I get emails: a persistent Christian

I don’t know what to do with this guy. Answering him will, as I’ve learned, only provoke more emails. I have a series of three:

September 18, 2013

Dear Dr. Coyne:

My name is [REDACTED], a college student currently. I was once an irreligious person when I was a boy; however, I have experienced a vast conversion in my life which permanently changed my character from a carnally-minded selfish, rebellious child unto a spiritually-minded being who strives to do what is right in God’s standards, which do not change.

I have learned for myself that atheism is not true. My inquiries for you are these: Do you believe that I’m idiotic, deranged, or stupid in anyway? If so, do you believe we’re better than our ancestors?
Yours truly,

“Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.” – 3 Nephi 5:13
Experience has taught me that any response to this kind of email invariably triggers more emails in which the believer demands a “conversation.” Although I was tempted to answer his penultimate question, I refrained. A year later he tried again:
December 25, 2014 (Christmas Day!):

Dr. Coyne,

If you’re unwilling to answer, you could at least tell that to me. You’re probably a busy man, but it doesn’t take long to do that.

My faith remains strong. Merry Christmas, and God bless.


Again I didn’t respond.  Another email came today, nearly 7 months later. I think the fellow is getting testy.

July 25, 2016:


  1. Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    My inquiries for you are these: Do you believe that I’m idiotic, deranged, or stupid in anyway?

    Nope, just a bit deluded and a bit credulous and gullible.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:10 am | Permalink

      I would have just said “Yes”.

      One of those, anyway.

      Anyone who bugs a busy guy like PCC with a leading question like that is just asking for it, IMNSHO.


      • Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        + 1

      • Alastair Haigh
        Posted July 26, 2016 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        > One of those, anyway.

        Nicely done, nicely done.

    • Caroline
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Could be schizophrenia.

  2. infinuteimprobabilit
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    “My name is [redacted]…
    … blah blah …
    Yours truly
    [REDACTED BY JAC, who screwed up]

    Oops! 😉


    • Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      Oops indeed. I’ve fixed the error and also taken the name out of your post to protect the faithful.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        Appreciated. See my comment below (comments crossed in the post)


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      I was expecting something like that. I though PCC might have felt it necessary to remove my comment (as a logical necessity to preserve the anonymity of [redacted person]).

      I have to applaud PCC’s intellectual integrity in leaving the mistake visible.


  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    I think for Xtians anyways, they can rely on people to be there to listen to them – the priest or head honcho, other … parishioners … so far, all the non-believers have to offer is conferences and such. No Sunday coffee and all that…?

    • Posted July 26, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Coffee is better in a cup. Hot fudge is best on a Sundae.

  4. Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Perhaps he can agree to disagree? If that doesn’t work, I usually block the person’s email address.

  5. Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    What is that definition of stupidity? Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results?

    • Dave
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s insanity. Stupidity may be doing it the first time.

  6. Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    I occasionally answer similar pleas. Last one demanded that I define what he’d need to prove his god to me, and told a long sob story about getting better from sickness.

    Delusional at best, deranged is more like it, too ignorant to know how ridiculous their beliefs are.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      I had a couple like that cross my path. One claimed that his silver tooth turned to gold, as a sign from god. And that his dentist confirmed it! There was absolutely no use in trying to reason with him.
      Faith can be too strong for ‘reason’.

  7. Erwin
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    This guy is not a Christian but a Mormon (LDS). Not a huge difference, except that Joseph Smith is a prooven fraudster. So yes,
    talking to him will not do any good.

    • Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:37 am | Permalink

      Sam Harris has a wonderful statement on this:

      The spectrum between rational belief and self-serving delusion has some obvious increments: It is one thing to believe that Jesus existed and was probably a remarkable human being. It is another to accept, as most Christians do, that he was physically resurrected and will return to earth to judge the living and the dead. It is yet another leap of faith too far to imagine, as all good Mormons must, that he will work his cosmic magic from the hallowed ground of Jackson County, Missouri.

      From: On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God

    • Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Actually, Mormons are Christians. They do believe that Jesus is the Christ who was resurrected, etc. They just believe a whole lot of extra things most Christians don’t.

      (There have been times that Catholics have insisted that Protestants aren’t Christians, and vice versa.)

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 27, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        Actually, Mormons are Christians.

        By which measure, along with Muslims, they’re Jews. One god – the Abrahamic one. No other important differences except in who they consider the final (or most recent [*]) prophet and therefore in the details of their worship.
        Sithrak [**] has spits for them all. And they’re all within reach of Cthulhu’s spit, and he is not a happy bunny. Too many tentacles plus eternal life in the torment of Sithrak and the Tentacled One is really making life difficult for his neighbours.

        [*] do the Mormons cede the possibility of a new set of gold plates and revelations appearing next Wednesday, on the hallowed ground of Ulan Bataar?
        [**] The Blind Gibberer – an Equal Opportunities god who hates all, evenly, and will torment you mercilessly for all eternity regardless of how much or little you try to placate him. Nice guy. Not subtle. But if he’s feeling relatively mellow, he’ll oil the spit before barbing it up and sliding it in.

        • Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

          Monophyletic faiths!


          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted July 30, 2016 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

            If the “Hagaristic heresy” is taken at face value (Hmmm. Or armpit value; may be more accurate.) then monophyly amongst the “Peoples of the Book” would be a fair interpretation. Religious plagiarism would surprise no one with a decent contact to the “real world”.

  8. steve oberski
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    carnally-minded selfish, rebellious child

    What do these christians get up to with their children ?

    From the folk who brought us father/daughter “purity” balls and abstinence only sex education, among other perversions.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 27, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      What do these christians get up to with their children ?

      I refer the Honourable Gentleman to the answer I gave a few moments ago, invoking Sithrak, the Blind Gibberer. The Equal opportunity god, solution to all religious disputes.

  9. brokenbuffalo
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    FWIW he’s LDS. The scripture he quotes is from the Book of Mormon.

  10. Joe Savant
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Answering would be a mistake. He’s yearning to tell you his story. ThyroidPlanet was right IMO, no audience gives them no way to sensationalize their fallacious notions.

  11. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    The smart move is to say nothing. It’s very similar to tweets from Trump. It’s very hard to have a conversation with a fairy tail or ignorance.

  12. Steve Zeoli
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    It is interesting how often people who claim to be so happy and content in their beliefs feel the need to engage atheists. It signals a fear that anyone who rejects their nonsense threatens their fragile faith in that nonsense. I also wonder why this fellow needs the crutch of religion to live a moral life, but if that is what it takes, fine. Why would anyone want to argue with him?

    • Sastra
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      I don’t find it surprising that someone who is passionately interested in an issue would want to find and debate the other side, hoping to change their mind. I always think it odder when I encounter people who are passionately interested in an issue but clam up or move away when they meet someone who dissents. I’m more suspicious of the fragile faith of the latter.

      The “if you’re so happy why are you trying to make me do what you like to do” argument works for people who are engaged in a hobby. This is supposed to be about what’s factually true or not. That lends itself to debate.

      Would I engage with them in a discussion? Sure. I’d inevitably learn something interesting — either about the topic, or about human psychology. And there’s always a chance that I might persuade them — or, they’d persuade me. I think you just have to know what you’re getting into before you start, and be okay with that.

      • juan
        Posted July 26, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        Well said. Like the Mormon who wrote the emails, I too feel the need to debate those on the opposite side, and probably for the same reasons. In comparison, discussing peripheral points with my fellow atheists seems much less important/fun.

        I don’t go writing emails, but I’m surrounded by religious friends who are happy to engage me. This Mormon guy, on the other hand, probably has few atheists around with whom to discuss.

      • ploubere
        Posted July 26, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        He’s not interested in a debate, he thinks he already has the Answer and no display of logic or evidence is going to dissuade him. There is nothing to be gained by either party, but he believes that he can convert you. Is that worth your time?

        • Sastra
          Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:13 am | Permalink

          You don’t have enough information to know that he’s uninterested in debate, or incapable of engaging in a discussion, or immune to changing his mind on anything. I think there are far too many atheists who were once very much like this writer to jump to conclusions about that.

          Of course, I can’t say that you’re wrong, either. But if I find intractable dogmatism an interesting topic, too — how and why it works for some and not others, its application and limitations — then I haven’t wasted my time. There can be multiple goals for any debate. “Fine, you win” is lovely, but not realistic.

      • Steve Zeoli
        Posted July 26, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        I have yet to see a rational and restrained exchange of ideas between an atheist and a believer on the internet. Not saying they don’t exist, but I haven’t seen any, while I’ve seen many that end up in comments like, “well you’re going to burn in hell for eternity.” And clearly this is Dr. Coyne’s experience or he would have responded to the guy in the first place.

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted July 26, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

          The extended debate between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan is relatively rational and restrained. AS is not a hellfire and brimstone type and that is part of the reason why.

        • Ken Elliott
          Posted July 26, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

          Anthony Magnabosco has several exchanges on YouTube with the religious using Peter Boghossian’s Street Epistemology methods from “A Manual for Creating Atheists”. Anthony has learned a lot during his time of engagement, perfecting his approach to where he has had success in getting people who at first claim 100% faith in God, to reconsider that percentage to varying degrees. Watching a few of his exchanges is quite fun, at least it was for me.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted July 26, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

          There have been some rational, polite and restrained Christian commentors on this site, over the years. Not many, after all why would a Christian want to frequent this forum? But a few.

          (I expect there are quite a lot more Christians who don’t feel the need to identify as such, on the wildlife/biology and kitteh pages).


        • Sastra
          Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

          It probably depends a lot on the forum, the company — and the rules of the game. Many years ago I used to hang out in a few IRC chat rooms which focused on religious debate. Participants ran the gamut from trolls and “seagulls” (swoop in, make a big mess, fly off) and a rotating roster of regulars who were rational, restrained, and respected — reasonably so, at any rate. Theists included not just Born Again and Evangelicals, but priests and ministers, seminary students, theology/religious study/philosophy majors, Thomists, Presuppositionalists, postmodernists, Hindus, pagans, Mormons, and the rare Muslim. I spent most of my time trying not to get my ass kicked.

          A “Well, you’re going to burn in Hell for eternity” would have been considered an embarrassing gaffe.

  13. martiniconqueso
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    He’s a Sea Lion. Granted, a very slow-moving Sea Lion – most move on to the “Well?” stage a lot quicker than three years down the road . . .

  14. BobTerrace
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    I would continue to ignore. I have my own email domain, so it is easy for me to filter. I can even reject email as a failure and respond that there is no such username.

  15. Duncan
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    The responses are getting shorter. Perhaps silence will now ensue.

  16. Tomasz
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    I recently had a similar case when someone contacted me with a refutation of special relativity (I’m an astrophysicist). It was a good exercise to find his mistake, but when I pointed it out how to correct it, he declared it was merely a “mathematical trick” and not how thing really are. In the end I decided to stop replying, but I feel I did my duty as a scientist without provoking too much cognitive dissonance.

    So, as the guy himself suggests, the least you could do is write that you are not interested. Then you can go back to ignoring him with a cleaner conscience, as this seems to me to be the point.

    • J.Baldwin
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      Your response was, I think, the decent thing to do.

      If this young man had emailed me, or was one of my own students, I would have said something to the effect that he is not an idiot, deranged, or stupid; he’s just simply wrong in light of available evidence. He is confusing his very real emotional experience for rational thought. It happens. I might then provide him with a suggested reading or two.

      • Tomasz
        Posted July 26, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        I agree that in most such cases, we can only point someone in the right direction, let them gather more knowledge on their own. Ridicule is as bad as aggressive, heated argument. I find it surprising so many comments here are patronizing like that.

        In my case, I read how others replied to the person and no one offered real criticism, but curt lines like “stop using your GPS then”. This is ironic, because we know SR is not true, it is just the current best model. The physicist who improves it will have to go through hell, simply because others do not ask themselves the question: How would I like to be convinced I might be wrong?

        • Posted July 26, 2016 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

          Ridicule is not always bad. Sometimes it is not only eminently called for, but also an eminently effective tactic.

          • Tomasz
            Posted July 27, 2016 at 4:48 am | Permalink

            I can imagine situations when it works, but I think those are exceptions. Imagine the guy in question reading all these comments. Do you think they will change his mind? Make him respect us more? I would say not.

            The bottom line is this: do we know of a study showing that ridicule is a more effective tool than careful argument? Take Peter Boghossian’s Manual for Creating Atheists, it would be be interesting to know how well it works.

        • reasonshark
          Posted July 29, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          This is ironic, because we know SR is not true, it is just the current best model.

          I think the phrasing you want is “not a complete description of physical reality”. As far as I can tell, the worst epistemological “crimes” of SR are being incomplete and specific to certain scales and domains of reality. That’s nowhere near the same as being false, and I think it’s sloppy to phrase it that way, as if we could lump it in with astrology and geocentrism (which are false).

          • Tomasz
            Posted July 30, 2016 at 8:33 am | Permalink

            I think I know what phrasing I want 😉 Just call a model that works 100% of the time true. SR is not true exactly in the same sense as goecentrism – they both give various predictions which are observationally confirmed and also others which are not. They differ quantitatively in both the number of phenomena predicted and accuracy in favour of SR, but that is not enough to call geocentrism simply false and SR merely incomplete.

            Any lumping will of course depend on the context, and here, even if the person in question actually demonstrated a contradiction, that would not change SR’s status in the ladder of physical theories. It wouldn’t be openly called false from that day on, like Newton’s mechanics is not called false, even though they both are. Think of physics 5000 years from now. Or just GR, then SR is already somewhat like geocentrism.

            So I feel the distinction you make is purely linguistic, perhaps practical in textbooks, but not in research.

            • reasonshark
              Posted July 30, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              Just call a model that works 100% of the time true.

              Why should I? If a court is trying to decide the truth of a case, they’re not going to sit and wait for 100% confirmation. At most, it’s philosophical pedantry, akin to claiming all theists are atheists if they don’t 100% believe.

              We live in a statistical and probabilistic universe where “true” and “false” can be used to describe non-absolute situations. My distinction is not a “linguistic” (i.e. pedantic and trivial) distinction at all. Yours is.

              That distinction between geocentrism and SR, for instance, is pedantic and trivial. I’m fully aware of the continuum from 0% true statements to 100% true statements, with gradations of possibility, plausibility, and likelihood at various places along it relative to internal and external consistency of the claims, its fit in a general body of knowledge, and the statistical robustness of the evidence and tests used to justify confidence in it. I agree that both ideas fit on that scale, that neither of them are absolutely true, and that had the universe turned out differently, it’s possible one could trade places with the other.

              But lumping them both in as “false” is ridiculous. It’s like lumping radio waves and gamma waves together under the same wavelength simply because they’re on the same spectrum. They’re several magnitudes apart, and that’s significant. Given what we know about the universe, geocentrism would (metaphorically speaking) need a miracle to ever be taken seriously by rational people. Special Relativity, by contrast, does a good job of explaining much of the universe on many scales and has been tested and confirmed on multiple lines of evidence. However provisionally, it is as good a candidate for “true” status as many other things we accept as true in both quotidian and in common sense ways.

              Alternatively, you might be in the matrix, in which case this reply does not exist. I wonder if that idea is practical in research too.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted July 30, 2016 at 5:29 pm | Permalink


                I was going to comment that, for all practical purposes, Special relativity is ‘true’, as is Newtonian mechanics. You need extraordinarily precise measurements to find any deviation from it. Unless you’re into exotic technology like spaceflight, astronomy or nuclear physics, Newton is ‘true’.

                I’d suspect that, since reality is slightly fuzzy round the edges, it’s impossible for any statement to be precisely 100%* ‘true’ or ‘false’. (* i.e. not 99.99999%. If, as is implicit in everyday use, we accept 99.9% to be ‘near enough 100%’, then in common parlance something can be ‘100% true’.)

                Everything is an approximation. This is something young engineers have to get their heads around.


              • Tomasz
                Posted July 31, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

                I agree, the relevant distinction is between practical purposes and theories. I wouldn’t say it’s true in 99%, I would speak precisely in terms of confidence intervals etc., which would tell me more exactly what number to expect within what limits.

                But as it happens I AM into exotic and extreme physics, so for me it is natural to say both Newton and SR are false in that context.

                Normally and while teaching students I do say they are true, mainly because of how great of an approximation they are.

              • Tomasz
                Posted July 31, 2016 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

                That sentence was a premise, to introduce what I meant, but there is a good reason why you should, which is also the answer to your last remark. For brains in the vat, reality – all they can know and model – is just what the simulation entails. For a vat it would be even more possible to give a 100% true description of the perceived reality. If there is no vat, we still aim at 100%, obviously we will not be satisfied with 99%. So e.g., courts of justice are no golden standard here.

                There is no continuum of truth in maths or physics, and the universe is not statistical in the sense you seem to imply (some would even say it’s not probabilistic because of axiomatic status of probability in quantum mechanics – I can elaborate on this if you wish). We use statistics as a tool for analysing data, but we don’t really mean “there’s a 65% chance that the mass is 9kg”.

                This is why I said it was linguistic, you provide common sense examples and quotidian understanding, and I know what you meant but your examples break down in some way.

                Geocentrism was taken seriously by rational people. Because they had no other rational choice given data and theories of their time – what we know today doesn’t change that. Electromagnetic waves can very well be lumped together when you consider general Maxwell equation, and not e.g. human health. SR assumes a flat manifold, and is the model of the local tangent space but not even a candidate for a true status, etc.

                The point is, when a theoretical physicist works on real fundamentals, _everything_ is questioned and elements are true or false, no need for semantic flourish.

      • Brendan Reid
        Posted July 26, 2016 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

        I really do appreciate your use of the simple word “wrong”.

        • Brendan Reid
          Posted July 26, 2016 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

          That was supposed to be a response to J Baldwin. Although anyone who uses the word “wrong” gets my up vote!

          • Tomasz
            Posted July 27, 2016 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

            Likewise! People should appreciate the difference between “you’re wrong” and “you’re stupid and I hate everything you stand for.”

    • Sastra
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      A famous physicist (I forget which one) claimed to have come up with a perfect solution for dealing with the many crank theories he received. As I recall, he’d save each letter and, when he was sent a new one, would reply something to the effect of “Unfortunately, I do not have time to deal effectively with your intriguing hypothesis, but would recommend that you contact a colleague who has worked in this field.” And then he would give the new crackpot the name and address of one of the other crackpots.

      Presumably, they would then spend their time and energy happily trying to convince each other. The physicist, at any rate, wouldn’t hear back.

      This tale might be apocryphal, but I like it.

      • Tomasz
        Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Even if apocryphal, that sounds like a fun way of dealing with crowds of crackpots, I’ll have to remember it for the future!

        It wouldn’t have worked that time though, because he seems to already have known other crackpots, with whom he shared my address. Following my reply I received other letters, but unlike the first, those were just mysticism and/or conspiracy theories (so that was a downside to my approach).

      • Nat
        Posted July 26, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        And then there’s the reply attributed to G.B. Shaw — “Sir: I am sitting in the smallest room of the house. I have your review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me.”

  17. Amyt
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    “I have never met you. I do not know you. As a scientist I cannot say one way or the other if you are any of these things. I am not a psychologist/psychiatrist. Yes, I am a very busy man and unlikely to respond to you in the future. In lieu of future communication here is a list of books you may find of interest. ”
    Then provide him a reading list of dozens and dozens of books that will keep him busy for a log, long time.
    I would like to see this list as well. Maybe readers could chime in with their PCCE score.

  18. alexandra moffat
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    His faith cannot be very strong, it needs constant protestations of faith! And it seems to crave approval from an atheist(s) with a hint of desire to convert? Beware, religious manias are scary.
    Have never understood the concept of apostasy: If one’s faith is so weak as to depend on conversion and suppression, what is its worth? In various religion discussions I have not heard this discussed – in a debate form. Did Christopher H tackle and thus expose, dispose of, this aspect of religion idiocy? Punishment for blasphemy is, to me, the worst sin of religion.

  19. Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I have never had a satisfactory engagement with a Xian on the web (discussions or email).

    I used to engage them; but I’ve stopped as a waste of time. For a while it was helpful in causing me to carefully write out what I thought about things. I even wrote a long essay of sorts on the subject (why I am an atheist), just top save time in responding.

    In all cases, I had to end up throwing up my hands. The usual outcomes were:

    1. The Black Knight outcome. The interlocutor would have all his/her arguments and points refuted but would continue to claim victory and taunt: Merely a flesh wound! Come back here you sissy!

    2. The Zombie outcome: They would just keep repeating the same refuted stuff.

    3. The Door Slam outcome: They would go off in a huff claiming I was foolish, ignorant, illogical, etc.

    The nearest thing I came to a satisfactory outcome was when one person (discussion on Amazon re: A book) contacted me via Amazon and then we had a discussion via email. I ended up sending them my essay and then never heard from them again.

    • steve oberski
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Don’t forget the “playing chess with pigeons” outcome:

      When they knock over the pieces, shit on the board and then fly back to the flock claiming victory.

    • BobTerrace
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      You need to use the biggest weapon in you arsenal:

      Nyah, nyah, poo, poo, I win.

  20. Ray Leonard
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    There is a classic Irish response to gobshites: –

    “Would you ever fuck off and not be annoying me!”

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      The classic Irish farewell – “May the road rise up to meet you” – always sounded quite painful to me.

      • Posted July 26, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        After a few whiskeys I’m sure falling down can indeed seem like the road rising up.

      • Posted August 2, 2016 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        Yes, we were touring around Ireland on bicycles. That was not a good farewell! There were plenty of hills to climb without you wishing us more of them!

        Which also brings to mind something a (young, single, partying) work colleague said to me one time: “I went to this party. They had the nicest carpet! It was amazing to look at as it flew up and hit me in the face!”

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 2, 2016 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

          It’s when you have to hang on to the carpet because the floor keeps moving that you know you’ve had enough.


  21. Roger
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Gotta love the “God bless”.

  22. Sastra
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    What, no satisfactory engagements with Christians on the internet? Why, I’ve had LOTS of satisfactory engagements with Christians over the internet!

    Lower the bar, man, lower the bar.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      That was supposed to be a response to jblilie #19.

  23. antichrist
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    As some of the commenters point out – engaging in a rational discussion is pointless. I gave up on that a while ago, it doesn’t go through to the Xian’s common sense, there’s a wall of “faith” in front. I am trying ridicule of religion now…we’ll see how that will turn out.

  24. Doug Gray
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    To me the most revealing line is “My faith remains strong”. I suspect he is seeking an interaction with you so that at its conclusion he can claim his faith has withstood this great test. Forgive the comparison, but it is rather like handling the venomous snakes. Only those whose faith is strong will survive!

  25. J. Quinton
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    I would suggest that our incorrigible Mormon read the neurology book On Being Certain: Believing You’re Right Even When You’re Not to find the answer(s) to his question, instead of pestering the good doctor.

  26. Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I was driving my farm truck in central Florida and picked up a hitchhiker. He was rough. Smelled awful, clothes a mess. He was obviously having a tough life.
    First thing he says as he settles in: “Do you believe in our lord and savior Jesus Christ?”
    Without wasting a second, I said, “You bet I do.” He never said another word, not even a ‘thanks’ when I dropped him off at the next town.

    Sometimes you have to give the mentally unbalanced what they want and move on. I know that Jerry can’t do that with this fellow. I think ignoring him and deleting the e-mails as they arrive is the only realistic response. Anything else is a waste of time which could be put to much better use.

  27. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    … to do what is right in God’s standards, which do not change.

    How can anyone seriously claim this? Is slavery still acceptable? Is killing Amalekites still acceptable?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      First, find an Amalekite. They’re all dead and fossilised, prob’ly on account of the Jews killed them all.

      Oh, noes, that’s Ammonites, isn’t it?


  28. Kevin Meredith
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    I love where he says he “strives to do what is right in God’s standards, which do not change”

    If he’s Mormon/LDS, he might want to study up on what happened in 1978. Before then, black men couldn’t be Mormon priests. Then God, um, changed his standards and decided black men could be Mormon priests.


    • Posted July 26, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      One of the earliest bishops of the Mormons was a black man. When the Mormons ended up in Missouri, they so enraged the Missourians with their relative acceptance of blacks, after acts of violence against them, they changed to a stance of no full membership of blacks, especially no black bishops. Much later on, they had to modify this position yet again. For fun, let’s call this “evolution”.

      They had similar changes of mind about: the place of women in the church (a la St. Paul), preventing women from using seer stones and prophesying, going from a one husband-one wife marriage model to requiring polygamy, changing from drinkers of alcoholic beverages (at least by the leadership) to required abstention, changing from the establishment of a separate Mormon nation to remaining in the union. Etc.

      From the beginning of this “faith”, there has been one set of unspoken rules for the leadership and another set of spoken and written rules for the followers. When trouble comes, they change the rules for the followers and all those outside the “faith”, but the leadership continues as they wish. Lying to non-Mormons is OK. They’ve done it in testimony to Congress. (Actually, Mormon leadership has done this with Mormon underlings as well.)

      This is a long way around to suggest that WEIT’s Mormon correspondent become much more familiar with the history of his “faith”. He might have another change of heart and do less proselytizing.

  29. Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I think I might have replied: “Yes, thanks for asking.” to the last email.

  30. Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Nitnoid. Dec 2014 to July 2016 is 19 months.

    This dude is strange. Persistent, but strange. One would think that after 3 years he could figure out on his own the likelihood of a response. Is he idiotic, deranged or stupid? I think we have evidence that addresses at least 2 of the 3.

  31. Kevin Colquitt
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Annoying Interlocutor wrote: “I was once an irreligious person when I was a boy…”

    Yeah, yeah, so you say…but somehow I doubt it. This seems to be the rote claim of every Christian: “I was an atheist when I was young and selfish, when I was carnally-minded.”

    Persistently Annoying Interlocutor wrote: “I have learned for myself that atheism is not true.”

    That’s interesting, how so, since “Atheism” makes no claims at all.

    I would like to know if any atheists here practice “Atheism”? I don’t and wouldn’t know how to do so. I’m an atheist because I don’t believe in any deities. I don’t believe in any deities because I’m rational and skeptical. I’m skeptical because the world is populated with con-artists and liars who will gladly fill the ears of anyone who will listen with endless tales of impossible events, mythical creatures and super powered human beings-none of which ever have any evidence to support them.

  32. Kevin Meredith
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Something else that might be relevant: A lot of Xians believe God can take over their minds when they witness, per Jesus. Like, put words in their mouths to save people etc. Very good chance this guy thinks that if Jerry & he start talking, Jesus will give him the magic spell that will turn Jerry into a Bible-banger.

  33. rom
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    My reply would be short and go something like this:

    Dear Redacted,

    I think the universe has unfolded in away that we have almost diametrically opposed beliefs with respect to Christianity and similar religions.

    Yours faithfully,

  34. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I have learned for myself that atheism is not true. What the heck does that mean exactly? Atheists do not preach a truth but we do doubt the existence of all gods provisionally, based on evidence.

    I strongly suspect there are lots of feels here. Don’t bring a feeling to a fact fight, as John Oliver might say.

  35. Martin Knowles
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    It’s unlikely that the individual will accept anything as an honest response.He’ll keep coming back for more. Sorry to say he does sound like he would meet the criteria for a mental disorder of the obsessive, delusional kind.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      His letter could also be part of a class assignment, or a technique taught to missionaries who can’t go door to door and talk to people in person. The follow-up is on the list. The original letter is boilerplate which he put into his own words. Maybe.

      • Martin Knowles
        Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

        I suspect that the only outcome you can expect from that technique is to have people annoyed and too willing to just end the exchange on a sour note.

        • Sastra
          Posted July 27, 2016 at 8:17 am | Permalink

          Not necessarily. They might be both motivated and naive, which usually translates into optimistic. A lot of former Christians talk about what happened when they confidently put their awesome airtight arguments to the test.

  36. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Well, at least he got less rude during the imagined conversation, from telling his magic incantations of shortening length to an impatient question.

    The last step is his stopping trying, without even a farewell. (One could wish.)

  37. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    He’s pretty arrogant sending an unsolicited e-mail and nearly two years later sending follow-up that simply says “well?” as if there’s every reason in the world that JAC will remember the original message! I wonder if he imagines that Jerry does not get much mail.

    (I am amazed that Jerry actually DID recognise who the message came from and linked it back to the original post. I think this guy would have been long-since wiped clean from my memory, both electronic and biological.)

  38. Alpha Neil
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    “do you believe we’re better than our ancestors?” You mean cyanobacteria? In many respects yes.

  39. jrhs
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    My reply would be: “Pray and seek answers.”

  40. Kevin
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    [My response]
    Name redacted:

    None of what deludes you speaks to me. That’s the beautiful thing about the universe. Trillions of stars down to the iota of oxygen molecules you have just breathed, none of them caring what you or I believe. That is pure awesomeness.

  41. Posted July 26, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Dear Redacted

    Thank you for your inquiry concerning your mental health. I have forwarded it to the appropriate department for review. You can expect a reply when and if they make their determination.

    Thank you for your interest in WEIT.

    Yours truly


    Please do not reply to this E-mail, as we are unable to respond to messages sent to this address.

  42. Colin
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    After a decade of debating/debunking theists, whether online or the zombies at my door, I’m convinced that people who want to share their religious views with you never want you to share yours with them. They simply don’t give a tinker’s cuss about what’s true. Their only interest is maintaining their fantasy world. I just refer them to an atheist forum, where they never join (cowards) because they know damn well that they’ll get their heads taken off.

    Having said that, there is something to be said for planting seeds of doubt, and those are best planted through a friendly engagement. With us social creatures, if we don’t “like” the person delivering the message, we won’t be inclined to accept the message.

  43. scottoest
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Do I believe we are “better” than our ancestors? In some ways, sure. Do I believe we KNOW more than our ancestors did? Absolutely.

    I sometimes wonder what people like this think ancient human civilizations were actually like.

    As for “I’ve learned for myself that atheism isn’t true” – I’d actually have gone back to him, asking for a detailed explanation of how he learned such a thing, remaining cognizant of what the word “learn” means. What research did he do? What books did he read? What experience did he have? How was this lack of truth revealed to him? Can we test it?

    Obviously we know the answers to some of these questions before we even ask, but if he sincerely wants to engage you, I’d be curious to know what he has to say for himself.

  44. Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I might’ve responded with, short, honest answers to his questions and then stipulated that the correspondence was ended. Any further emails would not receive a reply.

    • Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      No idea where that extra comma came from.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 26, 2016 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

        Second Law of Linguadynamics. Commas as a form of entropy. 😉


  45. Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Do you believe that I’m idiotic, deranged, or stupid in anyway?


    But it’s ok, just like “we’re all sinners”, we’re all a little bit deranged.

  46. Sastra
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    My reply:
    Dear (redacted);
    You asked me a question: do I believe that you are idiotic, deranged, or stupid for coming to the conclusion that God exists?

    No, of course not. There are many intelligent, thoughtful, and perfectly sane people who believe in God. I don’t think you are stupid; I think you are mistaken.

    That is all.

    While only one conclusion is correct, of course, it’s not an obvious conclusion or there wouldn’t be so much honest disagreement between good people. It seems to me that the belief that it’s all about character, and that one side is “carnally-minded, selfish, and rebellious” — while the other side is perfect sweetness and light — does not reflect real humans, and the often complicated reasons we believe what we do.

    Thank you for your inquiry,


    • Brendan Reid
      Posted July 26, 2016 at 7:04 pm | Permalink


  47. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Could one dare ask them to explain how they can be “their” religion and not some other religion?

    Although Dawkins makes a strong point that childhood indoctrination by parents accounts for a majority of religion’s survival, there are always people to be found who can “convert” somehow, for instance some US HoR member name of Chaffetz or something like that? Went from Judaism to Mormonism.

  48. Posted July 26, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear, be careful. I’m glad you post some of these on here because I agree this person is getting “testy.”

    There is nothing to gain by entering into an honor brawl with this person, which would likely function to entrench his belief further. He strikes me as having picked you as the nemesis embodying his unconscious nagging that his beloved thinking is flawed. My guess is that he’d do about anything to win the fight and suppress his own unquieted mind.

    I think its wise to keep some distance on this one.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 27, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      There is nothing to gain by entering into an honor brawl with this person,

      … since he has no honour to lose.
      I can’t remember the source, but there’s the line about not wrestling in the mud with a pig, in no small part because the pig enjoys it.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 27, 2016 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        ‘Never wrestle with a pig. You both end up covered in shit but the pig enjoys it.’

        That one?


        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted July 27, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

          There are variants, but Great Aunt Sally would probably still find something to object to in all of them.

  49. Jeff Morgan
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Dear Prof Coyne

    To the third email I can only suggest the response often used by the late, lamented Dudley Moore in his guise as “Derek”. To whit, “Fuck off, cunt”.

    That should do the trick.

    • Posted July 26, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Personally, I might turn a blind eye if you’d said, “Fuck off, dickwad”, because that wouldn’t have been misogynistic. But, that’s just me…

  50. Posted July 26, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    It’s all in God’s hands [wink, wink, nudge, nudge]. When God wants you to respond, PCC(E), you’ll do so. In the meanwhile, the very unChristian patience of writer proves he lacks trust in God. 😀

  51. Posted July 26, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Eventually, he should get tired of shouting into the wind and give up.

    Unfortunately, any dialogue will be no doubt useless. He is high on religio-juice and only looking for a way to foist it on you. This is not a request for a conversation, but rather an attempt to goad you into giving the impression that you are listening to his ravings. Don’t rise to the bait.

  52. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Due to the goading nature of the comment, I would be disinclined to reply, but if I did I would be inclined to inquire why this fellow wrote specifically to me(JAC) as opposed to Michael Shermer, Dan Barker, or any number of other freethought activists.

    I have had occasional moments of e-mailing authors I either liked or disagreed with, but almost always with regard to something specific that they wrote, and in some cases because I mostly liked what they wrote but had a strong quarrel with one point or chapter in a book I otherwise liked a lot.

    This guy seems to have contacted Jerry Coyne out of the blue and his e-mail makes NO references to specific website-post, articles, or books by JAC. This is IMO a red flag.

  53. Posted August 4, 2016 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    “Do you believe that I’m idiotic, deranged, or stupid in anyway?”

    This question betrays the painful fact that religious people often have a very twisted view of how atheists view religion. Either because they’ve been told to expect this by church leaders or due to some other form of poor thinking.

    This is the first question my wife of almost 20 years (at the time) asked me when I eventually ‘came out’. Someone who should have known me better than to ask that, but her religious prejudice overruled her knowledge.

    This sort of question does not deserve an answer, the thinking religioso will ask more intelligent questions.

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