Tips for atheists on Easter

Talk about haughtiness: this piece takes the cake. I guess that Easter brings out the self-styled superiority of Christians, for the Australian Broadcasting has published a pretty supercilious piece on its blog The Drum: “Top 10 tips for athiests this Easter.”  The author, John Dickson, is of course a believer—he’s described as “an author and historian, and a founding director of the Centre for Public Christianity.” And he’s a self-appointed Ann Landers for atheists, deciding to tell us the proper way to deal with Christianity.

To be sure, Dickson mentions some points on which he sees Christianity as vulnerable—the doctrine of Hell and some of God’s bullying in the Old Testament, for instance—but most of his piece simply tells atheists where we’ve gone wrong on Christianity. Would that the world would one day have the proportions reversed, so we could see articles telling Christians how not to distort atheism!

Here are just three of Dickson’s “tips”. They’re invidious and offensive:

Tip #1. Dip into Christianity’s intellectual tradition

This is the 1,984th Easter since 7 April AD 30, the widely accepted date among historians for the crucifixion of Jesus (the 1,981st if you find the arguments for 3 April AD 33 persuasive). Christians have been pondering this stuff for a long time. They’ve faced textual, historical, and philosophical scrutiny in almost every era, and they have left a sophisticated literary trail of reasons for the Faith.

My first tip, then, is to gain some awareness of the church’s vast intellectual tradition. It is not enough to quip that ‘intellectual’ and ‘church’ are oxymoronic. Origen, Augustine, Philoponus, Aquinas, and the rest are giants of Western thought. Without some familiarity with these figures, or their modern equivalents – Pannenberg, Ward, MacIntrye, McGrath, Plantinga, Hart, Volf – popular atheists can sound like the kid in English class, “Miss, Shakespeare is stupid!”

Okay, can we now advise believers to dip into the intellectual tradition of atheism? Well, I’ve followed a lot of Dickson’s “sophisticated literary trail,” and it’s not that sophisticated.  In fact, it’s littered with the leavings of male bovids, so one must step carefully. And Plantinga and Hart? We’ve had a taste of both, and, there’s no “there” there.

Tip #2. Notice how believers use the word ‘faith’

One of the things that becomes apparent in serious Christian literature is that no one uses ‘faith’ in the sense of believing things without reasons. That might be Richard Dawkins’ preferred definition – except when he was publicly asked by Oxford’s Professor John Lennox whether he had ‘faith’ in his lovely wife – but it is important to know that in theology ‘faith’ always means personal trust in the God whose existence one accepts on other grounds. I think God is real for philosophical, historical, and experiential reasons. Only on the basis of my reasoned conviction can I then trust God – have faith in him – in the sense meant in theology.

That’s a distinction without a difference.  How can you have personal trust in someone whose existence rests on no evidence? What are the “other grounds” that lead to belief in God?

This argument is like saying that  faith is “having personal trust in your giant invisible pink rabbit friend” when you were a kid, and then arguing that such a claim is somehow rational.

Tip #4. Repeat after me: no theologian claims a god-of-the-gaps

One slightly annoying feature of New Atheism is the constant claim that believers invoke God as an explanation of the ‘gaps’ in our knowledge of the universe: as we fill in the gaps with more science, God disappears. Even as thoughtful a man as Lawrence Kraus, a noted physicist, did this just last month on national radio following new evidence of the earliest moments of the Big Bang.

But the god-of-the-gaps is an invention of atheists. Serious theists have always welcomed explanations of the mechanics of the universe as further indications of the rational order of reality and therefore of the presence of a Mind behind reality. Kraus sounds like a clever mechanic who imagines that just because he can explain how a car works he has done away with the Manufacturer.

Give me a break again! Has Dickson even read any of the sophisticated literature he touts in his first tip? Serious theists may welcome explanations of the mechanics of the universe (except, of course, those serious theists whose faith is shaken by creationism), but they continue to tout things like fine-tuning, consciousness, and the origin of the universe as evidence for God. David Bentley Hart did this continuously in his new book, Alvin Plantinga adduces God as the reason why humans have true beliefs, and this morning we saw Amir Aczel use human consciousness as evidence for God.

I won’t give Dickson “tips for Christians” since they’re busy worshipping the nonexistent revival of their savior, but I will tell him that he needs to get out more. Tips like the three above are simply ludicrous, and #4 is palpably false.

Happy Easter!



  1. Posted April 20, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    And since God promised a resurrection of the dead, a “Walking Dead” marathon has passed my day quite nicely.

    • Posted April 20, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      What do you think will happen next season? Don’t want to spoil it, but they do reach the town known as Terminus, and are now of course in deep doo-doo.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        The comics are much darker. You can’t put on TV where they go and after one series end in the comic it was so violent that I had a hard time sleeping. Yes I’m giving myself *PTSD with the Walking Dead comics. 🙂


        • Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

          You should try the video game. Well, maybe not. The graphics are similar to the comic series.

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:32 am | Permalink

          PTSD! Haha!

          I tried the video game; but I couldn’t get the controls to do what I wanted on my iPad!

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:31 am | Permalink

        Strangely enough,I read the comics; but only AFTER I finish a season. But I did suspect cannibals. Because…there were no animals; but, they’re serving up colossal slabs of meat.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:12 am | Permalink

      And since God promised a resurrection of the dead, a “Walking Dead” marathon

      A marathon of people in zombie costumes? That would be moderately entertaining, but pretty hot for the runners.
      Where are you with a large enough atheist running population to “sponsor” such a marathon? Or is it just a “fun run” on that theme that falls on an (in-)auspicious conjugation of the stars?
      GIMF. OIC. “airing a marathon of all the Season 4 episodes to date this weekend. The Walking Dead Season […]” This is some sort of TV programme? On a theme of zombies? Or life on Death Row? Or something like that?

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink


        Next Easter! And we can raise money for atheist organisations!

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

          you’ll get hate mail. Delivered inside pipe bombs.

  2. Grania Spingies
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Why on earth should atheists bother with “the church’s vast intellectual tradition” when the overwhelming majority of Christians can’t be bothered with it?

    Anyway, as an ex-Christian who wasted a great many years dipping into the church’s vast intellectual tradition; I can say with authority: don’t bother. It’s all special pleading and god-of-the-gaps (with fancy words) and baseless assertions argued from a starting point (never proved) that God is real.

    Seriously, you play with your toys and mind your own business how I play with mine.

    • Achrachno
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Aside from all the absurd theological apologetics, most Christians can’t be bothered to read the Bible, not even those in the various “inerrant word of God” cults. Most Christians can’t be bothered because, IMO, they know it’s nonsense just as we do.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted April 20, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        The word for a Christian who has read the bible is “atheist”

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:15 am | Permalink


          Actually, as an atheist, I can’t be bothered to read most atheist books – unless they’re entertainingly written, as for example Richard Dawkins’ are. (I know ‘entertaining’ was not what he had in kind, but he has a way with words…) So I certainly won’t be reading Christian apologetics.

          But I suspect, just from reading many of the comments and arguments on WEIT, I already know more about Xtian lore than the average believer does…

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:16 am | Permalink

            To be honest, I just pass on by many of the atheist or stupid-religionista posts on the blo^H^H^Hwebsite too. The Caturday Mice (blocked posts from god-squaddies) are generally worth a laugh – in a “cat playing with mice” sense.
            Apologetics can’t get apologetic enough for me.

  3. Posted April 20, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    His very first sentence is an absolute howler:

    As an intellectual movement, Christianity has a head start on atheism.

    Um…hello? Epicurus? You know — the guy who provided unimpeachable empirical proof that there are no powerful entities with the best interests of humanity at heart? And who did so centuries before the invention of Christianity?

    The dude’s so clueless he’d need repeated application of a clue-by-four just to teach him how to buy a clue with a proffered pair of dimes.

    I’ll offer one single tip for Christians on Easter: Grow the fuck up. Seriously, guys — zombies ain’t real, they ain’t cuddly, and you know it. Sure, enjoy all the music and food and family and the rest; that’s the whole point of these sorts of harvest celebrations. But you don’t need to think Jesus is really real to enjoy Easter any more than you need to think Santa is really real to enjoy Christmas.



    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      I was thinking similar. That intellectual tradition that destroyed or suppressed work of the Ancients because it didn’t comport with the Church’s own ideas? That one? The one that suppressed the medical knowledge of Galen so we in the west had to get it through the Muslim world? The one that concentrated on the discredited works of Aristotle and used them to suppress scientific progress? The one that plunged humanity into an unnecessarily long dark age because of all of the above. Yeah, no thanks I will stick with the works of the Ancients, the Enlightenment and modern science.

    • Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Dickson need look no further than Ecclesiastes.

      “no one uses ‘faith’ in the sense of believing things without reasons”

      Yes they do. “People of faith” aren’t living by “reasoned conviction” but by blind obedience, because they’ve promised eternal milk and cookies if they do as they’re told.

      Enough humbug. Must go retrieve my rhubarb pie from the sun oven and admire the Santa Rita prickly pear flowers in the backyard.

      • Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Yeah — we didn’t get a wildflower season to speak of, but the cacti and native trees are going their usual gangbusters. I’m not sure I’ll get a chance to spend quality time with a camera this season, but I might….


        • Posted April 20, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

          OK, here’s a quick Easter snapshot from the yard – two common natives:
          Opuntia santa-rita with Celtis pallida (desert hackberry) in the background.

          • Newish Gnu
            Posted April 20, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink


          • Posted April 20, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink


          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

            Very pretty.
            Dad tried to wean me off fossils onto plants with a “Christmas Cactus” (Schlumbergeria or something similar, IIRC ; I remember it because I work a lot with a company I nickname “Scumburger”.)
            It died. It took several decades, but it died. I guess that someone was looking after it, because I sure wasn’t.

          • Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

            I have the exact same cactus in my front yard, and it’s blooming in the exact same way right now.

            The fruit are quite pleasant in the middle of the summer….


    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:57 am | Permalink

      And Pericles with his democracy (for the men elites) and Democritus with his atomic model (if not testable theory) was 5 centuries before too. Small beginnings, which religion delayed 20 centuries.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:32 am | Permalink

        Small beginnings, which religion delayed 20 centuries.

        Being fair, about 1/3 of that delay can be ascribed to (effectively) extinct polytheisms, and only 2/3 of it to the presently dominant monotheisms.
        That reminds me … thinking of future polytheisms …

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      And there were also these ahead of Christianity:
      (ca. 470 BC – ca. 391 BC)
      (6th century to 221 BC)

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Somebody recently pointed out to me that jesus is not a zombie, but a lich.

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        I think there’s room for debate on that one. Jesus seemed rather brain-dead even before they strung him up on the cross, and some recent documentaries have suggested that zombies actually have rich inner lives, to the point that they might not even realize at first that they’re zombies.


  4. davidintoronto
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I’ll pass on the theological advice. But I’m cooking a ham – so I’d welcome “tips” about a glaze. I’m thinking honey, brown sugar and mustard.

    • Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      We always do a Coca cola ham. In any case, I am sure what you choose will be great. Have a good Easter.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:38 am | Permalink

        I’m thinking that the honey and brown sugar (pass on the mustard) should have been relatively good if all she wanted was a good ester.
        (Sorry, really bad chemical joke. I’ll spend a year trying to polish it, and dig it out again this time next year (± a Full Moon).

    • hank_says
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      Stout (or as dark an ale as you can find) and brown sugar. Yummers.

  5. Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Re: defining “faith” as “believing things without reasons”.

    No, we atheists don’t define it that way, either. That is a disingenuous manipulation of language. Of course theists have “reasons”. The question is whether there is any evidence to support those reasons. And no, there isn’t. Those reasons are emotional.

    “Faith” is believing things that aren’t supported by real evidence.

    • Matt G
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      It’s trying to make the abandonment of reason seem noble and reasonable. We’re not buying it.

      • Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        “Trying to make the abandonment of reason seem reasonable?” That’s either deep or a deepity…I’m not sure.

        • Matt G
          Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

          OK, I should have capitalized Reason. They see faith as a virtue, while we see it as a failing.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:40 am | Permalink

            They see faith as a virtue, while we see it as a failing.

            That’s a pretty good summary statement. Chalk and cheese ebony and ivory; Marmite and Vegemite …

      • Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        Well , the thing that bugs me is that he’s trying to equivocate between “reasons” and “evidence”.

        He hopes readers will think “hey, yeah, there *are* reasons for having faith! Those silly atheists don’t know what they’re talking about!” But we don’t deny that they have reasons. We just claim they are crappy reasons.

    • kelskye
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      It’s hard to see faith as anything other than belief irrespective of the evidence when believers will say nothing will convince them otherwise. Though those are usually desperate moments in debate rather than the <i?modus operandi. In general, I think believers would have “good” reasons for believing – reasons that would give them confidence in their own position. It just so happens those reasons have little to do with science, philosophy, or history – and aren’t usually persuadable by those.

      The problem with faith is when it’s claimed as an epistemology – like William Lane Craig saying that reason should be used insofar as it doesn’t conflict with faith. That’s where the issue lies. It’s the difference between being guided by arguments and evidence compared to being guided by a commitment to a doctrine.

  6. Matt G
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    You can build your edifice as tall and as pretty as you like, but if you have no foundation, it’s all for naught. All of their “proofs” contain errors of fact or reasoning, and if they really have this “faith” thing, why are they so intent on proving their god’s existence?

  7. Achrachno
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    “1,984th Easter since 7 April AD 30, the widely accepted date among historians for the crucifixion of Jesus (the 1,981st if you find the arguments for 3 April AD 33 persuasive)”

    Oh, dear. Big sigh.

    There is no historical evidence that Jesus was ever crucified, and theologians have such poor records in their “holy books” that they can’t even agree among themselves what YEAR this supposedly most crucial event in all history happened. No one at the alleged time ever thought to write anything, so they’re forced to resort to the writings of mystics who where not on the scene, or even alive, when this “event” supposedly took place. A solid case cannot be made that any of the gospels were written before the early 2nd century, though many believers have tried.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, the history part caught my eye too. Funny how believers invoke real means of discerning evidence (which is usually not substantiated) sometimes but other times not.

    • Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, he really shot himself in the foot with that one.

      “There’s no question at all about the fact that this all really truly happened. And don’t bother me with the inconvenient fact that the records are all so fucked up that we can’t even figure out what year it happened in — oh, wait, maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that last bit…?”

      Maybe he’s a stealth atheist trying to deconvert the masses by showing them what complete and total blithering idiots are at the head of the class….


      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        Maybe he’s a stealth atheist — nightjar atheist

        • Marella
          Posted April 20, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

          Oh god no, we’ll never find him!

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:46 am | Permalink

          So that’s Matthew’s Cunning Plan™ : he’s been training us to spot closet atheists.

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

          Mimic octopus atheist?


      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:45 am | Permalink

        Yeah, he really shot himself in the foot with that one.

        Did he have his foot in his ear at the time?

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

          Unfortunately, no. He was shooting his mouth off, and he shot his foot with his mouth. At extreme close range, if you get my drift….


          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

            I remember seeing the consequences of someone shooting their mouth off. It was in a text book of forensic pathology in an office I had to clean when I worked in the path labs at the hospital.
            Quite messy really. The case report had it that the guy took a week to die. Strictly he shot off 3/4 of his mandible and one zygomatic arch. and part of the orbit. Just as well the book pre-dated cheap colour printing.

            • Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

              You really know somebody’s a failure when he even fails to off himself properly….


              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:56 am | Permalink

                Oh that was cruel! (Probably why it occurred to me too). Even when shooting at point-blank range, it is evidently still necessary to aim…

    • darrelle
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      And for added emphasis at the time, and in the society in which this foundational event allegedly took place very good records were kept. So good, and so often corroborated by other means, that the fact that there are no records of the supposed monumental event is by itself very weighty evidence against it.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:52 am | Permalink

      And as I commented before reading this, there is no such long stretch of Easter festivals either. It was established 200 years later.

      Dickson is making this up.

    • Chris
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Palpably untrue. He hasn’t spoken to any Muslim academics recently, has he?

  8. Gordon Hill
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    The sad part of fundamentalist Christianity is ignoring/denial of the simple fact than Vernal Equinox is a period of cultural ceremony in many cultures, most dating well before Christianity, even Judaism. Funnel vision.

    • Bob J.
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      ya. I prefer to celebrate the old fashioned, pagan fertility rites – chocalate bunny rabbits and colorful eggs.

  9. Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Ev-ee-dense? Ev-ee-dense?
    He don’t need no stinkin’ ev-ee-dense.

    Just stop thinking, and have a slice of ham.

  10. Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    What does he think gets taught in the rather standard “History of Western Thought [sometimes called Western Civilization]” and/or “Global History” in undergrad classrooms? He did a PhD in history at Macquarie, right? Does he really think his colleagues [atheist or not] didn’t bother to read Augustine or Aquinas or Luther and now they just skip over them in their lectures?

    He is worse than his own example about a student complaining about Shakespeare without understanding Shakespeare, since at least that student apparently made it to class and read enough to have some sort of opinion. I can only surmise that Dickson decided not to attend his grad seminars and/or has no faculty friends who teach history/philosophy/education/etc. [regardless of whether or not he believes that they need Easter tips].

    • Achrachno
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      bcd: Does he really think his colleagues [atheist or not] didn’t bother to read Augustine or Aquinas or Luther and now they just skip over them in their lectures?

      But note that he thinks “Origen, Augustine, Philoponus, Aquinas, and the rest are GIANTS [emph. mine] of Western thought” but I don’t remember any such claims of giantism from my undergrad philosophy classes. Hume, Locke, Spinoza — OK, important ideas we still need to think about. Giants. Augustine and Aquinas were certainly covered to some degree (clearly influential), and Origen may have been mentioned (I don’t really remember, though I’ve certainly encountered him subsequently) but I’m very sure Philoponus was not on the menu at all. I don’t remember ever hearing of him before, so I doubt “giant” applies as well as “insignificant writer” in his case. Russell never mentions him in his History of W. Philosophy, if that’s any measure.

      I don’t see that any of these four guys plays a significant role in modern understanding of philosophical issues. They’re strictly of historical interest, no? Seems to me they’re of importance because they influenced Christian thinking, not because they contributed anything of lasting and general importance.

      • Posted June 1, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        A belated reply, since this topic came up in class the other day – what is a “great thinker” or “giant” of a field? The problem here is that Dickson has decided that his list of Greats is The List. As an historian, I will admit a bias towards thinking most thinkers are worth learning about to tell us (for instance) different things about how knowledge has been disseminated and changed over time, and even why certain get more “press” than others.

        I don’t think it is the case that something that is only of historical interest has no bearing on other areas of knowledge. History gives us context for developments… but that is another topic for my platform and not WHET’s!

        We can tell different narratives of history that allow us to see it with a different lens – most of these paradigms are valid ways of approaching knowledge transmission as long as we know that we are looking from one angle, and therefore some Greats will not make it to the syllabus/general textbook/specialized monograph. The problem with Dickson is that he will not allow different viewpoints or acknowledge that he is using one prism, and not another for his audience.

    • irritable
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      When skiting about the awesomeness of the medieval Scholastic philosophers, apologists skip over, or denigrate the greatest of them – William of Ockham. Inconveniently, he saw serious flaws in the recently recovered writings of Aristotle, and was brave enough to point out the logical problems in the new theology. Naturally, he was harassed and pursued as a heretic.

      Secondly, it’s worth reminding condescending twerps like Dickson that they have a huge Dunning-Kruger problem. Professional philosophers overwhelmingly reject Apologetics. Only about 14.5% of professional philosophers are believers. This is a revealing contrast to the statistics for belief in the general community,where careful evaluation of the arguments is far less likely to have occurred. Furthermore, judging by the CV’s of theologian atheist bashers, it appears few theist philosophers gain appointments at the top universities.

      As the statistics for non-belief consistently demonstrate: high-achievers in demanding disciplines are highly likely to reject the Deepities which second-rate thinkers like Dickson embrace. Why? because smart thinkers ruthlessly apply Feynman’s principle – “The easiest person to fool is yourself”.

      • Posted April 22, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        Even the great Aquinas had his work condemned at first.

  11. anthrosciguy
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Dickson doesn’t need to read those theologians because he already believes. It’s one of the major benefits of belief. 🙂

  12. Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Alistair McGrath is a “modern equivalent of Aquinas”?


    • Tim Harris
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      Yes, McGrath and Ward as great thinkers: they strike me as being not so much intellectually challenging as intellectually challenged.

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

        “Intellectually challenged” doesn’t necessarily exclude McGrath from Aquinas’ class…though McGrath does have the advantage of modern Physics to refute the Prime Mover argument.

        • Posted April 22, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

          Aquinas was a genius, alebit genius with crazy premisses (even for the time, in a way). These days, a follower of him is ignorant or foolish. Knowledge advances.

          • Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

            That’s a valid point. I saw a study somewhere a few months ago speaking to your point that the average IQ of 100 in 1930 is closer to 80 today. The baseline is advancing rapidly. Certainly McGrath is no Aquinas is putting forth original ideas that will stick around for centuries and I wouldn’t put them in the same class in that area. Unfortunately, trying to determine what Aquinas would think given today’s scientific knowledge is pure conjecture, but statistically speaking it is probably reasonable safe to say that his ideas would be different.

  13. Andrew B.
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    “Tip #4. Repeat after me: no theologian claims a god-of-the-gaps”

    Jaw. Dropping. Stupid. Takes my breath away.

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      I have read this ‘It’s not a gap!’ prevent defence quite a bit recently.

      As if invoking the spell shields the gaps.

      These are not the gaps you are looking for [waves hand mystically]

  14. Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    After four days of Hart (reading all of that must be as tough as reading an entire volume of ‘holy’ scripture, JAC, and I for one will never join you in subjecting myself to this particular sort of torture again — once being one time too many), I humbly offer a giant thanky! to all the gods ever imagined that John Dickson stopped after 4 Tips. I barely finished those.

    Easter greetings to all. The following topical strip is summed up as justice delayed is still justice worth dispensing:

  15. Posted April 20, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    The point of sophisticated theology is not that you actually read it (it’s intentionally obfuscatory and mind numbingly boring to inhibit such enterprise), but that you can use it’s existence in arguments from authority, when you’ve run out of other ways to defend your deity. I imagine, for instance, that DBH will be quite shocked that Jerry managed to actually navigate one of his lucubrations.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      No, I think a lot of believers DO enjoy reading it, much the way someone would enjoy reading poetry. Marathon sessions or bits and pieces, read for inspiration.

      Back when I was Spiritual I used to copy passages which sounded like the sort of thing Hart would say (they usually came from Ralph Waldo Emerson or some ‘inspirational’ modern writer) and stick them somewhere I could see. Sometimes I’d memorize them.

      Because they’re so obfuscatory you generally get out what you put in. This I think is one reason why you see so many intelligent or sensitive people buying into this stuff. They don’t realize they’re doing a lion’s share of the work. Instead, it’s like they’re discovering astonishing revelations which resonate with a very deep part of themselves.

      I remember trying to memorize some passage in I think Emerson and constantly mixing the sentences up. It was particularly hard. It didn’t seem to matter which order I put things in — adjectives, adverbs, descriptions, explanations. Switch it around by accident and it still sounded deceptively correct. It always made sense!

      I think that may have been an early crack in my faith. Shouldn’tt this wonderful feature … be a problem?

      • Larry Gay
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:39 am | Permalink

        Now I understand your ability to spot deepities. You’ve been memorizing them for years.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:59 am | Permalink

      (it’s intentionally obfuscatory and mind numbingly boring to inhibit such enterprise)

      I’m thinking of a scene in Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, early on. A politician comes out to “The Encyclopaedia / Terminus” when it’s being threatened by it’s neighbours ; everyone seems to think that the politician has reassured them, except one guy who recorded everything that was said and fed it through a “logical/semantic analyser” (I paraphrase) which revealed the total of what was said to be {NULL}.
      I know that people are producing systems for textual analysis (not least as part of plagiarism detection, and also for text-to-speech). I don’t know if they’re good enough to handle “sophisticated theology”. Yet. I suspect that when the systems do get that good, we’ll see Sophisticated Theology suddenly become a print-only art form.
      Ohhh, the Gas Man Cometh! Joy!, we may have hot water!

  16. The Moother
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Another tip for Easter: Watch the cutest Zombie Jesus Day rendition ever on YouTube!


  17. Sastra
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    One of the things that becomes apparent in serious Christian literature is that no one uses ‘faith’ in the sense of believing things without reasons.

    You know, I’m going to kinda sorta agree with him here. While you do get the occasional pure fideist, odd irrationalist or postmodern apophatic obscurantist insisting that God and/or belief in God is ‘absurd,’ by and large most believers — theological or street variety — believe in God for what they think are very good reasons. Their faith is a reasonable faith, one which puts trust in evidence, experience, and their ability to connect them to an explanation.

    They all “think God is real for philosophical, historical, and experiential reasons.” It’s an empirical claim, a hypothesis. That’s what the new atheists, including Dawkins, have been saying.

    Poor Dickson. He thinks he is refuting New Atheism … when he is walking right into our trap.

    … but it is important to know that in theology ‘faith’ always means personal trust in the God whose existence one accepts on other grounds.

    Bullshit. It means BOTH. And the believer will equivocate between them partly to put off skepticism — but partly because the very concept of ‘God’ mixes up fact and feeling right from the start. God is Bliss & Consciousness which is discovered through bliss and consciousness. The claim and its epistemic warrant turn out to be the same damn thing.

    Religious faith is not like secular versions of “faith” which only mean trust or confidence. It carries along with it a moral commitment. You defend a conclusion like you’d defend an ideal, struggling to validate and verify and value a truth which can’t be wrong. The onus is on you. If you change your mind and substitute another explanation then this means you lost. You failed. You didn’t try hard enough to rescue your friend.

    I define religious faith as “believing on evidence which is insufficient to those who do not want to believe — but sufficient to those who do.”

    It’s only been run through theists a few times, but they seemed happy with it as long as they don’t think or discover that it’s snark. Said in an approving tone, they like it. But of course I’d need more feedback.

    • Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      I define religious faith as “believing on evidence which is insufficient to those who do not want to believe — but sufficient to those who do.”

      That may well work, especially in the contexts which you describe. I might move the “want to” from the first to the second clause, though. It’s not that I don’t want to believe; it’s that I can’t. But so many believers do believe merely because they want to.

      I’ve been known to use this, which is mine:

      A person with faith is one who makes conclusions about that which he has concluded is inconclusive, has knowledge about that which she knows is unknowable. Faith is not “willful ignorance,” but rather “willful insanity” or “willful idiocy.” Faith is a thing deserving not praise and respect, but pity and scorn.

      I don’t think that would fly too well if you were looking for the “softly, softly” approach you describe — but there’s an awful lot to be said for the “good cop / bad cop” approach.

      I’ve oft described science as the apportioning of beliefs in proportions indicated by a rational analysis of empirical observation. Faith can well be described as the apportioning of beliefs in any other proportion than that indicated by a rational analysis of empirical observation. A particular person may have some particular method for the apportionment of belief, and perhaps even a methodical and systematical one that produces reproducible results. But if you’re deliberately not putting the error bars where they belong, you’re doing faith, not science.



      • Sastra
        Posted April 20, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, my guess is you’re right: people of faith won’t care much for your definition.

        As for mine, I’d call it the “softly, sharply” approach in that it’s a bit of a deepity. What I’m actually doing is pointing out that religious belief is garden-variety subjective validation — but it can be easily misinterpreted so that “not wanting” to believe sounds like the same thing as being actively averse.

        Outside of religion and spirituality, though, it’s not the same thing at all. We eliminate biases in order to discover truth, not run from it. Faith translates bias into a virtue: being open to truth.

        There is a quote from Aquinas which more or less sums up what I’m saying:

        “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

        This is anti-humanism to the core; knowledge is not a matter of reason but attitude. I’d modify it for modern times and add in the word “more” — no more explanation/evidence. Nonbelievers wouldn’t believe no matter how compelling the evidence.

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted April 20, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

          This is a frequent loose paraphrase of Aquinas, but the critique remains the valid. The actual quote is

          “Unbelievers are in ignorance of things that are of faith, for neither do they see or know them in themselves, nor do they know them to be credible. The faithful, on the other hand, know them, not as by demonstration, but by the light of faith which makes them see that they ought to believe them, as stated above”

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

          And, of course, that they wouldn’t care for it is pretty much exactly the point. There comes a point where it becomes necessary not just to point out that somebody’s fly is open, and not only is his shirttail sticking out, his member is, too, and it’s still dripping, and the whole thing is rather disgusting…so why is he so proud of it as he waves it around and makes a filthy mess of everything?

          There are those who not only see nothing worng in such behavior but see it as a good thing. Being respectful of the person’s sincere beliefs in such situations does nobody any good, but naked scorn can often do wonders — at least to shake the person up, and possibly to get the person to restrict the nastiness to private spaces where it belongs, if it is to belong anywhere.

          …and that’s where the good cop / bad cop routine can be especially effective. After a slap in the face like that, a bit of reassurance that they’re not entirely bad people or to blame wouldn’t hurt, but could they at least zip up until we get this all straightened out? And mind you don’t catch yourself in the zipper….


          Hackles rising. Grr.


      • Posted April 20, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

        You’re definitely right on again Ben. I’d love to believe we can achieve immortality. Of course, pinning down the attributes of God is where the problems start. I just can’t turn off my logical mindset for this one area. It’s like you said, it’s not a matter of wanting to. One caveat though–when it comes to the specific claims of individual religions, sometimes I do want to, because the claims are so heinous.

        This is really part of the core evil of indoctrination, many believers actually do get to the point where they think believing “hard enough” will make it true. The sad part is that they go through the one life we know we have missing out so much in favor of putting all their money on a specific number on a craps table that runs to infinity.

  18. Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    If 3 April AD 33 is the date of Jesus’ resurrection…. why is Easter this year on April 20th? Pagan holiday timing perhaps? All of these reasons people believe remind me of a stupid 13 year old girl (me) that believed simply because I was RAISED to believe such utter shite. Brainwashing can go a LONG way!! And the urge to control others too!!

    • Buzz
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      Easter is the only day left on Christian calendars that is calculated using some approximation to the Jewish lunar reckoning.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:12 am | Permalink

      According to Wikipaedia,

      The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox.

      That adds a random number (in the interval [0..6], or the position of the year on the weekly cycle) to the remainder of the division of two unrelated large, irrational numbers (length of year and length of synodic lunar month (or is it a siderial lunar month? Couple of hours difference per month.)), all based on a steadily changing astronomical phenomenon (the position of the ascending node of the ecliptic).
      Working out the date of Easter was a significant prompt towards improving arithmetic, celestial mechanics and many other fields of astronomy. Which is no excuse for believing any of the associated claptrap.

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:34 am | Permalink

        Oh I know, but my point is, if Jesus supposedly died on a certain day and rose 3 days later, then it shouldn’t fall on a lunar event. My mom died on Nov.25th, 2005, I don’t follow a lunar calendar to remember her death. They’re just all a bunch of people that think the rest of us don’t realize they have once again hijacked a pagan holiday.

  19. kelskye
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    It was a pretty condescending piece in the end. I really hate this theist rhetorical strategy of claiming intellectual superiority then giving the most uncharitable interpretation they can of the material they are arguing against.

    Though he overextends at the end with “I doubt there are any strong scientific, philosophical or historical arguments against Christianity.” Is he being serious at that point? I think it fits in with the rhetorical strategy of simply pretending the New Atheists don’t have the intellectual ability to take down Christianity, but it’s one of those kinds of statements that betrays a fundamentalist mind. In the comments on the site, I tried giving a brief case to the contrary (I’m the only Kel commenting) though that’s going to be lost in the ~400 comments made in response.

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      to answer your question, I assume they are serious

      I have read that claim a few times recently too – they create alternate histories via cherry picks and ignoring contrary evidence

      They write with such conviction it can make me think maybe I’m mis-remembering

  20. Steve Gerrard
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Two other quotes from the linked article by Dickson:

    “Christians are not absolute atheists with regard to other gods. They happily affirm the shared theistic logic that there must be a powerful Mind behind a rational universe. The disagreements concern how the deity has revealed itself in the world.”

    “I doubt there are any strong scientific, philosophical or historical arguments against Christianity.”

    There is no compelling reason to posit a powerful mind behind the universe; disagreeing on how the deity is revealed is disagreeing on everything there is to say about it; accepted or not, the scientific and philosophical arguments against religious belief are certainly strong ones.

    • Posted April 22, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Strong scientific ones like, say, people don’t come back from the dead?

  21. ladyatheist
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    If they get to tell us how to talk to them, can we tell them how to talk to us? sheesh

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:12 am | Permalink

      I’m sure Ben will lend you his clue-by-four once he’s got a sore arm.

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:00 am | Permalink

        This is my clue-by-four. There are many like it, but this one is mine.


  22. tim
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    I have a tip for atheists from a fellow ardent atheist. These kinds of misconceptions of atheism are caused by atheists distancing themselves from the word “agnostic.” I know why you distance yourself from it, but you are making a mistake.

    Atheists only exist in opposition to theists. No theists, no atheists. Without theism we would all be agnostics. People who do not pretend to know things we do not know. We should stand for something that will still exist post theism. Agnosticism. That is what we are most proud of. That we do not pretend to know things we do not know. Theism is in opposition to agnosticism and so agnosticism is the position from which to criticize religion. Atheism is a dumb label to stand behind when criticizing religion because it doesn’t exist without theism so it is not a position.

    Our position is agnosticism. Militant agnosticism if you want. We don’t believe that others shouldn’t believe in God. We believe that others shouldn’t pretend to know things they do not know.

    And that is this atheist’s tip for atheists. Dismiss it at your peril. Atheism is a label, not a position. Reclaiming the word “agnostic” is a must for the movement towards rationality.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      On the one hand, I think “agnostic” is a valid position, but I think some hostility to it stems from a lot of folks who are closeted atheists who labeling themselves “agnostic” for largely political reasons to avoid being confrontational.

      Charles Darwin really really was agnostic. But I have doubts about some others who have nonetheless claimed the label.

      • Achrachno
        Posted April 20, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        I claim both labels. I have no belief in any of the gods on offer, so I’m definitely an atheist. On the other hand, almost all theobabble is meaningless blather than can neither be affirmed no denied because no one can determine what it means. Thus, I’m also agnostic because I often don’t know what theists are talking about (and don’t think they do either.) Especially with respect to “God” — the most commonly used undefined word in English. What is this “God” thing exactly? They go on and on about what “God” did or expects of us but they seem to be unable to describe it as an object or show that it exists independent of imagination. It’s actually not even imaginary: unicorns can be imagined, pictured in the mind, but “God” is hopeless that way. The Christian “God” (for example) is less than imaginary. The bearded man in the sky is a no-no, they tell me.

        But, maybe someday one of them will start making sense so I have to leave the door open a little. Well, some of them make sense now, I can understand what they’re claiming sometimes, but all their clear claims are demonstrably false.

        Teetering between wrong and nonsensical — the pathetic position of theism.

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:40 am | Permalink

          I think this is a good explaination of my view. As a scientist, I actually should be agnostic about almost anything (the degree of agnosticism depends on the relative value of the evidence supporting a proposition, so between 0 and 1.) Thus the laws of thermodynamics have a likelyhood of being correct of about > 0.9999999, while I’d estimate the likelyhood of some god hanging around about the same as the likelyhood of meeting a unicorn (about < 10e-30). But I've found that confuses most non-scientists, so I just say "athiest" if asked.

  23. ascanius
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    tip for christians every day of the year:

    reflect on the fact that there’s no credible evidence for anything supernatural, much less for the existence of a totalitarian sky deity rooted in bronze and iron age hebrew mythological traditions, a deity who convicts of thought crime, sadistically torments, resorts to scape-goating and human sacrifice, and asks to be celebrated in rituals of symbolic cannibalism. a thoroughly barbaric and disgusting tribalistic belief system if ever there was one.

  24. Cathy Newman
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    #9 is interesting. Does he not believe in the infallibility of the Bible? He seems to be admitting inconsistencies in the OT and an inability to reconcile the OT violence with NT call for forgiveness. I’ve never heard this from Christians (the ones in my circle, anyway); they generally explain it away as “judgement” or “God’s will.”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:19 am | Permalink

      an inability to reconcile the OT violence with NT call for forgiveness

      Be helpful to them by introducing them to the teaching of Arius (God the Old Boy created God the Son at some date, and therefore they are two distinct entities).
      After leading them down this garden path for a while, introduce them to some real Fire & Brimstone preachers who will react violently to this heresy. Net result : one thoroughly pissed-off member of the Xtian church, and potentially an available convert for atheism.
      This is not fair : but all is fair in love and war. And this is a war.

  25. madscientist
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    1. Christianity has an almost 2000 year tradition of intellectual dishonesty and I see John Dickson continues that tradition. It’s not one for me though.

    2. Yes, I too wonder what these “other grounds” are. I guess Dickson won’t say because they’re not civil. These other grounds traditionally include threats of harm and exclusion from society. Threats of exclusion are still common.

    4. Dickson either doesn’t understand what the “god of the gaps” argument is or he’s simply dishonest (a great christian tradition). Yes, theologians have claimed a god of the gaps through the ages. Every time they are forced to admit a natural explanation, god retreats into another gap. “Theistic evolution” is a god of the gaps and so is the “god must have done the Big Bang thing” argument. Where is this god who used to pop up and tell the goat herders to pillage cities, rape the women, and murder everyone else?

  26. eric
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    My tip to atheists: enjoy the heck out of our culture’s semi-official celebration of spring. We just got through a day of many egg-hunts with our kid. Baskets full of goodies. Serious effort put into a good, sit-down meal. All around celebration. He loved it, we loved it…and there was no mention of God.

    Yeah, its a bit annoying that Christianity has basically bogarted the older spring and winter celebrations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy them.

  27. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Christians really use “faith” in both sense, as believing doctrines and as personal trust in God. The first definition appears in the Epistle to the Hebrews and dominates much Catholic theology. The second definition is more prominent in Lutheran theology, and seems to be more prevalent in much of Jesus’ teaching.

    Mr. Dickson is exaggerating a bit when he says George Wells finally conceded the existence of Jesus. Wells conceded that the sayings attributed to Q might be those of a real itinerant wandering preacher in Galilee and Jerusalem, but he continued to maintain the entire Gospel story was likely fabricated, most notably the entire story of the crucifixion.

  28. kelskye
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what the difference between a god-of-the-gaps and an inference to the best explanation is theologically-speaking. To say there are no god-of-the-gaps arguments would be lying (or a breathtaking unfamiliarity with claims theologians make), but what makes for a god-of-the-gaps argument is the insertion of God into a gap in our knowledge, and this happens quite frequently, from first cause arguments, to teleological arguments, to mysteries concerning human consciousness. And we see their breathtaking inanity in how easily the arguments fall apart when science comes up with an explanation.

    The reason we have a god-of-the-gaps is God is a non-explanation masquerading as one. So appealing to the design of the eye is a god-of-the-gaps argument not because we simply don’t know and therefore posit God, but because the positing of God is so weak that our ignorance supersedes God the moment we have even a weak explanation for a phenomenon. If God were a good explanation, we wouldn’t have this problem.

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:52 am | Permalink

      For something like a watch, design by some intelligent entity is an explanation, at least of the immediate problem. But asking what consciousness is, is not a simple question of what or who made it. Even if life was the product of some external designer, we still wouldn’t have an answer to the question of how some seemingly emergent sense of awareness can arise from systems of connected parts that are not themselves aware. That just isn’t clarified in any way by inserting a deity somewhere. And phrases such as “God is pure thought” are just language constructs that don’t convey any actual meaning.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      lying (or a breathtaking unfamiliarity

      That’s another of those dichotomies that some people see as being two things (atheists can draw the above distinction) but which other people fail to see the distinction (God(s)ians see both of the above as synonyms for “knowing the Truth”). It’s rather like Matt G’s dichotomous aphorism above :

      They see faith as a virtue, while we see it as a failing.

  29. Posted April 20, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    I posted this on a different thread earlier today, but it seems to fit better here. I went to a Catholic Mass for a easter today and the priest’s main point during his sermon was pointing out that one may come up with a million different explanations for the empty tomb, but it is FAITH that allows us to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

    It is an extraordinarily twisted interpretation of this sermon that would come up with a definition of faith that doesn’t at least partially include belief without evidence. And if there is other evidence, has any Christian ever attempted to present it without some far reached theory about the likelihood of women having reported it, so it must be true? I’ve never come across a Resurrection account from non – Biblical sources, which puts the story approximately on equal footing with the Holy Trinity of Anakin, Obiwan, and Yoda, together in the Force. Of course, we don’t KNOW that’s not true, we weren’t there for that either…

    • Chris
      Posted April 20, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      It’s precisely that: Sophisticated Theologians ™ have no idea what is preached on Sundays.

      Heck, they’re practicality straw-manning their own side.!

      I find it all rather funny.

      • Posted April 20, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

        It is funny. I think I may have paid more attention than most of the believers did. I saw more than a handful of people napping througbout.

        I think you’re being generous with the “practical” Straw Man. If you pressed any clergyman hard enough, I think the odds are extraordinarily low that they’d say they aren’t preaching about a literal Resurrection and a literal God, whether He is in our Physical realm or some other one. This Ground of Being nonsense leaves an enormous gap. As Hitchens said, all the work is still ahead of them.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

          If you pressed any clergyman hard enough, I think the odds are extraordinarily low that they’d say they aren’t preaching about a literal Resurrection and a literal God,

          There have been repeated cases in the last few decades where recent elections to the post of Bishop of X or Archbishop of Y have been revealed to hold precisely that sort of Sophisticated Theology version of religion. Up to and including The last Archbishop of Canterbury (or last-but-one? I forget ; seen one Archbishop, seen ’em all.)
          You may have different clergy. Either more media-savvy and able to keep their doubts out of the public domain, or just less well-trained in theology.

          • Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

            Ah yes, the Church of England has always been known as “Catholic Light.” I should make a distinction though–the clergyman may not necessarily believe what they’re saying, Dan Barker’s Clergy Project is testament enough to that, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t actually preaching about a literal event. They may be saying something they don’t believe but they aren’t dressing it up in literal language while intending it to be one big metaphor.

            If you’re a doubter or an unbeliever, the more sophisticated ones will recede back into incoherence and naked assertions cloaked in erudite language. The Catholic Church certainly isn’t short on these types of thinkers, but they have the added hurdle of explaining away the “unchanging doctrines/dogma” that have “always been right” since the Church was established.

      • eric
        Posted April 20, 2014 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        I think they know exactly what is preached on Sundays, they just choose to ignore it.

        In fact I’ll go further and say that probably many of them go to Church on Sundays and happily and sincerely follow along. The Sophisticated View is for Monday-Fridays, or when some skeptic asks. But on Sunday or away from the eye of the skeptics, I think many are not so sophisticated.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

          Or, they find a church/ religion/ pastor whose views are compatible with their own (or so fuzzily stated as to be incomprehensible, and therefore compatible with everything from Pastafarianism to Mormonism, simultaneously), then go there and listen to their own current e-book on the headphones.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink


            Sorry – I’ve got to get back into the habit of naming them correctly. They’re Mormonic Jews – unless I’ve grossly misunderstood their theology, they’re Jews (Old Testament-accepting) who disagree with other sects over who the most recent prophet was. That prophet varying from one of “Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi” (for Jews in the vernacular sense) ; Jesus (leading to Christian Jews in many cases, but it’s a complex mess) ; Mohammed (peace be upon him, if you’re a Muslim Jew) ; Joe Smith (if you’re a Mormon). Probably L.Ron Hubbard for some sects of Scientology who want to be warm and cuddly.

            • Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink


              Sorry — I’ve got to get back into the habit of naming them correctly.

              Indeed; you’ve got one too many “m”s in the name!


              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

                I know morons who would be offended by the comparison.

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

                That’s not surprising. Hell, most Tea Partiers get offended as soon as you say, “Hello!”


        • Chris
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

          I’m sorry, I was being far too generous. Sophisticated Theologians ™ EITHER don’t know what is being preached OR they know full well and are lying about it OR they simply don’t care (aka bullshitting).

          Got it. I’ll try to remember the alternatives next time!

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:49 am | Permalink

        Perhaps really Sophisticated Theologians have never been inside an actual church and sat through a service!

  30. Jeffery
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    JAC: “I guess that Easter brings out the self-styled superiority of Christians”:

    – Christians are compelled to defend the “specialness” of Easter, much as the literal babble believers are compelled to deny evolution, because the resurrection is the sole foundation of the “Jesus-as-God cult”. As one apologist put it, “Without the resurrection, there IS no Christianity.”

    Faith? I kinda go with the dictionary definition, but I understand that words and their usages are a really wiggly thing with these people- they have “evidence” for their faith, of course- problem is, it just doesn’t stand up to rational scrutiny.

    I’ve heard it said that the way to deal with Jehovah’s Witnesses is to tell them, “I’d love to hear about how I could live in Paradise forever if I just follow your beliefs, but I have a roast in the oven that I have to tend to; I’ll be back soon”- then, never go back to the door knowing that they, of all people, will surely understand that the word, “soon” is extremely flexible.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

      “Soon… while some of you present are still alive.”

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        Can you prove that everyone who was present is actually dead? Including the catering staff and the guy doing all the paintings?

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:00 am | Permalink

      My only encounter with Jehovah’s Witnesses was when I was in graduate school. A young, well-scrubbed pair knocked on the door of my appartment and asked if I would like to discuss the false belief of evolution with them. I replied that, since I was a biologist, it was unlikely the discussion would benefit either of us, and closed the door. They went, I assume, to harass others in the apartment building.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        My only encounter with Jehovah’s Witnesses was when I was in graduate school.

        So far … Don’t worry, they’ll be back.

        A young, well-scrubbed pair knocked on the door of my appartment and asked if I would like to discuss the false belief of evolution with them.

        Sounds more like Mormons.
        Reminds me of a Ukranian joke : Why do the Russian secret police go around in threes? One can read, one can write, and one is there to keep an eye on those two suspicious intellectuals.
        Ka-boom, tish!
        (It started out as Bulgarians the first time I heard it, but since Ben Hur is on the goggle-box, it probably was told by Greeks about Romans.)

  31. Nobody
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Let me tell you a true story:

    I attended a three-part lecture series by Dickson at University on the historical existence of Jesus. I didn’t know the arguments against a historical Christ at that point so I was hoping for a decent laying out of archaeological, historical and even textual points for and against. But it was largely preaching to the choir, meant for the Christians on campus, not real intellectuals or the scientifically inclined like myself.

    He’s well spoken and good-natured, and as such fairly rhetorically persuasive. But he’s also seemingly a knowledgeable but poor scholar and I left pointed notes about his argumentative fallacies and evidential failures (like the tired old false line that we know more about Jesus’ existence than about the existence of certain Roman emperors, and taking the Gospels as gospel, as well as parading the Testimonium Flavianum and the other of the ancient Big Four testimonies popular with lazy apologists) on little suggestion cards we audience members were given (the ones that asked “Did you find this lecture interesting?”, etc.).

    I never heard or saw anything about John Dickson again until he appeared, years later, on the local talking-panel show “Q and A” (you should look it up; it’s good).

    Funnily enough, though, some days after the lectures I was contacted by a woman who said she wanted to ‘discuss’ my points on the cards further with me. We met at the on-campus vegetarian restaurant/café three times. She was a former industrial chemist. I wondered why she’d give up science for a Christian worldview. She answered none of my questions and wouldn’t accept many of my points, and kept seeming to sell me God’s goodness (against which I had been convinced for eight years, even if I wasn’t at that point completely sure God did not exist). I pressed her points and she finally revealed she wasn’t there to discuss anything – she was trying to convert me. Because of the emotion of the discussion immediately prior to that (and my sense of having been betrayed and led on by false pretences) I left in a quietly apoplectic huff, raging civilly as I walked away. I was ill during our next meeting and she took my reluctance to come in as a permanent end to our discussion.

    I learnt from that, and it was reinforced by plenty of later experiences, that pious Christians are never to be trusted, and that they are all disingenuous, ignorant liars (Christians that aren’t so awful I find to be universally un-pious, Christians only in name). And that apologists and biblical scholars are largely pious fools, Christians too intelligent to simply accept the bullshit on faith alone, and thus trying desperately to justify their idiocy with any ‘evidence’ they can.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Sounds like a honey trap. I hope that you got your, errm hand into the jar.

      • Nobody
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

        Heh, I wish. She was attractive, even if close on twice my age at the time, but she certainly wasn’t a honey trap. She was there purely for business, and her business was conversion. And she was married, and I would never do that sort of thing…

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

          Purely there for business? $20 on the bedside table while you go into the bathroom for a shower (taking your wallet with you). All proprieties observed.

  32. Graham
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    “It is not enough to quip that ‘intellectual’ and ‘church’ are oxymoronic.”

    Well it is actually. Let’s cut through the Gordian Knot created by Sophisticated Theology- the bottom line is that ‘intellectual’ and ‘church’ have no business appearing together in the same sentence.

  33. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    Dickson lost me with “the 1,984th Easter since 7 April AD 30”, seeing how the historical evidence for Easter has it being established as a tradition 200 years later than that. [ ]

    And “the widely accepted date among historians” is, like the current Wikipedia article on the historicity of Jesus, a white wash of disputed neutrality. “Biblical historians” mean “classical [biblical and text-based] historians when they should look at real historians for historicity. And as far as I know that area hasn’t been studied by neutral historians, because of the controversy.

    [That is why the rewrite of the earlier non-disputed neutrality Wikipedia article bugs me. It used to refer to a professional historian that described the situation and how his recent project to look at the historicity with people from all areas was defunded because of controversy.

    It is a self-fulfilling prophesy, indeed. :-/]

    So, “don’t be a Dickson”.

  34. Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Jerry, would it be all right if I attached a link here to my blog on the English Language, about going to church as an atheist at Easter?

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      I generally don’t like readers to use this site to advertise their own posts elsewhere, but I’ll countenance this once. However, that comes with the condition that you comment here from time to time.

  35. efrique
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    for the Australian Broadcasting has

    — you accidentally a word

  36. truthspeaker
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    On Easter, this atheist did what I always do – work overtime.

  37. Posted April 22, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Just in case anyone here missed this:

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  1. […] If people can fault us for not reading Aquinas, Augustine, Origen, Tertullian and (ugh) Alvin Plantinga and David Bentley Hart, well, then, we can do the same to them. If they haven’t read extensively in the honorable intellectual tradition of nonbelief, then they have no credibility as believers. Frankly, Salon should publish a piece that says this. […]

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