I appeared today on the HuffPost Live news program to discuss the rise of the “Nones” in the millennial generation. You can check that out here.
Justin Schieber, Elijah Thompson, Tyler McNabb, and myself were recently featured on the ‘Faith and Skepticism’ podcast:
It is often claimed that atheists (and other heretics) reject the wrong sort of God. Theologians assert that God’s nature is far more mysterious than atheists recognize. True knowledge of God is far more hedged, tentative, and indirect than the dogmatists atheists are used to arguing with. If only atheists could be exposed to a much bigger and far more intellectually appealing deity then they would surely be able to believe.
Such arguments are not new. Nor is the form which such arguments take.
I recently had a run in with John Loftus on his blog and on Facebook concerning whether or not it was ever rational to hold beliefs and whether it was accurate for atheists to self-identify as holding beliefs. This discussion was motivated by his review of the debate between atheist Chris Hallquist and Christian apologist Randal Rauser (on whether belief in God was irrational) in which Loftus states that, “If I were to debate Rauser on this question I would focus on the word ‘belief.’ Belief is always irrational.” Since I think that some beliefs are rational, I found myself in disagreement with Loftus.
I have to confess that, in one sense, I am at a disadvantage in this exchange because it isn’t very clear to me what the problem is supposed to be. From my perspective, it is obvious that there is no problem – atheists hold plenty of beliefs (i.e. I believe there are two coffee mugs on this table) and at least some of those beliefs are rational (i.e. I can see and touch the two coffee mugs). While some Christians might equivocate between belief and faith, philosophers use the term ‘belief’ in a more general sense: to believe x means something like thinking that x is true. In the philosopher’s sense, beliefs can be either rational or irrational depending on the specific details (such as whether or not one is justified in holding the belief).
No, Dave Muscato: One Can Support LGBTQ Rights and Be a Christian (or why beliefs about what the Bible says are religious doctrines, too)
American Atheists recently posted a picture of a marriage equality protest with the hashtag #religionispoison. In defense of this hashtag, public relations director Dave Muscato tweeted, “If you’re a Christian and an LGBTQ supporter, you’re doing one of them wrong”.
This series of tweets has understandably caused a firestorm of online activity. Many responses, such as Dean Roth’s (January 16th on Chris Stedman’s blog), have argued that these statements are “appropriative”, “disrespectful and offensive to the queer people you claim to be supporting”, and unethetical/inappropriate behavior for an LGBTQ allies, wrongfully seeing gay people as “pawns in your game against religion”.
While others have argued that Dave’s tweet is an inappropriate thing for an LGBTQ ally to say, here I will put aside ethics and argue that the tweet is simply factually incorrect. There is no incompatibility between being a Christian and being a LGBTQ ally. In this post, I will assume that I am talking to an atheist audience. Christians will be unlikely to be convinced by the arguments I present because I assume several opinions commonly held amongst atheists but unlikely to be held by Christians. In this post, I will not engage with the internal theological debate amongst Christians as to whether or not Christians should support a theology inclusive of LGBTQ people. Instead, I will engage with whether or not Dave’s tweet, and subsequent post on Chris Stedman’s blog, can be maintained with assumptions common amongst atheists and I will show that it cannot.
In the 18th century, Abraham Trembley discovered that a microscopic, fresh-water animal called the hydra could be cut up to form as many hydras as one would like. This troubled the then current idea of the soul, which held that all animals had souls. If all animals had souls, then the hydra should as well. Does cutting up the hydra mean that one is cutting up the soul? If not, does God grant each of the pieces a soul? Or does the experiment imply — as many atheists of the time inferred — that there simply is no immaterial soul?
In our time, unknown to most people, there is a new challenge to the soul. In this new challenge, instead of cutting up hydra, neuroscientists cut up the human brain. It has been found that splitting the brain into two produces two independent personalities with distinct minds (the split-brain procedure is used out of medical necessity in the treatment of certain disorders). In fact, these two minds can have distinct religious beliefs. Here is neuroscientist VS Ramachandran explaining an experiment in which one patient was recorded as having both atheist and theist halves of his brain:
I recently re-watched the debate between University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne and Georgetown theologian John Haught, which Haught had famously (infamously?) not allowed to be posted online (until a great deal of ruckus had been raised over the issue, at which point Haught eventually relented) (debate here and question/answer session here). Coyne’s view is very close to my own, though I thought he has done a better job at presenting his view elsewhere when he had more time to speak. On the other hand, I think that Haught performed poorly in this debate.
In this post, I will first explain how Coyne and Haught fit into my present theoretical understanding of the science/religion debate, why Coyne and Haught were likely speaking past each other, and then I will show why I think that Haught’s central argument (concerning his layered view of reality) is weak. I’ve broken this post up into various sections so readers can skip those parts that they are not interested in.
If you are an atheist who reads as much theology as I do (which is difficult, unless you are either Jerry Coyne, a religion studies scholar, or a deconvert from a Fundamentalist cult) then you’ve probably come across the claim that atheists reject the wrong god. Often, this is expressed from a sophisticated theologian conceding that they agree with the arguments made in some popular atheist book, but those are not arguments against the god they believe in. I call this the Straw Gods Argument, after the Straw Man Fallacy.
In this post, I will first explain what the Straw Gods Argument is and what forms I’ve seen it take. Afterwards, I will explain why I don’t think that it is convincing. Finally, I will deliver on the title of this blog post and present a case where an atheist really did reject a straw god (sort of). I’ve divided this article into sections so that those who have a particular interest don’t have to wade through all of my text.
I now proceed to discuss what the Straw Gods Argument is and some examples of where it has appeared.