Easter special: Nicholas Kristof asks President Carter if the claims of Christianity are real

Jimmy Carter is perhaps the US President that I’ve most admired in my lifetime for living his ideas, particularly after he left the White House. He works tirelessly for good causes like Habitat for Humanity, is kind and humble, hasn’t tried to enrich himself,  left his Southern Baptist church because it denigrated equal rights for women, and took his terminal cancer diagnosis with equanimity (he may actually be okay now).

But I’ve never really been clear about the nature of his religious beliefs. Yes, he’s a Baptist, but does he buy into all the Christian mythology?

Apparently he does, at least according to an interview conducted by Nicholas Kristof for the New York Times, “President Carter, am I a Christian?” Kristof poses some tough questions for Carter, who simply affirms his belief in Christian mythology—at the same time he rejects creationism because he claims to accept science!

Here’s a bit of the interview:

ME: How literally do you take the Bible, including miracles like the Resurrection?

PRESIDENT CARTER: Having a scientific background, I do not believe in a six-day creation of the world that occurred in 4004 B.C., stars falling on the earth, that kind of thing. I accept the overall message of the Bible as true, and also accept miracles described in the New Testament, including the virgin birth and the Resurrection.

I find this stunning. Carter rejects the Genesis story of creation because he has a scientific background, but accepts the equally unbelievable Biblical story of the Resurrection because  his faith tells him it’s true (see below). This is gold-standard cognitive dissonance, but he can get away with it because we have no evidence bearing on the Resurrection save conflicting Biblical claims (and the absence of parthenogenic reproduction in humans), but tons of scientific evidence against creationism.

But wait: there’s more! Carter tells us why he accepts these ancient accounts (except for those in Genesis, of course):

 [KRISTOF]: With Easter approaching, let me push you on the Resurrection. If you heard a report today from the Middle East of a man brought back to life after an execution, I doubt you’d believe it even if there were eyewitnesses. So why believe ancient accounts written years after the events?

[CARTER]: I would be skeptical of a report like you describe. My belief in the resurrection of Jesus comes from my Christian faith, and not from any need for scientific proof. I derive a great personal benefit from the totality of this belief, which comes naturally to me.

The fact that something helps you or makes you feel better has no bearing on its truth! His dismissal of even the need for a scientific evaluation of the Resurrection shows that he’s not really operating rationally here. And he’s taking as fact whatever gives him “personal benefit”.

But wait: there’s more!

[KRISTOF]  I think of you as an evangelical, but evangelicalism implies belief in inerrancy of Scripture. Do you share that, and if so, how do you account for contradictions within the Gospels?

[CARTER]. I look on the contradictions among the Gospel writers as a sign of authenticity, based on their different life experiences, contacts with Jesus and each other. If the earlier authors of the Bible had been creating an artificial document, they would have eliminated disparities. I try to absorb the essence and meaning of the teachings of Jesus Christ, primarily as explained in the letters written by Paul to the early churches. When there are apparent discrepancies, I make a decision on what to believe, respecting the equal status and rights of all people.

Usually it is the consilience of different accounts that gives veracity; that’s the way science establishes what’s true. In Carter’s case, though, he takes discrepancies to be evidence for truth! And then, based on what he wants to believe, he simply punts and decides which Gospel is true.

Finally, Carter affirms his belief in the literal efficacy of prayer (something disproven in at least one good scientific study of heart patients), but then dismisses the need to show that prayer is efficacious after Kristof cleverly raises the “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” question:

[KRISTOF]: Do you pray daily, and if so, do you believe in the efficacy of prayer in a miracle kind of way, or in a psychologically-this-helps-me-deal-with-the-world kind of way?

[CARTER]: I pray often during each day, and believe in the efficacy of prayer in both ways. In my weekly Bible lessons, I teach that our Creator God is available at any moment to any of us, for guidance, solace, forgiveness or to meet our other needs. My general attitude is of thanksgiving and joy.

But then Carter says that some exigent needs can’t be met by God:

[KRISTOF]: Skeptics have noted that when prayers are “answered,” there is usually an alternative explanation. But an amputee can pray for a new leg, and a new leg never grows back. Isn’t that a reason to believe that prayer helps internally, but doesn’t access miracles?

[CARTER]: It is usually impossible to convince skeptics. For me, prayer helps internally, as a private conversation with my creator, who knows everything and can do anything. If I were an amputee, my prayer would be to help me make the best of my condition, to be a good follower of the perfect example set by Jesus Christ and to be thankful for life, freedom and opportunities to be a blessing to others. We are monitoring the status of cancer in my liver and brain, and my prayers are similar to this.

If I were an amputee, and believed that God could literally answer prayers, I’d be praying for a new leg!!

I wonder what would convince Carter that these stories in which he rests his faith are fiction.

Here we have a man who says he accepts the tenets of science, but then rejects them if they yield conclusions that don’t make him feel good. In that sense, he’s evincing intellectual hypocrisy. But of course, that’s the mindset required to be a believer yet also feel that you’re modern, liberal, and on board with science.

Yes, I still admire President Carter greatly: he’s a good man who does good works. But I now view him as somewhat delusional and self-deceiving, and thus I’ll never be able to see him in quite the same way again.


  1. Posted April 16, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    <> 😂

    In seriousness, Jerry, it must be disheartening for you to have inevitably lost even an iota of the deep admiration you have for this man, who has much to admire. I understand and know I would find myself in a similar situation…

  2. Ron
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I like Dan Barker’s question: “If you were God, would you go back in time and stop 9/11 attacks? People typically say, “yes,” to which he replies, “well, you are better than your God.”

    • Wunold
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Measured to human moral standards, God would be guilty of countless acts of failure to render assistance. Or as JT Eberhard put it bluntly:

      Remember: each time a priest has diddled a child, if god exists then he was right there in the room, able to stop the priest, but chose not to.

      • Posted April 16, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        As I’ve put it countless times, why doesn’t Jesus ever call 9-1-1? Bad cell tower reception in Heaven? Too busy imperceptibly guiding game-winning touchdown passes?

        If a schoolteacher has a moral imperative to report suspected cases of child abuse, Jesus has at least the same imperative — especially in cases where he’s the only adult with knowledge of the abuse aside from the abuser. If he’s worried about that whole “free will” nonsense, he can trivially make the phone call anonymously with a disguised voice and the lot, only providing enough details to the authorities for them to remedy the situation.

        It’s the very least you or I would do, and it’s not even as much as many children actually do do.

        But Jesus never does.

        Nor, of course, does any other deity — but Jesus is the local favored god, and allegedly all-knowing and all-powerful and all-loving with a special place in his heart for suffering little children.

        And, yet, countless of his official agents, acting in his official capacity and invoking his name to terrify their victims into submission, have raped children in their care…all whilst Jesus has remained perfectly silent.

        Maybe the priests have some sort of really nasty blackmail on Jesus such that he’s terrified of them and doesn’t dare show his face…?




        • Ron
          Posted April 16, 2017 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

          Thank you Wunold and Ben! Excellent arguments and examples.

        • Wunold
          Posted April 17, 2017 at 2:57 am | Permalink

          If he’s worried about that whole “free will” nonsense, he can trivially make the phone call anonymously with a disguised voice and the lot

          Even then, he’d be putting the free will of the offender before that of the victim. That’s one of the problems of the “free will” explanation of the Theodicy, right after the many evils of the world that have no (other than God’s) will behind them.

          If we leave the world = earth, 99,̅9% of God’s creation will kill us in under two minutes. (A human can survive approx. 90 seconds in space, although lose consciousness after about 14 seconds.)

          • Wunold
            Posted April 17, 2017 at 3:00 am | Permalink

            Hm, WordPress doesn’t place the unicode overbar correctly. It was meant to be above the last nine of 99,9.

  3. Geoff Toscano
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Cognitive dissonance like this turns the word ‘but’ into the most significant word in the English language.

    “I believe in science but….”
    “I don’t believe in ghosts but….”
    “I respect your opinions but….”

    I always liked Jimmy Carter, if only because he’s the only US President I’ve seen in the flesh but (look, now I’m doing it) cultural brainwashing can take down even the best.

  4. Posted April 16, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Carter was a decent, intelligent and hard-working president who, despite his failures, I would trade for the current one in a NY minute. His failures, however, were real and due in large part to his inability to distinguish the way things were from the way he wanted them to be.

  5. Karen Fierman
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I seriously doubt that Jimmy Carter is either delusional or self-deceiving. He’s OLD, been part of the church forever … in GEORGIA. He teaches Bible study classes. He can’t just come out and say that he takes it ALL as allegory or metaphor. I have no doubt that he DOES believe in the VALUE of the Christian religion, of BEING a believer. To HIM, this value (the teachings of Jesus and what behavior they might inspire in believers)is more important than whether or not someone does or does not believe LITERALLY. The GOODNESS of the teachings outweigh all. He IS a GOOD man but, perhaps, naive—failing to fully appreciate the DOWN side of religion (in this case, Christianity) in terms of the NEGATIVE effects it has on society. I would not be too hard on him.

    • Posted April 16, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      “I seriously doubt that Jimmy Carter is either delusional or self-deceiving.”

      So you’re implying that the alternative is true, which is that he’s lying, but that’s apparently something that you can’t just come out and say.

      • Posted April 16, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, I shouldn’t have worded that so strongly. Yes, Jimmy Carter is a good man and I’ve always liked him too. Maybe it’s just his ingrained behavior as a long-time politician to always preserve his public image.

        • Karen Fierman
          Posted April 16, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          No, no, you missed my point. It’s not HIS public image he’s trying to protect; it’s about not wanting to ruin the Christian trip for the literal believers (like not wanting to inform a kid there’s no Easter Bunny). Jimmy BELIEVES in the ability of Christianity to produce a desired result (better human beings). So, yes, he’s lying … as in: the end justifies the means, ha ha.

  6. Randy schenck
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I suppose the fact that he is willing to expose his religion and beliefs are something but then many do. It really just goes to prove that a good long brainwashing is very hard to erase. At his age any change of mind would be the miracle. If he were 5 or 6, you might have a shot.

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    A level of consilience in the midst of disparity is OK (though not definitive) evidence in the case of conflicting accounts, but radical divergence of accounts is not.
    The birth of Jesus accounts are much harder to internally reconcile than the divergent resurrection accounts, and the problems of reconciling the latter have been copiously analyzed by Gerd Ludemann.
    In the birth accounts, you have conflicting genealogies but more importantly conflicting accounts of the motive of why Jesus’ parents are in Bethlehem to begin with.

    I certainly share Jerry Coyne’s deep admiration for Jimmy Carter, and his willingness to abandon the Southern Baptists.

    Ironically, a chief failing of his administration was that he didn’t publicize his successes enough.

  8. Posted April 16, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Wikipedia defines cognitive dissonance as “mental stress (discomfort) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values…”

    When there’s no mental stress involved, and people are apparently pleased with their flawed and irrational reconciliation of reality with their holy books, I prefer George Orwell’s term, “doublethink.”

    • Posted April 16, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I was imprecise in my use of that word; I don’t think Carter has any mental discomfort.

  9. Posted April 16, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I think a large part of what makes the New Testament miracles believable for the faithful is their smallness. As far as I can recall, they are all one-offs. Someone is healed of their leprosy. A blind man can see. Water into wine at a specific time and place. The virgin birth and resurrection of a single person.

    Psychologically, I think it’s far easier for people to rationalize that a miraculous exception could have occurred that had no lasting effect on present day, that affected just one or a handful of long-gone people. The Genesis creation story is absurd to them because it contradicts the known science of the universe. The flood is only metaphorical because it contradicts the known science of the world. But the virgin birth and resurrection are seen as plausible because they only require a one-off exception to the established science, not willfully ignoring it.

    Of course, this type of rationale only works if you don’t actually understand how science operates; more precisely, if you don’t understand the difference between established impossibilities (e.g. a human resurrection) and statistical exceptions (e.g. a cancer patient suddenly cured with no explanation). But most people don’t understand how science actually operates, and I would venture to say that most wouldn’t understand this distinction between the foundationally impossible and the exception to a general causal rule.

    • ploubere
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink


    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      Look up Crucifixion Darkness on Wikipedia. There ought to be records of the event outside the Gospels, but there doesn’t seem to be. And some Gospels are more (ahem) elaborate than the others.

  10. Historian
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    The only thing surprising about Carter’s religious views is that he rejects the biblical account of Genesis. He has always been an evangelical and has made no bones about that. But, the nuances of his views on Christian theology are not important. As far as I can recall, he never tried to foist his views on anybody else, in contrast to most evangelicals. Also, he has remained in the Democratic Party, although as president he was far from liberal. Evangelicals with the political views of Carter are exactly the type of people that Democrats, and, yes, liberals need to go after. Wooing back a segment of evangelicals that now vote knee-jerk Republican, even if it is a relatively small percent (say 10%), would certainly contribute to the Democrats putting together a winning coalition, sorely lacking in recent years, particularly on the state level. As I have said previously on this site, if you want to get things done through the political system, you need to abandon childish notions of purity. It is much better to get fifty percent of what you want rather than nothing. As a Democrat and liberal, I would welcome more people like Jimmy Carter into the party. I only hope that the Democrats can develop a strategy to get them. Realistically, the abortion issue represents the biggest obstacle.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      I really do not see the abortion issue as the obstacle to more people like Jimmy Carter coming to the democratic party. The Democratic party has both pro and anti abortion members and it is very likely that Carter is anti-abortion. The big, significant difference between his belief on the issue and the Republican belief is – who wants to force their belief on others.

      Carter would be one of the few southern Democrats who remained Democrat because he remained loyal to most of it’s principles when all around him they flipped to Republican because of the biggest southern issue at the time, civil rights.

    • Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      “The only thing surprising about Carter’s religious views is that he rejects the biblical account of Genesis…”

      The way I see it, Carter has a scientific background (or so he claims) and this makes him doubt and reject Jewish mythology and stick to strictly Christian mythology only.

      • Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        That’s also what I took understood from it.

  11. Posted April 16, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Growing up in an Evangelical church in rural Appalachia, I can totally understand where Carter is coming from. You grow up in a culture where anything and everything gets attributed to God. I knew several people who were well-educated in their specific fields but maintained a deep and abiding faith in the supernatural claims of Christianity. I can forgive Carter his devotion to his faith as his actions and deeds have greatly benefited our country and people. I toured the Carter Presidential Library here in Atlanta and even though I lived through his time in office, I still learned surprising new facts about his life. He clearly has the greatest post-Presidential career in the history of the office.

    I’d rather have a “true” Christian like Cater as POTUS than the nightmare of an amoral opportunistic conman like Trump who worships nothing but his own ego. Ironically, the Evangelical community turned against Carter and he is widely despised by “good” conservative Christians to this day. These same “good” conservative Christians overwhelmingly support Trump. This proves that the goal of the Christian Right is not to promote the “Good News” of Jesus but to gain political power to impose their version of Sharia Law upon our country. Jimmy Carter would never have bought into this hijacking of our secular Constitutional Republic.

  12. Blue
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I am heartened to read / to see Dr Coyne’s last paragraph here. Cognitive dissonance is particularly something with which I have to deal … … in persons with whom I interact hourly, my working at a ” … … University of Science and Technology.”

    Once I know of someone’s hypocrisy re something and unless by that person that thinking and those acts / that behavior of hers or his are denounced, renounced and eventually, of course, turned around (consider here: no free will !), why then, I too cannot ever again view that person as I did .before. this knowledge of the hypocrisy came to me.


    • Blue
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      re former presidents, or anyone really no matter their age or geography or upbringing, who teach religions’ classes or from pulpits preach magic and superstition (what Mr Hitchens describes as “child abuse”), today’s as good a holiday as any other day for encouraging them all to know of, then to act upon their joining up with, the existence of This Deal: the Clergy Project of

      “The Clergy Project – Religious Leaders Beyond Belief clergyproject.org

      At its national convention in October, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) featured four of The Clergy Project’s co-founders, including Daniel Dennett, …”

      “Pastors Who Don’t Believe – The Clergy Project – Freedom From …
      https://ffrf.org/component/k2/…/11468-pastors-who-dont-believe-the-clergy-project FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes. FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity …”

      “FFRF convention speech: The founding of The Clergy Project: By … https://ffrf.org › Publications › Freethought Today › Articles
      Linda LaScola’s speech was delivered on Oct. 7 at FFRF’s 39th annual convention in Pittsburgh. Linda is one of the founders of The Clergy Project and…”

      “Clergy Project: ‘The truth set me free’ – Joshua Everett – Freedom From …
      https://ffrf.org › About FFRF › Getting Acquainted › Articles Jump to FFRF Staff – DAN BARKER and ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-hosts of …”

      There IS a Way Out of … … The FOG.


  13. dabertini
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I love quoting fvf: we know santa claus doesn’t exist but his reindeer, they are real. Like all religious people, he’s drunk the kool-aide!!

  14. Posted April 16, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I have three reactions to this:
    1. stunned as always that people still talk like this;
    2. impressed with Professor Ceiling Cat’s stamina with calmly dealing with such claims;
    3. surprised at how sensible and rational all previous US presidents suddenly sound, even when they’re talking hysterical gibberish.

    • ploubere
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink


  15. Filippo
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    What with Nicholas Kristof’s seeming righteousness and high confidence in the efficacy of his views in his columns – especially regarding alleged Islamophobia (but never to my knowledge Islamofascism)- I look forward to a good dose of tough questions being posed to Kristof himself about his own religious beliefs.

    I grew up in the same Southern Baptist tradition as Carter. I can’t imagine a denomination/sect more confident of the rectitude of their religious beliefs/opinions. I look back with great resentment at having to bear up under its strictures. When I occasionally go back to where I grew up I confess that I go out of my way to avoid getting caught up in religious discussions. If I find myself so caught up and put in a corner, I reply to the effect that all should believe and do as they see fit. Should that not be sufficient, then I strive to muster the patience of Job and be as congenial as my interrogator allows and to extricate myself by announcing that I have nothing more to say about the matter. Should that happen not to work, then to heck with congeniality and patience.

    I recall that when Carter was running for president in 1976 the drama queens of the media had such an issue with Carter acknowledging the carnal lust in his heart (IIRC in a Playboy interview). I guess they just couldn’t believe that a politician could/would admit to that. Who has ever bet that the average male, married or not, did not harbor such lust, no matter how pious or righteous he otherwise might present himself? Also, the media hoopla and yammering about Carter being a “born again” Christian. What was the media’s precious problem with understanding a metaphorical Bible verse?

    • Filippo
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      I also meant to reflect that Martin Gardner, held in high esteem by many a skeptic, had a hope for life after death. (He held forth at length on this in his “The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener,” which I have read three times since my delightful discovery of it in the late eighties.) But he didn’t go for Christianity. He cheerily acknowledged/admitted/confessed that the hope of an afterlife gave him comfort and IIRC that he did not presume for a moment to be able to rationally justify that position to any interrogator.

  16. Carly
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    This is a lot like the way that my parents believe, except they think that God created the Universe via the Big Bang and started life and the process of Evolution. The only thing I know to say to rebut that is “There is no evidence that such a God exists.” They still pray to this creator God, too, with the belief in Heaven so they’ll get to see their deceased loved ones again.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      ” . . . so they’ll get to see their deceased loved ones again.”

      I can sympathize/empathize with them. When I was age four my father died of his second heart attack at age 35 1/2. About age ten, for a brief few days, I silently vocalized Heavenward my intense displeasure at his untimely passing. I mean, it would have been nice to have had him around at least long enough to have a memory of what his voice sounded like.

      Of course, it didn’t help that since his teen years he smoked those unfiltered Camels and Lucky Strikes and loved to eat red meat and probably didn’t get much exercise and likely was genetically predisposed to coronary artery disease/blockage. (Did he have any free will to exercise in these regards? 😉 Having learned from his example, I myself managed not to take up smoking and have over the years gone light on red meat and heavier on seafood.)

      It infrequently has happened that I am in the presence of a grief-stricken acquaintance/friend, lamenting about (the “unfairness” of) the passing of a parent who is in her/his 80’s or 90’s. I bring to bear the maximum amount of compassion of which I am capable, but wonder if they would lament quite as much in my presence were they more knowledgeable about my own parental past.

  17. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    President Carter is a great man, and there is much to be admired about him. His contradictory beliefs are baffling, though. And extraordinary even. But all religionists will have this crazy place in their minds in which are kept an Alice in Wonderland world of wacky assertions and loony contradictions.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted April 17, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      It just seems to go to the effectiveness of the virus at evading most mental immune systems.

  18. Posted April 16, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I’ll cheerfully give President Carter a pass for his silliness surrounding his Christian beliefs.

    While it unquestionably is far better to come to the conclusions he has (those Enlightenment values of peace and lovingkindness he expresses in the interview) based on a rational analysis of objective observation, the conclusions he’s reached are nevertheless correct. And, yes, his faith gives cover for others to reach bad conclusions based on faith…but his voice in the faith community is strong enough to balance that out.

    I’d be happy to engage in a theological and / or epistemological argument with President Carter…but, honestly, I’d be far more eager to soak up from him anything he’d deign to teach me about realpolitik, negotiating peace agreements between deadly rivals, and generally making the world a better place.

    We all have our follies, and President Carter’s, all things considered, on balance, is as not bad as one could hope for in somebody such as him.



  19. Ken Pidcock
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    A reminder that we don’t know what anyone thinks, just what they say.

  20. Wunold
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I look on the contradictions among the Gospel writers as a sign of authenticity

    I wish Kristof had asked Carter what he’d think about court proceedings that reasoned this way.

    • Wunold
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, bad blockquote:

      I look on the contradictions among the Gospel writers as a sign of authenticity

      I wish Kristof had asked Carter what he’d think about court proceedings that reasoned this way.

      • Posted April 16, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        It’s pretty clear that Carter’s Christian blind spot is very narrow and very focussed.

        I wouldn’t want to venture a guess as to how he’d phrase it — other than that it’d be very diplomatic — but there’s no question but that it’s the Gospels and only the Gospels that get that sort of a pass from him. Indeed, his own explicit rejection of a similar lowered standard of evidence for Genesis makes that plain.

        I mean, there’re two contradictory accounts of Creation in Genesis, but that clearly doesn’t give him cause to trust it more the same way the contradictory accounts of the Resurrection in the Gospels do.




        • Wunold
          Posted April 17, 2017 at 2:54 am | Permalink

          That, and I’ve also heard multiple times from believers, that “we are not in a court here”. Those persons obviously don’t connect courts to real life when it comes to effective methods of truth-seeking, which they often claim to do.

          But speaking of truth, since Kristof didn’t follow this lead, we don’t know how Carter would’ve responded. So our curiosity in this matter won’t be satisfied this time. 😦

      • Posted April 18, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        I’ve heard the claim before – even from Catholics, even using the bit about how we now know eyewitnesses are fallible (which is correct, but doesn’t get to the point). I wonder if there’s some common apologist (respected by both Catholics and evangelicals?) that this comes from. C. S. Lewis, maybe?

        • Wunold
          Posted April 19, 2017 at 4:17 am | Permalink

          And how did those Catholics reconcile famously fallible eyewitnesses with any authenticity claims about the bible based on eyewitnesses?

          • Posted April 19, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

            The official position seems to be that “we won’t talk about the details” but the big picture is held to be correct.

  21. ploubere
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Being a good person is entirely separate from being religious, there are good and bad christians and good and bad atheists.

    But religion can justify and excuse bad behavior. Habitat for Humanity refused to allow my local secular group from participating in their work because we were not religious.

    Carter may be a good man, but perhaps he would be a better man if he overcame his religious bias.

    • Greg Geisler
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      Wow, seriously? HfH prohibits help from secular organizations? That certainly is a stain on their and Carter’s reputations. Thank you for enlightening me.

  22. Greg Geisler
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    It’s disheartening and it drives me nuts when otherwise sane and intelligent people like Carter (who I consider to be an exemplary human being) recite crap like this! It actually makes ME feel like I am losing my own mind at times. I’ve read Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell to help gain insights into why and how this phenomenon still occurs but it is still baffling to me.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      I do not see it as baffling. It is brain-washing, and mind control repetitive teaching. Usually begins at a young age but not always. The name of the game is Sunday School, which by the way, is what Carter does. They have similar processes in North Korea that seem to work very well.

      • BJ
        Posted April 16, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        But there are plenty of people who come to religion without such brainwashing, too. I think it’s a natural part of the human condition to hope, wish, and/or believe that something greater is out there; many people find it comforting. Religion takes advantage of those desires.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted April 16, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

          I just don’t buy that idea. Maybe if you could show a percent of a population who come to religious belief by such a method. They just get up one day or maybe after a week of thinking and say…I’ll take that Methodist idea over there. Another says I’ll go with the Lutherans.

          I think you will find that their parents put them into the “washing” machine early on. They spend those important early years getting it shoved in and repeatedly. They may change from one religion to another as they get older or even sometimes wiser. Something bigger is out there and that is the Universe.

        • GBJames
          Posted April 16, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

          I, like Mr. Schenck, don’t exactly buy it either. Most people who “find” a religion different from that of their childhood “find” the one that their spouse is affiliated with. There are, of course, exceptions. But very few people raised without faith “find” one later on (to my knowledge). The human condition involved is the one that seeks to get along with one’s spouse. (Usually it is husbands who change to the wife’s faith. Because of the children, you know.)

          • Randy schenck
            Posted April 16, 2017 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

            Not a Mr just Randy or whatever. I consider myself one of the luck few who did not get thrown into the machine of religious indoctrination as a youngster. I was allowed to find atheism naturally and with enough age to know it made sense. I am also aware that most other atheists get there by a much more difficult route and I commend all of you who get there.

    • Historian
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Yes, President Carter suffers from religious delusions, as do billions of people throughout the world. Probably most atheists suffer from other sorts of delusions. His personal delusions do not concern me since as far as I know, he has not attempted to foist them on others. What is of concern is what he has done in his public life, which, by and large has been good, although he is only ranked the 26th greatest president in a 2017 poll of historians. He wasn’t a great leader and did not do particularly well in managing the economy.


      Still, he did broker the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, which was a great achievement. So, my bottom line is that I don’t care about his religious beliefs and honor him for the things he accomplished in his presidency and post-presidency.

      • Filippo
        Posted April 16, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        ” . . . although he is only ranked the 26th greatest president in a 2017 poll of historians.”

        Who gets to determine who is worthy to be included in this pool of omniscient?

        • Randy schenck
          Posted April 16, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          It is opinion, what else could it be. However, it is educated opinion as Historian says -it is the poll of historians. Would it be different if from plumbers? Most likely.

  23. GBJames
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Carter is a good man despite his religious delusions. He’s yet another example of how human beings are able to partition their brains, allowing two mutually incompatible world views to simultaneously exist. It is the only way that science and religion can be seen as compatible.

  24. Denise
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Humans are so fascinating.

  25. Karen Fierman
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    And when you think about it, why doesn’t Kristof mind his own bee’s wax, anyway? WHY would anyone CARE about Carter’s religious beliefs? Like some of you have said, it’s not as if he’s attempted to convert the rest of us, when president or thereafter.

    As to Habitat for Humanity, it’d be interesting to know if rejection of help from non-Christians was a local decision or what’s mandated from on high.

  26. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Somehow it doesn’t seem quite sportin’ to question #39’s supernatural beliefs during the Easter Season seeing as how Ol’ Jimmy got attacked by a Killer Rabbit during the latter days of his stint in the Oval Office.

  27. jeffery
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Well, we should all know by now that a person doesn’t have to be rational to be President. Jimmy’s “part-way-there”; he’s actually a lot better than a yuge number of other people in this country! All we can hope for is more progress…..

  28. Posted April 16, 2017 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    “WHY would anyone CARE about Carter’s religious beliefs?”

    Obviously, those of us who responded to what PCC(E) wrote about President Carter cared.

    Frankly, given his southern upbringing/culture and his lifetime steeped in southern baptist religious beliefs, I find it amazing that he did not accept the christian creation myth despite his scientific education. I am equally amazed that he felt strongly enough about women’s issues to leave the southern baptists over it. I consider him very brave for
    stating beliefs not in alignment with the southern baptists and taking action to leave the church in his relatively small southern home town.

    Thomas Jefferson was not a christian but admired jesus as a great philosopher. In the new testament as revised by Thomas Jefferson, he excised all the miracles and other elements he found unbelievable. He paid appreciated the good treatment of humanity taught by jesus.

    I think that, to the best of his ability, President Carter has tried to follow the philosophy of jesus to be/do good for humanity. Would that all religious folk would follow his lead. All of us would do well to emulate President Carter in this one regard despite religious beliefs or none. He “walks the walk”
    instead of just “talking the talk”.

    • Posted April 16, 2017 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      Remove “paid” before “appreciated”. Slipshod editing. Mea culpa.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 17, 2017 at 5:12 am | Permalink



  29. Malgorzata
    Posted April 17, 2017 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    I was reading the glowing words of praise for President Carter with growing astonishment. As a non-American I don’t know what kind of president he was at home but obviously the majority of U.S. citizens didn’t share this admiration and didn’t give him another four years to further wreck the foreign policy. And the foreign policy was a disaster, especially regarding Iran and Ayatollah Khomeini. Of course, Carter administration was not the only one misjudging Khomeini. More or less the whole European intellectual elite misjudged him, with BBC amplifying his message and giving him enormous boost, while sharply criticising the Shah and highlighting both real and falsified cruelties of his rule. Carter viewed Khomeini as a religious holy man in a grassroots revolution. Carter’s ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, said “Khomeini will eventually be hailed as a saint.” Carter’s Iranian ambassador, William Sullivan, said, “Khomeini is a Gandhi-like figure.” Carter adviser James Bill proclaimed in a Newsweek interview on February 12, 1979 that Khomeini was not a mad mujahid, but a man of “impeccable integrity and honesty.” Gen. Robert Huyser, Carter’s military liaison to Iran, said: “The president could have publicly condemned Khomeini and even kidnapped him and then bartered for an exchange with the [American Embassy] hostages, but the president was indignant. ‘One cannot do that to a holy man,’ he said.” The price for this admiration of one religious man to another religious man the world is paying until today and untold number people have paid in war, tortures, blood and death. Some interesting material about Carter’s support of Khomeini can be seen here

    In the case of peace agreement between Egypt and Israel Carter had much more luck than any other American president. For the first time an Arab leader, Anwar Sadat, genuinely wanted peace with Israel. There were contacts between Egypt and Israel through third parties: Romania, Iran (still under the Shah) and Morocco, even before U.S. was engaged in the process. Carter wanted a comprehensive solution even with Palestinians who until today are not prepared to have peace with Israel. Sadat knew that involving Palestinian question was a recipe for failure. His historical visit to Israel was prepared after secret meetings between Egyptian and Israeli officials, without Carter knowledge. When two sides want the same outcome but are of different opinion only about details the role of the mediator is much easier than when one side wants peace and the other wants the destruction of the adversary.

    Carter’s actions after his presidency are also difficult to admire. He is very complimentary towards Hamas and Hezbollah and very critical towards Israel. He calls Israel an “Apartheid State” (even wrote a book with this title) and is deeply convinced that in the conflict between Israel and Palestinians the whole blame is on Israel’s side. He met many times with officials from Hamas and demanded that they be treated as “political actor” by international community. He called Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal a strong proponent of the peace process, and said he wasn’t meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because it would be “a waste of time.”
    In 2008 Jimmy Carter said he would have been “delighted” to meet with Hezbollah officials during his visit to Lebanon and regretted the militant group’s leaders refuse to meet with current or former American presidents. But a year later he managed to meet in Lebanon with Ayatollah Fadlallah (who was on U.S. Terrorism list) and these two godly man reportedly hit if off immediately and soon joked with each other.
    No, I don’t understand this admiration.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 17, 2017 at 5:00 am | Permalink

      ” . . . obviously the majority of U.S. citizens didn’t share this admiration and didn’t give him [Carter] another four years to further wreck the foreign policy . . .a disaster, especially regarding Iran and Ayatollah Khomeini . . . Carter administration . . . [and] the whole European intellectual elite misjudged him . . . sharply criticising the Shah and highlighting both real and falsified cruelties of his rule.’

      Do you reasonably suspect that the whole Khomeini fiasco/result could have been avoided had the US/USCIA not stuck its nose in Iranian affairs, instigating the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953?

      • Malgorzata
        Posted April 17, 2017 at 5:16 am | Permalink

        I was not talking about 1953. I was talking about the admiration the Western (both American and European) elites had for Khomeini, their uncritical swallowing all propaganda against Shah (who was definitely not any benign ruler but it would be impossible for a democratic human rights defender to govern Iran) and amplifying Khomeini’s propaganda. The betrayal of pro-Western Shah and support given to a religious fanatic gave Iranian revolution.

        • Filippo
          Posted April 17, 2017 at 5:30 am | Permalink

          Fine that you were not talking about 1953 (I have enough sense to know that), and don’t want to talk about it. I think that there would have been a reasonable chance to avoid the Khomeini fiasco had the U.S. kept its nose out of Iranian internal affairs in 1953.

          • Malgorzata
            Posted April 17, 2017 at 5:47 am | Permalink

            Neither was Versaille Treaty a good one and it definitely helped Hitler come to power. This, however, does not exonerate Chamberlain and other politicians who pursued the policy of appeasemnet.

    • Posted April 17, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Me, either.

    • Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      + 1. Thank you for this comment – I knew some of the facts you wrote about, but others, notably the admiration of Carter for the “holy man” Khomeini, were new for me.

  30. madscientist
    Posted April 17, 2017 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t think any less of Jimmy Carter for putting his beliefs before all evidence. There are many people (and many good people) who do the same, and not only with regards to religious beliefs but contra-factual beliefs in general. For me the interesting question is why do they do it? I wonder if there are psychologists who have come up with credible ideas on why people fool themselves that way.

  31. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 17, 2017 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    I’ve always regarded Jimmy Carter as a thoroughly decent man and by far the best US President of recent decades.

    And I don’t think any the less of him for his religious convictions – he seems to have used them as motivation to do the right thing, rather than views to be forced on other people or a flag of convenience like the Trump.


  32. Posted April 17, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Carter calls Israel an “apartheid” state. The Muslim (Arab and Bedouin, as well as Druze and other Muslim derivation) citizens of Israeli don’t seem to think so. I see them everyday, on the streets, in the buses, alongside everyone else. Where’s the apartheid? And why does this belief of his not cause him cognitive dissonance?

    • Sarah
      Posted April 17, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      It does suggest that he can have an irrational belief that overrides actual evidence in front of him. I’m not sure I find that very admirable.

      • Filippo
        Posted April 18, 2017 at 4:45 am | Permalink

        It does suggest that he can have an irrational belief that overrides actual evidence in front of him. I’m not sure I find that very admirable.

        Just congenially curious, in your opinion how does Carter compare to other US presidents regarding irrational tendencies? Would you say that it reasonably follows that most of humanity is not to be found very admirable in this regard?

        • Sarah
          Posted April 18, 2017 at 6:00 am | Permalink

          There are many reasons for making a bad judgement, but ignoring obvious evidence is a perfect recipe for it. You hope your elected officials have more sense than that. As for other US Presidents, I don’t know offhand of examples of irrationality overriding commonsense. Nixon’s paranoia, perhaps? I don’t think we can make generalizations about humanity based only on US Presidents.

    • Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Maybe it would cause him a cognitive dissonance to admit that the “people who killed Jesus” 19 centuries ago have now created a decent state.

      • Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Except that Jesus was one of “the people who killed Jesus.”

        • Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

          Wait: That’s probably your point. Yes, I see where Carter’s cognitive dissonance, along with “Old Testament” dissing, would come from, then.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted April 18, 2017 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, are you trying to blame Carter for not believing in the Old Testament – something everybody here (or every atheist at least) knows to be a load of complete rubbish? Do *you* believe the earth is 6000 years old? If you don’t, how can you criticise Carter for not believing it either?


            • Posted April 19, 2017 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

              Goodness gracious! If we weren’t in PCC(E)’s living room, here, I’d almost swear you were deliberately baiting me like a troll by suggesting the (Jewish) Old Testament — in direct comparison with the (Christian) implied pristine and totally truthful New Testament — is “rubbish.”

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 20, 2017 at 8:41 am | Permalink

                Where did I imply any truth at all in the New Testament?

                Were you trying to imply that Carter’s disbelief in the more absurd portions of the OT was somehow politically motivated?

                My own position – though I’m not an expert – is that the Old Testament, and any Jewish scriptures on which it’s based, and the New Testament, AND the Koran come to that, are all rubbish to exactly the same degree, which is, completely.

                You don’t really want to argue in defence of Genesis or the Flood in this forum, do you?


        • Posted April 18, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

          Many Christians tend to conveniently “forget” it. Some claim that Jesus’ phrase quoted in Aramaic allegedly showed that he was not Jewish; but they cannot say which nation he belonged to.

          • Sarah
            Posted April 18, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

            Indeed. He was of the House of David and he was called “rabbi”–so what does that make him, Irish?

            • Posted April 19, 2017 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

              And it’s all the more remarkable when they believe only the New Testament, while Jesus, assuming he existed, believed in the Torah — later renamed by Christians as the Old Testament. There are some implications worth discussing, too.

            • Posted April 19, 2017 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

              By the way, loved your comment!

        • Wunold
          Posted April 19, 2017 at 4:29 am | Permalink

          I never understood people who believe in “God’s plan”, eager to cite it whenever they lack a proper explanation, and at the same time literally hate other people for their actions, e.g. the Jews for “killing Jesus” (although the Romans did it) or unbelievers for not believing. It’s all God’s plan, so either roll with it in bliss or hate God. Blame the puppeteer, not the puppet.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 18, 2017 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      “We ain’t got no discrimination. I see blacks everywhere.” – White person in Alabama, c.1960.

      That’s not evidence.

      Go argue with Wikipedia –


      • Sarah
        Posted April 19, 2017 at 5:10 am | Permalink

        There is a world of difference between the old South African apartheid and Israel! Arab and Jewish Israelis are equal under the law, whereas there was strict racial segregation in South Africa. Inhabitants of the Arab enclaves in the West Bank don’t have the same rights because they are not Israeli citizens. Is there apartheid in the US because Mexicans do not have the same rights as US citizens?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 19, 2017 at 5:18 am | Permalink

          It’s not like the Palestinians in the enclaves had a choice whether to get overrun by Israel, is it? I sense a certain amount of disingenuous-ness in that argument. If building a yuge wall around Palestinian villages isn’t apartheid, it’ll do till apartheid comes along…

          I think I’d better go away now.


          • Sarah
            Posted April 19, 2017 at 9:28 am | Permalink

            By “overrun by Israel” are you referring to the retaking of the land that was overrun and annexed by Trans-Jordan? There are no walls, yuge or otherwise, around Palestinian villages. There are some walls, mostly to present sniper fire, along parts of the security barrier between Israel and the disputed territories, the population of which is mostly under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.

            • Sarah
              Posted April 19, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

              Oops, “prevent sniper fire”.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted April 20, 2017 at 6:56 am | Permalink

              “There are no walls, yuge or otherwise, around Palestinian villages.”

              (Sigh). Just find Qalqilya on Googlemaps, switch to satellite view, and tell me that’s a mirage…


              • Sarah
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:59 am | Permalink

                Hardly a typical Arab village, Qualqilya is right on the Green Line and has been a trouble spot. But I take your point.

          • Posted April 19, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

            It’s not like the Koreans in the northern part of the peninsula had a choice whether to get overrun by America and American allies, is it? I sense a certain amount of disingenuousness in that argument. If building a yuge demilitarized zone on the border isn’t apartheid, it’ll do till apartheid comes along….

            The Arab world managed to maneuver Israel into a no-win situation with respect to the Palestinians. Israel is held responsible for the sorry state of affairs there, but anything meaningful they might even suggest doing would be fought back as an invasion. There could be a full-blown Palestinian state right now, save the Palestinians insist that they must be granted control of Jerusalem to make their own capital.

            Could you imagine South Korea’s response if the North suggested a peace treaty contingent on the South ceding Seoul to the North? Nobody would even pretend that that was an offer made in good faith; everybody would understand it was the contrary, that it was propagandistic sabre-rattling foreshadowing the possibility of a military offensive by the North to retake Seoul.

            The difference is that, on the Korean peninsula, everybody outside blames the sorry plight of the northern peasants on the government that controls their territory. At the eastern end of the Mediterranean, everybody blames the sorry plight of the peasantry not on the Saudi-like oppressive regime that controls the territory, but on Israel….




        • Wunold
          Posted April 19, 2017 at 6:07 am | Permalink

          Apartheid has long since evolved into a general term of separation and seggregation, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apartheid_(disambiguation) or https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apartheid.

          So, you can’t simply dismiss the usage of the term because the situation it’s used for isn’t exactly like it was in South Africa.

          That said, the analysis by international legal team from infiniteimprobabilit’s link states that “Israel’s practices in the OPT correlate almost entirely with the definition of apartheid as established in Article 2 of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.” What do you say to that?

          Please note that I take no position about the topic itself, only about some points of your argumentation.

          • Sarah
            Posted April 19, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

            But a very specific comparison is being made equating Israel with the racist South Africa of old. It is not about using “apartheid” as a general term for discrimination, but rather a system of laws that disenfranchise and belittle a whole group of residents who are deprived of the rights of citizens. None of that applies to Israel. It is worth remembering where this slur came from. It originated in 2001 at the Durban Conference, ostensibly to combat racism, but it quickly degenerated into an anti-Zionist strategy to delegitimize Israel. People who really did suffer under that Apartheid visit Israel and say that the comparison is absurd and that it is a disservice to those who experienced the real thing.

            • Wunold
              Posted April 20, 2017 at 2:49 am | Permalink

              Who are these people and what qualifies them for an professional evaluation?

              And again, what do you say about the conclusion of the international team of “jurists, academics and international lawyers from Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, South Africa, England, Ireland and the United States” working for the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa for the South African Department of Foreign Affairs?

              • Sarah
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

                @Wunold, you ask who these people are who can identify apartheid and the lack of it and what their qualifications are. Do you think that people who have lived under a tyranny don’t know how to define it and appreciate its absence? What official expertise do you expect them to have? You don’t need a special diploma in your own experience. Here is someone who knows more about the question than either of us: http://www.unitedwithisrael.org/south-african-mp-israel-is-not-an-apartheid-state/

          • Posted April 19, 2017 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

            I say, if “apartheid” is a problem, let Egypt deal with the Gaza Strip end of it, as that was Egyptian territory before Israel occupied it, and let Jordan handle the West Bank, as that was occupied by Jordan before Israel took it back.

            Incidently, for those who aren’t aware, the original “two-state solution” occurred before 1948 and resulted in Trans-Jordan being cut out of the land intended for the modern Jewish state and being turned into the modern Arab state of Jordan. Its people are just as “Palestinian” as the “Palestinians” in Israel. The difference is, they’re not living under a democracy nor even under a royal family of their own people. Their royals came from Saudi royals.

            And, as Hillel Neuer asked the many Arab/Muslim nations which condemn it, “Where are your Jews?”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35eEljsSQfc. You want some real apartheid? There it is.

            • Wunold
              Posted April 20, 2017 at 3:01 am | Permalink

              No offence, but I think you’re just making a tu quoque argument here. I would like to hear an opinion about the linked academic study from you, too (as from Sarah) if you like.

              • Sarah
                Posted April 20, 2017 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                If only an “international academic study” could be assumed to be honest and disinterested. We have to look at the people involved in such a study to see how valid it is. They seem to be a team of Arab and far-left Western academics who are far from disinterested observers. Michael Sfard, for example, is a rather notorious anti-Israel activist who endorses “lawfare” as a way of undermining Israel and “trying to bypass democracy”, as the Knesset Member Danny Danon put it. NGO Monitor has harsh things to say about him. http://www.ngo-monitor.org/reports/michael_sfard_ngos_and_government_funding/ So it’s not too surprising that this “international study” found Israel guilty of apartheid and all the rest of it.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 3:33 am | Permalink


                Saw that coming a mile off…

                It’s sadly predictable that any study will be immediately dismissed as biassed by one side or the other. It couldn’t possibly be that the study came to its conclusions based strictly on what it found.

                I’m reminded of the the burglar who was complaining about his conviction and sentence. “The judge was biassed, I didn’t stand a chance”. “Oh, why do you think he was biassed?” “Because I done it.”


              • Sarah
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:44 am | Permalink

                That’s it, isn’t it? If something slams Israel it must be true without any further thought or doubt, but if something is pro-Israel or even just questioning the bias against Israel, then that must be wrong and any allegations must be examined to the nth degree. This is really the definition of bias.

              • Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

                Also +18!

              • Malgorzata
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 3:48 am | Permalink

                @ Infiniteimprobabilit
                Why is it that a study made by antivaxxers about the harmful effect of vaccines is (rightly) looked at with suspicions, but a study made by anti-Israel activists should be deemed absolutely unbiased?

              • Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

                Indeed, +18!

              • Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

                I prefer to let you become knowledgeable about the appropriate historical geography of the region, as referenced of mine from which you distracted yourself.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

                Well now, I think your allegations of bias illustrate the dilemma perfectly. Michael Sfard the ‘notorious anti-Israel activist’ as you put it is, according to Wikipedia, a leading Jewish (!) human rights lawyer. So who’s right? (I don’t think quoting what a politician said about him carries any weight at all, by the way. Any more than quoting Drumpf on justices who overturn his daffy immigration blunders.)

                As a general observation I’d guess a truly impartial inquiry (if such were even possible) would find faults on both sides and would immediately be accused by both sides of bias.

                That’s enough from me.


              • Sarah
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

                Michael Sfard can be both a “human rights lawyer” and notoriously anti-Israel. “Lawfare” is the key word here.

              • Sarah
                Posted April 22, 2017 at 6:33 am | Permalink

                @infiniteimprobabilit I’m sure you’re right that there are faults on both sides, but they are not comparable. One side, the Palestinian Authority, has terrorism as an official policy and teaches even small children that murder and martyrdom are goals to aim for. Israel has no such campaign of hatred. The PA says, for outside public consumption, that all it wants is a state of its own, but neglects to mention that the state it has in mind is all of present-day Israel. I suspect the situation might have been cleared up by now if not for the interference of outside bodies and foreign-funded NGOs. Personally I am a big fan of MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, which translates speeches and articles from the Arab and Farsi media into English. http://www.memri.org/ The translations are by all accounts accurate. You might get one impression from an English-language press conference as reported by Reuters and AP, but something very different from a PA statement in Arabic.

              • Malgorzata
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

                @Infiniteimprobabilit Have you never heard about Jews who are antisemites or anti-Israel? If not, check Gilad Atzmon or Max Blumenthal. Miachael Sfard belongs in this cathegory. Being Jewish or Israeli does not preclude being against own people or country. Another example is Noam Chomsky – an American of Jewish origin who is hostile both to U.S. and to Israel.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:59 pm | Permalink


                From your point of view he’s anti-Israel. From another point of view (I won’t say ‘mine’ because I haven’t researched it enough) he’s pro human rights. It would be tempting to conclude that Israel and human rights are automatically opposed – though probably misleading.

                You won’t like this but from my viewpoint one major point in Israel’s favour is that it does have functioning laws and it does have people like Michael Sfard willing to challenge the power of the State.


              • Malgorzata
                Posted April 22, 2017 at 12:28 am | Permalink

                @Infiniteimprobabilit We are now quite far from the topic of Jerry’s post but I will just add that people who pompously and selfrighteously invoke “human rights” seem to be very keen to defend human rights of some people but not of other. Usually they do not give a damn about the human right of Israelis to stay alive and not be a victim of explosives in a bus, a restaurant, a school, not be knifed in the back while shopping or not have their children butchered while they are sleeping in their own beds.

  33. cdupp
    Posted April 18, 2017 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Kenneth R. Miller (cell & molecular biologist at Brown U. who wrecking-balled ID during the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial) also displays that kind of ambiguous behaviour but a tad more subtly with his “undetectable quatum effects with which God guides evolution”, an argument in the same league as the god-of-the-gaps argument when science is silent (when a proposed hypothesis cannot be tested scientifically). I think Jerry gives a rougher ride to Prez Carter here than he did to Miller in Faith vs. Fact. But I might be biased in favour of the ornithologist. 😉

  34. Posted April 18, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I have great respect for Carter simply stating what he believes without bafflegab or doublespeak. But that’s setting the bar (as far as the religious parts) pretty low.

  35. redpony
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    This is a well-written and interesting blog, but concerning President Carter you are arguing with a straw man.

    Carter is not making an epistomological argument. He clearly states that these are “beliefs” which means they are aspects of faith.

    Speaking as an agnostic, I think many atheists harbor a deep naiveté about the nature of reality, whereas those with faith a deep skepticism. Faith in this regard is a heuristic.

    Faith in Resurrection can bolster one’s dedication to moral principles in light of the greed and self-interest that rules our world.

    Prayer is a kind of meditation that centers oneself on those principles and fortifies one against the many all-too human reactions to the world that can lead one to act in contrast to one’s beliefs.

    Obviously, these heuristics have proved valuable to President Carter – so much so that perhaps his exceptionalism proves there is something to consider here?

    Think of it like this: the scope of human observation may be so limited that it is plausible to conclude that we can never fully comprehend, or quantify, the nature of being. Science abides nonetheless.

    • Posted April 20, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      This is a well-written and interesting blog, but concerning President Carter you are arguing with a straw man.

      Carter is not making an epistomological argument. He clearly states that these are “beliefs” which means they are aspects of faith.

      Erm…you do know that epistemology is the branch of study of the foundations of understanding, right? And you realize that you yourself just identified “faith” as the epistemological underpinning of the President’s beliefs?

      Speaking as an agnostic, I think many atheists harbor a deep naiveté about the nature of reality, whereas those with faith a deep skepticism.

      No; you’ve got that exactly bass-ackwards.

      There’re plenty of exceptions, of course, but the strong correlation is between atheism and a scientific mindset — and science is the apportioning of belief in proportions indicated by a rational analysis of objective observation. There’re always error bars; the trick is to first get reality inside the error bars, and then to keep narrowing the error bars without letting reality pop out one side or the other.

      Faith, on the other hand…is the explicit apportioning of belief contrary to evidence or analysis or in its absence. As Paul famously put it in the first verse of Hebrews 11, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” You know you lack sufficient evidence, or that you have contrary evidence, and yet you believe anyway. You eschew error bars, might not even bother putting the data on the chart, and instead grab a colorful pen and mark the answer you personally find the most aesthetically pleasing.

      Faith in this regard is a heuristic.

      Faith in Resurrection can bolster one’s dedication to moral principles in light of the greed and self-interest that rules our world.

      Yes, it could. But it was also faith in the Resurrection that compelled Torquemada to torture his victims. Better a few months of earthly agony, no, than eternity in the Pit? And the Crusaders, Conquistadors, Nazis, and so many others were passionately faithful that they were doing what they did in the name and for the love of Jesus.

      You could certainly argue over whether or not their faith was reasonably aligned with reality, and many faithful Christians correctly outright reject the faithful professions of their forebears.

      But what you can’t do — unless you wish to wallow in faith — is argue that those genocidal Christians of yore lacked true faith in Christ.

      In order to reject the moral justification for the bloody history of Christianity, you must either faithfully declare your faith to be superior to theirs, or you must reject faith itself as an useful epistemology.

      Prayer is a kind of meditation that centers oneself on those principles and fortifies one against the many all-too human reactions to the world that can lead one to act in contrast to one’s beliefs.

      There are much more effective meditative practices than Christian prayer. Yes, there are some benefits to be found in Christian prayer…but, so, too, is there nutritional value in a Twinkie. And, just as an healthy, balanced diet is going to be essentially devoid of Twinkies, an healthy mental regimen is going to be essentially devoid of supplication to Jesus.

      Specifically, you might start with mindfulness meditation, which is nothing more than the practice of drawing one’s attention first to the senses and then to thoughts themselves. When you think and know that you’re thinking — as opposed to being lost in thought — that’s when you’re being mindful. And it’s far more effective than being lost in imagined conversations with an invisible best friend….

      Obviously, these heuristics have proved valuable to President Carter – so much so that perhaps his exceptionalism proves there is something to consider here?

      Yes, of course.

      The President’s Christianity in practice has far more in common with the Enlightenment than with pre-Enlightenment Christianity, and especially than with Biblical Christianity.

      Think of it like this: the scope of human observation may be so limited that it is plausible to conclude that we can never fully comprehend, or quantify, the nature of being. Science abides nonetheless.

      Indeed, we can be absolutely certain not only that we’ll never understand the ultimate nature of reality, but that “the ultimate nature of reality” is itself an incoherent meaningless string of words — such as “the largest prime number” or “north of the North Pole.”

      …which is why agnosticism is itself logically indistinguishable from theism. Both presuppose that there’s an ultimate nature of reality and grant that a god of some description is a reasonable candidate for said ultimate reality.

      In the real reality, gods are no more than classic conspiracy theories. Sure, there could be almost any type of god you might wish to propose…but we could also be subroutines of the Matrix, or the CIA could be controlling our thoughts through our dental implants, or whatever. And, even if we did find a god, how would we know that said god isn’t merely itself a character on the Holodeck, itself as deluded about the “ultimate” nature of reality as we are?

      So, show me evidence for some god and I’ll provisionally accept the existence of an entity that’s consistent with that evidence. You might even convince me that said entity has been consciously controlling and / or creating what we perceive as reality since the Big Bang. But you’re not going to convince me that said entity is the foundation of reality itself, even if it is the foundation of my reality.

      Oh…and…incidentally, you know how confident you are that the Sun rises in the East? That’s at least as confident as you should be in the absence of any theistic or deistic god as you’ve ever might heard proposed. We really are at the point that the only alternative to the Standard Model of Particle Physics is a Matrix-type conspiracy.




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