February 24, 2009
A perhaps surprising review of Religulous from the net’s most notorious atheist:
I did finally see Religulous a few days ago, and I confess to being a bit disappointed. It consisted of a series of short interviews with, for instance, truckers at a truck stop chapel, Catholic priests, an “ex-gay” minister, a Muslim rapper, etc., and it was all capped with excellent and scathing monologue that strongly criticized religion. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, and there were some funny bits, but something nagged at me throughout, and only when I saw the conclusion did I realize what it was.
Maher cheated. He had a clear idea of what his opinion was, but he wasn’t sharing it with the people he was interviewing. They were left to flounder and make poor arguments in part because there are no good arguments for religion, but also because they were left in the dark about what they were arguing against. It may be funny, but it’s no fair; contrast that with the Dawkins’ documentaries on religion, which are less funny, but more honest, because the people on camera know (or should know) exactly what they are wrestling with.
A better Religulous would have recorded the closing monolog first, and sent that to each of the potential interviewees with a note saying, “Here’s my position. Are you willing to argue against it on camera?” That would have made for a much more interesting movie, and Maher would have had to break a sweat to address criticisms…and it would probably be less funny. There’s a reason Maher wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, and I think it’s because his documentary took no risks, and didn’t probe very deeply.
One of the most important things I’m trying to do here on Evaluating Christianity is to engage in an honest dialogue with believers over what we believe and why. I’m not out to win “converts” to atheism; at most, I’m out to win converts to the notion that atheism is reasonable. At the end of the day, I’m not Christopher Hitchens — I don’t need to see theism obliterated from the face of the planet. I’d just like for the theist (and in particular, the Christian) to concede that atheism is a rational response to the world we live in.
That’s why I’ve tried to structure my Summary Case for Atheism as the kind of response I would give you if we were having a beer and a friendly chat. I don’t think the case I present is air-tight; in fact, I hope that it encourages people to raise criticisms and questions.
Now I understand that other people — both theists and atheists — have different objectives. At the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from this blog is presuppositionalism, a school of apologetics built on definitional wordplay, strategic argumentation and deliberate obfuscation. It’s a polysyllabic version of what Greta Christina calls the “Shut Up, That’s Why” school of apologetics. At the end of the day, the presuppositionalist’s goal is to “win” his debate, not listen to what you have to say. (If you don’t believe me, check out this handbook from one particularly obnoxious presuppositionalist.)
So that’s the context for this week’s episode of The Atheist Experience, which featured a continuation of the discussion/debate on presuppositionalism that I talked about last week. I have to say that Matt Dillahunty (the regular host of the Atheist Experience) gave perhaps the most interesting refutation of TAG I have ever heard. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of how I would have approached it, which I think turned out to be the near-optimal strategy. The unorthodox nature of Matt D.’s responses clearly threw Matt Slick (the presuppositionalist apologist) off of his game such that by the end of the 48-minute exchange, Slick was left with nothing more than belligerently repeating a nonsense question. Here’s my take:
February 23, 2009
I added James McGrath’s blog, Exploring Our Matrix, to the Christian blogroll — it’s another Christian site that’s worth your time even if you’re an atheist. And if you’re a science-believing Christian, you’ll want McGrath’s post on the non-threat evolution poses to Scripture at your disposal.
A serious question for my Christian readers: can you tell me if this little vignette is a parody or not? I certainly read it that way, until I dug into the parent directory, which appears to be an in-all-seriousness online manual for youth ministry.
Jesus: Wait a minute, didn’t I heal ten lepers? Why didn’t the other nine come back to thank me? The only one who came back to give praise to God was the Samaritan.
Disciple 1: Hum, maybe we were wrong about Samaritans.
Now I know how I read Luke 17:11-19, which is the passage of Scripture on which this little vignette is based. I think about those other nine lepers for a moment — but only a moment, because they’re not real. We know that even the worst ingrates are incapable of behaving like this; if you get magically cured of one of the worst diseases known to man, you’re going to at least stick around and figure out what just happened, right?
And that’s why it only takes a moment. As the reader, you can instantly recognize this passage as a badly-written bit of fiction. (That’s not to indict the whole Bible; there’s a lot of well-written fiction in there, too.) The nine ingrate lepers aren’t real people; they’re cartoon extras who exist for the sole purpose of providing the Samaritan leper some sharp relief. He gets to behave sensibly, and then Jesus can make his point. It’s a morality play, not a work of history. And the more you read the Bible, more and more of it reads the same way.
That’s why on first reading, I thought “Ten Lepers” had to be a clever parody. But now I’m not so sure, and that’s Poe’s Law in a nutshell.
What would you do if you were asked to serve a predictably irrational meal?
For me, what comes to mind immediately are things like Michel Richard’s “breakfast for dessert” at Citronelle (which I have had, and is incredibly yummy) or Homaru Cantu’s impromptu “road kill” entree — which, sadly, I have not tasted (but would in a heartbeat). In general, I’m a big fan of the molecular gastronomy school of “hey-this-looks-like-something-but-tastes-like-something-else” to begin with, and in particular chefs who haven’t forgotten how much fun it is to play with your food.
And with respect to Predictable Irrationality: hey, what’s more irrational than cognitive dissonance??
In a prior comment, Victor Reppert offers this interesting assertion:
Someone who starts doubting aspects of Darwinian biology might have similar fears about their status at their own institutions of learning. I don’t want to uphold the whole “Expelled” claim, but I think there is considerable pressure within many academic biology departments not to stray from Darwinism.
I appreciate Reppert’s repudiation of Expelled — which combined wildly hyperbolic conspiracy theories with Nazi name-calling — so I’m willing to entertain arguments that there is real pressure within academic biology departments to not deviate from the standard scientific debates over the modern evolutionary synthesis.
Victor Reppert responds to my argument that the atheist historian’s application of methodological naturalism is not morally equivalent to the Christian apologist who’s a Biblical inerrantist. I think he correctly points out an overstatement on my part, but I think the bulk of my argument still stands. Then, there’s an interesting digression on evolution that I’ll tackle in another post.
First, the mea culpa:
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February 21, 2009
One of my favorite Christian bloggers, Victor Reppert, has responded to one of my comments on his blog. He has a longer post up that’s definitely worth reading. His argument is that the Christian apologist who has a preexisting commitment to Biblical inerrancy is morally equivalent to the atheist debater with a preexisting commitment to methodological naturalism. I think he’s wrong, and here’s why:
February 20, 2009
According to this Harris poll, the top 5 people Americans name as their “hero” are:
1. Barack Obama
3. Martin Luther King
4. Ronald Reagan
5. George W. Bush
I think the strangest part of this story is, according to another account, that “God” ranked 11th. I’m no theologian, but shouldn’t the “God” and “Jesus” votes have been aggregated? Maybe then he (they?) could have beaten out Obama!
During the last 20 minutes of last week’s episode of The Atheist Experience — a consistently outstanding show, if you haven’t seen it — a fellow named Matt Slick from CARM (a Christian apologetics website) called in to the show armed with his presuppositional Transcendental Argument for God (“TAG”).
Let’s take a look at the underlying arguments.
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