talking snake. The Church has even stated that it’s members are not compelled to accept Evolution and it is okay to believe in a 6000 year old Earth, the matter simply isn’t “important.”

  9. Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Wow, for years we’ve have the “I don’t understand how this works, therefore God did it,” excuse. Now we have the, “Sometimes Dawkins isn’t polite on Twitter, therefore God exists,” argument. Is that progress? Hmmm…

    • Sastra
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      Not progress but a return to the old strategy of associating faith with the faithful. What kind of person do you want to be? Look at all the different churches and doctrines and figure out which ones make the nicest people. Their religion is going to be the true one because you can tell that God is working through them.

      After all, isn’t this supposed to be how modern proselytizing is done? Don’t go door-to-door telling people about Jesus or forcing your views on them with debates. Just go about your life and be kind and brave and helpful and happy and nonbelievers will just be drawn to discovering what it is that makes its believers so satisfied and satisfying.

      “I want to be like THOSE people. I want what THEY have. Must be God. Now tell me the story and I’ll struggle to accept it.”

      If this is how you see truth working then you’ll think it very important whether or not atheists are nice or happy or the kind of people you want to be like.

      And when God is a hypothesis, it’s irrelevant.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      When the ship is sinking there are many pieces of flotsam around to hang on to and try to annihilate the atheist-enemies, this is what happens: senseless, impotent renegotiations that end at the same place…in the water without a boat to support them.

  10. Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink


  11. jumpedupchimpanzee
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Another newspaper journalist has nothing of value to say, so he opts for the tried and trusted technique of writing nonsense about Dawkins, knowing that it will attract plenty of hits to his web page, and also knowing that his editor can be presented with any number of identi-kit articles of nonsense about Dawkins without ever suspecting there might be a devious agenda at play.

  12. Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    I must have read a different God Delusion than many other people because I found the book well argued and in parts funny. (In fact after reading it first I found The End of Faith and Good is not Great to be rather disappointing in comparison.)

    The most important thing, however, is that Dawkins’ main argument – that a god being invoked to explain, well, anything whatsoever needs a much bigger explanation itself – does not appear refutable. And indeed it does not seem to me that any of the people complaining about his book have ever refuted it. Expressing annoyance at his “fundamentalism” is not a serious rebuttal.

  13. L Delaney
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    It has been some time since I read the God Delusion. It is even longer since I endured 12 years of Catholic parochial school indoctrination. It is difficult for me to understand how someone could read the book and then decide that Catholicism is the way to go. I have decided to re-read Dawkins book but in no way will I re-submit myself to the preposterous claims of Catholicism.

  14. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    It must be true, it’s in the Torygraph!
    That sounds like one of those phrases you construct for controlling your Manchurian Candidate, which you’d never hear in normal conversation. The American Dad variant, IIRC, the last time they used that trope was “I’m getting tired of this orgasm.”

  15. Andrew wood
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it takes a scientist to pick faults in this story… Sounds like something out of the bible.

    The book had the opposite affect on me and my wife. We had been questioning our Christianity for years and always found our faith to be horribly negative towards anyone with an opinion outside of the bibles teachings. The god delusion was the final nail in the coffin for us to realise it was all a form of control and we decided to not make our children follow in our path.

    Thank you Richard Dawkins

    • Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      Are you amongst the 1440? Or another (two) data point(s)?


      • Marella
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

        Considering the numbers of people who might write in after reading Dawkins compared with those who don’t bother. One figure I have read estimates that only 4% of unhappy customers write a letter complaining, and I expect that happy customers are even less likely to write in. If 4% of enlightened readers write in to say thanks, that means 36,000 people have been converted to rationality via Richard’s books.

        • Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

          It’d be interesting to have a poll of this site’s readers and see how many people used to be religious (or still are), what the religion was, and what degree of influence Dawkins had (if any) in changing their minds.

          There’s obviously going to be a large bias towards nonbelief on a site like this, but my hypothesis is that with an equally large bias on any given religious site, we’d stuggle mightly to find many believers who used to be atheist (and I don’t mean Kirk Cameron style) but converted to some religion because Dawkins is a big, bad bully and thinks they are all idiots; or, for that matter, converted for anything at all to do with Dawkins.

  16. Diogo
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    It is my perception this is a case of lazy and irrational book.He wants an all inclusive book giving him all the reasons to stop believing in nonsense superstition. Why did he not use Dawkin’s book as a starting point and then move to other works in the same topic? This process would help to build thorough critical analysis supported by evidences. In my opinion he found this process too hard, which, in turn, led him to rely on a childish and faith-based book.

  17. Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    It seems Dawkins critics have been taking a new tack lately.

    You always used to see Dawkins criticized as strident, offensive, condescending, mean, nasty – a bully. Which of course is baloney.

    But I’ve been seeing more and more criticism take the form of trying to cast Dawkins as your senile old grandpa – “…a comic figure fulminating against religion like a fruitcake at Speakers’ Corner…” or “a loony on the top of the bus” – and therefore you should just ignore what he has to say.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Both criticisms seem to be variations of the same basic complaint: you can’t use science on God. Not scientific discoveries, and not the scientific method. You’re not allowed to treat the existence of God as you would any other hypothesis about the nature of reality.

      Doing so fails to take human nature into account (“The Little People NEED to believe”)… or it fails to take God’s nature into account (“God isn’t an ordinary claim so it requires special rules.”)

      The tactic you use is going to depend on which one you think is more effective in shutting up outspoken opposition to faith. Or, perhaps, it will reflect where you most see its benefits.

      • Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, both styles of criticism are Arguments from STFU.

        The “senile grandpa” version irks me more because at least the other version leaves open the possibility that he has a point. The “senile grandpa” approach is an ad hom. It’s meant to dismiss him before he even says anything.

        It’s more like the Arugument from LALALAICAN’THEARYOU!!!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      The bully argument is a completely emotional reaction and it is applied to anyone who questions another’s ideas, convictions, etc. I read a horrendous post by a person who is against vaccinating and medicating her children. She falls for the naturalistic fallacy as well. In her post she claims she isn’t an anti-vaxxer, says those that want her to vaccinate her children are hateful, bullies and responsible for what she calls “the mommy wars” because these people post images/stories of children who caught pertussis and measles.

      It’s difficult to reason with such people as they really just want to rant because what they hear is causing their brain to give them little chemical punishments.

  18. Christopher
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    I can identify with this. I recently had a disagreeable experience with a moussaka and have since rejected Pythagorean Theorem.

    • Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      That’s nothing. Just last week I ate a bad falafel, and I’ve forsaken algebra ever since.


      • Christopher
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        You’d better be careful when next eating apple strudel lest you foresake Einsteinian and Newtonian physics in one fell swoop!

        • Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

          That would be bad…but what really scares me is that a bad pot of tea might put me off of set theory — and most of the hours I bill are for database programming!


          • Bob J.
            Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

            billable hours – a distant memory.

        • Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

          Such levity!


      • moarscienceplz
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        Better to forsake algebra than alcohol. ;-)

        • Kevin
          Posted April 16, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

          I’ll drink to that!

    • Marella
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      LOL! I hate sauerkraut, so now I’m going to refuse all X-rays.

  19. Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I once became a fan of a musician after I read a scathing review of his album – which got me interested enough to check him out. Of course, I have seen him since then in concert, so there was no question whether he really exists. :)

    • Bob J.
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      And why we started buying Dixie Chicks albums.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 17, 2014 at 1:34 am | Permalink

        Heh! Me too! And isn’t ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’ the most elegant and eloquent “F*ck you” statement ever made?

        (I should add, though, that if I didn’t find the Chicks musically pleasing – to me – my interest would have evaporated. As would Ms Barbabarsky’s interest in Catholicism, no doubt).

  20. Woof
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    > I’ll equate Thompson to the south end of an equid facing north.

    Or perhaps the output of said equid.

    (When I first read that line, I thought it said “squid”. Trolling for PZ? )

  21. Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    A very regrettable analogy, I must say. Horse’s butts occasionally produce something useful.

    • Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      Horse’s butts occasionally produce something useful.

      Thompson himself has produced something useful: the rather good (if, bizarrely, unindexed) little book Counterknowledge (2008). I’m surprised to see him emitting the standard Torygraph bullshittery now.

      • Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

        Interesting to note, though, that in the wiki on the book, it mentions him touting Enlightenment values on one hand, and sparing religious claims on the other, since they are metaphysical, ergo unverifiable.

        I think for that reason alone, I’d give this spare-time Editor-in-Chief of the Catholic Herald a “meh” for his special pleading. Oh well…

        • Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

          It’s nevertheless quite a good little book. I’ve read it. I’m not relying on a wiki account.

          • Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

            I know you did… I was reading the other reviews, most of which say the writing is quite good (although most say it was like shooting fish in a barrel). Each reviewer has their own peculiarities, like some are friendly to homeopathy, some to anti-vax, some to alt-med… so he seems to have gotten plenty of people’s goats. I would tend to side with Grayling though — the religious blind-side would probably annoy me too much. I think I’ll pass.

            • Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:07 am | Permalink

              the religious blind-side would probably annoy me too much

              I don’t recall religion even being mentioned in it, to be honest. It’s a pretty short book (40,000 words? 50,000?) so it doesn’t cover a huge range of stuff; i.e., the omission of any discussion of religion is not something you’d notice.

              It’s not a book that’s worth going out of your way for — others cover similar territory far more comprehensively — but I’d happily recommend to to, for example, a Tennessee YA looking for a dose of rationalism to counter their local education system.

              • Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

                Cool. A fairly small book I read recently is probably somewhat similar, mostly dealing with general principles in a semi-humorous way… perhaps you’ve read it, too: Stephen Law’s “Believing Bullshit”?

              • Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

                Stephen Law’s “Believing Bullshit”

                I’ve got it somewhere in the house but haven’t read it yet.

          • Dominic
            Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

            It was good – as far as it went – but by omitting religion he weakened his case.

            He is Roman Catholic…

            ’nuff said.

            • Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

              It was good – as far as it went – but by omitting religion he weakened his case.

              Of course you’re right. So let’s discount the entire works of Martin Gardner as crap as well. And James Randi’s Flim-Flam should go on the scrap heap too. What else? *user scans along shelves behind him*

              It’s a short, slight book that’s pretty good at what it does. If it claimed to be comprehensive, then, yes, you’d have a case.

  22. flies01
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    And the evidence (yes, that’s right, evidence) suggests that he was extraordinarily effective.
    Well, I’m aware that there are plenty of anecdotes to attest to the fact that Dawkins has “deconverted” people, but “extraordinarily effective?” What evidence is Coyne referring to? Is the volume of anecdotes so great, or is there something else he’s thinking of?

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      What about the fact that ten years ago very few people felt comfortable outing themselves as atheists publicly? Nowadays most Western nations have census data to show that the largest change in their Faith categories is in the one marked None. Atheist advocacy groups abound and a great many people are quite happy to be open about their lack of religion to their friends, family and co-workers.

      That isn’t all thanks to Richard Dawkins, but he did play a major role in it with his Out campaign – and that dates all the way back to his 2002 TED talk (back in the days when TED was always good).


      So yes, I think he has been extraordinarily effective.

  23. Shea B
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    These kinds of ad hominem attacks make it sound as if atheism is like Scientology (in that case, if you debunk L. Ron Hubbard’s life/character/views, the entire edifice crumbles). Atheism is not the “Church of Atheism, Built by Richard Dawkins.” The God Delusion is not a holy text. The truth value of atheism does not rest upon the “infallibility” of that book or any other book on the subject.

  24. Svens
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I only started reading this site recently, so please forgive me for asking a question that has probably been answered a million times before:
    Why do you type “Tw**er” and “Tw**ts”?

    • Sastra
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure, but I think it’s because Jerry thinks the terms are ugly/silly — and possibly the forum as well. Ditto for the word ‘bl*g.’ This is a website.

      It’s meant to be playful, not make a major point. The word d*g is also treated the same way — because he prefers cats. Benign idiosyncrasies.

  25. Achrachno
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I’d say that crediting “1.25 reverse converts” is very generous of you, since Babarsky was already conspicuously zealous before reading Dawkins. She was already a theist. I’d score her as a zero rather than 0.25.

    Maybe I’m just hard-nosed, but I’d not give a full conversion credit on the other guy either since the evidence presented is so scant.

    I can’t give more than 0.5 “reverse converts” for the whole story (both people) myself. I’m not sure both of these folks weren’t theists all along. Fake “ex-atheists” are pretty common among the faithful.

  26. Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    According to his introduction at the Telegraph, and the book that is touted there, Damian Thompson seems to know a thing about addictions. A quick glance outlines him – and by judging him by the cover – as an anti-modern man who is a junkie himself of the perhaps oldest addiction there is: the unabashed belief in fairytale and fiction seasoned in wishful thinking – what we call religious belief.

    There is of course nothing left anymore that could style this addiction as anything else. We know it’s false and indulgence in it is harmful. We know the information given in the Bible turned out to be wrong in every imaginable way. Our societies – even in Europe – have not fully realized it. Many have simply forgotten about its claims. Others have replaced it with their private “revelation” very similar to Tarot: a great cherry picking of motives in combination with their unconcious forms their own private theology – a Neckar Cube illusion that is half literal truth, half metaphor and which changes orientation with the blink of the mind.

    Like homepathy, the proponents and junkies like to “wait and see” more, test more, find more excuses, stall any Grand Review, and attack any Grand Reviewer; demonize critics for any reason they can draw from anywhere, for they are addicts who must find excuses. They show their infantility in their ineptitude of sitting down and seeing the thing as it is. They won’t correct literal believers for “wrong” beliefs (they are metaphorical, right?) and vice versa, because the junkies are really only interested in clinging to their addiction and don’t care that much how others get their fix. There is no consistency whatsoever, probably not even between two staunch Catholics.

    Proclaiming it as metaphor and other sophistry does nothing, but making it appear even bleaker – the Christian dark ages, all those crusades and wars, all the torture of limb and mind, all this horrible Christian phobocracy built on mere metaphor? On a misunderstanding? The earlier we get rid of this pestillence, which spreads ignorance, intellectual decay, AIDS and other misery, the better off we are. I have no sympathy whatsoever for a belief system that once helped lay the tracks to Auschwitz. It must perish, and proponents must be laughed out and exposed as what they are: whimsical fools who indulge in an infantile fantasy where a big strong father in the sky takes care of everything and “all is good”. They are truly delusional.

    The boon goes to Richard Dawkins for being one of the “Grand Reviewers” who appeared at the right time. As it is often the case, someone emerges and gives voice to the Zeitgeist and I’m very happy Richard Dawkins was that person. The addicts claim he didn’t deal with the other perspective of their Neckar Cubes but that means there is more work to do for him, not less.

    Richard Dawkins loves the world, its wonders and its inhabitants – it shines through all his work. I think you cannot be a humanist or philanthrope while being a believer. Like Deschner, who died a few days ago, those who attack religion are often labelled hateful. But those who love humankind don’t want it harmed and rotting from within; our sense of wonder shrouded by a religious veil of ignorance; the faculties that make us human eaten away by an addiction infused in childhood days.

    The addict, having become one with their addiction, can’t help assume others hate them and everybody else, for taking away their precious addiction. Mr. Thompson just demonstrated his desperation with that story, for he is an addict of that delusion.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      I think you cannot be a humanist or philanthrope while being a believer.

      Do you mean ‘humanist’ or ‘humanitarian?’ The first is probably definitional. But I wouldn’t grant the second.

      Plenty of religious people care about and love humanity. We can certainly argue that they haven’t yet recognized that religion is fundamentally inconsistent with this, but be careful that we don’t build up a Straw Man on the other side.

  27. JBlilie
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Yep, best source of new converts. MUCH better than those organs of indoctrination: Catholic schools. Clearly, obviously, much better.

    As always, those believers are data-driven.

  28. Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Dawkins Aversion Disorder, Recurrent, with Delusional Compensation. Rule Out for Counter Rejection Disorder, Chronic, with Delayed Onset.

  29. Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    This is almost as dumb as that Chris Arnade article about how these very religious homeless drug addicted prostitutes taught him that his atheism was inherently elitist and stupid. And that Dawkins is such a horrible, out of touch person because he is an outspoken atheist. I wouldn’t be surprised if he credits Dawkins should he become a God-believer again, similar to what this article is about.

    In the last article I read by Arnade, he was praising Pope Francis because he supposedly understands poverty or something. It seems atheist-bashing and praising religion(especially the new Pope) is a required of all journalists these days. Especially if you are new to journalism, like Arnade.

    A lot of the tripe that passes for “journalism” these days seems like something written in the 16th century. The collusion between the media and Catholic Church has helped make Pope Francis a rock star. This never-ending Pope-a-palooza is making fools of so many people; we’re all supposed to love the guy. If you don’t, something is seriously wrong with you. Never mind the fact that little of substance has changed, let’s focus on his personality.

  30. Scientifik
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    From lying for Jesus to trolling for Jesus?

    How low can Christians go?

  31. Ken Pidcock
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I sincerely doubt that Thompson’s friend is, today, a theist. He just wanted to be Catholic. And why not? It’s like being a Freemason, only the institution’s actually old. You get to find a part in this immense, endlessly fascinating tradition, and to be counted as virtuous for doing so. But for the immorality of faith, I’d love to be Catholic.

    And if I ever convert, oh, man, the things I’m gonna say about you all and how you mock the religious to their face, shout forced laughter at them, and call them “stupid,” “ignorant” and the like.

    • Marella
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      Really? You’d like to be formally associated with an international child rape conspiracy?

  32. Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    “In fact, anyone with any intelligence at all couldn’t possible believe in a supernatural God.”

    followed by:

    “. . . And that was the beginning of the last leg of my journey to conversion to Catholicism.”

    So Catholicism doesn’t believe in a supernatural God??

    • Prof.Pedant
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Of course not! Their god is Real(tm)!!!!

    • Sastra
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      No, I think the quote means that they do, but that the implication that nobody intelligent could believe in God was the final straw which made them realize atheism was nonsense.

      It’s been said before, but if Richard Dawkins really DID believe that no intelligent person believes in God then he would not be writing intelligent books trying to persuade intelligent people to change their minds. Instead, he’d be sitting with one branch of the accomodationists and making Little People Arguments about how religious people can’t reason and it’s pointless to even try.

      • Posted April 16, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        I see your interpretation. The sentence “In fact, anyone with any intelligence at all couldn’t possible believe in a supernatural God.” was essentially sarcasm.

    • Bea
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      It does. The first quote was her characterization of Dawkins.

      Her point was…
      his effective disparagement of the intelligence of all who believe in a supernatural[/nonphysical/mental/spiritual] conception of God…
      did more to sway her away from his perspective than toward it.

      There is an unfortunate side effect of telling people that if they don’t agree with your metaphysical assumptions, they must be dumb.
      They are liable to likewise doubt any scientific claims you make along with your metaphysical claims (probably to whatever degree that you insist they are a “package deal”). This is particularly problematic concerning evolution.

      Also, there are a couple of reasons to doubt that a Dawkins website can be expected to accurately reflect the overall relative positive/negative influence of TGD.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        Richard Dawkins does not believe, think, or say that religious believers are ‘dumb.’ That he does is a self-serving misinterpretation which comes from the believers. It makes it easy to dismiss him.

        If you disagree, I’d be interested in seeing an example.

        • Bea
          Posted April 16, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          I’m wondering if Dawkins (or you) would consider it a reflection of intelligence, to believe in a supernatural[/nonphysical/mental/spiritual] conception of God.

          I see no reason to assume Judith is being insincere in stating her impression of the book.

          But you make a good point. It is arguably much easier to dismiss someone who underestimates your intelligence (and assumes that no rational person could possibly disagree with them).

          Actually, that was my point as well. ;)

          And we do not want people to blithely dismiss teachers of evolution (or anything science tells us [since we informed science] about the physical world).

          • Grania Spingies
            Posted April 16, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

            There is a massive difference between those who are dismissive of evolution (which has all the evidence in the world to support it) and those who are dismissive of gods (that have no actual evidence at all for them).

            It’s not really about intelligence. Intelligent people can believe really dumb things, usually for reasons that are pretty poor, no matter how convincing those reasons may seem to the believer.

          • Sastra
            Posted April 16, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

            Is it ever a “reflection of intelligence” to believe in something that’s wrong? If an otherwise intelligent person is seriously mistaken on some critical issue which is important to them, is that mistake EVER going to be chalked up to their “intelligence?”

            No, probably not. That’s not the way it works when we evaluate errors in conclusions.

            So does that mean they must be stupid?

            No. Of course not. It’s not black and white — either you’re perfect and smart or wrong and dumb.

            Nobody believes that rational, intelligent people don’t make mistakes, including Dawkins. He takes great pains to point this out, over and over. Smart people can be very good at finding ingenious ways to fool themselevs.

            My guess is that Judith is no doubt sincere in thinking that Dawkins is calling her “stupid” and she believes this for a variety of reasons — none of which entail that she has good reason to conclude that her intellect as a whole has been insulted. For one thing, that outraged sense of violation is part and parcel of the framework for protecting “faith.”

          • Bea
            Posted April 16, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

            It is true that there is a difference between those who dismiss evolution despite convergent evidence for it, and those who dismiss [all] spirituality despite convergent evidence for it. That difference may be less “massive” than you think.

            It’s also true that intelligent people (on all sides) can believe things (even make assumptions) that can look “dumb” to anyone who does not share the same assumptions.
            So you do think it unintelligent… and Dawkins probably does too, n’est-ce pas? It probably shows.

            Absolutely true, smart people (on all sides) can be very good at finding ingenious ways to fool themselves.

            And any human being (religious, atheist, or other) is capable of “defensiveness,” of taking things personally, and of feeling that such battles are between people rather than between ideas.

            • Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

              No, Sastra doesn’t think it unintelligent. Not sure how you got that impression. Her comment (3:49pm) said just the opposite.

              • Bea
                Posted April 17, 2014 at 3:42 am | Permalink

                “Is it ever a ‘reflection of intelligence’ to believe in something that’s wrong?”

                Two things going on there…
                1. the belief is “wrong”
                2. the belief is unintelligent

              • Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:10 am | Permalink

                That’s a question, not a statement. And Sastra answers “No”.

              • Bea
                Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:13 am | Permalink

                Exactly. No, believing in this “wrong” thing is not an expression of intelligence.

              • H.H.
                Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

                So, Bea, according to your logic, it is possible to ever inform someone that a belief they hold is wrong without also implying they are stupid?

              • Bea
                Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink


              • H.H.
                Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

                Then why do you deny it is possible in this instance? Why do you equate criticism of a belief with criticism of the person?

                Personally, I don’t think the problem is one of intelligence, but of maturity. Theists act very childish when you correct their premises.

              • Bea
                Posted April 18, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

                I don’t deny it is possible… I simply see no reason to think it probable in this instance (much less as a sweeping generality). Neither do I not equate criticism of a belief with criticism of a person.

                So those who disagree with you (on what is “correct”) are not necessarily unintelligent, they’re just immature. Another overly broad yet superficial dismissal.

                And I wonder if you think atheists never act childishly when someone corrects their premises. (Or perhaps you assume no atheist could ever have an incorrect premise?)

                Assumptions can trip us up in all kinds of ways… and they’re hardest to see within ourselves (and within our “yes men”).

              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

                Bea, I think you’ve lost the thread of this argument. No one here is equating holding mistaken beliefs with necessarily being unintelligent.

                What we are saying is that neither does Dawkins. Calling religion stupid is not the same thing as claiming believers are necessarily unintelligent.

              • Bea
                Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

                musical beef,
                No, I’ve got the thread of the argument. Dawkins does believe, think, and say that religious beliefs are dumb… as do many other atheists.

                No surprise that Judith got that impression. No reason to accuse her of a “self-serving misrepresentation” of Dawkins, as though she’d require one in order to disagree with (dismiss) his opinions on religious beliefs (and believers).

                If this quibbling is about the difference between having dumb beliefs and being dumb… exactly how many dumb beliefs adds up to being dumb? Rhetorical question.

                Or perhaps you just misinterpreted my remark to H.H. … who had amazingly replaced lack of “intelligence” with lack of “maturity” as an appropriate descriptor for anyone who disagrees with atheists. Sure to win converts, that.

      • Marella
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        People think they’re being called “dumb” because they feel dumb when reading cogent explanations for why their beliefs are misguided. They then get upset with the person who made them feel this way and accuse them of being strident, insulting etc. They are looking for more palatable reasons for their unpleasant feelings than that they are in fact, mistaken.

        • Bea
          Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:00 am | Permalink

          You are painting with too broad a brush.

          Sure, what you’ve described sometimes occurs (on either side of this issue, in fact).

          Other times it’s just the realization that the person who disagrees with them has made their own false assumptions (only one of which may be the “dumbness” of other perspectives).

      • Bea
        Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

        Again, the problem is that when you try to bind your personal metaphysical assumptions/beliefs to science (as though they only come as a package deal), there will be fewer people who will accept the science… fewer people who perceive that science simply looks to material things for answers about the behavior of material things (as it should).

        As towlesda says below… “in my personal experience equating atheism with evolution does actually hurt the cause.”

        It’s neither warranted nor helpful to respond to [examples of] this problem by saying,
        “oh that’s not really what’s happening; they’re just peeved and embarrassed cuz they realize they’re wrong.”

        If/when you do that, you will often be wrong.

        • Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

          But many of us have concluded that science successfully shows there *aren’t* any non-material objects. What then? This is a metaphysical position run as an inference to the best explanation, like any other scientific finding. Now it is part of the “background”, as it should be, as it has been confirmed and shown to be useful a zillion times. So yes, they do come as a package deal – now. (Historically, perhaps not.)

          • Bea
            Posted April 17, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

            So, Keith, your [mental] mind holds the [mental] belief that our [mental] study of material objects has somehow conclusively [mentally] informed our [mental] minds that only material stuff actually exists.

            If that sounds perfectly logical to you… well, you just might be a physicalist. That’s okay, but…

            More and more people are able to distinguish between science’s methodological naturalism (to learn about material stuff we observe material stuff)… and metaphysical naturalism (all the stuff I observe [in this material world] is material, therefore, only material stuff exists!).

            Again, you’re welcome to believe whatever you like (of course). Just don’t be surprised if many other intelligent (and scientific) people do not find your metaphysical beliefs as coherent or convincing as you do (regardless of whether or not they’re religious).

            Interesting, though… the mental belief that the nature of reality includes only physicality, no mentality. ((I’m not making this stuff up. I’ve heard people demand material evidence for the existence of the immaterial.))

            • Posted April 17, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

              Please take this up with Barbara Forrest.

              And remember, all that [mental]-ity is only synapses and potassium and sodium ions.


            • Posted April 17, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

              Bea, consider what the computer you’re sitting in front of right now is doing. Would you consider that mental or physical? And, aside from the sophistication of the endeavor, how do you think it differs from your own thinking?



            • Bea
              Posted April 18, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

              I respect Barbara and agree with her on very many things. However, the 4 points described in her abstract for “Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection (2000)” (for example) only seem to support philosophical naturalism if you already believe in it.

              “Synapses and potassium and sodium ions” are perfectly well described as purely “physical” (in terms of mass/charge/spin/space/time).

              So let’s say only what else we actually know to be true, and no more… patterns of electrochemical/neural activity (replete with voltage-gated ion channels) are the strongest physical correlates to mental activity during life in the body (both bottom-up and top-down). No additional assumptions or conflations are needed… or justified.

              Mind/consciousness has a distinct, primary nature that cannot legitimately be forced into qualifying as [what mind/consciousness perceives/conceives as] “physical” activity.

              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

                *are the strongest physical correlates to mental activity*

                No, they *are* mental activity.

                Unless you already believe in dualism.



              • Bea
                Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

                Your conflation of mental activity with physical activity (as though you cannot tell the difference between) is simply an expression of physicalist beliefs. “Somehow… we know not how… they must be the same thing. Why? Because only physical things exist!”

                I’m a monist. Still, the stuff of reality quite evidently includes mentality. Come on, you can tell the difference between… ;)

              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

                Bea, it all comes down to evidence and — frankly — gullibility.

                The empirical evidence of the completeness of the Standard Model is overwhelming. We know that shit’s real, and we know there’s nothing (at human scales) that’s not part of it, unless you want to get into lunatic conspiracy theory explanations (such as aliens controlling our thoughts with mind rays so we think the Standard Model is correct when it really isn’t).

                The empirical evidence is also overwhelming that naïve reliance upon personal experience is all but guaranteed to lead you astray. Have you never seen an optical illusion? Been to a magic show? Had a hard time remembering who said what even a short time later? Thought you saw something stalking you in the grass only to realize it was just the wind?

                So we put the two together. Yes, there’s a perception of some sort of specialness to our inner dialogue. But there’s also the perception that the two lines are different lengths. So, we get out the ruler and measure the lines and find they’re the same length; similarly, we get out the rest of the scientific equipment and examine the brain and find out that the brain and the mind are the one and the same.

                Unless you’re the type to insist that the two lines really are different lengths even after you’ve grabbed the ruler, you really owe it to yourself to accept that minds are what brains do.

                Or not; if you like living a delusion, that’s your business.

                But, just as I wouldn’t hire a carpenter who insists that the two lines really are different lengths even after he measured them, I simply can’t take seriously somebody who sees magic at work in the mind.



              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

                Do I? But I’m the easiest person to fool.

                If mental activity is not just physical activity, what else is it?


              • Bea
                Posted April 20, 2014 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

                As I explained before, physics doesn’t study or describe minds (and mental activity). Minds study and describe physics (physical activity)… plus other stuff.

                Human mental perceptions/conceptions of physical stuff cannot possibly serve as evidence that only physical stuff (but no mental stuff, like perceptions/conceptions) exists. Do you see the illogic?

                And optical illusions are just false mental impressions (as opposed to careful mental measurements) of observed patterns of physical light. That is nothing like the distinction between mental observers (minds) and physical observables (including brains).

                No, we do not “examine the brain and find out that the brain and the mind are the one and the same.” Repeating this claim does not make it so. We are detailing the correlations between observable/physical and experienced/mental activity. It’s pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty great, and will almost surely prove helpful/useful.

                “… accept that minds are what brains do.” Interesting argument (is it “from authority”?). Actually, Ben, electrochemical/neural activity is what brains “do” (as in “physical,” as in mass/charge/spin/space/time).

                Again, minds are not “special” or “magic”… they are simply what we are (as we argue online, as we learn and teach science, as we love our families and friends, as we create and play and mourn and laugh, as we feel forces and see light, as we ponder the impenetrable).

                We cannot ultimately escape our mental nature… nor should we be fearful of acknowledging it. It will be a feature of any known or knowable reality. Think about that for a long moment, before reacting in automatic disagreement.

                Best wishes

              • Bea
                Posted April 20, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

                I suggest the possibility that thinking “everything is physical” might be an example of how easily a mind can fool itself.

                Mental activity is not “just” physical activity… it’s not physical activity. Brain activity is physical activity. Mental activity correlates with brain activity (during life in the body).

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

                Again, what the difference? What is it that is going on in mental activity that isn’t going on in brain activity?


                Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.


              • Bea
                Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

                To me, your question is kind of like asking, “What’s going on in this discussion that isn’t going on in the pixels on my viewing screen?”

                This analogy is basically different only in degree… not in “kind.”

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                Whoa! Show your working. Your last assertion makes far too many leaps and in at least one of those begs the question.

                Providing a (questionable) analogy does not answer my question.


              • Bea
                Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                “What is it that is going on in mental activity that isn’t going on in brain activity?”

                Mental activity, obviously. Perceptions, conceptions, imagination, logic, etc.

                Same “kind” of thing that’s going on in this discussion that is not going on in the pixels on your viewing screen.

                Brain activity is physical (mass/charge/spin/space/time). Mental activity contains any and all percepts/concepts of brain activity (and more). So be careful which “kind” of thing you adamantly insist upon as being more comprehensive, more fundamental.

              • Posted April 22, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

                “Mental activity, obviously.”

                Well, no, it’s not obvious.

                You haven’t articulated *what* “[p]erceptions, conceptions, imagination, logic, etc.” *are* other than physical/brain activity.

                (To cherry pick the easiest counterexample: We can build electronic circuits to perform logic, so there’s nothing especially “mental” there.)

                I’d urge you to read Alex Rosenberg’s An Atheist’s Guide to Reality, esp. Chapters 7 to 9. He makes a very clear case (hard to précis in comments here) that this difference that seems so clear to you is no more than an illusion.



              • Posted April 22, 2014 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

                This is a fantastic little look at the possibility of self-aware machines that aren’t designed…note the speaker’s last sentence, we want to move away from designing the robots to allowing them to evolve.

                Given current technology and the predicted advances that are just around the corner, it is not unthinkable that we may one day have a robot indistinguishable from a naturally evolved human to an outside observer. (The robot that learns to walk in the video has “mental activity” that can certainly not be tied to anything but an emergent property of its parts; take the parts away, there’s no activity).


              • Bea
                Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

                Hei, Ant,
                Actually, mental activity IS the most obvious thing any mind can “know of” (as it includes the mental act of “knowing”).

                And actually, it is I who should be asking you ““What IS it that is going on in brain activity that somehow becomes ‘more than’ physical activity?”

                To more accurately characterize your “counterexample” (and accuracy “matters” on this matter), we can intentionally design and build physical circuits that will operate mechanistically to reflect human mental logic.

                “IF…THEN…ELSE” and “GOTO” and “WHILE NOT…DO” (for example) are simply instructions, and they remain instructions no matter how much more complicated the instructions become (even if the instructions include when and how to write additional instructions!) … and they remain instructions no matter what substrate they are encoded and enacted upon.

                Otherwise, you are positing that certain/sufficient material complexities cause a “magical” ontological leap from matter to purposeful mind/awareness (which I suppose is exactly what physicalists are required to posit for the reductionist brain/mind conflation to make any sense at all).

                You realize that calling something an “illusion” presupposes an inherently mental mind(s) to which some thing only “seems” to exist, or “seems” to be like/unlike some other thing. Alas, illusions are mental too, particularly so, and can only occur within mind(s).

                As Planck explains, “We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

                Hei Hei

              • Bea
                Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

                Thanks for the link, Chris. Great engineering.

                However, have not humans intentionally programmed the computers/brains that drive these nifty machines? (see the “IF…THEN…ELSE” paragraph in my previous post to Ant)

                If [someday] robots can be said to evolve, learn, grow, adapt, and self-repair (because they’ve been programmed to have these “goals,” and to reach them through complex, recursive processes) … at exactly what point would authentic “awareness/mentality” presumably be entering the picture? And would any inference that it had (entered the picture) possibly be founded upon the belief/assumption that “awareness/mentality” is nothing more than complex physical behaviors in the first place?

                Sometimes beliefs and assumptions are so thoroughly rooted that they become “invisible.” (“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself…” RF)

                Should we say that electrons literally “dislike” other electrons, but they “think” protons are very attractive? That sunflowers turn toward the light because they “enjoy” the full sun upon them? That rocks fall to earth because they find it massively “appealing”?

                If the answer is necessarily “no”… then the physicalist must be positing some magical leap (somewhere on the way to human brains). Because “dislike” and “think” and “enjoy” are words with very real, experiential, mental meanings, shared among sentient minds.

                If the answer is not necessarily “no”… then we’d simply be acknowledging mentality inherent within physicality (from the bottom-up). In effect, that would be not much different from acknowledging that our mental contents include a shared, obedient, subset of “physical” perceptions and conceptions (top-down perspective).

              • Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                @ Bea

                “physical circuits that will operate mechanistically to reflect human mental logic” : Yeah, just like the brain has physical “circuits” (arrays of axons and synapses) that operate mechanistically to effect human mental logic in the first place.

                I’m really not positing any kind of “magic”. Really that is what you continue to do by insisting that mental activity differs from physical brain activity by something irreducibly magical mental.

                Nowhere am I denying that there is mental activity (mind, consciousness); but I am claiming that it is continuous with brain activity in the same way that, say, cellular activity is continuous with chemical activity. Obviously, nucleoli, lysosomes, mitochondria, reticula, Golgi apparatus, and so on are not described by chemistry qua chemistry. But nothing exceptionally “cellular” is added.

                So, here, I am saying that “[p]erceptions, conceptions, imagination, logic, etc.” are the “organelles” of the mind and have the same kind of basis. (Again, see Rosenberg.)

                If there is any fundamental difference between mental activity and brain activity, if mental activity cannot be fully described in terms of things with mass/charge/spin/space/time/&c., what is that difference? (What does it consist of? Where does it come from? And how does it get inserted into evolutionary processes?)

                To continually claim that the difference is “mental” only begs the question!



              • Posted April 23, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

                Ant covered a lot of what I was going to say in my response, but I’ll add this: IF/THEN/ELSE and equivalent logic all boil down to deterministic instructions at some level (with the qualification that these instructions can be more sophisticated than simple binary choices). Likewise, the brain boils down to deterministic physical laws operating on matter.

                As Ben has pointed out, the brain is Turing Complete, and thus with enough memory and fast enough processors, a computer with identical capabilities to a human brain could be built (as evidenced by the rudimentary learning displayed by the robots in the video). Bea, you posit the question, “at exactly what point would authentic ‘awareness/mentality’ presumably be entering the picture?” You’ve yet to define “authentic awareness.” There is nothing about human brains that can’t be explained as the equivalent of a programmed computer (we program ourselves and others all the time through reinforcement and punishment).

                I’m not claiming that we know everything there is to know about consciousness; there’s much work to be done, but you seem to keep saying that there’s “something else” at work without saying what the “something else” is. That said, if a discovery is made that there is something else there, then that can be incorporated into the working theories, but the correct null hypothesis here is that consciousness can be directly mapped to the physical elements in the brain. We’ve never observed a consciousness that exists that’s not tied to something physical. Why posit something else when there’s no need?

            • Bea
              Posted April 18, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

              Hi Ben,
              Of course, anything we can possibly think about (even physical things) has at least mental existence in our minds… but aside from that truism…

              Computers qualify as physical objects/processes, do they not? Do you think of computers as “aware”? As having “experiential” goals?

              The reason we can logically infer awareness and experience (which we “know” in a first person manner) as residing in other similar “living” beings (second and third person) is because we share common evolutionary and organismal origins/development… we are all busy doing this thing we call “being alive.”

              I do not see any similar justification for inferring “awareness” or “intentions” in machinery that [aware] humans [intentionally] design/construct to serve human [mental] purposes.

              Are you aware of a different kind of justification (aside from assuming reductionist mind/brain physicalism, which for many reasons I am no longer able to assume)?

              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

                Then let’s get a bit more specific.

                Imagine an airline captain flying in “Instrument Meteorological Conditions.” She’s in the middle of miles of thick clouds, and her only connection to the outside world is her instrument panel. Her bosses have told her to fly the plane to its destination; this isn’t her hobby.

                She is compelled by the intentions dictated to her by her bosses to use her awareness of the readouts of the instruments to adjust the control surfaces and the throttles, and she does so and lands the plane safely and all the passengers are happy.

                How is what she did on that particular flight any different from if she had turned the autopilot on and let it be the one to read those same instruments and adjust those same control surfaces and the same throttles?

                Indeed, autopilots these days very much outperform humans on routine flying tasks; they do a better job at maintaining a constant altitude and heading and following the proper course and all the rest of the things that so many student pilots have to work so hard at. If we have a machine that’s an even better pilot than an human, why wouldn’t we say that it’s even more aware and better able to carry out its intentions?



              • Bea
                Posted April 20, 2014 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

                I see no reason to infer awareness or intentions in any of the machinery we humans intentionally design, program, and utilize to suit our mental purposes… and I’m hearing nothing from you that explains why we should.
                Best wishes

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink


                If the autopilot were not aware of the plane’s altitude, attitude, position, heading, airspeed, and current control configuration, it would be unable to safely (let alone effectively) navigate the plane. And if it had no intention to do so, it would not. (That its intention is given to it by the captain is irrelevant; the captain’s own intention in the exact equivalent scenario is given to her by the company that signs the paychecks.)

                What more reason to infer awareness or intention could there possibly be?

                And, so long as we’re casting aspersions, you’ve yet to provide any evidence, merely assertion, that every physicist is hopelessly deluded and / or confused on the subject, and that there really is something they’ve missed in every experiment and equation and theory. And you’ve certainly neglected to offer any explanation as to what this something actually is.



              • Bea
                Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

                As I said earlier:
                “The reason we can logically infer awareness and experience (which we ‘know’ in a first person manner) as residing in other similar “living” beings (second and third person) is because we share common evolutionary and organismal origins/development… we are all busy doing this thing we call ‘being alive.’ ”

                This is not the case for machines deliberately designed by human minds. Sounds like you might be anthropomorphizing. Actual “awareness” and “intentions” are mental (abstractor and abstraction, nonphysical by definition).

                With your autopilot analogy, Ben, you’re doing the same thing as when you conflate human neural activity with [correlating] mental activity. You are picturing physical states/processes (representing information) in a machine, and mistakenly equating them with actual “awareness” and “intentions.” I see no justification for doing so (since I do not share your metaphysical beliefs/assumptions/requirements that only physical activity can be causal).

                In physics, we think of physical processes as driven by fundamental forces which are acting “now”… at this exact moment. In physics, there is no looking back through memory or looking forward with intention. There is, however, in physics an important concept of nonlocality, but that’s neither here nor there (pun intended) with respect to the current discussion.

                What you’re forgetting is that, when human mental awareness/intentions are acting “now” on a system… that system is no longer “purely” physical. Humans heavily employ experiential memories, knowledge, projections, and intentions for the future. And their actions have lingering effects (by design, usually).

                Modern neuroscience details intimate correlations. But without the distinctly mental experiencers/reporters, there’d be no thing “correlating with” neural activity. This is true in at least two senses… there’d be no mental activity to map to brain activity, and no curious mental minds busily exploring these mappings/correlations. It couldn’t happen at all, without mentality.

                I’m not sure what you mean by “as long as we’re casting aspersions.” I’m trying to help “correct” what I consider to be some erroneous beliefs. No personal offense is intended. (perhaps this is how we tie back in to the thread topic)

                Anyway, Ben, I do not think it makes either scientific or philosophical sense to pretend that minds are [ultimately] material processes. Just because the real nature of mind is hard [for itself] to grasp, that doesn’t justify us dropping it into a mental category (called “physical”) that’s ontologically inadequate to hold or describe it. It seems simpler only if you fail to scratch the surface.

                I know that many intelligent people think physicalism is the most rational stance (many that are very dear to me)… but many other intelligent people do not. Some, but not all, in the latter group are religious.

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

                The reason we can logically infer awareness and experience (which we ‘know’ in a first person manner) as residing in other similar “living” beings (second and third person) is because we share common evolutionary and organismal origins/development… we are all busy doing this thing we call ‘being alive.’

                Then you first have to establish that living is an exclusive property of terrestrial life.

                Good luck with that.


              • Bea
                Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

                Why on earth (I so punny) would I “have to establish that living is an exclusive property of terrestrial life”?

                We might find good reasons to infer awareness/experience/intention in beings from elsewhere.

                But I have not yet heard any good arguments (much less seen evidence) for why we should infer them in objects that humans have deliberately designed. Have you?

              • Posted April 22, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                Bea, I’ve provided you with oodles upon oodles of examples of evidence why there’s nothing different in principle from the cognition of an human brain and that of any other thinking machine.

                We know that the Standard Model of physics is complete at human scales. Nothing directly relevant to your life exists outside of it.

                We know from thermodynamics that an independent consciousness cannot possibly influence or be influenced by the material world unless it is also material; anything else would constitute a violation of conservation no different from a perpetual motion machine.

                We know from communications science that all communication requires energy, with hard limits on how much energy for how much information; again, if the mind is communicating with the body, it must obey Claude Shannon’s laws.

                We know from information theory that anything that is computable is computable but a Turing Machine, and that any Turing-like device is logically equivalent (if you’ll permit some sloppy phrasing in the interests of brevity) to any other within the limits of their physical resources.

                We know from neurophysiology that there is, in all the great many cases we’ve been able to directly observe so far, a one-to-one correspondence between physical states of brains and the thoughts of those brains at that moment in time — and we’ve had excellent reason to think this is the case since the invention of beer.

                But, apparently, your personal incredulity means more to you than the overwhelming consilience of modern science, and you just can’t let go of the dream that you’re really a magical phantasm from the astral plane instead of the meat computer you most emphatically are.

                I’m sorry, but, if I haven’t been able to get through to you by now, it’s apparent that I never will. We’ve already monopolized this thread for far longer than our host generally cares for, so this is probably the time for me to make my exit.



              • Bea
                Posted April 22, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

                I’ll try to be brief. Previous posts offer more detail, if you ever sincerely seek to understand another perspective.

                You are anthropomorphizing human-designed machines when you insist that they’re “aware,” that they “think.”

                You are pretending that the laws of physics [human mental models] were designed to apply also to mind/consciousness and even its nonphysical contents and experiences. They were not, and they do not.

                You are embedding your assumptions within your conclusions, as though deciding that only material stuff is real and causal justifies your denials that nothing mindful or mental could thus be real or causal.

                You are so focused on bottom-up feedback from physical to mental that you are blind to top-down purposeful activity driven by meaningful mental awareness, intentions, etc.

                You are incorrectly implying that I am in any disagreement with “modern science.”

                You have not been able to “get through to me” why anyone should adopt your belief system. Neither have I been able to “get through to you” why such a belief system is inadequate (no matter how haughtily held).

                I’ve pointed out that the nature of mind must be an aspect of the nature of reality too (along with the [apparent] nature of physical stuff, i.e., mass/charge/spin/space/time).

                You see, Ben, a universal consilience will incorporate more than the [apparent] physical world… it cannot logically exclude the mental minds in which worlds/realities appear.

                Best wishes!

  33. towlesda
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    As a counter argument, I’ve found that Dawkins does actually work against trying to convince theists that evolution is true. (Of course this has nothing to do with the atheism point).

    Just watch the pseudo-documentary film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, in this Dawkins and his atheism are portrayed in a way implying that if a Christian were to accept evolution then they’d have to become an atheist (most Christians I know would never take a huge step like this). In my own dealings with people (in the bible belt), I’ve found that many Christian’s won’t even consider the facts of evolution because they don’t want to even look at an “atheist viewpoint”. So when it comes to getting fundamentalist to even read the arguments for evolution, in my personal experience equating atheism with evolution does actually hurt the cause. Of course there’s no way to test if Dawkins was different and that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t find a different excuse.

    As a former fundamentalist, I personally rejected evolution using similar arguments, until I read one of Kenneth Miller’s books which allowed me to just enough freedom to view outside my own confirmation bias to realize that the arguments were better than I realized.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      So I’ve always thought part of the motivation for BioLogos, the Clergy Letter Project, etc, was a sense that, without conceding the facts of evolution, evangelicals’ children were more likely to become atheist. But you think there’s nothing to that?

    • H.H.
      Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      …in my personal experience equating atheism with evolution does actually hurt the cause.

      What cause is that?

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      “Just watch the pseudo-documentary film ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’…”

      Well, that’s a problem right there. As you pointed out, it’s a ‘pseudo-documentary’. It’s full of lies, misrepresentations, and selective editing, so I wouldn’t trust anything it seemed to imply.

  34. eveysolara
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    there were a lot of factors in my deconversion, but Dawkins was certainly a huge one.

  35. Tim
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Never mind the 1200 people who were directly deconverted by Richard’s words, how about the multitudes who every day are being embarrassed out of their faith based beliefs by the overall new atheist movement and it’s widespread popularity.

    The tobacco industry lost a lot of customers in the past 2 decades because being a smoker became embarrassing and uncool. Admittedly, religion is slightly more addictive than nicotine, but not by much. Let us continue to make religious faith embarrassing rather than virtuous.

  36. Doug
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    So in response to a popular book containing arguments deemed to be unconvincing, maybe even wrong, two or less people have chosen to embrace a church with a history of being demonstrably and in some cases catastrophically wrong, despite being led by individuals who according to church dogma are infallible. The self glorifying assertion is then made that the decision was made following deep reflection. If there is a news story in this it should be about the depths of human illogic (but as a scientist I would demand n>2).

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      It’s not difficult to find people who are somewhat not sane. There are some people who do not believe in gravity, some people think the earth is still the center of the universe or the earth is flat, some have other bizarre beliefs. So two alleged atheists are now believers, so what?

  37. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Thompson’s anecdote of “a friend” doesn’t count as evidence of course. Maybe if that, likely imaginary, friend wrote a letter to Dawkin’s Converts Corner…

    his opinion that esteemed scientists (such as Einstein) couldn’t possibly be ignorant enough to actually believe in a supernatural God, no matter what they may have said to the contrary.

    “He called himself an agnostic, while disassociating himself from the label atheist.[131]”

    [ ]

    Maybe Babarsky is an idiot. =D

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Besides being a somewhat unbelievable and anonymous account, there is a tradition of faitheists lying about “strident” atheist activities and their consequences. (Re a row a few years back, when such a fabrication, also a lone anonymous “witness”, was revealed. I’m sorry to say I forgot the circumstances.)

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        I seem to recall that I read about that on this site. Someone was with a group of atheists and was an atheist himself but claimed that the atheists had started berating some believers but there was video evidence to the contrary….it’s in my way back there memory.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

      “of course it was a lie” – Einstein

  38. kelskye
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Wait, Dawkins is strident, therefore Catholicism? Not seeing the logical connection here.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, me either. That’s exactly what I wondered when I read the piece this morning. I cannot see the progression from Richard tweets -> therefore God -> and not just any god, but the Christian god of the Catholic flavor.

      5 points for creativity.
      Minus a zillion points for not making any sense.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        Yeah it more seems to be, “I’m unhappy with what Dawkins says; how can I offend Dawkins? I know! I will claim his words did the OPPOSITE of what he intends.”

        • Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

          Oh yes.

          This stinks to high heaven of “I’ll show him!”

      • kelskye
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        I’m now waiting for the moment they encounter strident Catholics and then make the jump to Scientology.

        • Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

          I’m now waiting for the moment they encounter strident Catholics and then make the jump to Scientology.

          That’s very funny!

      • Ceres
        Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        I think the chain went
        Man Dawkins arguments on twitter/in book are bad-> Do I have better reasons for rejecting God than Dawkins-> examines reasons for rejecting God and evidence for God-> Man I should abandon my dumb superstition of atheism and embrace a more logical view like Christianity.

        • kelskye
          Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

          Where eternal life is granted via a blood sacrifice to an omnipotent deity of himself in human form to atone for two ancestors (who didn’t even exist according to evolutionary theory) who took advice from a talking snake and ate some bad fruit? Yep, sounds logical.

        • Grania Spingies
          Posted April 18, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          Except the arguments in The God Delusion are not bad; there is nothing even remotely logical about Christianity and there is nothing remotely superstitious about atheism. So, no. Your chain fails.

  39. kelskye
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    If we were going to judge the epistemic value of a position by the stridency of its proponents, then the only tenable position would be nihilism – they just don’t give a shit, and that’s refreshing.

  40. DV
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Damian Thompson also entertained conspiracy theories about Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps or Ken Ham, that maybe they are secretly atheist and are intentionally giving religion a bad (worse) name to convert people out of it.

    And if he hasn’t, I wonder why.

  41. Alan Feuerbacher
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Such Christian apologists are always Liars for God. No surprise here.

    That Dawkins has been effective is proved by my own experience. Over a period of ten to twenty five years, depending on how you measure, I got myself out of the arch-fundamentalist Jehovah’s Witness cult. By about 1995 I was comfortable in being an “agnostic”. When I read “The God Delusion” in 2006 I realized that my attitude toward God and religion was identical to that of Dawkins, and so I acted on that from then on, not hesitating to publicly declare my own athesism and to argue strongly in favor of it whenever the opportunity arose, online and in person.

    So I think that Richard has been singularly effective in converting people to atheism, and in getting intellectual fence-sitters like me to realize their atheism-in-practice.

  42. Diane G.
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 12:21 am | Permalink


  43. Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Philosophy of Religion is a parlous task to undertake. Especially when arguments on both the religious and atheist are jaded and pointed. On one swing on the pendulum, the conservative Christian denounces all aspects of fundamental truths in nature, such as the already highly proven theory of evolution. On the other swing of the pendulum, evolutionist denounce all forms of religiosity, which pushes faith-based folk who also believe in evolution, believe in rational science, away.

    This is my perspective, as someone with faith in creation and faith is the rational processes of our planet. Evolution, to me, sounds rational and is easily proven/understandable. But it saddens me how those on the far right, the uber-conservative religious, deny what we see with our own eyes as false. It also saddens me how the angry voices of said right can in-bitter the spirits of those who choice not to believe in creation.

    The two schools should be working together, whist maintaining individual opinion and belief. The arguments from Darwinist and Apologists are diversive and cause continuing fissures between the two; they are distractions from what is truly important, that is: understanding ourselves, our planet, and our universe better.

    • H.H.
      Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      The battle is not over “evolution.” It is between faith and rationality, between superstition and self-delusion vs. rational inquiry and following the evidence where it leads. Only one side offers the knowledge to understand ourselves, and it isn’t the side that thinks magic is real.

      • Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        In my experience, faith and rationally are equally important.

        • Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

          I rather doubt that.

          Would you buy an used car on faith, and not bother having your own mechanic check it over (or inspect it yourself if you’re so qualified)?

          Would you buy financial securities on faith without even reading the prospectus?

          Would you vote for a politician on faith without bothering with trivialities such as platform positions and resumes?

          Would you buy some prime Arizona oceanfront property on faith? If so, I’d be more than happy to sell it to you.

          The fact of the matter is that, without exception, faith in the sense used by religion is the lynchpin of a confidence scam. Maybe you’ll get lucky and either cash out of the pyramid scheme soon enough or keep the marks from figuring out what you’re up to, but the fact that it’s a scam is made evident by that very word, “faith.”

          Religions are not only not excepted; they’re the oldest and most profitable scam ever invented by humans.

          …and you actually do know this; you’re every bit as confident as I am that all the other religions are false. You’ve just got too much cognitive dissonance going to acknowledge the same about your own religion.




          • Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

            I do not think we define faith in the same way. As for other religions, who am I to say they are “wrong,” just like for those who choose not to buy into religion.

            And as for your list, fact checking is indeed important, but HOW do you know the car will drive off the lot, how do you know a politician will do what they say, how do you know your savings account will be safe? Just because you’ve researched the facts doesn’t make it so.

            • Sastra
              Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

              The distinction between religious faith and ordinary levels of trust and confidence can be seen by examining what happens if you drive the car off the lot and it stops and stalls before you even get it to the corner.

              If you say “The car has stopped! I shouldn’t have trusted that damn salesman and his mechanic! At the very least, they didn’t know what they were talking about” … then you HAD a sort of secular “faith.”

              If you say “Although this car seems to have broken down I know that all things are not as they appear in the physical realm, and just as love cannot be seen or felt through the senses so in some way this car is moving through other dimensions, higher spiritual dimensions which are felt with the heart before they are confirmed with the mind” … then you HAVE religious faith.

              Note the subtle difference here.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

              You’d make sure you could reduce the risk that the car doesn’t work. You can invoke the help of specialists who can spot issues. You yourself could be the specialist. You insist on certain warranties from the seller which also lowers the risk. If you lower the likelihood that something will go wrong, you increase your confidence that the car is good. Therefore, the answer lies in degrees sod certainty and certainty is rarely, if ever 100%.

              Faith doesn’t allow for this rational approach and worse if you attempt to apply it to faith, you will quickly be scourged as that terrible individual with all those pesky questions.

            • Posted April 17, 2014 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

              * As for other religions, who am I to say they are “wrong,” *

              You’re someone who believes that things are different from what their adherents believe. So, if they’re not saying that they’re wrong, do you think you are?


              Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.


              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 6:25 am | Permalink

                Why would I be? Why boil things down to a this or that assumption. Why can’t it be both?

              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

                It can’t be both because the claims of each are contradictory and irreconcilable.

                Religions claim the world is full of magic — spellcasting (that you probably call, “prayer,”), spirits (“gods” or “angels” or “daemons”) doing their bit (such as helping somebody find lost keys or tweaking genetic mutations to ensure the evolution of humanity or causing some nasty politician to come to power), and even an astral plane (“Heaven”) where the real action takes place.

                The rest of humanity grew out of that nonsense centuries, if not millennia ago. And we have the observations to prove that it really is all nonsense.


              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

                Dude I have no idea what you are talking about..

              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

                And that is how you bring a conversation to a halt…

              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

                Then let’s break it down.

                Aside from the gods being invoked, how is a Christian prayer different from a Pagan spell? How is either even remotely reconcilable with modern science? And if you have an argument for how prayers are compatible with science, how does that argument not also apply to the compatibility of spellcasting?

                Or is it simply that, as with most religious people, your imaginary friends are really real and everybody else with indistinguishable imaginary friends are just pretending and / or hopelessly deluded?



              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

                I’m assuming you actually care little for what I may or may not say. You’d rather trivialize my own personal perspective. Man, and here I thought the religious fundamentals were bad!

              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

                If you think I’m trivializing your perspective, then you yourself must equally trivialize all other religions.

                So you apparently think that Pagan spells are trivial nonsense not worthy of serious discussion.

                And you also apparently think that Christian prayers aren’t at all trivial and not nonsense and they deserve respect.

                So why wouldn’t you do as I ask and explain what, aside from the deities being invoked, differentiates the two?

                And if you can’t or won’t, what makes you think either of us actually has, let alone should have, any more respect for the Christian practice than the Pagan one?



            • Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

              I suspect we actually do define faith the same way; you’ve just layered a bunch of cognitive dissonance on top of your definition in order to protect yourself from the realization.

              And, if you’re even remotely like any other religious believer I’ve ever encountered, you have no doubt in your mind that all the other religions are worng. Assuming you’re Christian (just based on the statistical odds), you would therefore believe at least in the divinity of Jesus. You would also, statistically, be very likely to believe that Jesus offers the only true path to salvation and away from eternal damnation. Well, that right there means that it is your position every other religion is, indeed, worng — and worng in an irreconcilable manner on the most important question there could possibly be.

              Fortunately for the rest of us, there are no more Jesuses under the grave waiting to judge us than there are monsters under the bed waiting to eat us.



          • Posted April 17, 2014 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

            Re politicians, some people certainly *do*!


            Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.


            • Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

              And generally the ones who buy their cosmologies sight unseen….


        • Sastra
          Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

          How are you defining “faith?”

        • Posted April 17, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

          To whom? Just you? Certainly not everyone.


          Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.


        • Posted April 19, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

          In my experience, believers universally think that they have rational reasons for their belief. See Ceres’ comment below for an unfortunate example.

          That is, they all believe they have rational reasons until they are backed into a corner on the particulars; at which point, they all cry “FAITH! You must have FAITH.”

          • Posted April 19, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

            Yet for some reason, only believers are held to this standard for needs absolute certainty for every particular of why they have both faith and reason. …funny how that works

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 19, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

              Really? Atheists give reasons for why they don’t believe in a god all the time and we are expected to do so not only by believers but by other atheists.

              • Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

                Who said any thing about that? Its very strange how most of the people commenting on this site are continually twisting the argument into a “someone’s picking on the poor atheists.”

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

                Who said any thing about that?

                You did when you said (my emphasis):

                Yet for some reason, only believers are held to this standard for needs absolute certainty for every particular of why they have both faith and reason.

                So, no my reply wasn’t a pitty party for atheists, it was an answer to “only believers are held to this standard”.

                I do hope the irony isn’t lost on you given what I’ve quoted you saying and what you’ve accused me of doing.

            • Posted April 19, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

              “Absolute certainty?”

              Seems to me it’s the faithful inserting “absolute certainty” into this mix. Most atheists I know not only express disbelief in gods as the same type of contingent disbelief we all share towards the Loch Ness Monster and anal-probing space aliens, all most of us do is practically beg the faithful for even a shred of positive evidence supportive of their claims.

              And what do we get in return? Please of ignorance (“gods of the gaps”) and insistence that only credulity (“faith”) can lead to the absolute certainty of knowing that my redeemer liveth.

              All science is provisional — even things as basic and practically-absolute as the fact that the Sun rises in the East and things fall down. It’s always possible to construct some sort of conspiracy theory that both invalidates current understanding and is consistent with all observations. We’re living on a giant sound stage; our tinfoil hats have slipped and the aliens are again beaming thoughts into our heads with their mind rays; all existence is but an expression of the mind of this god or that one. You can’t disprove any of those those paranoid fantasies, not even in principle, which is why all science is and always will be provisional.

              But the evidence is also overwhelming that indulging in such delusions is not merely not productive, it’s highly counter-productive. So why bother?

              In practice, one can quite reasonably be absolutely certain that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow, and leave the caveat to a footnote in discussions such as these. And, in that sense, most (but certainly not all) atheists are equally absolutely certain that the gods are no different from the faeries at the bottom of the garden, and equally imaginary. But, still, as absolute as that certainty is in practice, it’s only absolute after rounding off the unavoidable uncertainty that we could all be barking mad.



    • kelskye
      Posted April 17, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      The problem isn’t so much whether evolution is incompatible with religion (one of the more interesting objections is that the cruelty built into the process is inconsistent with an omnipotent omnibenevolent God – it’s not that God couldn’t have used evolution, but that a benevolent God wouldn’t use such a cruel process to create), but whether natural theology can actually give knowledge about the world.

      Science, undoubtedly, has contributed knowledge to an understanding of faith. As you say, apologists who reject science are doing a disservice to religion. Educated religious believers have come to understand their religion through the best metaphysics of the time. In ancient times, that involved the cosmologies of the people at the time – and the creation myths reflect that. There’s nothing uncontroversial about a believer understanding the universe through science. But what is faith feeding back into science that makes this an act of working together? As far as I can tell, theology is beholden to science, but science is not at all beholden to theology.

      The problem goes like this: if science gives us an understanding of the world, then what does theology give us? Nonoverlapping magisteria, as Stephen Jay Gould put it, left religion holding the domain over areas of knowledge where truth didn’t apply – a point that religious believers rightly took Gould to task for. What’s the difference between God being undetectable in the world and God not having any influence in the world? (and from there, the difference between God not having any influence and God not existing?) This is the point Flew highlighted in Theology and Falsification – what’s the difference between a hidden God and an absent God?

      One of the unfortunate things about the dominance of the fundamentalist voice (and the scientific voice presented in the absence of religion) is that the middle ground seems an attractive unexplored option. But there are problems with both sides, as theologians and believing scientists have found when trying to align their faith with current science. These attempts at reconciliation tend to do a disservice to both, which means that more ardent believers see as a weakening of the faith, and atheists see as an irrelevance. One good book that explores the Christian responses to evolution is Evolving Out Of Eden by Price & Suominen. It goes through the problems evolution creates for Christian theology, and explores just how believers deal with it. Their conclusion? Not in a way that satisfies either science or Christianity.

      Just what in your mind do you see theology contributing to science such that science needs to take theology seriously? If the answer is nothing, then why do they need to work together? What theology does would be irrelevant to science.

      • Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        So, because it doesn’t work for some, there marriage between the two cannot work for all? Understandably, folks who avoid religion will not see any value in coopting both views. But there are some who do see value in understand God better by understanding the world better and how it works.

        There is a disservice in trading one wild swing on the pendulum for another.

        • Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

          But your own answer perfectly illustrated kelskye’s point. You use your knowledge of the natural world to better understand your gods. But what does knowledge of your gods do to further understanding of the natural world?

          Nothing, which is a powerful indication that your gods are utterly irrelevant, even if they do actually exist.




          • kelskye
            Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

            “But your own answer perfectly illustrated kelskye’s point.”
            That was my first thought reading his reply.

            If reconciling one’s faith with science is a goal for a believer, then I’m 100% behind them to do it. But this is not a scientific undertaking, and what theology says doesn’t matter at all to the science. That’s why there can be no partnership, science is not in the business of theology. Theology can be made to be consistent with science, but there’s absolutely no need for science to be made consistent to theology. It’s a task for believers to reconcile their faith with the scientific understanding, not for scientists to work to a theological understanding of nature.

            • Sastra
              Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

              Agreed, except that technically speaking theology can only be made to be partially consistent with science — or it can be made to be consistent with part of science. Scientific explanations are cranes; supernatural explanations are all skyhooks. There’s an inherent inconsistency beneath the agreements.

              Rejecting creationism because you believe that God works through evolution is a bit like rejecting astrology because you’re a Capricorn — and Capricorns are skeptical. The intentions are good, but there’s something a bit off in the reasoning.

              • kelskye
                Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

                I’ve taken to highlighting the difference between consistency and consilience. It’s fairly easy to make two ideas consistent, especially when one or more of the ideas is vague enough such that one can make up ad hoc stories about it. I like Stephen Law’s illustration of this in Believing Bullshit with the idea that dogs are aliens from the planet Venus preparing an alien invasion. No matter what objection one could throw at the idea, one could show that objection wouldn’t show an inconsistency.

                Concsilience, on the other hand, requires a much deeper concord between the ideas – that the kinds of evidence converge to a point. And we don’t see that with science and prescientific ways of thinking (like religious faith). Religious faith has to be continually reinterpreted in light of science, and the only reason that religious faith is even talked about is the persistent belief in it. Science is not converging on any religious truth, nor should we have any expectations that it would. Religious truth is simply irrelevant to science.

              • Ceres
                Posted April 18, 2014 at 3:41 am | Permalink

                I don’t think that’s the reasoning.
                It is like
                1. I have good reasons to accept evolution
                2. I have good reasons to accept the existence of God
                lets see if we can reconcile the 2

              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

                …and when you discover they can’t be reconciled?

                As Jerry’s book after which this Web site is titled states, Evolution is True. You can (and should) have as much confidence that all terrestrial life shares a common ancestor a few billion years ago as you are that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow and that an apple that falls from a tree accelerates towards the center of the Earth at about 10 m/s².

                I have yet to encounter a definition of any god that is both coherent and real, let alone actual evidence supportive of the existence of a god in the same way that, say, biogeography, is supportive of the fact of common ancestry or a bit of time spent with a stopwatch is supportive of Newtonian gravitation.

                And then when you graciously squint at the incoherent descriptions the believers give of their gods and attempt to reconcile them with the simplest of observations, you practically instantly discover that these gods are indistinguishable from any other faery or spook or daemon or anything else that goes, “Bump!” in the night.

                So, remind me: what is it we’re supposed to be reconciling and why are we bothering with the exercise?



              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 4:09 am | Permalink


                Since you are a theist, it is the custom of this website to ask you, before you post any more, for the hard evidence for God. That is, give the readers here the strong evidence why you believe in God, and also what kind of God, and how you know this. If you are of a specific faith, please tell us how you know that faith, as opposed to others, is the right one.

          • Posted April 17, 2014 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

            *quote attributed to Laplace goes here*


            Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.


          • Ceres
            Posted April 18, 2014 at 3:48 am | Permalink

            I responded to you in comment 44

        • Sastra
          Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

          The fundamental disharmony between science and religion is also highlighted by analyzing the result of turning science on religion. What happens when you evaluate supernatural “faith” beliefs using the same honest, cautious, rigorous, and unbiased methods of reason in general and science in particular?

          To paraphrase a man who watched his favored pseudoscience of “applied kinesiology” fail a fair test: “You see? This is why we don’t use science — it doesn’t work.”

        • kelskye
          Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

          But my question to you was how theology worked with science. It’s quite easy to say they should work together, but without defining to what extent they do, it’s simply empty rhetoric.

          I get that religious people want to have a harmony between their faith and science. I get that most religious people already have a harmony between their faith and science to an extent. But if the quest is for religious people to simply find a way for their religion to coexist with science, then that’s a job purely for theology. The question I asked is what theology contributes to science. If the answer is nothing, then what good does it do for theology and science to work on what is a theological matter?

          • Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

            Good point. Just how science can mean nothing to those who refute it; theology likewise follows.

            • kelskye
              Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

              I don’t see how that follows from my point, nor does it address it. :/

            • kelskye
              Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

              It seems to me like you have the option of actually addressing the point I made, and trying to advance the arguments (and thus the conversation) further. If you are unwilling to engage with the points I make, then could you do me a favour and not waste my time by pointlessly responding? As you can see, I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to articulate points in response to your initial posts. If you are unable to extend that same courtesy, then why respond at all?

              • Posted April 18, 2014 at 6:28 am | Permalink

                Maybe your comments are over flowing to pot, sort to speak. Let’s keep things simple and not attempt to fool ourselves into thinking we a deeper philosophers, but rather distant internet blog followers.

              • kelskye
                Posted April 18, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

                If you’re going to take that attitude, then there’s no point in commenting at all. What good is making a point if all you can do is shy away from its problems? You called for cooperation between theology and science, when I asked what that would entail, you shied away from answering. Why shouldn’t we just think you’re engaging in empty rhetoric? Did you just want to project your ignorance onto this topic? Or is it that you do, in fact, have a reasonable answer, but don’t think it’s worth telling people what that answer is because this is a blog.

                Did you have a point? If so, why can’t you articulate it? If you didn’t, why are you wasting everyone’s time by pretending to have oen?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      You seem to either be inflating belief and non belief with science/evolution and non belief or you may be adopting some of the language of Creationists who conflate them all.

      Evolutionist and Darwinist is not synonymous with atheist. Indeed the term Darwinist seems mostly used by Creationists and evolutionist is to me an unnecessary term; it suggests that acceptance of evolution is a belief system or world view when it isn’t as it is simply scientific fact.

      Likewise atheism isn’t a world view either but simply a stance that there appears little enough evidence to move from the null hypothesis that there are not gods – said stance being provisional. That is where atheism begins and ends.

      • Posted April 18, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

        I’m not so upset by identifying Evolution with Darwin. We do the same thing with Newtonian Mechanics, after all — especially in that case to distinguish it from Relativistic or Quantum Mechanics.

        Just as with physics, we know an awful lot more now than the original founder of the field…but, also, the original formulation is still more than adequate for the sorts of first approximations typical people most commonly use.

        Call me a Darwinist, a Newtonian, a Pasteurizer, a Curian, and so on. It’s no different from similarly calling me an Epicurean after the schools of thought he established.



        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

          I guess I find the whole need to distinguish as ridiculous as I do needing to identify someone as a Newtonian. If you need to distinguish belief systems – identifying someone as a Darwinist doesn’t wash because it’s not a belief system and is therefore not the opposite of a person with faith.

          It can however, be the opposite of a creationist but then I’d still see it as someone who accepts fact over faith.

          • Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

            Of course, as you observe, “Darwinian” is not the opposite of, “Creationist.” But that doesn’t mean that one can’t be a Darwinian. And the two classes are generally understood as exclusive — though “sophisticated” Catholics (for example) such as Ken Miller have no problem simultaneously agreeing that Darwin was almost entirely right but also that Christ died (earlier this morning!) to Redeem humanity of Adam and Eve’s Sin.

            Much better to draw the line between “rationalist” and “supernaturalist,” I think. When it comes right down to it, that’s the fundamental divide — between those who realize that the evidence is overwhelming that What You See Is What You Get and those longing for the fantasies of the older days when there was more to the world than meets the eye.


  44. Ceres
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink


    , we need to note that by your own definition , we would have to conclude the designer is not complex. You’re just making an analogy to the material minds we know of.

    Also as Craig pointed out , science explains things , with other unexplained enitites all the time. Why is this illegitamate? How does it follow from this that God “almost certainly does not exist” in Dawkins words?

    @Ben Goren
    WLC isn’t an Aristotelian or anything. He seemed to be presenting the scientific and cosmological information accurately in the debate from what I saw.
    That stuff about quantum gravity , classical space-time and Boltzmann brains was really cool though.
    I’m listening to Collins’ talk now from the same venue.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      Ceres wrote:

      we need to note that by your own definition , we would have to conclude the designer is not complex. You’re just making an analogy to the material minds we know of.

      Craig made the analogy.

      As a non-physical entity, a mind is not composed of parts, and its salient properties, like self-consciousness, rationality, and volition, are essential to it….Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas (it may be thinking, for example, of the infinitesimal calculus), but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity. Dawkins has evidently confused a mind’s ideas, which may, indeed, be complex, with a mind itself, which is an incredibly simple entity.

      The above is scientifically wrong, given what we painstakingly learned about the development and mechanisms of minds. The “divine Mind” is simply borrowing from disproven ‘folk’ intuitions. The concept f the Ghost in the Machine is extrapolated into the concept of the Ghost in the Universe.

      Here is a question, KC: WHY would a mind with characteristics such as goals, desires, emotions, and ethics have existed before there was any sort of environment in which it had to maneuver — or any possibility of relationships with other beings? It can’t simply hang there on nothing, for no reason, with no history, no development, no explanation. This is an astonishing disconnect.

      • Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        *Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas … but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity.*

        I just don’t get this: How can a mind be less complex than the sum of its ideas/thoughts?


        • kelskye
          Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

          The general response is to differentiate between kinds of complexity. Craig’s response is to say while thoughts may be complex, minds are simple.

          It might be that minds aren’t the kind of thing that can be untangled from the complexity of thoughts (what is a mind without thoughts?) but it’s not exactly evident that it must be the case. We don’t even know if mind is something that can exist without brains (our only reference point), in which case minds require a structural complexity to even exist. The idea of an immaterial mind would be incoherent, akin to asking about the nutritional content of an immaterial apple, or asking about the height of a nonspatial mountain.

          The point being is that when we talk about simplicity, complexity, and the mind, it’s speculation atop of speculation. If we’re going to go off our best scientific understanding, then we can only reference the structural complexity of brains. If we’re going to appeal to a mind unlike ours, then we must admit that we don’t know what it even means – let alone making definitive statements about it.

          • Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:50 am | Permalink

            Well, you could say the brain is simple — just a few pounds of meat…


            Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.


            • Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

              And, in the case of most Tea Partiers, not even that much!


          • Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

            Cognition requires communication. Thanks to Claude Shannon, we know that there are fundamental limits on the minimum energy required for any type of communication. Minds therefore either use energy just as any other computational device or they’re perpetual motion machines.

            If we’re going to go down the route of immaterial perpetual motion machines, we might as well add in magic wands and faery dust while we’re at it….


            • kelskye
              Posted April 18, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

              “If we’re going to go down the route of immaterial perpetual motion machines, we might as well add in magic wands and faery dust while we’re at it…”
              Unfortunately, that’s what the supernatural hypothesis is. If you’re going to try too hard to link our physical being to what it means to be a person, the theist is going to reject the hypothesis for being too literal minded. Of course God is not going to be a physical embodiment of a person, since God is beyond the temporal nature of space and time. Rather God is analogous to a person – that our understanding of God’s nature is limited by God’s incomprehensibility, and personhood is how we can best (but in a limited way) begin to comprehend Him.

              This falls prey, however, to the problem of irreducible analogy. If God is analogous to a person, in what way is He analogous? What is God’s literal nature that we eventually fall back on? Unfortunately, the appeal to analogy, combined with the admitted ineffability of the proposition means there really isn’t a good answer for this. But what is agreed is that the New Atheists are giving a crude caricature of the grandeur of God by reducing God to the physical finite nature of human being.

              We would normally call this trying to have one’s cake and eat it too, but that’s the sophisticated theology they say we have to grapple with if we really want to call ourselves atheists.

    • Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      Craig may not self-describe as an Aristotelian, but he makes incessant appeals to metaphysics and the objections he raises are indistinguishable from those Aristotle made.

      And he sure did have plenty of technobabble to spew in the debate, but the way he strung his words together resulted in physics as incoherent as anything you’d encounter in any science fantasy story. He could have been blathering about how we need more electron volts from the transducer so we can increase the fermion count in the baryonic shield or else the dark energy WIMPS will cause a particle cascade that’ll quantumly collapse the space-time cosmological constant.

      As Sean noted, Boltzmann Brains are even more unlikely a statistical event than all the air in the room randomly assembling in one corner and staying there, asphyxiating everybody there. And the cosmologies in which they predominate that Craig kept harping on are not cosmologies anybody thinks are real or that anybody is using for that purpose. He might as well have blathered about the Grandfather Paradox in response to some obscure research about spatial loops at the event horizon of a black hole. It’s an interesting theoretical exercise, but it has no bearing on reality whatsoever and nobody in the field thinks it does — yet there Craig was, banging away on it like it was a snare drum solo in the middle of a Beethoven piano sonata.

      Worse, Boltzmann Brains are much more the problem for theology rather than physics. How do the gods know that they themselves aren’t mere Boltzmann Brains? They don’t; they can’t. So of what use is it to call them gods when they’re just as incapable of correctly divining the true nature of reality as any other entity? At least us being the delusions of some cosmic-scale Boltzmann Brain is not inconsistent with physics as we understand it, but theology isn’t even consistent with that outlandish a conspiracy theory. And that takes quite some doing!



      • Ceres
        Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        I’m more concerned with whether an argument is true that who first stated it. Craig’s arguments don’t really depend on any of the peculiarities of Aristotelian metaphysics.
        I think Craig’s science is fine. You can look at many lectures on modern cosmology like here and see they make similar points to Craig.

        As Sean noted, Boltzmann Brains are even more unlikely a statistical event than all the air in the room randomly assembling in one corner and staying there, asphyxiating everybody there
        That’s the point though. Boltzmann Brains (BB) are highly improbable, but they’re still more probable than fine-tuned universes.

        From what I’ve read and seen from other physicists (Luke Barnes and Roger Penrose of the top of my head), they seem to think BB are a problem for people who appeal to multiverse models to explain fine-tuning . Do you have references I could look at?

        • Posted April 18, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

          I’m more concerned with whether an argument is true that who first stated it. Craig’s arguments don’t really depend on any of the peculiarities of Aristotelian metaphysics.

          Then either you’re unaware of Aristotle or of Craig. The Kalam Argument that Craig is so fond of is pure metaphysics. It’s got it all: special pleading to prevent infinite regress, actions require causes, causes require intention, the works. And every single point of it is so hopelessly worng it’s pathetic.

          Boltzmann Brains (BB) are highly improbable, but they’re still more probable than fine-tuned universes.

          Sean repeatedly made the point in the debate that Sean is simply pulling that one out of his ass. In the actual models actual cosmologists actually work with, Boltzmann Brains simply aren’t a big deal.

          And even that misses the point. The Boltzmann Brain argument is the bacterial flagellum of the intelligent designers who are more interested in cosmology than biology. It’s something the IDists don’t understand; therefore Jesus. That’s all there is to it. Even if current cosmological theories did have a real problem with Boltzmann Brains (which they don’t), the last thing to conclude is, “Magic Man done it!” When physics couldn’t explain Mercury’s precession, did we throw up our hands and praise Jesus for constantly pissing on the planet in just the right way as to slow it down? When Michelson and Morley failed to discover the Luminiferous Aether, did we decide that it was best not probe further lest we tempt Jesus’s wrath? Is the fact that we still today don’t have a theory of quantum gravity proof that Jesus personally embodies himself in every graviton which is why we haven’t detected any?

          If you really want to claim, “I don’t understand this; ergo Jesus,” that’s certainly your right. But don’t expect anybody to take you any more seriously than if you inserted the name of any other faery from the bottom of the garden.



  45. Ceres
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink


    The comment was more explaining to Sastra the reasoning people like Collins and Miller use when they accept God and Evolution.

    I think there are variety of factors that are evidence for God , but I can’t really do them justice here in a short comment.
    I wouldn’t expect you to explain all the evidence for evolution in the comments section here and explain the evidence against competing views of evolution (eg genetic determinism , punctuated equilibrium).
    I think there’s too much to answer in one comment.

    • Posted April 18, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      I could at least list the major lines of evidence in a comment. Since you’re unwilling to do so, you either have no good evidence or are unwilling to abide by the Roolz (see sidebar), and therefore can’t post again until you do.

      • Ceres
        Posted April 18, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        This is more of a loose list , since I don’t really have space to develop them
        For God
        -the beginning of the universe requires a transcendent personal cause
        – the fine-tuning of the cosmos
        -the contingent nature of the universe requires an explanation
        – the existence of objective moral values and duties
        – the structure the universe it such that it can be described by mathematics (ie the applicability of mathematics)

        I think these factors provide evidence for God.

        • Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

          Those arguments are all fine and dandy…

          …for those stuck in the ignorant pre-scientific world of Aristotelian metaphysics.


          We know so much more today than we did before the 1600s, and you’re simply not going to make any sense of it if you’re still trying to figure out what moves inertia so it may move the planets across the dome of the firmament.



          • Ceres
            Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

            Nothing I said relies on Aristotle

        • Posted April 19, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

          You really should get out (of your comfort zone) more.

          These “arguments” have all been addressed many times. That you make them here shows that either you are unaware of the responses or that you are just too emotionally attached to the concept of a god being necessary to look them up.

          I can understand the latter. Giving up god is very difficult and painful as I know from my own experience.

          I remember reading one of WLC’s “sophisticated arguments” which basically boiled down to “god exists because I don’t like the alternative.”

  46. Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    A few months ago, some friends said that Richard Dawkins was a name-caller in his books, particularly his supposedly most “stident” book, The God Delusion. I was sure this view was a misconception mainly promoted by his critics, so I decided to use the search function in the Kindle version of TGD to try to find instances of Dawkins engaging in name-calling within.

    My results:

    In short, my search found just a single instance where Dawkins called a real person a name: when he called Adolph Hitler an “opportunistic liar” – and that one instance is it. (As the sole example of name-calling by Dawkins in the book and given the individual he refers to, I think it can slide.)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      What a heartless bastard, calling poor Hitler a name! :D

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