Preachy Twits: Please Go Away!

And I fell into a rant… Please pardon this off-topic diversion. I’m almost certainly going to get myself into trouble with this, but I don’t care. I’m sick of being harassed by twits of all stripes. (Do go listen to the song at that link; it’s a very fun bit of silly modern Klezmer by a really brilliant performer.)

I’ve mentioned around here that I’m Jewish. I don’t actually talk about what I believe – but I’ve mentioned the fact that I am a religious, theistic, reconstructionist Jew.

Every time I mention my Judaism, I get two related clumps of email. One of them is from Christians, who feel a deep need to tell about how my beliefs are all wrong, and I desperately need to listen to them tell me about Jesus. And the other clump is from atheists, who feel a deep need to tell me about how my beliefs are all wrong, and I desperately need to listen to them tell me about why there is no god. I don’t know quite why, but this seems to have gotten worse since we launched scientopia; even though my average daily pageview rate is down by about 50%, the number of preachy emails I’m getting from both christians and atheists is up by about 30%.

It’s really fascinating to realize just how similar those two groups are. My personal theory is that we’re all living in a strongly christian-influenced culture, and (perhaps without realizing it), a lot of the preachy atheists have absorbed some very christian attitudes towards worldviews and beliefs.

For both the fundie christians and the pushy atheists, it’s not enough to know what they believe. It’s not enough for them to be absolutely certain that they’re correct. If other people don’t agree with them, regardless of what those other people think, regardless of whether those other people are interested in listening, they must go out and aggressively convert people. You must listen. You must be convinced. Anything less than perfect agreement is more than just disagreement – it’s like it’s a personal affront.

There’s another major common thing between the fundies and the pushy atheists: it’s how they approach the non-believers/believers. When a christian twit comes to preach at you, they always firmly believe that you’ve never really heard of christianity. They really believe that no other christian has ever approached you before; that all they need to do is lay out the reasons why you should accept Jesus, and if you listen honestly, that you’ll believe it too. They’re repeating the same thing that any non-christian has heard a thousand times before. But they really, genuinely believe that they’re the first one to bring their arguments to you. Because the argument is so powerful, so self-evident, that if you’d ever heard it before, you’d be a fundie just like them!

That’s exactly the attitude that I get from the pushy preachy atheists who pepper my email. It’s the same anti-theism arguments, over and over again. But they’re always presented as if they’re something dramatic and new, something that I’ve never heard before, and if I’ll just listen to them, I’ll drop my religion and become an atheist just like them. It’s the same as the christians. They’re rehashing the same exact arguments that I’ve heard a thousand times before, but they’re absolutely sure that there is no chance at all that I’ve ever heard it before. Because if I had – well, it’s such a powerful, obvious argument, it’s so self-evident, that if I’d heard it before, I’d be an atheist.

One more similarity that I’ve seen between the fundy christians and the pushy atheists: they’re both awfully selective about their self-definitions – they both pull the “no true scotsman” gambit.

If you talk to a christian about, say, the holocaust, they’ll say that the Nazi’s weren’t really christian. The crusaders who raped and pillaged their way across Europe? Not really christian. The inquisitioners, who tortured and killed all of those innocent people in the name of christianity? Not really christian. Tim
McVeigh? Not really christian. Anyone who’s ever done anything bad? Not really
christian. But man, those damned muslims and atheists – look at how many
people they’ve murdered! They’re evil, pure evil!

And the atheists? Same damn thing. One of the atheists who persistently peppers my mailbox every time I mention my Judaism has repeatedly said “Only religious people blow themselves up, there are no atheist suicide bombers”. I pointed out a number of purely secular groups that have used suicide bombers. “They’re not really atheists; just because they’re part of a secular movement doesn’t mean that they’re atheists”. How do you know that they’re not atheists? “Because only religious people blow themselves up.” Wait, isn’t that circular? “No, because atheists are rational, and blowing yourself up is irrational, therefore if you blow yourself up, you’re not an atheist”.

Same stupid argument: People like me are good and reasonable; anyone who isn’t good and reasonable can’t be like me. It doesn’t matter what they say they think. It doesn’t matter what they say they believe. I know better – if they do something that I don’t like, then they’re not part of my group.

One final thing that they have in common. They both see the flaws in the other group, but not in themselves. Fundy christians will endlessly whine about how the pushy atheists are just reiterating the same arguments that they’ve heard before. Pushy atheists will complain about how the christians use the no-true-scotsman crap. Fundies will complain about how the atheists push their worldview on everyone else whether they’re interested or not; the pushy atheists will complain about how the christian push their religion on everyone else whether they’re interested or not.

I don’t have any problem with atheists, any more than I have a problem with christians, or muslims, or other Jews. What I have a problem with is people who feel compelled to harass me because I don’t believe the same thing that they do. I’m not interested in being converted to christianity; I’m also not interested in being convinced to abandon my beliefs and become an atheist. I’ve got my own beliefs, which I believe for me own reason, in my own way. I don’t push them on you; so don’t push yours on me.

In short, if you’re one of the dumbasses who keeps sending me crap about why my beliefs are wrong? Shut up. I don’t care who you are, or what you do or do not believe. I’m not interested. My email isn’t the right place to talk about it.

150 thoughts on “Preachy Twits: Please Go Away!

    1. MarkCC

      I’m sure it won’t. But sometimes a bit of ranting can make you feel better, even if it doesn’t produce any concrete results.

  1. Bob O'H

    I think it was Martin Gardner who had a fail-safe strategy to handle mathematical cranks. When one sent him a letter, he would make a note of the address and put it aside. When the next one turned up he would politely respond that he wasn’t qualified to judge the work, but perhaps this other gentleman might be able to comment.

    I think some similar strategy might be useful against serial offenders. as long as you’re not being CCed.

    1. Michael

      Ooooh good idea. I envision keeping my own private distribution list and automatically forwarding any message from any offending sender to all on the disty list. It wouldn’t solve anything but it sure would make me feel better about myself. 🙂

    2. Aaron

      That’s similar to what I do with junk mail, I save the postage paid envelopes and send one company another’s direct mail solicitation.

  2. James Sweet

    Well that’s weird. I am definitely in the “strident” atheist camp (just look at my blog) but I can’t imagine sending e-mail to a vaguely theistic blogger such as yourself to try to convince them to change their mind. If we were having a personal conversation at a pub, and the subject came up, I’d surely discuss it, and I suppose I would probably try to “convince” you I was right… but I wouldn’t really expect success, since you’ve made clear that you are fully aware of the subjective nature of your beliefs, nor would I really be doing it for that purpose — only because it came up in conversation, and hey, might as well be honest about what I think, right?

    I dig you on the “of course I’ve heard the argument” thing as well. For example, I think Isis has got some serious cognitive dissonance going on if she is trying to be both a Catholic and a feminist, but I’m not bothering to make that argument to her because I know it’s been pointed out again and again. She’s adamant about it, so hey, it’s her cognitive dissonance, not mine.

    Sorry that is happening. If you are only referring to the atheists e-mailing you (which is so weird…), not outspoken atheists in general, I can’t really disagree with anything you say.

    On a side note, I think the point being made by those who argue that violent secular groups are not “atheist” is that worshiping a cause is still worshiping something. I have made a similar argument, that secular totalitarianism is more or less an oxymoron… However, the No True Scotsman problem still applies in the sense that this does not justify the assertion “only religion makes people into suicide bombers”. Only blind faith-inspired devotion to a cause makes people into suicide bombers — the cause doesn’t have to be religion 🙂

    1. James Sweet

      It’s doubly weird because, Mark, if I were to point to an example of “theism done right”, you’d be right up there on the list. Remembering the times you have talked about your beliefs on your blog, the absolute worst I could say about them is that I think some of them are superfluous. But hey, if it makes you happy, go for it! I alluded in the previous comment to you being aware of the subjective nature of your beliefs, and which you demonstrated once again in this very post:

      I’ve got my own beliefs, which I believe for me own reason, in my own way.

      For me, if a theist is 1) aware of the subjectivity of what they believe, and 2) does not embrace bigoted or anti-progressive (or otherwise negative) ideals as a result of their religion, I don’t really see the problem. I probably have subjective beliefs that contradict objective reality too, they just don’t happen to be of a religious nature. Meh…

    2. Alogia

      As far as your side note, in practice this seems to me to be the true distinction between the two groups: The “True Believer” and that of the general skeptic or Aristotelean, be it religious or not.

      However, I must also add the caveat that I do not think that a pure rationality will or does lead to a kind of liberal democratic approach to life which follows Kant’s dictum that all humanity must be an end-in-itself. Eugenics can very easily be upheld quite rationally without any fanaticism, even if most would find it morally offensive to suggest there may be such a rational basis. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating eugenics; my point merely is that this idea that not being a fanatic means you are a Kantian does not necessarily follow.

      1. James Sweet

        Eugenics can very easily be upheld quite rationally without any fanaticism,

        So now we are stretching way afield… but I don’t actually agree with this statement.

        Eugenics is a more difficult one to argue, so let me start with an easier example: It was recently argued to me that if our only ideal was pragmatism, we would leave the elderly to die once they stopped contributing to society. I think that is hogwash. Any truly pragmatic approach must factor in our status as members of H. sapiens, and last time I checked, most members of that species get really pissed when you kill their aging parents. A course of action which enrages 100% of your population is not pragmatic.

        I think similar objections can be made to eugenics, and other examples you can cite. True, these do hinge on concerns which are arguably “irrational” on the personal level, but which are most certainly rational on the societal level. It would be quite an irrational public policy which violated 100% of the governed population’s irrational beliefs! heh….

        1. Alogia

          The eugenics example is merely what first came to mind, which did not mean to take the conversation into a debate about eugenics.

          I agree that a policy which violates the irrational beliefs of most people would be irrational, but that is aside from the point really (as now you have to debate as to whether a democratic approach to government is or can be somehow ‘rationally’ defended, i.e what are ‘self evident’ rights, etc. I don’t think this is the place for that conversation either.)

          I don’t think that you really addressed my main point though, which is that rationality is not the fundamental basis of most of what we consider to be ‘unfanatic’. I mean for this to be considered as a pure thought experiment contained in a black box of pure rationality, not as an approach to current public policy.

          I am merely quibbling with the argument that a kind of ‘rational atheism’ must end in mainstream morality which does not or could not ever justify any of the acts birthed from religious fundamentalism.

          1. James Sweet

            I don’t think that you really addressed my main point though, which is that rationality is not the fundamental basis of most of what we consider to be ‘unfanatic’

            That word “fundamental” clears up the confusion. Yes, I agree with that statement wholeheartedly.

            My main point is that much of “the fundamental basis of most of what we consider to be ‘unfanatic'” consists of inescapable realities of being human. I don’t like to see other H. sapiens in pain, and I can’t just up and decide I’m going to feel differently. Unless I engage in a concerted effort to recondition myself to feel differently, I’m stuck with that irrationality.

            And thusly, while I agree with your main point, I’m not so sure I agree with the following “quibble”:

            I am merely quibbling with the argument that a kind of ‘rational atheism’ must end in mainstream morality which does not or could not ever justify any of the acts birthed from religious fundamentalism.

            I would argue that applying a ‘rational atheism’ within the constraints of what is entailed by our biology very much does lead towards a mainstream morality of sorts. It’s not universally objective, but I do think it is objective within the confines of being a human.

            I have an overlong discussion of my thoughts on the matter here if you feel like wasting some serious time on armchair philosophy 🙂

  3. razib

    amen brother! the key issue is the terror that someone, somewhere, will have a belief that is false. the horror! i am an atheist. my lack of theism informs me, and shapes how i relate to other human beings, and situation myself in american society. but it does not define who i am, and i am not ‘burning for the atheism’.

    and of course we’re shaped by the christian culture. that’s just a contingent fact of our existence as westerners. similarly, chinese atheists are shaped by the religious presuppositions common in chinese society. and so forth.

    1. James Sweet

      the key issue is the terror that someone, somewhere, will have a belief that is false. the horror!

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. I happen to think some of Mark’s beliefs are not just different from my own, but are in fact objectively wrong(*) — but that is not in and of itself a sufficient condition for going off and e-mailing someone to tell them so!! It’s the old SIWOTI syndrome.

      * Sorry Mark, I really don’t mean to preach, it’s just hard to discuss this topic without mentioning that I do in fact think this… I apologize! Really!

      1. MarkCC

        No problem. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me. I don’t even mind people disagreeing with me strenuously and grumpily on my blog. Frankly, I don’t even really mind people thinking I’m an idiot for believing the wrong thing. I just hate being proselytized as if I’d never, ever heard an argument for jesus/against religion before.

  4. Brian Utterback

    Of course secular groups have used suicide bombers. It just takes the belief that the bomb will accomplish a goal that is worth more to you than your life. It is just easier to convince someone who believes in an afterlife that a goal is worth more than their life, since in many religions the afterlife is even better than the life they have.

    Funny thing is, it is the religious that often accuse atheists of the inability to have such altruistic beliefs, thinking that Nihilism and selfishness the only possible result of atheism. Atheists on the other hand, claim that they are just as able to experience altruism as the religious. Therefore, secular suicide bombers back up the atheists claims, and disprove the religious viewpoint. Rather than disavow suicide bombers, they should point to them as proof of their claims.

    1. MarkCC

      I agree with you in principle. The problem is that, fundamentally, the kind of people I’m ranting about are a kind of extremist. They’re absolutely unwilling to contemplate the idea that their beliefs/worldview could possibly be *bad*.

      Sometimes giving up your own life *is* rational. But to do it as part of something like a suicide bombing? Even if it’s rational, in the sense that there’s an absolute 100% chance of achieving an important goal by doing it, it’s still *bad*. And extremists can’t accept the idea of their belief/worldview being part of something bad.

  5. Karen

    I feel the same way about people who try to convince me that Mad Men is good or that tofu is gross. You can’t reason away matters of belief.

    I had a reverse conversion attempt once. My best friend in high school was in some sort of hardcore church where women wore skirts and such, but she wouldn’t talk to me about it; she said that ignorance can be forgiven, but that if someone hears the truth and rejects it (as she correctly assumed I would do), they are condemned.

    1. Jack

      I think you’re confusing belief with taste. Of course you can reason away matters of belief. Are you really saying reason never changed your beliefs about anything? Reason never informs you? That would be completely crazy.

      1. James Sweet

        I had a similar objection to Karen’s analogy. But I do think there is still a nugget of truth here… Sufficiently self-aware theism — and from what Mark’s written in the past, I think his beliefs fall into this category — have a lot of “taste-like” traits.

        Karen might say a) “I don’t like Mad Men,” but she wouldn’t say b) “James Sweet doesn’t like Mad Men.” Moreover, because it is a “taste” rather than a “belief”, we implicitly understand that if Karen said, “Mad Men sucks”, she would be implying statement (a) rather than statement (b) — or even that she was advocating for statement (b) to be true.

        Now, if compression crank Jules were to say, “Jesus is Lord and Savior”, because it is a belief, we would assume that he was implying both a) “Jesus is my Lord and Savior” and b) “Jesus is James Sweet’s Lord and Savior”. That kind of belief can definitely be reasoned away, and furthermore, it is worthy of open and unrestrained criticism.

        But I gather that Mark’s beliefs are a little different. When he says, “I pray to a personal God”, I believe he is implying a) “When I pray, a personal God listens to my prayers” — but I’m not so sure that Mark is implying b) “If James Sweet were to pray, a personal God would listen to his prayers”. Mark can correct me if I’m wrong, but when he has discussed his theistic beliefs, I get the impression that he doesn’t really have an opinion on the veracity of statement (b) either way. The truth value of that statement does not seem to even be a part of his beliefs. At least, that’s the feeling I have gotten — again, tell me if I am wrong, Mark!

        It’s not exactly clear whether the latter kind of “belief” can be “reasoned away”. And even if it could, there’s really not a whole lot to criticize about it. Since Mark’s beliefs do not really apply to me, why do I care? (Jules’ beliefs, on the other hand, most definitely do apply to me, so I will loudly and proudly declare them a crock of shit)

        1. Jack

          Now I think you are confusing belief with taste. “Jesus is my Lord and Savior” is not a matter of taste, it’s a statement of objective, external fact. A belief, if you believe it. So is “When I pray, a personal God listens to my prayers”.

          And if Mark have not actually said that, I’d prefer you use “if Mark were to say”, not “when he says”. Or, better, not use Mark at all.

          1. James Sweet

            No no, you misunderstand me. I agree that “When I pray, a personal God listens to my prayers” is a belief. I’m just saying, that type of belief has some “taste-like” attributes. I think I established what I meant by that fairly clearly, so I won’t repeat it. But to be clear, I was most definitely not denying that statement was a belief.

            Re: What Mark actually said… I know he said “I pray” at least once in the past, and I am pretty sure he said something about believing in a personal God — or at least disclaimed deism, which I would argue is equivalent.

            I am not sure Mark ever explicitly said he believes that those prayers are listened to, but I didn’t say he said that — I said we might imagine he is implying that based on the other statement.

            So I don’t think I am putting words in Mark’s mouth. But maybe I am wrong. If I did, I apologize.

        2. Karen

          It might help if we clarified what “reasoned away” meant. We could all agree that “Jesus is Lord” does not hold up as a factual statement, but I doubt it would affect Jules’ thoughts one bit. So, even if we “reason away” his statement to our own satisfaction, we didn’t reason away *his* belief. We can win the argument, but nothing actually changes.

          Maybe the point of confusion is the word “belief.” I don’t tend to use that word outside of matters of the heart (if I may be squishy). I don’t believe that gravity works — I understand that gravity works. There’s no “believe” or “not believe” involved. So, to that extent, I guess I don’t let logic sway my beliefs, just my understanding of the world.

          1. James Sweet

            So, even if we “reason away” his statement to our own satisfaction, we didn’t reason away *his* belief. We can win the argument, but nothing actually changes.

            This ignores the fact that many theists have been convinced by reasoned argument, over a long period of time. It’s rare, but by no means unheard of. There’s a great series of YouTube videos I’d link to if I could think of any search terms…

            But that’s not even what I’m getting at. My point is that while I think one can make a powerful reasoned argument against the statement “I believe in Jesus because he is my savior” (regardless of whether the argument succeeds in convincing the believer), I am not so sure one can make a powerful reasoned argument against the statement, “I believe in God for my own personal reasons.” The latter statement does not pretend to be premised on objective truth that would apply equally to me and you and everyone else. There may be philosophical objections to it — maybe — but it’s hard to really mount a reason-based argument against.

          2. Karen

            Don’t worry, James, I’m sure I could get to those videos. I think a soundly argued case could cause a person of faith to examine their belief, but if the person still feels closeness to God, they’re not going to convert.

            I’m not sure there’s a substantive difference between “because he’s my savior” and “for my personal reasons” except that the second statement keeps the reason private. You can’t argue against that because the element you would need to pick apart is essentially opaque. That doesn’t make it a more solid belief at its core, just one more difficult to build a case against in public.

          3. James Sweet

            I think a soundly argued case could cause a person of faith to examine their belief, but if the person still feels closeness to God, they’re not going to convert.

            But over time, frequent re-examination of one’s beliefs can lead to a change in feeling.

            I get what you’re saying. I suppose it’s true that reason is extremely unlikely to directly change a person’s religious beliefs. But it sure can indirectly influence them!

            I’m not sure there’s a substantive difference between “because he’s my savior” and “for my personal reasons” except that the second statement keeps the reason private. You can’t argue against that because the element you would need to pick apart is essentially opaque.

            I suppose you are right… I guess I feel like there is an implication baked into the opacity, an implication about applicability. But maybe I am just reading into it what I want… To be more clear: To me, the opacity implies an acknowledgment that the belief does not necessarily reflect objective reality. But I may be wrong in reading that implication into it.

          4. Michael

            Actually you can’t really reason away any faith based belief. Applying any sort of scientific process to atheism, theism, or any other faith based belief system is ludicrous and completely misses the point. So no, you can’t win the argument.

            If someone says they are an atheist, or they are a Christian, or they are Jewish, these are statements of fact.

            If someone says atheism is truth, or Christianity is truth, or Judaism is truth, these are statements of faith.

          5. James Sweet

            Riiiiiiiight, Michael… because a statement that “this cracker is Jesus!” is on exactly the same footing as “I see no evidence of a divine being at work in the universe”. Clearly.

      2. Karen

        If you believe in God, you almost certainly can’t get talked out of it. If you don’t believe in God, I can assure you you can’t get talked into it. That is the problem with religious arguments; they don’t lead anywhere. Reason can change your beliefs about things that are provable, but not about things that are not.

        1. James Sweet

          If you believe in God, you almost certainly can’t get talked out of it. If you don’t believe in God, I can assure you you can’t get talked into it.

          Well, this is demonstrably false…

          1. Karen

            Really? People actually get talked into accepting God into their hearts? That just seems impossible. People can preach at you all day, but unless you want to believe, you just plain won’t.

        2. Jack

          “[T]hings that are provable, but not about things that are not.”
          I’d like some examples from both categories, and a definition of ‘provable’ to go, please.

          1. Karen

            Let’s use the definition “can be demonstrated to be either true or false” for “provable.” “Tofu is delicious” is not provable. “God is love” is not provable. “If you let go of that hammer, it will fall” is provable and true. “Women have more ribs than men do” is provable and false.

          2. James Sweet

            If the statement “If you let go of that hammer, it will fall” is provable, then I would argue that the statement “There is no personal God who intervenes in the universe” is also provable (and false). Both rely on inductive reasoning.

          3. James Sweet

            Derp, ouch, um, “you know what I meant”. Should have been: “There is a personal God who intervenes in the universe” is provable and false. Whoops.

  6. Vicki

    There’s a large logical fallacy there, of course: “Atheism is rational, therefore only a rational person can be an atheist” is the same shape of argument as “X is true, therefore any argument in favor of X is a valid argument.”

    Someone could be an atheist because they can’t bear the possibility of being sent to hell, or because the local priest is a known child-rapist and therefore they disagree with him on everything, or because they were raised by atheists and trust their parents.

    I’m an atheist myself, but “I don’t want there to be a hell” is no better an argument for atheism than “I want there to be a heaven” is an argument against it, and “it’s what I was raised with” is no more a sound argument against religion than for it.

    1. Alogia

      I agree, but if you really wanted to be the devils advocate, you could ask Nietzsche’s ‘most daring question’: Why truth? Why not untruth?

    2. muteKi

      Certainly true. I remember the controversy from a little while back, when Bill Maher got an award by the AAI. I think it would be fair to say that his beliefs weren’t fully rationally constructed, at least as it pertains to science and medicine.

  7. Brian

    Don’t complain about the atheists badgering you, Mark. Those people emailing you aren’t true atheists. How do I know? Because a true atheist would never proselytize!

  8. bsci

    How sad. All your religious crank mail is from christians and atheists?

    Are you sure no Jews have emailed you to tell you how your beliefs are all wrong? I expect more from the Jews. Perhaps your adding some more adjectives describing your Judaism in this post will bring some out. 🙂

    1. MarkCC

      Interestingly, in my blog email, I don’t think that I’ve *ever* gotten mail from another Jew trying to convince me of the foolishness of my reconstructionist ways. Not even my brother, who’s a super-orthodox rabbi!

      I’ve gotten plenty from them in other contexts. But not this one. I don’t know why.

  9. Rob Renaud

    As a weak atheist, I totally understand why the fundamentalist Christians are emailing you. In their mind, with some small probability, they are saving you from a life of eternal damnation, E[send mail] = .0001 * inf. The expected utility incredibly high, depending on how much value you place on saving souls. It seems totally worth the < 20 minutes it takes them to write the email.

  10. Jason Dick

    As a relatively new follower to your blog (I’ve read a post here and there previously, but haven’t really started following it until recently), I was a bit surprised to hear about your religiosity. I’m just so used to almost every scientist (or related scholar) being an atheist that it just struck me as out of place.

    My guess, then, is that in the changeover to Scientopia, a fair portion of your readership is now different than before, hence the increase in e-mails. Unless they’re nuts, they probably won’t e-mail you again unless you respond (but that doesn’t help a whole lot when there’s 30,000 new readers on this post who see it for the first time, I suppose).

    I know that personally, I thought about sending you something (used to be a conservative Christian who now thinks all religion is just flat wrong). But seriously, what could I say? And more to the point, what could I say without being a jerk? I mean, I don’t know what you believe. Even if I were a Jew at one point, there’s definitely no way to guarantee that your particular flavor of Judaism would be similar to my own.

    There is further the problem that today, I have a hard time understanding even my own previous belief system. The conservative Christian belief system just seems so absurd to me now that I can’t even talk to a conservative Christian of my own former persuasion and properly explain to them why I was convinced it’s all bunk. How could I possibly relate to somebody with a different belief system entirely? If I were to really argue with you, I’d have to first understand your position, what you believe, why you believe it, etc. But why the hell would you want to subject yourself to a long, patient discussion of your own beliefs with somebody who just wants to argue that they are wrong?

    I really have to agree with the bad argument point, though. I cringe every time I see a particularly poor argument. My personal pet peeves lie in the area of cosmology, where people will sometimes attempt to use the law of conservation of matter to disprove a god, or similar things that reflect a poor understanding of early-universe cosmology. Granted, I may have some poor arguments rattling around in my head too. I try to keep updating them to make sure they remain as solid as possible. That’s not always easy, though, because as much as I want to be right, it’s never comfortable when I realize I’ve been wrong.

  11. DSimon

    I’m an atheist, and a somewhat “preachy” one at that: I’m always up for a good debate with a theist, and part of the reason for that is that I genuinely think that the world would be a better place if there were less religion.

    But, I feel confident that I’m not a “preachy twit” because I don’t go around starting those sorts of debates out of context. I have no idea why the atheists who are emailing you think any incidential mention of being religious provides such a context… but by doing that, they’re crossing the line into jerkface territory.

  12. Bard

    I am here to convert you to the worship of Shemgroth®. Shemgroth® is a new, discount-rate deity. FDA studies show that Shemgroth® condemns 41% fewer worshippers to everlasting torment than the average omnipotent being. Furthermore, this is achieved with an 18% net reduction in annual time spent at religious ceremonies, and an astounding 14% net reduction in fees. Convert to the worship of Shemgroth® today!

    (Warning: Shemgroth® is a subsidiary of Stark Corporation. Worship of Shemgroth® can result in hair loss, toluene production from the ears, unsteadiness, dyspepsia, ghostly visitations, moral torpidity, hangnails, ozone layers, and thanatopsis. Consult a theological officer if symptoms persist.)

    1. Michael

      Haha — this reminds me of a billboard I saw after a particularly bad hail storm once. The billboard said Hail elujah. For the next six months, Elujah was my personal lord.

  13. David Espinoza

    I agree with you for most of what you said. But I must say that, while not being an orthodox Christian myself, I think a true Christian would not behave as the crusaders or the inquisitioners. I also think that a true Jewish person would not bomb civilians. Because violence and murder are specifically forbidden in the Scriptures. I define a religious person as someone who follows the Scriptures of his religion to the most of his abilities. I think that most religions and spiritual knowledge coincide in the most important issues: Honesty, Non-Violence, Respect, Justice, Temperance. It is quite amazing though, that some people call themselves religious and don’t follow the most elemental aspects of their religion.

    1. MarkCC

      That’s easy to say, but it doesn’t jibe well with reality.

      Take a look at Israel. In general, we think of Judaism as being a peaceful religion, particularly in comparison with the most visible forms of christianity and islam. But when Baruch Goldstein went to a shrine, and murdered a bunch of people, he was turned into a hero. Many of the orthodox people in Israel treat his grave like a shrine.

      What he did doesn’t have any connection to the Judaism that I believe in. But there are plenty of Jews in the world who disagree, and who believe that he was a heroic figure acting in the best tradition of Judaism.

      1. James Sweet

        Hey, I think I just figured something out.

        The “No True Scotsman” fallacy may actually be okay when you are talking about whether an ideology leads to a behavior. One might dispute the statement that “Christianity leads to homophobia” by saying, “That’s not True Christianity!”, and I might go along with that line of argumentation — with the caveat that what this person means by “True Christianity” is clearly outside of the mainstream interpretation. But if they wanted to advocate the benefits of this “True Christianity”, I could go along with that as a label.

        OTOH, if someone tried to dispute the statement that “Christians in the US are more likely to be homophobic than their non-believing counterparts” by asserting “But those aren’t True Christians!”, then sorry, fail.

        Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking. I like to say that secular totalitarianism is an oxymoron (the leader(s) of a totalitarian state is/are God(s)), but I also can’t deny that some totalitarian states claim to be atheistic. The above reformulating of when No True Scotsman applies allows me to have my cake and eat it too 🙂

        1. Jason Dick

          No, this isn’t accurate. The fundamental problem is that the No True Scotsman fallacy takes the form:

          All X have property A.
          (But, these X don’t have property A!)
          Oh, well, all X except those who don’t have property A have property A!

          The problem, in short, comes in defining the “True” Christian or Atheist or whatever by specious criteria that are tailor-made to exclude the undesirable components. So explicitly excluding the “violent” members of the group by defining the group as non-violent is a classic example of the fallacy.

          The way around the fallacy is to show a reasonable definition for your group. What I would do with atheism, for instance, is mention that atheists are a very broad and disparate group incorporating a whole cornucopia of philosophies, and I’m only arguing for a particular subset of those. In particular, my views most closely mirror secular humanism, and I’m not aware that there have been any particularly violent secular humanists at all. Granted, perhaps there was one or two here or there (we are humans, after all, and some humans are violent…), but I’m certainly not aware of any secular humanists engaging in violent tactics to expand secular humanism.

          Here I wouldn’t in any way be saying that a secular humanist is the only “true” atheist, as atheism is merely a lack in god belief. I’d just be saying that I’d prefer to argue against any form of irrationality, whether theistic or atheistic (e.g. Christianity or Reiki).

          Then again, I wouldn’t really engage in this sort of argument at all myself, because I think it’s a particularly weak one. It’s just an argument from consequences, and the consequences of a belief really don’t have any bearing one way or the other on whether or not a belief is true. I think such questions as to the consequences of belief are potentially interesting, but just irrelevant when deciding what to believe.

          1. ix

            Nice clarification of the fallacy.

            Can we stop using the crusades as an example though? The “not real christians” crowd has a point: the catholic religion of that era has precious little to do with the christian religions of this. It’s been a few too many centuries to really serve as a good example, except in very specific cases (if someone were to tell you “religion has never led to genocide”, well go ahead).

            As an ex-catholic, nothing annoys me more than the type of atheist who argues that eliminating religion would magically solve all our problems. People wouldn’t just overnight stop being evil or bigoted, they’d just be more open about their reasons for looting your houses and raping your women.

            Just sayin’.

      2. David Espinoza

        Yes, if you define a religion “A” as the set of spiritual and moral values believed by most of the people who claim to believe in “A”, then you would get into some contradictions.
        You could also define a religion as the set of spiritual and moral values teached and defended by the clerical elite who claims to believe in “A”.
        The fact is that most of the “organized” religions, Judaism, Christianism and Islam, have a clerical elite. People who are in charge of dictating what the followers should believe. This elite often has its own interests, political or economical, and they will not hesitate to distort the set of moral values in order to achieve their goals.
        Of course I am not talking about all of them, but you get the idea, right?
        So if the clerical elite says this guy Baruch Goldstein should be considered a hero, then he most certainly will, at least by those who follow that clerical elite.
        I could protest against this elite, I could quote the Scriptures in order to condemn their actions, by they would simply call me a renegade,
        or they would expel me. In ancient times they would have killed me.

      1. Joshua Zelinsky

        Hey! No one ordered me to kill anyone!

        More seriously, yes, my namesake was ordered by God to commit largescale genocide. Joshua was when you come down to it a genocidal tribal warlord who if he lived today would be right at home in Somalia or the Balkans.

  14. SAWells

    It would be interesting to know why you’re a theist, if you know all the usual arguments against the existence of gods, and something about the nature of the god you believe in.

    1. scineram

      It would be interesting to know why you’re an atheist, if you know all the usual arguments against the nonexistence of gods, and something about the nature of the gods you don’t believe in.

      1. bsci

        Not true. A faculty acquaintance of mine in a religion department found a box containing the complete non-science fiction works of L Ron Hubbard in front of her office door one day. She confirmed that she wasn’t the only religion faculty member to receive such a box.

        1. Flavin

          …complete non-science fiction works of L Ron Hubbard…

          No such thing!

          …Sorry. That fruit was just hanging there so low.

        2. Tuomoћ

          I Live in Finland. Scientologists sends those box with books routinelly. In every library have many boxes these “in basement”. Amounts of those books are extraordinary large.

          Even Jehovahs Wittnesses are not as eager to share books. (And I got many of those as well.)

          But they spam only with the “starter kit”. Everything else is secret. You pay, you will know. And paying is not enough. You must have commitment in many actions; Actions have large scale and variety. They bound you in the system bit by bit. And they call it progressing.

          Free books are the “hook”. They cause “awareness” : Scientology exist. And “curiosity” ; What they are saying.

          And they promise much. And it did not sound “religious” ; In start they just promise you can learn think more fast and accurate. And better your lifes quality and solve social problems. Even work better without gettin as tired. [Sounds much what “sceptical inquier” is doing .. for me at least. 😉 ]

  15. Phil

    It’s easy to see why Christians are so preachy – after all, some believe that all non-believers will go straight to Hell. If you have this belief, it seems you are morally obligated to be as annoying and preachy as possible. When you throw Biblical commandments to proselytize into the mix, it’s easy to see why Christianity is so wide-spread.

    On the other hand, it’s a bit harder to see why atheists would be so dogmatic. I guess they just see religion as the ultimate enemy of progress and so are compelled to argue against it. I don’t see why a blogger’s private beliefs should be so threatening.

    1. Philip Langmuir

      On the other hand, it’s a bit harder to see why atheists would be so dogmatic. I guess they just see religion as the ultimate enemy of progress and so are compelled to argue against it.

      I have a different theory: you don’t have to be religious to be a dick.

      1. Philip Langmuir

        And on the off-chance anyone’s curious, my only purpose in linking to someone being provocatively anti-theist was to be exemplary.

  16. Tuomoћ

    I am pretty certain this kind of react don’t lessen the burden.

    It can actually be putting more fire. Now they have to make clear their point, why it is good and intresting topic – and stuff. Or even some need of “apologie -started” tones, which continue with something like “but you have misunderstood me. I am polite and respect you, I just need to flood my clishés to you personally”.

    If there is a magick bullet, I don’t know. Wonder if you can make some kind of repetition algorithm. The messages aren’t that unique. But they tend to be long, so combinations and orders of clishés might be unique..

    As an agnostic I can understood a bit of your pain. For christians I am “just “polite atheist” which don’t have guts”. And for atheists I am just a “wannabe -rationalist who needs only a bit more convincing..”

    I once used Richard Wein’s comment as my motto He said it only with ID. “Critics of Intelligent Design pseudoscience are faced with a dilemma. If they discuss it in polite, academic terms, the Intelligent Design propagandists use this as evidence that their arguments are receiving serious attention from scholars, suggesting this implies there must be some merit in their arguments. If critics simply ignore Intelligent Design arguments, the propagandists imply this is because critics cannot answer them. My solution to this dilemma is to thoroughly refute the arguments, while making it clear that I do so without according those arguments any respect at all.” It reminds me that “you can not win”. You can only choose the way you lose.

  17. Mu

    As a mildly catholic scientist I’m pretty safe from the proselytizing on the Christian side, being able to throw 2000 years of evil church up like a protective barrier. But I drive my atheist friends nuts by having no problems with the whole God thing maybe not being true; I’m just happy with “love you neighbor’ as a philosophy. The only thing I’m afraid off is standing outside heaven, next to PZM, and watching all the Jehovah’s witnesses inside. That would be a downer.

  18. Ari

    Mark, I found your pronouncement of theism intriguing. Could you just talk briefly (if only here in the comments) about your theistic beliefs. What flavor of theism do you hold? (How) do you struggle personally with your beliefs over time?

    1. John Armstrong

      Translation: “after you just told us that your theism is your own personal business and you don’t want to be bothered over it — and especially not to have people try and dissuade you from it — I would like to bother you over it and possibly dissuade you from it.”

      1. Katherine

        You missed the other translation: “I don’t want to do any of the work trying to figure out what you believe (so I can bug you about it) by reading what you’ve already written about it (in comments on this post and other places), so I’m going to ask you straight out, because I’m only here from a search on theism/atheism/preachy twits.”

    2. Tuomoћ

      This “personal” tone is intresting. It is extremelly common. And strange. When totally unknown people comes to you and ask very personal things. I have commented multiple times in these pledges. Once I even make a mistake of my life : I answered honestly.

      Answering gives always “weapons” to te preacher : Who have only one goal. To convert other. That is unbalanced power ; They are teachers, who are right and know better. They don’t have to change their minds, they are “right”. And others are student, who are wrong and need convert. They are “wrong”. And preacher try to do almost anything to make that fantasy become reality.

      Actually they have different answers in different kind of people, and questions just help they to find the way ; If you have not been christian, you are “not experienced”, and your lack of living as christian (or something else) is reason they see you are against it. You hate what you don’t know. And if you have experience, then you are bittered with christian individuals, not christianity, but mess them with other. You can not win, you can only choose the way you lose. (And this is is just one excample. I have used multiple religious people and multiple pseudonyms to dig this up. I’m kind of intrested in their strategies. Ideologies are not as fun as tactic how it is “on market”.)

      And if you tell about your “stuggles” they find automaticly what is your “painful spots”. And they strike through them. It is totally unhuman – and jet “a standard action”. And your weakness are “now”. Preacher can tell about their own personal struggles. But they are tend to be “before I turn Christian (or something else) I…” -stories. They tell them partly becouse humans tend to share : They tell teir story and you tell your. It is just that they are not equal : They assist you to tell them things that may make your worldwiew/you vulnerable to change. But they don’t do same themselves.

      When unknown people, stranger, plays as your friend and dig up your personal things – what you don’t necessarily tell even your “normal friends” – it is just strange. I have always couple counterasks. How long is your penis? What is your favourite sex position? And if they say that it is not nice to ask questions like that, i just reply “Sorry. I thought we have an competition, and try to find out most embarrasing and personal questions.”

      1. James Sweet

        I thought we have an competition, and try to find out most embarrasing…questions

        Hmmm, the implication being that someone’s religious beliefs are embarrassing. Man, and I thought I was anti-theistic!

        1. Tuomoћ

          Whaat? I am totally not antisexual either! Religious believe is just as personal thing.

          When I was teached by a devoted fundamentalist, he says to me that it is wrong to claim that they hate sex. They just feel it is totally personal thing, and showing it publicly is kind of not cool.

          Perhaps you mix terms with same way?

  19. Michael

    Mark I feel really bad that you have to deal with this nonsense. I bet a good portion of this came up as a result (the desired result) of that mail you got about compression.

    Every belief system out there essentially declares the absolute truth about a subject that by definition is impossible to know. By “every belief system” I mean all religions and atheism. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong; it just means that arguing the point is silly.

    Thank you, Mark, for not engaging in that.

    I happen to be a Christian for what it’s worth but based on how you carry yourself, I’d be willing to bet that you and I agree about a whole heck of a lot. There are good Christians and good Atheists out there… You just get to meet all the jackasses.

  20. Benjamin_sa

    You should set up a filter to forward the pushy atheist messages onto any mail addresses from the pushy Christians and visa versa. Get them arguing with each other and avoid bothering you.

    1. ecologist

      I was gonna say exactly that! I imagine them cancelling each other out, like matter and anti-matter, but it probably wouldn’t happen that way 🙁

  21. Martins

    I’m catholic and I never expect anyone to change their beliefs 🙂
    And I hope nobody will try to drag me out of church as I’m not trying to drag anyone in. 🙂

  22. Timothy V Reeves

    I’ll second that comment by Michael. Perhaps I don’t read your blog closely enough, but I always assumed you were an atheist. Thanks for “coming out” so clearly and forthrightly . You have my full support and best wishes.

    The comment by “Mu” above made me laugh. The imaginary scenario he sketches out would have some consolation though: We would also have Ken Ham and the entire AiG staff standing with us. What do mean, that’s no consolation?

    1. Mu

      We would also have Ken Ham and the entire AiG staff standing with us.
      TVR, you just proved conclusively, if there’s a heaven there is a hell too. Thanks a lot.

  23. JK

    If only the boundless energy and enthusiasm put into the proselytizing of various opinions and beliefs could be harnessed…

    In any case thanks for tanking the crazies in the interest of the rest of us who love the enthralling articles on math et al. I’ve read every article and any day that features a new one is ever so slightly better than a day that does not – reawakened my enthusiasm for more areas of math than I have time to pursue (and led to many sleepless nights just learning enough of the basics to appreciate the arguments raised).

    An article on bayesian probability/filtering with a lean towards calculating the probably ‘preachyness’ of any given inbound email would be both amusing and interesting (guess it’s just a limited example of the general spam identification problem but I’m kind of curious) and could be part of a graceful segue towards something a bit more mathy.

  24. John Armstrong

    I don’t even mind the converters so much as the outright jerks. And again, this goes for both sides.

    And now I’m idly wondering what the science blogosphere’s reaction would have been if PZ had thrown a Torah into a bonfire while screaming “It’s just paper!”

    1. Jason Dick

      That would be a reasonable protest if some Jews had managed to enact some serious negative consequences on a person that had done something to the Torah that those Jews considered sacrilegious. I’m not aware that Jews are anywhere close to as uptight about the Torah as Catholics are about the eucharist, though, so the likelihood of this happening is rather slim. Possible, I suppose, but not very likely.

      After all, most reasonable people should be rightly incensed at the insane reaction of Catholics to a person simply walking out of church with the eucharist. PZ’s response was entirely reasonable in that light, and a show of outrage over the unreasonable response to such an imaginary crime is exactly the right time to be a bit of a jerk with regard to religion.

        1. John Armstrong

          I was about to correct you on that.

          Here’s the point: some small number of Catholics were real assholes over it. Handled well, the vast majority of Catholics could have been brought on board to say “yeah, he shouldn’t have brought the host back to show his friend, but Donohue et. al. are going way overboard and need to STFU already.”

          Instead, Meyers goes out of his way to piss them off.

          1. MarkCC

            Yeah, exactly. I wrote about that back on the old SB GM/BM. PZ deliberately chose to do the most pointlessly assholish thing he could think of for absolutely no reason. It didn’t make any point. It didn’t accomplish anything, except to show what a childish asshole PZ was. It was no different from the christian assholes who are planning a big Koran burning in Manhattan. But you can be sure that PZ has some choice words for that gang..

          2. Jason Dick

            Even if you don’t agree that it was an appropriate response, here’s a question: under what situation is it okay to be a jerk?

            Because to me, if there is any situation under which it’s okay to be a jerk, it’s when somebody else is a jerk, and this results in real, negative consequences for somebody for no justifiable reason. The point here is that the Catholics at the school complained, and the student ended up facing sanction and expulsion. There was simply no justification for this behavior (all indications point to Cook making a mistake and not intending to cause any sort of incident).

            I suppose if there were more moderate Catholic groups that spoke out in defense of Cook, that condemned the statements of the Catholic league, there would be less of a reason to get upset over the incident. The problem comes about when the fundamentalists of a religion act like assholes, and the moderates do nothing but just let it happen.

            Furthermore, if you think that the only effect in this situation was PZ Myers showing how much of an asshole he can be, I would point out that his actions were quite shocking, and led many, many more people to learn about this situation than would have otherwise occurred. If he or others had not drawn attention to the case, a much smaller fraction of the populace would have had any idea what was going on. This sort of behavior of PZ’s part, then, had the direct and explicit result of getting people informed. If your goal is to stop behavior like that in response to Cook’s actions, then PZ’s behavior probably didn’t win anybody over to that side, but it likely did inform many people who already agree with PZ of the problem.

            And I’d also add that nobody was harmed as a result of PZ’s actions. Unlike the actions of those who had a very disproportionate reaction to Cook.

            P.S. Interesting about the Torah. I hadn’t known that “proper” copies of the Torah were hand-written. It makes perfect sense that something so painstakingly produced would be exceptionally valuable. I don’t think any reasonable non-Jew would disagree on that. However, what one can’t really expect is non-Jews to have any respect for a mass-produced copy of the same (aside from the normal respect we’d accord to another person’s belongings, of course).

            P.P.S. I would hope that PZ might have something to say about that, actually, because that to me seems to be a completely and utterly wrong action on the part of the Christians. I’m not happy about the Mosque myself, but the reactions of many Christians have been completely out of proportion. That is, one might imagine a peaceful protest (ideally: I’m sure the majority of the protest would be made up of “morans”, so in reality such a protest would be horrible and full of hate speech), but resorting to the dirty tactic of trying to get the city to ban the development? That’s just wrong. The misinformation surrounding the Mosque has also been absolutely asinine. And mass book burnings have entirely too many violent connotations for my tastes. It looks like in any case it probably won’t happen, because the fire department has banned the burning. However, PZ’s got some medical issues right now, so I’m not expecting him to write anything about it any time soon. Nor would I reasonably expect a response on some issue that was planned but never happened. He may, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ignored it.

      1. MarkCC

        Actually, Jews are considerably more uptight about the Torah than Catholics are about the eucharist.

        A torah is an incredibly painstakingly made artifact. The eucharist has a lot of meaning to catholics, but the fact is, they’re something that can be made by machine, easily produced by the thousands per minute, and purchased by the thousand for a fraction of a cent each. A torah is, aside from its religious meaning, a major artifact. It’s something which is made by hand, one at a time, by a craftsman who’s spent his entire life studying how to do it just right. Destroying one is like destroying a work of art.

        To get closer to the eucharist idea, most Jews would be very upset at desecrating a siddur (prayer book) or chumash (a machine-produced copy of the Torah, annotated with vowels and trope-marks in the text, and with commentary below).

        1. John Armstrong

          [hosts are] something that can be made by machine, easily produced by the thousands per minute, and purchased by the thousand for a fraction of a cent each

          Well… not exactly. Remember that the Catholic belief is that the consecrated host is in a real sense the physical presence of God, even though the bread was cheaply mass-produced before consecration.

          But the point isn’t “which group reveres their objects of veneration more”; it’s that desecrating what someone reveres — even if you don’t agree with them — is among the most supremely dickish of Dick Moves.

  25. amk

    wrt suicide bombing, Dying to Win doesn’t seem to have been mentioned – a book detailing an empirical study of suicide terror.

    Quote via wikipedia:

    “The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world’s religions. . . . Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland”

    The data is available on-line.

  26. chemicalbilology

    Awesome rant. It’s cathartic enough just to read someone say “Shut up.” with such an articulate context.

  27. Ergo Ratio

    There is a magic bullet. It’s called not giving so much as a microsecond of your attention to any of it.

    1. Katherine

      Does not bode well for this blog post reaching the people you want. Though perhaps you can set your email up to automatically reply with a link to this post?

  28. haig

    I was surprised to find out you were religious, since I wrongly assumed that because of your skeptical and erudite blog posts you must be an atheist. I had the same reaction when I found out that two great thinkers I admire, Martin Gardner and Don Knuth, were both theists. In those two cases my reactions varied–from understanding but not altogether agreeing with Martin Gardner’s fideism, to being utterly perplexed by Don Knuth’s antiquated Christian beliefs.

    I would really love to here what your beliefs are, even if I’m already biased to assume that I will object to them. It’s getting rarer to come across people I admire and find very smart who hold such different fundamental views of reality from the standard atheist/secular humanist line of thought. I think it would be stimulating to hear more.

      1. James Sweet

        John Armstrong: In fairness I hear where haig is coming from, and as I alluded to in one of the early comments, if I were shooting the shit with Mark in a pub it’s quite possible I’d ask similar questions. I don’t think he’s trying to “convert” Mark… but at the same time, you have to understand that for many of us it’s a fascinating juxtaposition. If nothing else, it can help us understand and empathize with other less-rational theists!

        But yeah, to haig: Mark’s made it pretty clear he doesn’t want to discuss it in detail. He doesn’t claim his reasons are rational, so it’s not as surprising as one might think… I mean, you and I certainly believe a few irrational things, right, even if we aren’t always aware of it? In that light, Mark’s personal theism is not that surprising… It’s scientist evangelicals and such that confuse me!

        1. John Armstrong

          I assumed that because of your skeptical and erudite blog posts you must be an atheist.

          In person or online, this is insulting. The immediate, rational implication is “I don’t believe theists (i.e.: you) can be smart, because if you were smart then surely you’d be an atheist.”

          And while the, “I’d like to hear more” isn’t itself an attempt to convert, it’s usually a tactic to draw a target out into an actual attempt. Evangelicals of all stripes use the “tell me what you believe [so I can attack it more specifically]” method.

          1. James Sweet

            And while the, “I’d like to hear more” isn’t itself an attempt to convert, it’s usually a tactic to draw a target out into an actual attempt.

            Maybe. Not always. I have a theistic co-worker with whom I’ve had very interesting discussions, and I’m pretty sure both of us are just seeking personal edification and to clarify our own feelings. My conversations with him have given me pause for reflection — and here’s the key thing, they could’t have given either of us pause for reflection if both of us weren’t stating our respective positions forthrightly.

            If Mark hadn’t just gotten done saying how he”s not interested in discussing it, there would be no problem with haig’s comment. I can’t help but think that the strong reaction to it is due less to the inappropriate timing (which I agree with) and more to this ridiculous idea that a person’s religious beliefs are always hands-off for open discussion.

          2. John Armstrong

            this ridiculous idea that a person’s religious beliefs are always hands-off for open discussion.

            Not always, but usually.

            Would you ask someone of another race if you could touch her hair (let alone actually touch it) without having built up enough of an existing relationship that it was clear you weren’t being creepy and invasive?

          3. James Sweet

            I might ask them how they got their hair to look like that…

            I don’t understand how asking someone questions about their faith is akin to physically touching them.

          4. James Sweet

            Anyway, I rest my case. You are giving religious viewpoints a privileged position above other viewpoints. I don’t. We disagree. No more progress can be made, I suppose.

            Hey, don’t ask me questions about what viewpoints I think should be privileged! That’s personal! :p

          5. John Armstrong

            Because it’s personal and invasive, and without an established relationship to clarify your intentions the subtext is almost always offensive.

            And I’m not privileging theistic positions. Your atheism would be similarly off-limits in casual (polite) conversation.

    1. Vicki


      Why on Earth should Mark spend his time telling you what he believes, when you’ve already stated a bias against both theism and theists?

      It is not his obligation to entertain you by letting you poke at his beliefs, or to educate you on Judaism. (There are people who do that professionally. They’re called rabbis.)

      1. James Sweet

        when you’ve already stated a bias against both theism and theists?

        Wait wait wait, since when is stating that you think a position is wrong indicative of a bias against the people who hold that position?

        I’m agreeing that haig’s comment was out of place in light of Mark’s very clear indication that he doesn’t want to talk about it, but it’s unfair to say that it indicates a “bias against theists”.

        If I said to someone, “Given your strong positions on feminism and gay rights, I was surprised to find out you are a Republican. Could you tell me more about why you think this way?”, would that indicate a bias against Republicans???

        (Of course, it would still be rude to say that after the person had just got done posting about how, yes, he was a Republican, and no, he’s not interested in discussing it…)

        1. Vicki

          Haig is the one who used “bias” to describe his own views. Yes, of theism rather than theists: but if someone were to tell me that he was biased against my positions on something I consider important, I probably wouldn’t waste my time on one-on-one education, much less of the “now I will poke at your ideas with a stick” sort that such online demands often are. (Frequently, such a person will refuse to look at a FAQ in favor of asking detailed questions of strangers on a forum. If an old friend wants my views on something instead of a FAQ, okay. J. Random Internet User, no.)

  29. Greg

    >They’re repeating the same thing that any non-christian has heard a thousand times before. But they really, genuinely believe that they’re the first one to bring their arguments to you. Because the argument is so powerful, so self-evident, that if you’d ever heard it before, you’d be a fundie just like them!

    This is probably how John Gabriel feels.

  30. John A. Davison

    I am a great fan of Albert Einstein who was Jew but he disagreed with the Jewish notion of Free Will and admitted that to that extent he was not a Jew. I occupy the same position as a Catholic which makes me a poor Catholic just as Einstein was a poor Jew. Einstein’s life long determinism is incompatible with Free Will and indicates a planned universe in which chance played at best a trivial role. I agree. My position is that both the inanimate and animate worlds are the result of an unknown number of programmers who apparently are no longer with us.

    Everything we see today pleads that significant organic evolution is no longer in progress and I will be happy to defend that proposition here or anywhere else I am allowed to hold forth. The current biota is not being replaced as tens of thousands of species have disappeared especially rapidly in the most recent historical times as man continus to ravage his environment.

    Natural selection, the kingpin of the Darwinian model, is purely anti-evolutionary as are Mendelian Genetics, Population Genetics and obligatory sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction can only generate intraspecific varieties and subspecies, neither of which are incipient species exactly as Richard B. Goldschmidt claimed seventy years ago. My conclusions are by no means entirely mine and are deeply influenced by some of the greatest biologists of the post-Darwin era.

    I have summarized my convictions with –

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”

    I hope my science can be received without producing the sort of hostility it has typically evoked. I am prepared to defend it and look forward to that opportunity here or anywhere else.

    1. Brian Utterback

      While I agree that past evolution is undeniable, it is completely wrong to say that present evolution is undemonstrable. The action if of evolution is easily seen going on today. New species are forming all the time. Even if everything else you said is true, isn’t it rather arrogant to suppose that now is the time that evolution has come to an end and we are the end product? Isn’t it more likely that we are an intermediate form ourselves?

      Of course, it is easily shown that evolution is not simply a one way street. Many species devolve and become simpler, losing this or that trait. The idea that evolution was pre-ordained has no evidence at all to recommend it. You quote from Bertrand Russell is very apt.

      1. Jason Dick

        Er, there’s no such thing as “devolution”. Yes, traits are lost, but it’s all just plain, normal evolution. Many other traits are retained, for instance, not because they themselves provide any fitness benefit, but because some other trait depends upon those for its development.

        For instance, humans still maintain all of the genes required to make a functional tail, not because we have any use for a tail, but because those genes are essential in producing other parts of our bodies. The genes to make a tail, then, are explicitly turned off in our genome. When something occurs to turn those genes on, you get a kid with a tail.

        But anyway, this is a bit off topic.

    2. Michael

      Quote: “Everything we see today pleads that significant organic evolution is no longer in progress and I will be happy to defend that proposition here or anywhere else I am allowed to hold forth. The current biota is not being replaced as tens of thousands of species have disappeared especially rapidly in the most recent historical times as man continus to ravage his environment.”


      Tons of evidence to the contrary but one will suffice:

      Present evolution is difficult to observe because it happens typically at a much longer scale pace than we are able to observe within a 80 year life span.

      Evolution, as you know is pretty hard to deny given the plethora of evidence. Why would you assume it suddenly stopped? Evolution helped our ancestors adapt as we migrated from Africa into vastly different climates. Evolution will continue to help us as our planet’s climate changes (warmer or colder, wetter or more arid).

  31. haig

    First off, I said I was ‘biased to *assume* that I will object to them’ which just shows I have enough self-reflected awareness and honesty to inform others of what my current state of mind is–everyone is biased, you can’t ever be completely open-minded, that’s not how human brains work, and I did my best to state that caveat up front. I won’t ever reject something before I’ve taken the time to reflect on it, but I also have priors that make the probabilities of shifting my beliefs in this case very low and that is what I meant by being ‘biased’.

    Second, I admit that my statement of being surprised that someone as skeptical as Mark could be a theist sounds rude, but again, I was being honest. Most religious people I come across are not skeptics, to put it mildly. The erudite thing might have been too harsh, sorry.

    Lastly, I think I missed where Mark said he didn’t want to talk about this, but if that is his wish, then, of course I will respect that. I don’t expect him to explain his beliefs to some punk commenter on the internet and even though I wasn’t attacking those beliefs at all and was just being curious, I can shut up about it and enjoy his regular posts just fine =).

  32. John A. Davison

    There is a unifying theme in the history of Darwinism, especially in the English speaking world. Its several critics over the century and a half of its existence have been consistently ignored. In order to achieve the supremacy of what is a completely failed model, the primary spokespersons supporting Darwin’s Victorian dream continue to this day to ignore the contributions of several of the finest minds that lived and died in that interval. It has become a primary responsibility of this investigator to resurrect the literature that the Darwinians continue to suppress. As one who has been cast into Paul Zachary Myers’ “Dungeon,” I represent just one of the more recent victims of those who seek to preserve Darwin’s atheist inspired fantasy. Most Darwinians have been content to only ignore their many adversaries but Myers seeks to destroy them entirely, a tactic doomed to failure and to his own undoing.

    I have recounted the history of Darwinism in my essay “What’s wrong with Darwinism?” which is available on my website under the Essays button at the top of the introductory page. I recommend it for those who still keep an open mind concerning the great mystery of our origins.

    In the meantime, I expect, like my predecessors, to be ignored here at scientopia which, as near as I can tell, is not friendly to those of us who question Darwin’s godless interpretation of the animate world.

    “A doctrine which is unable to maintain itself in clear light, but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind with uncalculable harm to human progress.”
    Albert Einstein

  33. John A. Davison

    Brian Utterback

    Evolution is not going on if one applies Dobzhansky’s criterion of speciation. Long ago I presented the following challenge. Name an exant species and its extant predecessor. No one has presented a proven example. Remember Dobzhansky’s requirement for two forms t0 qualify as separate species. Their hybrid must be sterile. Until my challenge has shown to be without merit I will persist with –

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”

    Now to save ourselves further time I will not accept what some taxonomist has to say or assume. What is required is the experimental proof under controlled conditions. I claim that such proof has not yet been established.

    I have been accused of constantly raising the bar on what constitutes a species. Nothing could be further from the truth . I am simply applying the criterion of a distinguished scientist who unfortunaley remained a Darwinian even after he had proved that Darwinian was dead wrong. I refer to Dobzhansky’s failed attempt to transform Drosophila melanogaster into a new species. He admitted his failure yet remained a Darwinian selectionist nevertheless, a prefect example of the conquest of ideology over scientific discovery.

    I am perfectly willing to accept continuing speciation as soon as it has been established experimentally and not a moment before.

    Incidentally, I am not the first to suggets that evolution is finished. Pierre Grasse made the same claim.
    Pierre Grasse, Evolution of Living Organisms, page 71

    Note the conflict between Grasse’s words and the title of his book. If you insist (and I hope you don’t), I will supply Grasse’s paragraph for you. I would like to think that every enlightened student of evolution would already be aware of this distinguished biologist’s complete denunciation of the Darwinian model.

  34. John A. Davison

    Here it is anyway, the last sentence in that very important paragraph.

    “Aren’t our plants, our animals lacking some mechanisms which were present in the early flora and fauna?

    I answer Grasse’s question with a resounding YES!!

  35. Amitai Sela

    I personally love being preached to. It gives me justification for preaching back. I do derive a sick pleasure from trying to break a fundie, atheist, ortho-fascist, or whatever. If I can bring just one of them over to my way of thinking, then I win. I do not presume to engage this debate with someone who does not start it, but if my beliefs are being put out there for debate, you best believe yours are as well.

  36. Noodles

    I love this. Thanks.

    I’m a fairly recent christian apostate (walked away about a year ago). In the past 25 years I have journeyed from christian fundamentalism, to moderate christian, to “Jesus was a good dude but the magic part’s bullshit” to agnostic. I will eventually end up at atheist. So, I have seen the whole religion thing from many different angles.

    I have many problems with the pushy attitude of the christian fundies. They simply will not leave people in peace to believe what they want to believe. Since my apostasy I have noticed much the same attitude and behavior from atheists, particularly the insufferable, elitist self-proclaimed “New Atheists”. These preening, strutting, attack-dog bores are the self-appointed intellectual elite of the 21st century. What’s funny, though, is that when they are not posing for each other and sucking up to a certain well-known science blogger, they engage in the exact same sort of proselytizing that the christian fundies do. Same methodology, different goal. And they’re totally blinded to it. These fundie atheists are just as bad as the christian fundies, and like the christian fundies, they’re too deluded by belief in their message to figure out that all they do is turn people off with their obnoxiousness.

    Ironically, I came to this article from said science blog. Maybe those New Atheist “preachy twits”, as you say, will learn something from your excellent post. Oh, wait, they’re fundies, so they won’t.

  37. James Sweet

    self-proclaimed “New Atheists”

    Ummmmm… no, not self-proclaimed. Actually, many “New Atheists” resent the label, arguing that there is nothing “new” about their position — forthright unapologetic atheism has been around for centuries.

    Anyway, although I strongly disapprove of the behavior Mark described here (and if you read the fucking comments, you’ll find that most outspoken atheists disapprove of this behavior… way to go with the strawman, Noodles) surely you must see that calling outspoken atheists “fundamentalists” is absurd in the extreme. Do followers of Dawkins blow up mosques? Do Pharyngulites picket at funerals? Do they suggest laws that would oppress those who disagree with them?

    No. That’s silly, and you’re silly.

  38. Antiquated Tory

    How do these guys even find your email address? I wanted to ask you for a decent lay source on Bayesian inference that was accessible to a layperson and that wasn’t by a True Believer. (I’m reading a True Believer’s stuff on the web right now, and while very interesting in some ways, I’d like a different perspective.) I don’t know if you even know or care anything about Bayes, but it seemed possible. Anyway, I’m sorry to bomb your comments with this, but I can’t find your email address. Maybe if I had the Holy Spirit to guide me, I would find it. 😉

  39. James Birkett

    This post made me curious; what do you actually believe in? I tried googling MarkCC reconstructionist to see if you explained what theistic reconstructionist Judaism means to you, but I didn’t find very much. I tried wikipedia, and couldn’t make much sense of it, it seems to be more akin to pantheism or deism than theism as I know it, but with an emphasis on Jewish customs. As such, it seems like a reasonable position I guess, but I’d very much like to know your views on the hebrew bible and it’s relevance to your beliefs.

      1. James Birkett

        I read most of it, there’s very little on the subject of Judaism at all (of any variety).

  40. Sphere Coupler

    Well Mark, you think you’ve got it rough?
    I am neither atheist nor theist,
    Personally for me the question is irrelevant…Both sides either hate me or are too perplexed to even understand.

      1. MarkCC Post author


        A theist is a person who believes that there is a deity. An atheist is a person who doesn’t believe that there is a deity.

        A person who doesn’t care, who thinks that the question of whether or not there is a deity isn’t necessarily someone who doesn’t believe that there’s a diety: they’re someone who doesn’t *care* whether or not there’s a deity.

        It seems to be that there is a subtle but real difference between “doesn’t believe” and “doesn’t care”: someone who does, on some level, believe that there might be a deity could fit in to the “doesn’t care”, but doesn’t fit into the “doesn’t believe”. Otherwise, I think you’re using a definition of atheism that would drag in all agnostics as atheists.

        1. James Sweet

          It seems to be that there is a subtle but real difference between “doesn’t believe” and “doesn’t care”: someone who does, on some level, believe that there might be a deity could fit in to the “doesn’t care”, but doesn’t fit into the “doesn’t believe”.

          We have to be careful here. I agree that “believes X is false” is clearly different from “does not care about the truth of X”. However, I would argue that “does not possess a belief that X is true” is compatible with and arguably inherent in “does not care about the truth of X”. (I suppose you could actively believe there was a God and still not care… so in that sense my initial comment was not technically true — but that is not what I think Sphere Coupler was saying)

          To put it more pithily, we need to be careful to distinguish between “does not believe” and “disbelieves”. If your definition of atheist is someone who disbelieves, then I agree that Sphere Coupler would not be an atheist. But I don’t think that definition is hugely useful.

          Otherwise, I think you’re using a definition of atheism that would drag in all agnostics as atheists.

          (I have to register a minor objection to the use of the phrase “drag in” — as if I’m trying to bolster the numbers or something?)

          Well, this is some what of a sore point… using precise definitions, yes: nearly all agnostics are atheists and nearly all atheists are agnostics. Using rougher, more popular definitions, of course, this is not the case.

          If “atheist” is defined as “a person who does not possess a belief that there is a God”, and “agnostic” is defined as “a person who believes that the question of God’s existence is fundamentally unknowable”, then I think it ought to be clear that there is a huge amount of overlap — though of course even those precise definitions have troubles because exactly what would count as a “God” is not exactly clear. I am not agnostic about the existence of the God described in the Bible, for instance, but I am agnostic about the existence of a deistic or even a mostly non-interventive God, in that I don’t think the proposition is at all falsifiable.

          Anyway, returning now to the rougher popular definitions, where an atheist is someone who operates under the clear assumption that there is no god (regardless of their opinion of the knowability of the question) whereas an agnostic is someone who is “actively uncertain”, if that makes any sense… I would still argue that Sphere Coupler’s professed position is still essentially atheistic. The popular definition of an agnostic is someone who thinks the so-called Big Questions matter very much, but who has not committed to answer on the God question. Sphere Coupler’s assertion of irrelevancy, OTOH, effectively rules out a role for God in the Big Questions — a distinctly atheistic position, IMO.

          On a side note… my (atheist) wife happens to agree completely with Sphere Coupler. I, on the other hand, think that while the existence of many conceivable gods would be irrelevant, the existence of some gods — such as the one described by a literal reading of the Bible — is most certainly not irrelevant! It would be rather disastrous, in fact…. heh…

          In any case, bottom line here is that I’m not trying to “drag in” Sphere Coupler to anything. The reason I made the comment is that his sentence “Both sides either hate me or are too perplexed to even understand” struck me as depending on a rather narrow and unfair definition of “atheist”. Many self-described atheists, far from being “too perplexed to even understand”, actively endorse Sphere Coupler’s position. I don’t happen to be one of them — as I said, I would not consider the existence of a vengeful omnipotent misogynist to be irrelevant! — but many do. The division of Sphere Coupler vs. theists vs. atheists is artificial and incorrect… and I think this holds whether or not you agree with me about the inherent atheism in Sphere Coupler’s position!

        2. James Sweet

          I think I went off the rails somewhat in trying to describe the popular definitions of “atheist” and “agnostic” — it’s difficult to discuss because of the imprecision of the popular definitions. But I’m going to claim a great big You Know What I Mean(TM) on that part of the comment. Sorry.

        3. James Sweet

          Oops, and let me just cite Wikipedia in support of my position. Sphere Coupler’s position would be technically described as “pragmatic atheism” or “practical atheism”. (The latter has traditionally been used as a pejorative)

          To be clear: Since the Wikipedia article talks about opinions classifying apatheism as some kind of “moral failure” or a terminal incuriosity, I most certainly do not feel that way! Apatheism is a perfectly tenable philosophical position — it is one I do not happen to share, for reasons outlined in my previous comment(s), but I have plenty of respect for it. I most certainly do not “hate” Sphere Coupler, nor am I “too perplexed to understand.”

          1. Sphere Coupler

            James Sweet,
            Another way of stating what I said earlier is;

            The missionaries boat sank.
            They have never been introduced to the concept of god.
            They can not believe or disbelieve in an unknown concept..

            It is possible to learn what you will (human nature)from both perspectives, back up and approach the concept from this perspective.

            In what catagory do you put someone who has never encountered the concepts?

            Would it be that much different than someone who has encountered the concepts and determined the question to be irrelevant?

        4. John Armstrong

          You’re using a definition of atheism that would drag in all agnostics as atheists.

          I see this a lot, actually. Over and over atheists I speak with insist that agnosticism is merely wishy-washy atheism instead of a distinct position. Basically, “you really agree with me but you’re too much of a pussy/brainwashed by theists to admit it.”

          1. Sphere Coupler

            Let me attempt to explain my position:

            There was a time when I actively tried to follow religion, there was also a time when I actively denied the existence. It was only after long years of personal development that I realized I was asking a question, in which I had not the proper information to Answer.

            Long ago, far away, in another blog I was accused of sitting on the fence and that I would fall one way or the other, eventually. In response, I stated that I was not sitting on the fence, “I AM THE FENCE.”
            I am not noncommittal, for I am committed to my position.

            It’s really not, that I don’t care, I do care (probably too much)because the world we live in is in part swayed by the masses who do or don’t believe, so in the world stage, Yes I do care for the outcome of world events which will effect me.

            It is more like I have traveled down a road and upon the presentation of a wye in the road, traveled both to the conclusion that ultimately they are both dead ends, and this leads me back to the main road where I stand, Both roads are irrelevant, they do not lend themselves to THE greatest understanding, both can be considered tools to help in understanding yet after traveling I have found that they contain rocks and curves that once traveled are futile to continue to navigate. (a waste of personal time) for me personally.

            God is not irrelevant, a lack of a God is not irrelevant, (for me)the QUESTION is irrelevant.

            An Agnosticist would say, “I neither have a belief in a deity nor do I have a belief in the absence of such a deity.”

            Whereas I would say “It is irrelevant to even address such an issue. PERIOD”
            Belief and non belief do not come into play.

            Of course these are from my personal perspective and I respect all views in this matter as long as they do not adversely effect me personally.

            I have found it a very difficult position to defend to both camps, to not disbelieve and to not believe but to consider the question irrelevant, it is a position that I have not been able to define with a simple term, it is a position of stillness. A pendulum swings both ways yet there is a point where it is absolutely vertical and it is from this position that I find most accommodating to rest my thoughts, to be able to better perceive the world around me, after all, physics is my love.

            I do not claim that the question will always be irrelevant only that it is irrelevant at this point in my life.
            And that I do not see a future where it will not be irrelevant. (IE If a God shows up and says “hey I’m back” then I would no longer consider the question Irrelevant)
            It is true that I feel more akin to the atheist than to the theist due to the disregard that atheist have for a creator, and the method of SOME thought patterns generated, yet I have not ruled it out… I refuse to address the question as there can be no answer.

            In the sciences it is more important to ask the correct question than to immediately find an answer and their is at least one question for me personally that I find no need to address. All the correct answers to the relevant questions that matter lie before us and they will be (if not now, then in the future) attainable.

            I WILL not address a personally irrelevant question.

            I am not atheist, I am not agnostic, I am not theist…I just am.

            Does that help/make sense?

          2. John Armstrong

            I didn’t say you made that assertion. I said that I’ve had the assertion made to me many times before.

            In practice most crusading atheists I’ve met are of the active-disbelief variety, rather than your so-called “precise” definition of “everything but active belief”. They make the assertion that agnosticism is merely a wishy-washy “I don’t know”, which would fall into your “precise” definition of atheism. They then use that “precise” definition to say “agnostics are really atheists but they’re too scared to just admit it.”

            Now, James, go back and work on those racing skills and next time maybe you’ll be able to tell the difference between someone talking about your positions versus someone else’s positions entirely.

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  42. Peter

    Hey Mark,

    I can understand your annoyance. I guess it’s part of the price of your fame, lol. Anyway, I am a Christian and I have taken theology courses. In one of my courses we were looking at the Pauline letters and Paul’s views on Jewish law. This is not very popular with Jews since Paul is very negative on the law. I wrote a paper to explain that Paul’s view on the law was based on a misinterpretation of the law. It would have been a great bridge between Jews and Christians. I guess my prof did not like the idea that Paul could be fundamentally wrong about the law. He gave me a mark so low I have to switch programs. Because of deeply ingrained institutional bias I am afraid there will continue to be too much ill will between Jews and Christians.


  43. Sphere Coupler

    Let me go on to say ;

    IF I were standing on the gallows with a rope around my neck and an atheist said to me “you will denounce God or cease to exist” I would do one of two things 1) if my quest has been fulfilled I would say fuck you, have at it! 2) if my quest is not fulfilled I would concur.

    IF I were standing on the gallows, with a rope around my neck and a theist said to me “you will accept God or you will meet your maker” I would do one of two things 1) if my quest was fulfilled I would say go to hell, have at it! 2) if my quest is not fulfilled I would concur.

    It is the quest that is of importance. Not the question.

    If there was a category named neutral agnosticism which implicitly stated:

    {The QUESTION of whether God exist, does not exist, has existed or will exist is irrelevant and will not be addressed…Period.}

    Giving no other explanation, then I would accept this definition.


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