Thursday, January 10, 2008

I am too easily amused

This is a tale of something happening every day on the Internet. Any person who has blogged or participated in forums or chats could recount similar situations. It is a pretty typical example of what I have seen in real life as well.

Pastor Russ of the Aurora Church of the Nazarene writes a blog. In fact, if you view the menu on the Church’s website, you can see a direct link. Not surprising, considering how many pastors enjoy writing, and how many others do as well. This Tuesday last, Pastor Russ published a blog entry entitled Science and the Bible. Nothing earth-shattering or surprising here either. Within the blog he wrote:
I know that many people are skeptical of the Bible and I have no problem with that, it is a good trait of an intelligent person to consider evidence before deciding whether or not something can be trusted. All I ask is that you really do look at the evidence and not make up your mind before you even take a look. Most people who say they don't believe the Bible, have never read it for themselves, they are simply repeating what someone else has told them. That is not a trait of intelligence.

While I might wonder who he means by the “most people” who say they don’t believe the Bible (and what does “believe the Bible” mean?) have never read it, I get his general drift. If you are going to question something, inspect it first.

The only reason I stumbled upon this blog was Vinny’s posting a response (accurate in my opinion) ”You Call that Evidence?” Even a bit humorous. Again, so far extremely standard fair in internet-world. Vinny also posted a comment to Pastor Russ’ original blog on Wednesday, essentially questioning what scientific degree Kirk Cameron held, and pointing out how apologists often do the same thing—fail to investigate by actually reading what the opposing side writes. I was thinking of writing a similar comment, questioning Pastor Russ what books written by scientists defending evolution against creationism he had read.

Basically asking Pastor Russ if he was guilty of what he accused “most people” of doing—not reading it themselves, but believing what other Christians had told him.

This morning, with coffee cup firmly in hand, I stopped by Pastor Russ’ blog with curiosity as what response, if any, to Vinny’s comment was made. What’s this? Vinny’s Comment—gone. Comments—no longer allowed. Even Pastor Russ’ profile was removed from the blog! (The only proof I can offer that comments were even allowed at one time is by Google Cache.)

I chuckled. Not out of surprise, but more out of how characteristic this “Katie-bar-the-door” mentality permeates the Christian community. This is not a “surprise” ending—this is as typical as can be.

I’ve lost count of the times I have had the conversation:

Christian associate: Have you read [a. Zacharias; b. Strobel; c. McDowell; d. Johnson]?
Me: Some. Have you read any non-believing authors on the same topics?
Christian associate: Oh, I don’t have [a. time; b. need; c. desire; d. enough problem with my faith] to read those.

Christian associate: Have you studied ____?
Me: Sure have. Here are the arguments for. Here are the arguments against. Here is why I find this set of arguments persuasive. What do you think?
Christian associate: Gee, look at that time…Gotta go!

I find it amusing we are told as skeptics we need to ask questions; but when we DO, the question is erased, ignored and forgotten. Why tell us to ask, if you don’t want us to…er…ask?

Look, Pastor Russ is free to run his blog how he chooses. He can allow comments from everybody or just Christians or even just people named “Steve.” He can erase comments at his whim, and have no comments at all.

And I am free to find it hilarious to see someone (again) say, “You need to look at the evidence” and when a skeptic attempts to do that (again), the person runs away. Again.

If you have truth, why the fear of open commentary?

As I said—I am too easily amused.

UPDATE: Pastor Russ has posted a new blog entry responding to some of the points made. However, while you may see a “comment” link on the entry, and can even try to post a comment, if you do so you will be greeted with this message:

“Comments on this blog are restricted to team members.”


  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    This makes two blogs that have disabled comments rather than respond to my challenges.

    The first was "Culture Campaign" which is the blog of an organization run by Chicago Christian radio talk host Sandy Rios. Rios is former president of Concerned Women for America and occasional contributor to Fox News. The title of my blog is an homage to their unwillingness to discuss their claims.

    I try to be selective about where I comment in the blogosphere. I would never argue with a housewife sharing how inspired she was by the latest claptrap from Lee Strobel, but I consider ministers fair game.

    I also try to be reasonably polite in my comments. When I e-mailed the Culture Campaign about their decision to disable commenting, I am happy to report that they thanked me for my civility. I try to save the bombast for my own blog.

  2. Christian associate: Have you read [a. Zacharias; b. Strobel; c. McDowell; d. Johnson]?
    Me: Some. Have you read any non-believing authors on the same topics?
    Christian associate: Oh, I don’t have [a. time; b. need; c. desire; d. enough problem with my faith] to read those.

    Christian associate: Have you studied ____?
    Me: Sure have. Here are the arguments for. Here are the arguments against. Here is why I find this set of arguments persuasive. What do you think?
    Christian associate: Gee, look at that time…Gotta go!

    I've had a few of that experience.

    My mum offered me the bible and the book of mormon and I gave the God Delusion in return... She politely gave it back with the "I'm not interested" line.

  3. I've shared your experience. That's why I stopped debating theists (and philosophy professors and students as well).

  4. I realize the futility of these debates, but when I think of Pastor Russ' congregation going out and voting for Mike Huckabee because they think his position on evolution shows that he's a guy who looks at the facts, I feel compelled to comment.

  5. Vinny, I feel exactly the same way.

    I feel a bit like all the Christians who say: "if I preach the gospel to an audience of thousands, and just one or two souls are saved, that was time well-spent." Or: "it may be that the Holy Spirit may use the things I've said to unbelievers at a later time: maybe I won't convince anyone now, but I give ammunition to the Holy Spirit to prick their hearts."

    If something I've said makes no impact now, but perhaps will be brought back to mind when they are revisiting the subject with a more open mind, then that makes it worth all the pearls that were lost to swine.

    Don't ever believe that pleading for rational thinking has never won any "deconverts". It may be woefully under-effective, but there will always be the very few, like DagoodS and I, who really did come to the "unfaith" primarily through reason, and who love truth enough to push past the emotional and psychologial barriers to find it at any cost.

    Don't forget, too, that repeated hearing of an argument can heighten its convincingness (however wrong it may be that this is true). Much of my own journey was repeated encounters with the same questions about scriptural claims. The first few dozen, even hundred, times, I gave some items rather little thought, dismissing them as I'd been mentally trained to do, with pat explanations and hand-wavings. But after many repeat encounters, with the questions being joined by many "friends", whose answers were just as implausible... well, it becomes tougher to hold up irrational belief in the face of ever-increasing mountains of evidence.

    OTOH, while I can't quite bring myself to feel the same way, I do sympathize with the Pat Condell types, who claim the time for debate, which has proven wholly inadequate, has passed, and the time for outright ridicule, has come. I think maybe we need both kinds of rationalists in the world...

  6. I do sympathize with the Pat Condell types, who claim the time for debate, which has proven wholly inadequate, has passed, and the time for outright ridicule, has come. I think maybe we need both kinds of rationalists in the world...

    I agree with the pluralism: there is room for both debate and ridicule, as suits each individual. Religion deserves both.

  7. I've found the "not interested" response, as well as the "lets jump 6 zig-zag steps over here and try to turn the question into something completely different" response too... while attempting to answer the issue of should we respect every other worldview? I was met with "what if they were going to bomb your house?!?!? ...huh?

  8. DagoodS, hilarious story. I've had similar experiences. They really do not like contradiction.

    micah, I'm glad to hear your story. I operate on the premise that we atheists must keep chipping away and asking pointed, embarassing questions of the theists. You confirmed my theory that given enough time, eventually some seed of doubt will take root and crack their belief systems.

  9. In the interest of full disclosure, Pastor Russ has restored the comment function and my comment now appears on his blog.

  10. Vinny,

    Yes and No. If you read the update I did to the blog entry, you will see that your comment WAS put back up—but I could not comment on Pastor Russ’ blog.

    Whether it is an error or deliberate is unknown.

  11. Pastor Russ doesn't consider you a team member?

  12. While I cannot speak for Pastor Russ (I have no idea who he is) I have read quite a bit of secular humanist's offerings. Any careful reading of my arguments will show that clearly unless you are part of the knee-jerk reactionists who believe a well read Christian is an oxymoron. Not difficult too imagine really, believing things do not exist is, after all, every atheist's forte.

    I haven't read all secular arguments and essays, mind you (who has?)--every few months there is another supposed "ground breaker" and I unashamedly employ the "don't have time" excuse at that point myself. Was that option 'C' in Christian cop outs?

    Anyway, the one thing, Sandwich gal that will always be a mystery and forever appear the 'cop out' to atheists is the "one thing" that God says is not available to those who do not believe. And that is 'spiritual discernment.' The Bible makes it clear that those who do not believe will think this stuff foolish because they are unable to discern it. Now, here's the part where you get angry with me, but before you do, consider this. Christians genuinely believe the Bible--have complete faith in God;s Word. So, if He says it -- it's golden to me and that will ALWAYS drive atheists mad. But remember, while you attach Christians for believing this, they are being consistent with their beliefs.

    And remember...they were not my words, but the apostle Paul's. In fact, here they are,

    "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Cor. 2:14

    Thanks for dialogging on these fascinating topics. Keep searching! <-- meant in a good way.

  13. Oops, just read your profile and saw that you are a guy!

    Sorry, My bad

  14. rob’s rants

    *shrug* It may be my definition is too stringent, but I have not found many Christians I would consider “well-read.” (On most topics, I would not consider myself “well-read” either—simply too much information out there!) I don’t find many trying, though, either.

    I would define “well-read” as a person who has read and comprehended a topic from a variety of authors who present a variety of opinions from a variety of positions. Please note, by “comprehension” I do not mean the person is necessarily persuaded by the author’s position, but rather they understand and recognize what the person is actually saying. And are ably to rationally interact with that position. Not some caricature of what they are saying.

    And yes, I have found this sorely lacking in the Christian community.

    Take the recent example of your discussion of Evolution with The Barefoot Bum. What I have typically seen is if a Christian wants to study the topic they pick up a book by Strobel, or one of The Wedge members (Johnson, Dembski, Behe, etc.) or Morris or Ross or Hovind or Ham. What’s wrong with this picture? The person is ONLY getting the aspect from a creationist viewpoint. My standard question I ask of the Christian (testing the “well-read” proposition) is this: “What books have you read by a scientist who holds to evolution countering creationism?” After much hedging and hawing the answer creeps out—none.

    I do not consider that “well-read.” Nuts, they haven’t even bothered to read Dr. Francis Collins (a conservative Christian) who holds to theistic evolution (‘course so does Behe, but he’s quiet about it) let alone a scientist!

    If I told you I learned about Christianity by reading only Dawkins or Hitchens or Harris—would you consider me “well-read” on the topic? I certainly hope not! Yet that is EXACTLY the same method employed by Christians when studying Evolution!

    And (using you as an example) when you do quote a scientist who holds to evolution, you derive the quote from a Creationist quoting a scientist—not the scientist themselves. (Just ask yourself where you obtained your quote from Stephen Gould.) Again, I do not consider that “well-read.”

    The second part of being “well-read” (to me) is to actually comprehend what the person is saying, and interact with what they are saying—not some strawperson created to wow the crowd. If you have been involved in any believer/non-believer interaction, you probably have come across this conversation or something similar:

    Christian: God wants to change your heart.
    Skeptic: No way! The only person who “changes my heart” is a qualified cardio-surgeon and after I have had numerous opinions I necessitate a heart transplant. Why does God want me to have a new muscle in my chest from a dead person?

    What just happened? The skeptic (albeit deliberately) was not “comprehending” what the Christian was saying. The skeptic was defining “heart” as the biological muscle in an animal, whereas the Christian was using “heart” in a poetic/analogical fashion. The skeptic (again, in my opinion) would do better to actually interact with what the Christian was saying regarding “heart” rather than antagonize the situation by pretending to not comprehend what was being said. And if the skeptic truly did not comprehend it, then I would say they are not too well-read when it comes to Christianity, since this is a common theme.

    Yet this is what I have seen all too often from Christians in the Evolution debate. Every time we skeptics see, “Evolution is just a theory” we cringe. This demonstrates the person does not comprehend what “theory” means. This demonstrates the person does not comprehend, or desire to engage with the other person’s actual position. This position demonstrates the Christian is not well-read. (Sorry. Since I have watched you do this… It has nothing to do with my being a “knee-jerk reactionist.” It has to do with simple observation. If you note on my blog-roll a link to “Paul’s blog.” He IS a well-read creationist Christian in the field of Evolution and I doubt he would ever use the argument “Evolution is just a theory.”)

    See, just like my “heart” example, the Christian is (deliberately?) using the vernacular definition of theory as “speculative idea or plan as to how something is done” as compared to the skeptic utilizing the scientific definition of “considerable evidence in support of a formulated general principle explaining the operation of certain phenomena.” If y’all don’t think we get it when we treat “heart” as SOLELY a beating muscle; perhaps, just perhaps, you can understand when we think y’all don’t get it when you treat “theory” as a speculative plan, and not the scientific definition.

    For this reason, skeptics also point out other scientific theories—to explain the potency of what it means to be a “theory” in the science community. While the theory of gravity is not a proven absolute, we utilize it quite pragmatically when flying airplanes, or playing golf. If I told you I can drive a golf ball 1000 yards, and when you question me, I say, “Oh, the theory of gravity is just a theory”—would you consider that “well-read”?

    You are typing on a computer. When you hit the letter “j” you expect to see a “j” on the screen. You expect to hit “publish” and transmit that “j” across the internet to some server somewhere so all can see you “j.” Someone else, using their computer can copy, paste and print that “j.” All of that is based on the theory of quantum mechanics. Wouldn’t you find it laughable if I told you I don’t expect computers to work because quantum mechanics is “just a theory”?

    Our ability to move and calculate time uses the theory of relativity. Should we throw out all our clocks, and avoid all our trains because relativity is “just a theory”? Do you avoid having your children learn about atoms, molecules and chemical compounds because atoms are “just a theory”?

    I use those examples, hoping (being the optimist I am) you can catch a glimmer of the difference between the scientific community using the term “theory” and the movie screen actor saying, “I have a theory!” A well-read Christian, conversing in the field of Evolution, should comprehend that difference, and interact with the skeptic on the scientific definition of “theory.”

    Yes, rob’s rants, I am quite familiar with Paul’s writing in 1 Cor. And, as I said to you in my previous comment, I am also aware the Christian who accepts that writing as containing some divine aspect in its nature will always regard it as true as compared to anything I say. I told you that you wouldn’t get it; I didn’t expect you to.

    I have no clue why you think this would make me “angry” or “get mad.” As I said, I was a Christian once; I, too, understood “spiritual discernment; I, too, thought I had it; I, too, thought God’s inspired writings would trump whatever those wicked heathens said. Having believed it firmly and remembering the depth of that belief—finding someone else who now has a similar depth is not infuriating in any way. I don’t get where you come up with the idea I would be “mad.”

    Of course I will keep searching. Will you? See—if you present evidence sufficient, I can change my mind. Can you say that? If the evidence was sufficient, could you tell your congregation you are now a theistic evolutionist?

    What method do you use to determine what is most likely true when two ideas compete?

  15. It is not the Christians' claim to "spiritual discernment" that drives me mad. What I find silly is when they think they can spirtitually discern objective evidence. For example, Pastor Russ who thinks that Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron are reliable authorities on questions of science.