“My ghast was flabbered”: A. C. Grayling visits the Creation Museum, and speaks about humanism

April 2, 2014 • 8:51 am

This one-hour video, put up yesterday, shows Philosopher Anthony Grayling “speaking on ‘Humanism’ at The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Student Societies 2014 Convention.”

I haven’t yet heard the whole thing, but there’s a bit starting at 19:08 that describes his visit to Kentucky’s Creation Museum. That might be a good place to start, since the earlier parts of the video describe what humanism is, something that most of us know. Grayling describes the Museum, and this has been reported widely (see here, for instance), as a “human rights crime”:

“I kid you not. My gast was flabbered the minute I set my foot across the threshold of that place. They have these sort of electronic vegetarian Tyrannosaurus rex playing with the children of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.”

“The really dismaying thing about it was the troops and troops and troops of small schoolchildren being taken through and presented with all this as fact. That seems to me to be a human rights crime,” he added.

Well, that’s a bit extreme, but I do see it as a reprehensible form of lying to children (but when has that been a crime, except in the public school science classroom)? I still, however, wish there were a way to prevent parents, or authorities like Ken Ham, from inculcating impressionable children with religion. Laws won’t work anywhere, so what can we do?

Grayling goes on to discuss value (which he sees as nil) of debating religious people. He sees it ineffective at changing those people’s minds, but is useful for addressing those on the fence, who might be unaware of the “rich humanist tradition. To quote the well-coiffed philosopher:

“Jonathan Swift said, ‘There is no reasoning a person out of a position they weren’t reasoned into,’ and this is the case with religion, because of course the vast majority of religious people are religious because of their early experience, they were indoctrinated as children.”

“The whole point in debating people with a real investment in a religious outlook is you are not going to change their minds,” he said. “You’re not really talking to them, because you’re not going to make a difference to them, but you might make a difference to people who are uncertain, people who are reflecting, people who are wavering on the brink.”

Well, that’s pretty accurate but not completely. I’ve met many people, and there are many readers here, who have been reasoned out of religion. Dan Barker, John Loftus, and Jerry DeWitt are three. There are indeed some people who, though immersed in faith, have a tiny seed of doubt that can blossom into full nonbelief.

h/t: Barry

159 thoughts on ““My ghast was flabbered”: A. C. Grayling visits the Creation Museum, and speaks about humanism

              1. It’s emoji. You can use it as a chrome add in or as a different keyboard in iOS or desktop (only know the mac stuff though)

              2. Considering this Web site…shouldn’t that be something more like this?




  1. I am not sure about Jerry DeWitt, but my understanding of Dan Barker, John Loftus (and Robert Price, Bert Ehrman) was that they came out of their faith by personal dialogue with their own faith, not listening to people debating. In the cases I have read, mostly through that seed of doubt moving from very conservative positions, through more liberal (Bultmann in the case of Price) to atheism. So Grayling’s comment may still be valid.

    1. “…personal dialogue with their own faith, not listening to people debating…”

      This is a false distinction. “Personal dialog” is a “conversation” about something and is informed by what you are exposed to that makes you think. “People debating” is part of the environment that generates doubt and curiosity. All of these guys were informed by their exposure to “people debating”.

      1. I think ‘tiny seed of doubt’ = personal dialogue. People without the seed of doubt are the ones unwilling or incapable to question themselves. I think it always has to come from within. Granted the inputs to doubt assuredly come from outside, unless you are Isaac Newton, where you can actually make stuff up that no one has ever known before. But there have been like, what, less than ten Newton-genius types in the whole of history.

    2. I come from a family of Catholic extremists (my father was a very believing failed Trappist monk). Debates certainly didn’t get me out of the faith delusion, I wasn’t aware of any at the time. What got me out of it, was the Bible. That book is so obviously wrong, that even if there is a god, it could not possibly be the one from the Bible. I can’t even remember ever having believed in the Catholic deity. I have certainly tried to, but it wasn’t meant to be. I just couldn’t bring myself to ignore the numberless internal contradictions.

      1. I wonder what percentage of Christians and Jews have read the whole Bible? That should be enough to change any thinking persons opinion.

        1. Probably not very many. We should not, for example, forget that Catholics were not even allowed to read the Old Testament for quite some time. I have read the whole thing from cover to cover and I still read it regularly. I find it easy literature to distract myself when taking the bus or the subway, and I continue to (re-)discover the most hilarious nonsense. Hilarious, except for the fact that people are still killing each other with great enthusiasm over it.

        2. Orthodox Jews are (from what I remember) supposed to read through yearly. There are Christian denominations which do the same, though I have no idea which ones. I remember seeing in a Gideons or similar little dates attached to each of three or five passages (for Sunday) or something like that. (Was years ago; forget the details.)

    3. This is a detail of great interest to me — that is, whether those who seem to have been persuaded to leave their faith had a ‘seed of doubt’ to begin with, or if they had a kind of a-theistic revelation because of a book or a talk. I am not sure if we can generalize. Perhaps some had the seed already, and others had the seed planted in them. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/e/softbank_ne_jp.1D0

      1. Observing all the Christians I grew up with, and myself as well, I think almost all religious people have a seed of doubt. Every church in America has probably offered up sermons about how to deal with doubt which is an admission that it’s there. Because religion fits so unevenly with reality most religious people live with a fair degree of cognitive dissonance and manage stay believers by finding some way to keep that dissonance manageable. If they have a sudden de-conversion it is probably the result of a final straw out of many, not of the power of a single argument. Most of these ways of managing dissonance are unstable and susceptible to being upset and that is part of what makes many believers so touchy, so quick to feel persecuted by any criticism. What they really mean is that you’re upsetting their delicate cognitive dissonance shield. Some manage their dissonance by hiding behind sophisticated philosophers, by abandoning traditional religious teachings for more liberal less dissonance inducing ones. Many do so by at least partially avoiding any information that might be disturbing while some retreat into extreme isolation though home school and Creation museums, etc. Sometimes it is even the case that the most extreme religious actions are actually a response to a person’s doubt, an attempt to stamp it out or deny it with a grand affirmative action, whether becoming a priest or missionary or flying planes into buildings.

        Belief wanes when and to the extent that you can’t shield yourself from the cognitive dissonance, and that comes from many different sources. Getting people to actually leave religion is much tougher than planting doubt or even creating unbelief because, at the final step, it takes a bit of courage to leave a community, to embrace that which you’ve been told is evil, etc. I think the penetration of unbelief into religion in America is greater than we realize but much of it is hidden by this kind of social conformity. I personally know three (and suspect about three more) atheists who teach sunday school still. Such is the power of the social environment over the intellectual one.

        1. It is hard to balance my own attitudes towards the closeted lives you describe. On one hand I have great sympathy for those who, like the Sunday School teachers you describe, are imprisoned by their communities. On the other hand I hold in contempt the hypocrisy of non-believers who work to imprison the minds of others, in particular children.

          As more atheists come out of the closet, perhaps the fear of social loss will diminish and allow for a reduction in hypocrisy.

          1. I should be clear that I think these atheist Sunday school teachers are the exception, that most Sunday school teachers probably really believe what they are teaching. But that they exist at all is surprising to me and telling. OTOH, since I only know about them because they are very close friends who have discussed these things with me over the years there must be many more that I don’t know about.

        2. I’ve seen that in my own family. Clearly, my brother believed nothing of the religious crap, and while I can’t be sure, I don’t think my mother believed much of it either. Yet, she insisted on my brother’s children being baptised and my brother complied without question, while I remain the antichrist for questioning it all.

          It seems clear to me that my family isn’t reviling me for not believing, only for being seen to not believe.

          1. Yes, my own wife is perfectly content with my unbelief so long as I go to church with her. It is when I refrain from going to church that she gets cross, not when I discuss unbelief over dinner.

            1. There is a similar situation with the measles epidemic in the Netherlands. People in the Dutch Bible belt refuse en masse to vaccinate their children. As a result, numerous children got the disease, some were hospitalised and at least one died. This prompted the government to start offering secret vaccination opportunities, so that parents would have the possibility to have their children vaccinated without the rest of the religious community knowing about it. And yes, it works. How solid is these people’s belief, I wonder?

              1. Yeah someone in Ontario contracted measles in the Netherlands but oddly there was no outbreak after here.

              2. That may well have been simply because of sheer luck, or maybe, just maybe, the infected person came into contact with too many immune people and no vulnerable ones.

                I know of the case, but I didn’t have time to look at it, and I forgot about it. Thanks for bringing it up!

        3. “delicate cognitive dissonance shield”

          It is a complicated what people do and must do in order to maintain faith. It is equally complicated what choices cause people to let go of faith. I find the most ruthless believers are ones who really do not think about faith, they may not even go to church, but claim they are Christian, know that God and heaven are real but proceed with life as if none of that matters until they die and they receive benefits. That is strange and a complete avoidance of doubt.

        4. Heh. I said, “sophisticated philosophers”, but I meant “sophisticated theologians”. Classic Freudian slip I suppose.

        5. Gluonspring wrote: “Sometimes it is even the case that the most extreme religious actions are actually a response to a person’s doubt, an attempt to stamp it out or deny it with a grand affirmative action,”

          Excellent observation. Similar to the worst homophobes being those who have doubts about their own sexuality.

          I think our best allies in reducing the influence of religion are Christians themselves. Liberal, somewhat reasonable Christians are in a state of shock at losing their ascendency, leaving crackpots like Hamm and Robertson as the chief spokesmen for their creed.

          1. I think it is certainly true that the crackpots are atheism’s greatest asset. They are turning of an entire generation of young people, forcing them to confront the stupidity of it all.

            You often hear that the best way for people to become atheists is for them to read the bible. That may be so, but most people don’t bother to wade through the thing. But everyone can watch a few Youtube videos of Pat Robertson blaming hurricanes on the gays and come to the obvious conclusion.

    4. Dan Barker loved to debate people into Christianity, so he wanted to take on the toughest challenge: atheism. But he knew that in order to reach atheists he would have to understand their arguments in order to refute them. His faith was a reasonable faith and thus he was confident that it could withstand the strongest criticism. So he got a lot of books which argued FOR atheism, in order to be better at arguing AGAINST it. Know your enemy.

      We know where that’s going to go, if you mean it.

      So yes, I would use Dan Barker as an example of someone who was indeed reasoned out of religion by listening to the other side.

  2. Well, that’s a bit extreme, but I do see it as a reprehensible form of lying to children (but when has that been a crime, except in the public school science classroom)?
    I don’t think it is extreme. This is not some innocent untruth-telling, but deliberately, knowingly and willingly lying to children in order to force upon them a known-to-wrong view of the universe we live in, and therefore a distorted view of reality, leading them to be untrustworthy members of society who are more likely than others to harm others because the knowledge they base their reasoning on and the ways in which they reason are demonstrably and obviously wrong. It may not be legally wrong, but it is morally criminal.

        1. Laptop keyboard? Can hardly tolerate it myself. If have to type much at all, I plug in Ol’ Reliable.

    1. deliberately, knowingly and willingly lying to children in order to force upon them a known-to-wrong view of the universe we live in…

      I disagree. Christians sometimes use the “everyone secretly believes in God, you just call yourself atheists because you don’t want to obey him” argument. I think we can all agree it’s baloney. Its also offensive, in that it basically assumes all atheists are liars about what they say they believe. But you seem to be advocating a reverse image of that same baloney. No, not all Christians are secretly atheists who know they are lying or know their view of the universe is wrong.

      Use the golden rule here. Don’t use the fallacy you don’t want others to use. Don’t assume your opponents are liars if you think that assumption is unwarranted and offensive when its applied to you. Just as most of us are entitled to be taken as sincere by religious people, most of them are entitled to be taken as sincere by us, too. Yes, I’m sure you can point out some clear crooks and conmen. But most of the people deliberately, knowingly teaching their kids about heaven do in fact believe in the heaven they’re teaching about.

      1. I don’t think I was referring to *all* Christians. I know very well that my own father profoundly believed in the nonsense he subjected me to.

        That said, I was reacting to the original post, and assuming that Ken Ham is very aware that he is dishing out nonsense is not unreasonable. He knows.

        Also, I would submit that in the developed world (even in the US) ignorance and belief are simply no longer reasonable defences for any adult who is not considered mentally retarded in the medical sense.

        1. I would disagree about Ham as an individual – I think he actually believes the YEC nonsense he dishes out. But that is a quibble.

          I would submit that in the developed world (even in the US) ignorance and belief are simply no longer reasonable defences for any adult who is not considered mentally retarded in the medical sense.

          Most believers aren’t ignorant. The “home-schooled-in-YECism” Christian is a relatively small minority of the group we’re talking about here. Most mainline Christians in the western world were schooled in public, secular schools. They had science. They learned evolution in biology, atomic theory in chemistry, newtonian mechanics in physics, etc… They believe in addition to their understanding, not in the absence of it.

          1. But that is a quibble. In a way, it is. It is minor detail in a far bigger field. That said, for the same reasons you state below, I think he does not believe the nonsense he is peddling.

            I would also submit that while some of it may still be possible to believe in addition to reality as we know it, much of it is incompatible and cannot be taken on faith in addition to reality.

            Dinosaurs were either extinct when humans came about, or they weren’t. They can’t conveniently dis-extinguish themselves whenever Adam and Eve and their rather unlikely offspring need transportation.

            And even if it were possible, does it not present some form of challenge to all but the most accepting childish mind that there is no mention of such events anywhere at all?

            1. Yes, and either QM will turn out to be right, or it won’t. But the question of whether a parent teaching their kid QM is criminal depends on a lot of factors beyond just whether or not it turns out to be right. If you want to argue for the criminality of teaching a kid theism, I think you’re going to have to pull a lot more justification out of your hat than just “the YEC interpretation of Christianity says wrong things about geochronology”

              1. Surely, it isn’t that hard in many cases? A lie is a lie.

                It is simple, really: why is Ken Ham allowed to continue to promote his nonsense, while Bernie Madoff is wasting away in jail for doing the same thing? They are both (moral) criminals who took/take people’s money under false pretences.

              2. And as I argued before (and I thought you agreed with me), most christians aren’t lying because they believe what they teach their kids to be true.

              3. In response to Bart Barksdaele (sp.?)Re: Madoff: I notice he got more than a life sentence, more than not a few murderers have gotten. Money talks.

          2. Actually, depressingly small percentages of American students are exposed to Evolution in high school, even amongst those who take biology classes.


            1. Indeed. As a Belgian, I was shocked to learn that one can become a medical doctor in the US, without knowing anything about evolution. I don’t understand it. I went to med school in Belgium, over 30 years ago, and while there was no “evolution course”, evolution was mentioned all the time, and for good reason.

        2. I agree with you mostly… in the sense that “ignorance is no excuse”, when one gets busted for breaking a law. Even if one BELIEVES in complete garbage – in my book what they are doing is unethical (to sidestep any use of the problematic “morally wrong” concept).

          To me, it’s the same as intervening when another parent is beating their kid – it does not matter how much the parent thinks they are justified in doing so.

          Or keeping kids from having a decent education — neglect through improper homeschooling, neglecting to educate them… this is illegal (though requirements which vary widely by state are routinely circumvented by many homeschoolers, esp. in the southern states).

          Of course the law sees it differently… religious exemptions for everything abound, even when it could easily be considered child neglect. (and all too frequently, religious abuse – even when clearly and blatantly illegal – is caught way too late, as is other forms of abuse and neglect)

          1. You make good points. I will never forget when my father kept my head under running water until I started to vomit as the result of breathing-in water, in a restaurant washroom no less, and no one did anything to dissuade him. Of course, this was over 40 years ago, and children were seen differently at the time, something of less value than an average pet, but still.

            I think that a reasonable start could be made by simply no longer allowing any religious exceptions. It makes no sense to me that a parent would be sued for refusing vaccination or blood transfusion or surgery or whatever, while someone claiming religious belief would be left undisturbed.

            If there are reasonable grounds to refuse medical treatment, then such refusal should be acceptable for the non-religious as well as for the religious. Why is holding on to one’s favourite delusions only acceptable when that delusion is called religion?

            Why is being a Christian an acceptable defence for beating up a child, when an atheist would be sent to jail? Either beating up and torturing children is acceptable, or it isn’t.

            Christians and sufferers from similar conditions should be subject to the same laws as everybody else.

            We cannot, and should not, regulate what people are allowed to believe in the privacy of their own heads, but we can, and should, regulate the harm people can do to others, regardless of the delusions they don’t or do have.

            Just to give one simplistic example: a Christian can beat up her/his child in a public place with impunity, but a non-Christian who would sit naked in that same place, would be harassed, almost certainly arrested and possibly jailed. Yet, the first is doing demonstrable harm, the second is not. It seems strange to me that believing in religious nonsense entitles one to more freedom than not believing in religious nonsense.

            1. That’s essentially it in a nutshell. One could, as a parent, simply teach their kids wrong crap all day long as a joke… cause they think the consequences outside are fun. Would make for some funny Youtubes… teach the kid that it’s polite to remark about women’s faces, except tell them the front of a woman’s head is called a “twat”, and that they love being stopped, pointed at and told how nice their face looks. And now do this on their first day of school… The kid would end up in child custody services so fast it would make the prankster parent’s head spin.

              The kid can interrupt science class babbling about floods, arks, spirits, devils and all other assorted horseshit – and in some states, even in public schools… we’ll find special classes for these mental cripples so that they won’t have to have their beliefs challenged.

              Am short of solutions, as this gets into some serious freedom issues of its own… so far there are no laws against raising complete blithering idiots, although this is probably a worse thing than raising a kid with a really messed up vocabulary or normative boundaries. The former is more likely to follow the kid around for life, messing up job prospects, etc… the latter would be more likely to be corrected by peer influences, I’d think.

              1. I agree wholeheartedly. In spite of what many claim, we still live in society where religion has far too much power and far too many privileges.

                What should happen, is that all privileges granted religion and not the rest of us, be rescinded.

                If I am not allowed to beat up my child, why would a religious crackpot be allowed to do that very thing?
                If I am not allowed to refuse life-saving medical interventions for my child, why would a religious fruitcake be allowed to refuse them?
                If I am not allowed to teach my child that homosexuals are evil incarnate, why would a religious zealot be allowed to do exactly that?

                Religion is toxic to the mental health of those it has in its claws. At the very least, it should not get any privileges and/or encouragements to continue its destructive works.

            2. “I will never forget when my father kept my head under running water until I started to vomit as the result of breathing-in water, in a restaurant washroom no less . . . .”

              Greetings. I empathize with your above; I myself have walked on eggshells around a “hot reactor” parent. One disciplines oneself over time to refrain from physically retaliating. If one did succumb to retaliating, he’d have to be content with fracturing a car windshield, or perhaps swinging a dining room chair into a china or crystal cabinet.

              1. Good point. My father did so (or so he said) because the Bible says so. In that sense, I even have to be grateful, since he did not stone me to death with a bunch of other people. My mother happily shared in the fun, but I have reasons to think that her actions may not have been religion-based, at least not directly.

      2. “assumes all atheists are liars about what they say they believe.”

        That isn’t my interpretation….I see them as saying that atheists lack self-knowledge.

        It’s kinda hard to say “wrong!” to that, because that’s just what someone who lacks self-knowledge would say.

        Perhaps the absurdity of the claim can be demonstrated by asking them “Do you secretly believe in Santa Claus?”

          1. Your distinction isn’t relevant to this argument. You just think you fail to believe in God, but you really do.

            1. There is an enormous difference between the two. Disbelief makes no sense at all in a complex universe as ours. It is an irrational position. Disbelief is just another faith-based position. The only rational position is non-belief.

    2. I disagree. The vast majority of creationists are not deliberately, knowingly, and willingly lying. They sincerely believe what they are saying.

      Just because someone has to go through a lot of mental gymnastics to come to the wrong conclusion doesn’t mean they can see and recognize the tricks — especially if they are immersed in a culture which insists that the trickery is all on the other side. From their perspective, they see themselves as following the evidence where it leads and refusing to fall for the con job happening on the other side.

      As Richard Feynman said, “the first rule in science is not to fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

      1. I think that is true. When I read articles and comments in creationist or ID web sites, I find the language they use to criticize the evolutionists to very much like the language evolutionists use to dis the C/ID people. Both are sure they are right, and the other side is wrong. They too are sure that we have built mental constructs to keep ourselves in the dark.

        1. That’s a common argument, but I doubt it’s veracity. Scientists use language in a very different way than ‘believers’. When a scientist uses a certain term, there is an underlying concept that is rooted in reality, it is not (just) created because it sounds good.

          The religious, on the other hand, use poetic language all the time. The difference can be hard to spot, but it is there. Just because they use the same words, doesn’t mean they are saying the same thing and using the same types of reasoning. They just aren’t.

      2. I have no argument with that, but this blog post was about Ken Ham, and it is simply not reasonable to assume that he doesn’t know that he is lying, and I also do not think that it is particularly reasonable to assume such appalling ignorance for most authority figures, religious or not.

        1. Actually, it’s about AC Grayling stating he thinks taking kids to the Creation Museum is a human rights crime. Now even if Ken Ham is a complete con artist who doesn’t believe a word of what he presents in that museum (something I find hard to believe), it would still be true that the parents who brought their kids on that field trip probably believe that stuff. Which means they are not lying.

        2. Ham’s an interesting case. He might very well be more sincere than we can give him credit for because we are not familiar nor comfortable with the sort of doublethink and compartmentalization which goes on in the faith-based community and its “search” for truth. My own guess is that he knows he lies sometimes … and then conveniently either forgets that or reframes it into a little white lie which is perfectly excusable given the circumstances. Everything is subsumed to the Higher Purpose.

          We often lie to ourselves. Religion provides a framework which makes that even easier. If you work within a system which assumes a conspiracy, then obvious truths can look like devious tricks. Don’t underestimate how good smart people can be at manipulating and rationalizing even to themselves.

          I think it’s actually optimistic to assume that of course the people at the top are deliberate con artists. Don’t be too sure about that. This is religion. It’s probably worse than you think.

          1. It may well be.

            Of course, if someone like that actually believes the nonsense he/she is peddling, that would make her/him less criminal, because of lack of intention to deceive.

            But then, questions change. Suppose that a math teacher would truly and honestly believe that 1+1=3. Such a teacher would probably not go to prison, but I dare think/hope that he/she would be out of a job real soon.

            Intention to deceive is morally criminal, but demonstrable lack of competence is not necessarily particularly desirable either.

            1. I do not understand the point of your math teacher analogy. Ham does not work for any branch of the US government as a teacher, so his YEC-promoting speech cannot get him fired from his (non-existent) public teaching job.

              Are you proposing that the US government have the power to “fire” him from his private sector activities for speaking a message they think is incorrect? That would be an incredibly draconian and authoritarian power. Seems to me that that would be the very epitome of a “cure worse than the disease.”

              1. ” . . . proposing that the US government have the power to “fire” him from his private sector activities . . . an incredibly draconian and authoritarian power . . . the very epitome of a “cure worse than the disease.”

                I concur with your concern about and perspective on government, an organized collection of humans with power over other humans. But, I congenially point out that the private sector “Masters of Mankind” (Adam Smith), private corporate tyrannies (no less also organized collections of humans with power over other humans), all too easily have their way in this regard, simply because they claim some specially-pled and entitled “private” (sector) status. Private corporate tyrannies are also and no less the “very epitome” of “draconian and authoritarian power.” As John Dewey said, in my view without much exaggeration, “Government is the shadow cast by Business.”

                In the U.S., authoritarian (totalitarian?) types, in the sheep’s clothing of “Freedom,” seek to reduce government, to privatize its activities and services as much as possible and – as the Masters see it – maximize their “freedom,” which includes that much more freedom to bend other humans (“resources” and “capital”) to their will, as evidenced by, e.g., “at will” employment (i.e., “firing” without justification or explanation), and arbitration instead of the courts.

                Why does/should society (justly) criticize government, but accommodate and genuflect before private corporate tyrannies, in response to identical behaviors?

  3. I have to agree with Grayling. It is utterly futile to attempt to reason with delusionals, unless it is a discussion about epistemology. Until they stop accepting nonsense as evidence or proof, you are just spinning your wheels. Once their epistemology changes for the better, they will reason themselves out of it, as did Barker and Loftus.

    And I also agree with his position that brainwashing unsuspecting children with nonsensical delusions is indeed criminal.

    1. And I also agree with his position that brainwashing unsuspecting children with nonsensical delusions is indeed criminal.

      As well as a crime against humanity, of the worst kind, because it not only harms the direct victims, but encourages them to harm others as well.

    2. And I also agree with his position that brainwashing unsuspecting children with nonsensical delusions is indeed criminal.

      Yeah, everyone living prior to 1905 committed a crime by teaching their kids that time and space were separate things! Why, that’s as delusional as thinking electricity and magnetism are different things. And don’t get me started on the doctors who, in the 1970s, told their patients that peptic ulcers were caused by stress. What a bunch of criminals! Lock them up!

      I’m intentionally being ridiculous here to make a point: we have told our kids nonsense throughout the entire history of the human race, because often we don’t know any better. Because human knowledge is imperfect. And I’m sure that something scientific that we atheists are teaching our kids today will be considered nonsense in 100 years. Does that make us criminals? Are we committing a criminal act by filling our unsuspecting children with our 2014 science nonsense when we should be teaching them a 2114 understanding of the world?

      I hear you say “no, because we are conveying to them what we believe to be the best, most accurate description of the world and how it works.” Well…what do you think most religious parents are doing?

      1. The point is not that teaching what may/might/can/could possibly be shown wrong in some unpredictable future is criminal.

        The point is that the world is not 6,000 years old, that the earth is not the centre of our solar system, that humans did not use dinosaurs for transportation, that people who ‘trust God’ to heal them do have a tendency of dying much younger in much more miserable circumstances… and that teaching this and the nonsensical tortuous ways – including beatings – to indoctrinate children with this nonsense is morally criminal.

        It is very simple: people who teach this nonsense, knowing that it is wrong, are criminals. People who teach this nonsense, not knowing that it is wrong, are delusional. Both belong in an institution. The first in jail, the second in an asylum for the mentally insane.

        1. People who teach this nonsense, not knowing that it is wrong, are delusional. Both belong in an institution.

          Your reasoning, my friend, is the exact same reasoning early American settlers used to keep atheists (and Jews, and Catholics, and and and…) off juries and out of government. Anyone who believes that crap must not be fit for office, eh? Your position is so reasonable and obvious that anyone who disagrees with you must be delusional? Its also a very popular ad hom in political debates – all conseravtives are delusional (or vice versa)!

          Sorry – not only do I think you are wrong (i.e., i think humans with perfectly normal and well-functional brains can believe a wide range of things), but I think using that line of reasoning in defense of atheism or to attack theistic child-rearing is dangerous. Its a tool we want to use very sparingly, for only the most egregious cases, let it get used on us. Because it has been used on us.

          1. Perhaps. But I would submit that we are doing this today, regardless, and most people seem to agree with it.

            When Vince Li’s god told him to behead his fellow passenger, he did not understand why he was arrested and incarcerated.

            On the other hand, as Jerry has shown, it is still accepted in the US that parents refuse medical help and even medical tests, because their religion tells them not to.

            There is obviously some wiggle room. I am not convinced that someone who still believes that water pipes burst in the spring because water expands when it thaws are in the same league as those who think that refusing medical help to a child is totally halal, but I do think that they are pretty much in the same league as those who promote homoeopathy as an alternative to vaccination or those believe that witches won’t drown when thrown in a lake while bound as a sausage with concrete galoshes.

            1. I am fine with a qualitative gradation – it is YOUR posts that seem to be arguing a more binary position.

              I have no problem with punishments for religiously motivated murder or religiously motivated physical abuse of a child. I have no problem with lesser punishements for less serious religiously motivated child neglect. Keeping with that scale, doesn’t merely passing on one’s theistic beliefs to ones’ child rate…no intervention? No punishment? I am not the one calling the passing-on of theistic beliefs to one’s children delusional, possibly criminal, or (to reference Grayling) a human rights crime – YOU seem to be the one arguing that position.

              I would also point out that, in the scale above, the “religiously motivated” descriptor is largely unnecessary. We all pretty much want to rein in murder and abuse from any motivation. One simply doesn’t need your whole spiel on the delusionality of religion to punish murderers or child abusers. So as far as I can tell, labeling religious beliefs delusional serves the sole purpose of trying to criminalize action that would otherwise be legal – here, free speech between a parent an their kid. And since that’s really the only sort of punishment it justifies, you can’t blame me for concluding that that’s the sort of punishemnt you’re supporting.

              1. That’s all I am arguing: I am not singling out religion in any way. I am merely arguing that it makes no sense to give the religious more rights to lie, mislead, indoctrinate, endanger, kill, whatever BECAUSE they are religious. I am merely arguing that they should not be declared sane when someone with non-religious delusions would be declared insane. What I am arguing is the total eradication of any special rights, privileges, advantages (or disadvantages) given to the religious BECAUSE they are religious. Nothing more. I am arguing in favour of the equal treatment of everyone. I receive no special treatment BECAUSE I am a non-believer (and by no means a dis-believer), nor am I asking for any, but I do demand that this would also be true for the religious, and this is simply not the case in our society.

              2. “it makes no sense to give the religious more rights to lie, mislead, indoctrinate, endanger, kill, whatever BECAUSE they are religious.”

                I agree with that. Given that (at least in the US) it is perfectly legal to teach your kids about Santa Claus or that the moon is made of green cheese, do you now agree that religious indoctrination by parents should also remain perfectly legal?

              3. No.

                First of all, there is nothing wrong with teaching children *about* Santa Claus, just as it is not wrong to teach them *about* the phlogiston theory and therefore also not wrong to teach them *about* religion. On the contrary, religion is far too important to not teach them *about* it.

                Now, teaching them that the moon is made of green cheese is just wrong, and should be illegal. If it is not illegal, then that is not a good reason to allow the teaching of religious as truth. Rather, both should be made illegal without delay.

                Parents who teach nonsensical stuff to their children are incompetent, and should not be teaching their children. That’s what schools are for: to teach children stuff their parents can’t and/or don’t.

              4. “Now, teaching them that the moon is made of green cheese is just wrong, and should be illegal.”

                Well, at least you’re consistent. However I don’t think I want to live in such an authoritarian state, where private speech between a parent and child is regulated to such an extent. Where state officials decide what counts as factually correct and what doesn’t, and then metes out punishment to anyone speaking somethign they think is factually incorrect. As I said in a post above, that seems to me to be a cure far worse than the disease.

              5. One needs look no further than the makeup of your average state’s legislature to understand the folly of Bart’s “cure”.

        2. There is a huge difference between saying that someone is “deluded” in the normal, casual sense of “fixed in a belief contradicted by the facts” — and jumping from there all the way to mental illness. Religious people are NOT mentally ill. They are for the most part normal people working perfectly well within a system which was not designed to be open — and which usually doesn’t impinge on functional daily living.

          Mental illness is an actual disorder and you insult both the mentally ill AND the religious when you get sloppy. I think this sort of argument is not just obviously wrong but, as eric says, it’s bigoted.

          1. Actually, I disagree with that. Religious beliefs are *explicitly* excluded from the DSM. No medical reasons are given. For a very simple reason: it is impossible to make the distinction.

            Religious *belief* is just as much a mental affliction as the belief that *they* are out to get you. They are both false, with the second one actually being less unlikely than the first.

            1. It’s not as if everything gets a pass if it’s deemed “religious.” Psychologists and other mental health professionals often treat people who have pathologically disfunctional or psychotic religious beliefs.

              1. Nor did I claim so, I think. It should not be necessary to explicitly state that either.

                When a physicist claims that objects fall down, he/she usually doesn’t mention a list of exceptions to that rule. Such a statement is a waste of everybody’s time and energy, and the comment that ‘this is not always so’ is superfluous.

                It is assumed that the listener is sufficiently intelligent to understand that this is not an absolute statement with not a single exception, unless such absolutist claim is explicitly stated.

              2. But psychologists would still make a distinction between a paranoid religious belief and a paranoid religious believer. So should we. It’s a valid distinction. Religion is mistaken, it is delusion, it can often be disfunctional — but it is NOT a form of mental illness. That’s too flip a caricaturization of both religion and mental illness; it’s not accurate.

              3. “Dysfunctional” is the key. And that’s partially a social matter. Consequently, popular irrationalities are easier to have (and work around problems in) because of the social support in them.

            2. IMO the fuzziness problem is due to the fact that our definition of sanity is somewhat socially constructed. If you can function without help and without disruping others’ lives in modern society, you are pretty much considered functionally sane – even when the social mores you are following are arbitrary or make little sense. I do not think you would have to delve very deeply into anthropology or history to discover societies with functional adults, all or most of whom acted in ways the DSM would deem insane. Likewise, conduct we find sane another human society might deem insane.

              For sure, we *could* create a definition that stuck solely to observable metrics like brain function and chemistry. But then a very wide range of behaviors currently deemed “insane” (either clinically or vernacularly) would not count as insane. Religion in general certainly wouldn’t.

              So, yes, I understand the complaint that if hearing one socially unacceptable voice in your head counts as insane, claiming to hear Jesus’ voice should too. But for better or worse, our definiton of sanity includes some recognition of modern mores of behavior. What we are willing to tolerate as a society. And most milkquetoast religious behavior fits well within those borders.

              1. I tend to agree with this, except that I would make a very sharp distinction between behaviour and belief. If I don’t walk around naked in Toronto’s Eaton Centre, it is not because I believe that this is a Bad Thing, only because our society has laws against that sort of thing, laws that are religion-based, not rationality-based. In other words, my behaviour and my (non-)belief are not in line with each other. Just because I adapt to society’s demands, no matter how irrational, does not make me a believer in the rationality of those demands.

                Where Jesus is concerned, I would like to compare that with Elvis. Would we take anyone who talks with Elvis seriously? Why would we treat anyone who talks with Jesus any differently? And let’s not forget about the fact that the existence of a historical Elvis is substantially more probable than that of a historical Jesus.

                As for brain chemistry, I think that would be very dangerous a measure indeed. We are walking chemical soups, but while we are all created similar, we are most certainly not created equal and our current knowledge is – in my opinion – not nearly accurate and reliable enough to blindly base any treatments on. In the future, perhaps, but the future is not now ^_^.

          2. I’m tempted to agree with you, but for the depressing fact that it can be very difficult to distinguish, for example, between a pastor who claims he literally communicates regularly and often with Jesus, and a person suffering from schizophrenic auditory hallucinations who’s named the voice, “Jesus.”

            There’s a great deal of overlapping grey areas between religious practice and belief and mental illness. In many cases, the religious person would instantly and unambiguously be diagnosed with a mental illness if it weren’t for the names attached to the delusions. That extends to, for example, obsessive-compulsive disorder, which many religious people exhibit with respect to their religious devotions or prayer habits or the like. And especially the most devout!

            While there certainly are religious people whose delusions are the result of misinformation, lack of education, credulous misinterpretations of (often fraudulently deceptive) banal phenomena, and the like…it becomes, in practice, very difficult to separate them out from those truly suffering from mental illness.

            The “Christmas and Easter” Christians who’ve never given it much thought are the most likely to be honestly sane, but they’re also, effectively, not very religious, except in a cultural sense. Then you start to get into large numbers who absolutely suffer from cognitive dissonance; that’d be all those who “struggle” with the “problem of evil,” or why bad things happen to good people. Past that, when you get to the real true believers, you often find that they’ve had flat-out hallucinatory experiences that they’ve interpreted as divine revelation — and now we’re firmly into the realm of real mental illness, even if only periodic or artificially induced (such as by “prayer vigils”). When you get to somebody like Fred Phelps, the mental illnesses are multiple and varied and painfully palpable.

            As with so much of the human experience, it’s complicated and fuzzy. You’re absolutely right that we should be careful to not attach any more stigma to mental illnesses than to any other malady, and you’re also right that religious belief is not necessarily a symptom of mental illness. But, with so much overlap between the two, it’s equally important to not automatically dismiss the coincidences out of hand.



            1. I agree, there is a fuzzy area and it can be hard to separate weird beliefs from seriously weird beliefs.

              But the same gray space exists in almost everything which is considered pathological. A hobby becomes an obsession, a personal flaw becomes a disability, a habit of creative visualization becomes schizophrenia. Okay — where? What’s the magic point between “eccentric” and “crazy?”The problem with religion and the paranormal is that someone who is genuinely mentally ill can “pass” as someone who has ascended to a higher level.

              But not for long — not if they really can’t function. Not if they are unhappy and/or making others unhappy. I had a Mormon friend whose husband — like all Mormon husbands — regularly talked to God. AND he was also schizophrenic. She was usually able to figure out the “difference” and when she explained I saw the distinction as well. My woo friends talk about people in the New Age movement who were highly spiritual and talked to spirits and remote viewed and possessed paranormal powers … and then they went crazy. They can draw a line and it usually relates to consistency within a system and the ability to function in a healthy manner. By the time someone in a New Age group is deemed psychotic by the group itself, it’s not going to be one of those gray areas. Even from our standpoint, they usually stand out. Usually.

              I’ve mentioned John Schumaker’s anecdote before, when he tells of being a psychologist in the African bush and having a woman brought to him for help: she was hearing voices. They were mystical animists. “But you all hear voices.” “Yes, but she hears them at the wrong times.”

              1. The DSM IV tried to make that distinction by stating that a delusion had to be out of the ordinary for the particular religious group the person was a member of. However, it is a very artificial and far from reliable distinction.

              2. ‘Mental illness’ is, as you note, just the tail of some distribution of mental qualities. It isn’t a binary quality, you’re mentally ill or you aren’t, any more than sight is divided into blindness/perfect vision. Currently, the only way we have to identify the mentally ill is to compare them to the distribution and see how far out they are. Everyone may be a little OCD about something, but Bob here can’t get to his job because of his compulsions and so we consider Bob’s OCD pathological but my inability to brush my teeth in a different order than I normally do (made up example) as just a quirk.

                It turns out that all humans deviate from some imagined norm of perfect rationality (the rational agents of economists) because our minds are a bundle of heuristics and tricks that work well enough at allowing us to survive and reproduce but aren’t built for sussing out the age of the universe. Religion can be seen, I think, as an exploitation of our innate cognitive blind spots.

              3. Religion can be seen, I think, as an exploitation of our innate cognitive blind spots.

                Very spot on.

                Where there’s doubt, there’s more or less traditionally only been religion to fill out the blanks.

              4. Indeed. Very convenient. It seems that religious leaders like to promote the idea that if science does not have an answer beyond “We don’t know” this is proof positive that religion has the only valid answer.

              5. Aye, plunging into the abyss on a wing and a prayer reasuring the restless of better times ahead if only you have faith.

                I actually don’t mind preachers, pastors or whoever proselytizing as long as they’re prepared to deal with questions honestly…..which sort of rule out quite a bunch, I guess.

              6. Indeed. Religion uses the same tricks as quackery. That seems no coincidence, since they are both based on irrational non-demonstrable ‘beliefs’ and are both fighting against the ever-increasing body of evidence and increasing coherence discovered by rationality-based science.

    3. I do not think it is criminal.

      Think of it this way. What will these kids do? Are some of them going to try to build a better laser? If they do, they will necessarily have to compartmentalize any nonsense and move straight toward an advanced understanding based on science and observation. If they succeed and make a profoundly advanced laser and still believe this stuff, they obviously managed to do this in spite of what they believe. That is not necessarily criminal. Believing nonsense is not criminal.

  4. I’d think that reasoning is the only way out of religion. While it will be hard to shift people who have crafted their whole self-identity out of being a believer, it is important to articulate the reasons for of value of unbelief. The main value of debate is letting people know that there is an alternate way that they can later investigate on their own, away from the heat of the debate. The debate itself won’t change anyone’s mind, but it may at least plant the seed of curiosity.

    1. P.S. Which isn’t to say that I support debating creationists when they “win” merely by getting real scientists to show up!

    2. I agree, although I suppose once the tide has shifted enough that group dynamics can take over from reasoning. If most people are unbelievers, many of them will be so just because that is the norm not because they have personally given it much thought or attention.

  5. I never understood that Swift quote. How can you explain something like the US change in attitude towards gay marriage in the past ten years?

    Most people didn’t reason their way into opposing it, they just did it because it was what their peer group did. Once they stopped to think about it – e.g. when they first worked with a gay person – they realised it was stupid, and reasoned themselves out of it.

    1. “when they first worked with a gay person ”

      That really isn’t a form of reasoning, it’s developing empathy for an individual who had heretofore been a member of an unfamiliar, abstract class of people.

      1. I agree it is not reasoning. (More a change in pattern recognition/intuition.)

        However it is a very important part of how people’s thinking does change, and it points to why engagement is important regardless of the ineffectiveness of reasoning. Simply getting theists to recognize a common humanity that they share with an atheist, can be a big step for a theist.

      2. Some person starts with a family-delivered premise that gays are bad. He has no direct data about it, so he believes this premise. Then, he observes a bunch of gay people. They aren’t bad. He uses these observations to discard the initial premise. That’s reasoning.

        Emotions play into it and the Swift quote may be right some of the time, but I think very often people unthinkingly or emotionally adopt positions which can change once they give a little thought to it.

        There have been a raft of psych experiments lately that show that even liberal egalitarians show implicit racial biases. Pairing words with faces, interpreting facial expressions, these sorts of studies all show racially-based biases in even the most empathic individuals. What distinguishes nonbigots from bigots is not our lack of biases, but that we reason our way out of our biases.

        So, I think in a lot of cases we do exactly what Swift claimed we can’t have done – we start with a position that was not derived from reasoning, and then we reason our way out of it/to a better one.

    2. If they don’t have a personal stake in the matter, most people just go along with the consensus opinion. Thought leaders change the consensus and the herd follows along. Gays did much to initiate the change through activism. Sympathetic celebrities chimed in and the consensus began to move. Pres. Obama’s support of gay marriage seems to have been the tipping point, although the momentum was already in that direction.

  6. “My ghast was flabbered”

    That’s excellent! I might have to steal that.

    “They have these sort of electronic vegetarian Tyrannosaurus rex…”

    I do love that concept. I could just imagine The Big G and JC having a conversation during the first week of creation.
    “So what you doing, Dad?”
    “I’m making a Tyrannosaurus Rex.”
    “Wow, he’s got big teeth.”
    “Yeah, they’re the size of knives. I’ve also given him jaw muscles strong enough to take a bite of a car, once they’ve been invented.”
    “So what’s he gonna need that kind of firepower for?”
    “Well, you know how you get rather tough skins on apples from time to time–”
    “Whoah! And what’s that?”
    “Oh that? It’s a Sabre Tooth Tiger. I’ve intelligently designed his teeth to be perfect for skinning bananas.”
    “Well let’s hope those humans stay away from that tree you said about. If The Fall ever happens these guys could go apeshit.”
    “That’s the beauty of omniscience, son. There’s nothing to worry about…”

  7. My own experience supports the influence that open dialogue may have on the thinking of those with any seeds of doubt although it wasn’t a debate that triggered my acceptance of naturalism.

    Like a lot of people, I was raised awash in all the trappings of Christianity and although the Easter bunny, and Santa passed easily into oblivion, Jesus stubbornly tried to hold on. The gift of a beginning book on evolution was a revelation. It fit so perfectly with my own observations of nature growing up in the country next to a forest and lake. It finally made sense.

    Mimicking the efforts of today’s accommodationists, I tried to find a middle ground that fit with my religious indoctrination and the growing sense that science actually had referenced answers.

    That came crashing down when we had a young substitute teacher in chemistry. As an aside to some question on why a particular reaction behaved as it did, he talked about electron valence then ended his comments with, ‘or maybe it’s just because the deity 3rd class in charge of the hydrogen atom decided it should work this way.’

    I had never heard anyone make fun of religion before that moment, so it was a bit of a shock. But it hit home. It really did come down to magic vs natural and definable processes. After that day I was done trying to find a common ground with faith. Faith became a word that defined the notion of trusting the word of authority figures with their own agendas.

    1. Your story contains an important lesson on the importance of criticism and ridicule — the very two properties that gather the most ire from accommodationists and religionists.


      1. I agree. Making fun of absurdist positions (thanks be to Jon Stewart) cuts through defensive rhetoric better than the most skilled debate.

  8. “The whole point in debating people with a real investment in a religious outlook is you are not going to change their minds,” he said. “You’re not really talking to them, because you’re not going to make a difference to them, but you might make a difference to people who are uncertain, people who are reflecting, people who are wavering on the brink.”

    This is only “accurate” because it’s self-defining. Any religious person who is persuadable obviously wasn’t one of those with a “real investment in a religious outlook.” No, they were too thoughtful or reflective or doubtful and wavering on the brink or they never would have changed their minds.

    In my opinion AC Grayling is guilty here of a No True Scotsman Fallacy. He should know better than that. There are so many, many atheists who used to be fervent, pious, devout Christians, Muslims, or New Agers who thought their way out using reason — or at least claim they did. Does AC Grayling know their hearts better than they do?

    Rubbish. As I’ve pointed out again and again, most religious people don’t really think they’re irrational and that there’s no good evidence for what they believe. Instead, they either think the evidence and arguments are solid enough for anyone who isn’t emotionally invested in NOT seeing the Truth … or they think that religious beliefs are like moral beliefs or aesthetics and asking for empirical evidence is asking the wrong kind of question. And they are immured in a culture which reinforces this framework.

    They have evidence and they use reason: God is a hypothesis (or God is an emotional commitment) and even if they were indeed indoctrinated they’re still sure they would have arrived at the same conclusion or commitment without that. Religion makes sense.

    And this is the ground we can appeal to. It’s where their concerns and our concerns intersect and we can interact with each other.

    When I think about it, it also seems to me that A C Grayling is making a Little People Argument, too. Oh, the Little People can’t be reasoned with, the Little People can’t change their minds, the Little People aren’t brave and smart and mature like WE are. Don’t try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and talk to them as if they’re on our level, because the poor, weak, deluded things aren’t. THEY can’t handle the truth. Debate is pointless because our arguments have no soil in which they can grow.

    Then he combines it with a No True Scotman’s Fallacy Argument in order to explain why he bothers to write books justifying atheism. We can use reason to persuade the religious as long as they’re not REALLY religious. So there’s no contradiction.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right. I wish he’d knock it off.

    1. In my opinion AC Grayling is guilty here of a No True Scotsman Fallacy. He should know better than that. There are so many, many atheists who used to be fervent, pious, devout Christians, Muslims, or New Agers who thought their way out using reason — or at least claim they did. Does AC Grayling know their hearts better than they do?


      One problem here is what’s called the consistency bias or self-consistency bias. Pretty much all humans have a tendency to view our past selves as more like our current selves than they actually were. So if you ask a convert to any religion (or atheism) if they were deep, sincere believers in their past cause – if they “really believed all that stuff,” most of them will sincerely tell you no – that they always had questions, concerns, etc… Same goes for politics. You convert from conservativism to liberalism (or vice versa), and you are very likely to remember your past self as being more moderate than you actually were.

      So, Grayling may be committing the No True Scotsman. Or maybe he’s just taking ‘consistency biased’ data from converts to atheism at face value.

      1. Indeed. I am wondering to what degree this will remain valid, now that we have computers and vast storage capacities, and therefore have an easier time verifying what we actually said we believed in the past.

        1. Mr. Van Bockstaele,

          Read the Roolz: you have now put up 39 comments on this thread–more than 30%. I don’t know what motivated you to try to dominate the conversation here, but you’re going to stop it, right now. Please read the Roolz (on the sidebar) to see how to avoid overcommenting.

          The above will be your last comment on this thread.

          1. You misread my intentions.

            I had no intention to “dominate”, I was merely having fun replying to comments I found interesting, and often replied to me directly. I was not counting comments.

            Nevertheless, your comment is well-taken. It is your site. You make the rules.

            I apologise and will stop commenting immediately.


    2. I agree completely. It seems self evident that someone must be persuadable by reason otherwise the world would still look like the 14th century.

      And any implication that sharing your unbelief, of presenting evidence even to hostile audiences is futile is doubly absurd. That you can debate someone and they, and the audience, seems unmoved is unremarkable. Even if someone has an epiphany out in the audience and realizes that they don’t believe any more, they aren’t likely to jump up and announce it to the crowd. They come in invested and defensive so it isn’t likely to work so quickly either. Even if you deliver a death blow to their faith it will take some time for the ship to actually go down. In my own case I can point to a particular talk given at my church by an engineer trying to defend belief. That he’d lie about the 2nd law of thermodynamics and many other things, or allow him to be so blinkered that he could lock off what he must have known, was a revelation to me. But even that took weeks to fully soak in even though I felt the snap in that very moment. And that snap too built on years of hearing other arguments, of watching Cosmos, of listening to sermons that didn’t make sense, of slowly becoming educated in science, of meeting decent people who didn’t believe, etc. Any particular debate, TV show, website post, lecture, book, cartoon, casual comment from a friend, etc., may be the missing piece for someone, and so isn’t a wasted effort.

  9. Sastra,

    The world needs a book from you. You simply have the best insight into the minds of theists combined with eloquence that I’ve seen.

  10. Dear Prof. Coyne,

    I keep a part-time blog and recently wrote a short post suggesting that racists might be enabled by those who believe in God. I happen to think my brief argument could be developed into another effective way to counter the Intelligent Design crowd.

    In a response to one commentator – who suggested there is no evidence for evolution – I used the copy/paste facility to take some of your words and use them in a comment. I linked to your blog, specifically one of the posts you wrote during your brief debate with Peter Hitchens (a fellow I had the pleasure of meeting after a debate I attended and for whom I have a great deal of admiration.)

    First, I hope you don’t mind.

    Second, there are some contributors to my blog who are saying some very odd things…

    kind regards,

    John Aspinall
    South-west England.

      1. Yeah, John Aspinall (the semi-famous one, anyway) passed away some years ago. Must be another one, or somebody using his name.

  11. I’ve been thinking all day on and off why it bothers me so much when children are taught these lies…not just lies about the existence of a deity but lies about the fundamental truths of the natural world. I know there is debate about whether these people are knowingly lying to children and most likely the majority believe what they teach, but nevertheless they are teaching lies.

    I suppose I find this extra pernicious because you are supposed to prepare the next generation not only to thrive as individuals but also to carry on a successful society and because a democracy has turned out to be the society that thrives best and historically has resulted in great advances not only in human and animal rights but also in technological and scientific breakthroughs, teaching lies directly threatens that democracy. Without the method to find the truth (science), there is no truth and there is no democracy.

    How we fix this? I’m not entirely sure, but removing religious privilege would be a good start!

    1. I think we find it so horrible because the victims are innocent, trusting children, without really the cognitive capacity to “defend” themselves.
      As for how to fix this, as my responses to Bart indicate I think this is a case where criminalizing the behavior we don’t like is not a good idea. People tend to gravitate to using the law as a stick because its easy and simple, but that carries a lot of negative repercussions for a free society. So, what else? Well, here’s two thoughts.

      Socialization is a pretty powerful force to prevent extreme behavior. The wider the group of people you regularly interact with, the easier it is to see when your own sub-group’s behavior becomes decidedly odd or irrational. In contrast, cults (and authoritarian regimes) section off their groups intentionaly to prevent their citizens from seeing how other people live and what they believe. So, if we socially reward “getting out there” into the wider world and interacting with a lot of different people, that should serve to reduce the influence of counter-factual cult leaders.

      Education is my second thought (and I admit its pretty obvious). I think we are all aware how it negatively correlates with strong religious beliefs. Socially rewarding greater education can be a way (IMO) to marginalize wacky and counterfactual beliefs. Western societies already do this to some extent, but we could probably do it better.

      Lastly, I’ll note that the strongest cultural bastions of YECism tend to object to both of these social forces. They dislike “cosmopolitan culture” (for lack of a better term), and they are anti-intellectual. Which tells me I’m on the right track. 🙂

      1. The biggest thing that stands in the way of education and socialization is home schooling. You effectively isolate your child from other opinions and truths. Home schooling can be great if done properly; I have a friend who homeschools her kids in a secular way and exposes them to all kinds of things. However, the religios groups who homeschool do so to isolate.

        1. Yep, it can be a double whammy of social and educational isolation. OTOH, modern fundies have to deal with their kids’ access to the internet. A mixed bag for sure, as you can use it to form close-knit communities and never talk to anyone who might disagree with you. But overall, I think its a social good (in terms of damping down cults) and will tend to make people more cosmopolitan.
          The point of bringing that up is that it makes me optimistic. I think today’s fundie kids are going to be far more cosmopolitan than their parents want them to be, and its going to show in terms of their beliefs.

    2. I suppose I find this extra pernicious because you are supposed to prepare the next generation not only to thrive as individuals but also to carry on a successful society and because a democracy has turned out to be the society that thrives best and historically has resulted in great advances not only in human and animal rights but also in technological and scientific breakthroughs, teaching lies directly threatens that democracy. Without the method to find the truth (science), there is no truth and there is no democracy.Not sure how this can even be argued given the history of this country (USA) whose founding and development has always been intertwined with strong religious belief and instruction (only seeing changes in this perspective last half century or so.) In fact the opposite could be argued (and has by the faithful ie founding fathers, Declaration of Independence, etc…)

      1. Yes, although the US constitution explicitly calls for separation of church and state (other democracies are not so explicit, in practice, it remains more religious than other constitutional democracies; however America is always the weird outlier in statistics. Because America is this outlier, the success of constitutional democracies in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries supports my statement.

  12. Absolutely. Don’t debate them because they will change their minds. Debate them because there’s a plethora of people like myself who made it into early adulthood who never were aware of the rich history of skepticism and how many people have had precisely the same doubts.

  13. Also on the creationism “museum,” don’t miss John Scalzi’s takedown, beginning with this marvelously evocative paragraph (I wonder what the Hemingway app would do with this prose?):

    “Here’s how to understand the Creation Museum:

    Imagine, if you will, a load of horseshit. And we’re not talking just your average load of horseshit; no, we’re talking colossal load of horseshit. An epic load of horseshit. The kind of load of horseshit that has accreted over decades and has developed its own sort of ecosystem, from the flyblown chunks at the perimeter, down into the heated and decomposing center, generating explosive levels of methane as bacteria feast merrily on vintage, liquified crap. This is a Herculean load of horseshit, friends, the likes of which has not been seen since the days of Augeas.”

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