23 Replies to “Today’s Sunday School lesson is on “open-mindedness””

  1. Seriously though, I support anyone who seeks to find the truth, and don’t agree with forcing beliefs on anyone. A good argument is a good argument no matter what (even arguments from atheists). The problem arises when you say I can’t prove that God exists with science. Can you prove he doesn’t exist? Expecting the burden of proof to fall on me because I believe in what you call supernatural conveniently throws the burden off yourself to prove that God doesn’t exist. That sure is convenient I’d say. What if I said the burden of proof lies with you because you’re challenging things that the majority of the population believes. What would you say then? Oh and by the way because the majority believes doesn’t make the majority right, i’m just proposing a hypothetical situation.

  2. Here’s what I’d say to you putting the burden of proof on me because the majority of people believe it: You are committing a logical fallacy called “argumentum ad populum” . Just because a lot of people believe something doesn’t mean they are correct. How many examples of this do you want? (1) The Earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa. Galileo was put on house arrest in the 17th Century for challenging this widely held belief. (2) The earth is round not flat. Columbus was considered crazy when he said he thought it was round in the 15th Century. (3) For a more recent example, the majority of Americans thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction thanks to a highly effective propaganda campaign by the Bush Administration and the mass media in 2002-2003. Yeah, that was over 6 years ago and no one has found those weapons. How many more examples would you like? Widely held beliefs are often wrong!

    The second problem is the issue of “burden of proof.” A philosopher friend has suggested that I not use this argument anymore as it is hard to really defend, but the classic assertion (originally formulated by David Hume) goes like this: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I’m not claiming anything extraordinary when I say, “I see no evidence to support the existence of a god.” (NOTE: I did not say your god doesn’t exist, just that there is no evidence to support your god’s existence. It’s still quite possible that it exists.) You, however, are making an extraordinary claim when you say you believe in a supernatural entity that exists outside the natural world. Per Hume, you have the burden of proof.

    Finally, can I prove that God does not exist? Yes and no, depending on how you define god. If you define god in such a way that the idea is falsifiable using scientific inquiry, then I could prove it false or provide support for your claim. It may also be the case that your god is logically inconsistent, in which case I could prove it does not exist based on the illogicality of your god. But I’m guessing your god is: (1) non-falsifiable and (2) convoluted enough to avoid the major pitfalls of logic (probably not the case with your god, but it might be the case). Ergo, no, I cannot disprove the existence of your god, though I’m happy to try if you’ll define your god.

    Also, keep in mind that I wasn’t actually trying to attack god with that video but rather to encourage people to think skeptically.

  3. I liked the video. Great use of visuals. It also helped that the speaker was British (we generally associate intelligence with the accent–what’s that called, Ryan, sociologically speaking?)

    Only one concern or lingering question. For the sake of argument, lets assume that we exhausted all natural explanations for a particular phenomenon. Is it really a “contradiction” to then assume a super-natural explanation? Is the counter-argument here that we can never fully exhaust all natural explanations–that a natural explanation should exist for everything? What are your thoughts.

  4. Good questions, Mario. The first one, about associating British accents with intelligence is probably a type of confirmation bias (could also be stereotyping). We associate British accents (actually, just some British accents) with wisdom and knowledge (because of media stereotypes), and when we find an accent that suggests wisdom, it confirms our bias. When we hear a cockney accent that doesn’t confirm our bias, we disregard it.

    The second question is more intriguing… The true skeptic, once he/she has run out of naturalistic explanations, suspends belief pending further evidence.

    Let me give an example to clarify: Let’s say you have an out-of-body experience in which you feel like you have left your body and looked down upon your body. You tell me this and attribute it to your belief that all humans have souls or spirits that inhabit their physical bodies. I listen to you and don’t deny the experience, but attribute it, instead, to the quirkiness of our brain and give you a reference to a scientific explanation (Lenggenhager, Bigna, Tej Tadi, Thomas Metzinger, and Olaf Blanke. 2007. “Video Ergo Sum: Manipulating Bodily Self-Consciousness.” Science 317:1096-1099.). In my mind, I have just given a naturalistic explanation for a phenomena that you attributed to something supernatural. Problem solved. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say you insist that your out-of-body experience was not the result of a brain misfire but something else, something supernatural. And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the entire time you were undergoing this out-of-body experience you were being closely monitored by scientists to see if you had triggered the physiological responses in the brain known to cause an out-of-body experience but did not exhibit any of the indicators. If we were to arrive at this point, I, as a skeptic, would not immediately say, “You are correct, it must be something supernatural.” Instead I would say, “This defies explanation at the present time, but that does not mean it defies all explanation. I’ll continue to study this to see if I can find a way to explain it.” (This does, of course, assume you are being honest about having experienced what you say you did.)

    Does this mean that there is no such thing as the supernatural? Not quite. There could, of course, be something supernatural. The problem, however, is that the supernatural is, by definition, unmeasurable by our 5 senses (and the instruments we create to enhance those senses). Thus, at best, we could measure the effect of the supernatural, but never the supernatural itself. Alas, to date, we (i.e., the scientific community) never have observed anything supernatural. Individuals claim to have done so, but the fact that they cannot share their experience with anyone else suggests that what they experienced was some subjective experience that probably occurred within their brain and not some objective encounter with the supernatural. It’s possible that it was something supernatural, but there is no evidence to support that.

    In summary, then, when scientists and skeptics have no answer, they suspend judgment. It is possible for the supernatural to exist, but not for it to be measured or sensed, by definition. Ergo, we can only ever sense the effects of the supernatural, never the supernatural itself. Which means we can never prove the existence of the supernatural, by definition.

    This is why you will never hear me say, “There is no god.” At best I could say, “I do not BELIEVE there are gods.” It is possible that there are gods, but there is no evidence to support the existence of gods. Ergo, I take the skeptic’s position and withhold judgment pending further evidence. The believer in gods would be well-suited to frame his/her belief likewise, “I believe there is a god,” as they cannot know such an entity exists given its supernatural nature.

  5. Yes I do understand that the majority of people can be wrong and often are. And I accept the fact that the burdon of proof SHOULD go on me, because I believe in something difficult to explain scientifically, but without what you’d call evidence I can’t prove that my God exists scientifically. I can only put forth the idea that miracles do exist. You can attribute these miracles to whatever you can prove scientifically, but for me, they’re proof that God does exist. Your arguments for atheism are quite convincing, by the way, but they’re not enough to convince me of the atheist philosophy I’m afraid, but maybe you could become an Atheist missionary. On second thought, no, scratch that idea. HaHa. I do support being open minded, though, and did enjoy the video, although it sparked a long debate with a friend on facebook which ended in pretty much the same way this discussion has, but with more Mormon talk.

  6. Hi Anonymous (erm, Jeremy?!?)… A couple quick clarifications. First, you believe in something that, at present, is impossible to explain scientifically, which goes beyond “difficult.” That’s a problem…

    As for “proof of god through miracles,” that’s a tricky one. First, we have to decide what is meant by “miracle.” Let’s go with Webster’s definitions:

    1) an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs
    2) an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment

    Definition 1 is problematic simply because we have no way of knowing if an event is the result of divine intervention. Why? Well, prove to me that it was divine intervention that caused it? That’s impossible. Ergo, it’s a worthless definition.

    The second definition is a workable definition, but it also means that it is perfectly explainable using basic scientific thinking. The second definition simply says that some events are rare. That, of course, is absolutely true. But the occurrence of rare events is not something that should be considered at all shocking. Why? Because there are over 6 billion people on the planet and each of those people experiences millions of events each month. Thus, if you have a 1 in a billion chance of being hit by a falling meteorite each year, that means there are about 6 people who will be hit this year (you actually have a 1 in 700,000 chance of dying from a meteor impact per: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2008/01/06/asteroid-to-miss-earth-january-29/. It’s rare, but that doesn’t mean it is a miracle. Rare things occur simply because there are so many people experiencing so many events.

    Let’s use an example that is more relevant to you. Knowing there are about 42,000 traffic fatalities per year in the US, what are the chances that you, Jeremy, will die in an auto accident this year? Some quick and dirty math suggests that you have a 1.40 in 10,000 chance of dying this year in an auto accident (that’s a very rough calculation that does not include the number of hours you spend on the road, nor local auto-accident rates, nor the type of car, etc.). That’s a low chance of death, but clearly a possibility. If it were to happen, would it be a “miracle”? Well, by the second definition given above, yes. It’s a rare event. Of course, it is also a rare event that happens to 42,000 Americans every year, but it is still rare.

    This raises a second point: Why are only “positive” events considered “miracles”? So, if you were to win the lottery (the odds of which are considerable lower than dying in a car accident), you might consider that a miracle. But dying in a car accident is not a miracle but a tragedy. What is happening here is that people are selectively choosing to invoke god’s will. See, god never gets blamed for bad things, but gets all the credit for good things. If god is involved, shouldn’t he/she/it get the blame, too? That doesn’t seem very just or fair.

    Lastly, I would never deny that people have “special” events that seem to be so unusual that they are hard to explain using science. Attributing them to a higher power or deity, however, is not a logically sound explanation. As I explained to Mario, the true skeptic, upon having one of these “experiences” would not immediately say, “God did that.” Instead, the true skeptic would say, “Hmm… That was unusual. I don’t have an explanation for that. I will, therefore, suspend judgment as to the cause of that event until I have evidence of an explanation.” Simply attributing events to god or some higher power whenever a more apparent explanation is not forthcoming is a cop out. In my opinion, it’s lazy. You’re basically saying, “I’m too lazy to figure out what actually happened in that event, so I’m going to attribute it to a higher power.” If all humans behaved that way, we wouldn’t have any of the remarkable scientific advances we have had over the last few hundred years. We’d all simply sit around and say, “Apples fall from trees because that is god’s will.” “The sun revolves around the earth because that is god’s will.” Etc.

    Let me reiterate… I’m not saying you didn’t experience something special and rare. I’m also not saying it wasn’t divine. It may have been. But I’m 100% confident that you cannot prove that it was a higher power that caused that special event to occur. You have simply chosen to attribute it to that higher power (and probably choose not to attribute negative life events to that same higher power). Why? Because doing so supports your pre-existing belief system. You have fallen prey to confirmation bias: You have a belief, look for evidence to support it, and disregard all evidence that contradicts it. It’s not very scientific of you.

    Okay, very last point… One of the great differences between skeptics/seculars and the religious is that we don’t push our views on people who don’t want to hear them. Ergo, no atheistic evangelism from me. If people want to hear/read my thoughts on the topic, they are welcome to do so, but no one is going to force them to. We are big fans of autonomy.

  7. Ryan,

    You and I both know people, scientists even, who are both highly religious and extraordinarily intelligent. I don’t think it’s entirely appropriate to consider them lazy for their religious beliefs–or at least their suggestion of the supernatural. Belief, faith (which are admittedly “irrational”), are eventually matters of choice. Are some religious people lazy? Of course they are. There is great comfort in belief in a higher power. But, as you may still recall, there is also great terror. Some of us (maybe most of us) don’t take these things lightly. Some religious thinkers wrestle constantly in those regions where the reconciliation between science and religion seems impossible. But at the end of the day, they still choose faith. As you well know, this debate is certainly not new. That the the dialogue still exists is evidence enough for me that both sides still consider these issues as critical to their existence, and that neither should simply be labeled as lazy.

  8. You’re asking me to prove that miracles happen because of God? What other explination would you offer when someone is healed of blindness, or some horrible disease? Do you still suspend judgment because there’s no scientific evidence to explain these things?

    You said “You’re basically saying, ‘I’m too lazy to figure out what actually happened in that event, so I’m going to attribute it to a higher power.’

    But if I’ve exhausted all other explinations, then rather than suspend my judgement I think I’ll attribute it to God. You’re calling me lazy when I offer up God as an explination when no other scientific explinations can be found, but then you turn around and say ‘all other explinations have been exhausted therefore I’ll suspend judgement?’ Isn’t that you being lazy as well? Why isn’t God an option when all else has failed to prove anything?

    On your second point, simply because Mormon missionaries are knocking on people’s doors tyring to preach the gospel DOES NOT mean they are forcing people to believe. It only means they have felt God’s power in their lives and want to help other people understand what true hapiness is. It’s never been forced upon anyone unless the missionary lost the Spirit of the Lord and tried to force it. Agency and choice are vital parts of the Gospel, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to proseletize does it? Maybe that’s not what you’re getting at. Maybe you were just explaining what you believe. If so, I apologize.

    And on the confirmation bias thing, you’re trying to tell me how I’ve lived my life. You’re saying I’ve never looked for answers besides what the Gospel offers, and I haven’t tried to prove scientifically that God DOESN’T exist. You’re saying I already have my answer and I’m seeking out evidence that supports it. What if, in fact, I tried to prove God doesn’t exist? Then, and only after trying to prove God doesn’t exist scientifically, I found out that he does exist, but can’t prove it through hard evidence. Would this still be confirmation bias if I was seeking to discredit the existence of God and later found out for myself that he did exist? Just because God can’t be explained scientifically, that doesn’t mean he isn’t there as you’ve pointed out. I guess the difference between us is that you “suspend judgement” until further evidence becomes available, and I attribute unexplained phenomenon to as you call it “the supernatural” or God.

  9. I wasn’t really looking for another big religion discussion, but hey, I’m getting comments. So, I’m definitely not going to complain! 🙂

    So, first for Mario’s point… Is religious belief lazy?

    Well, yes and no. Here’s what I meant by that statement: Immediately attributing events that do not have a clear cause to a higher power is both: (1) confirmation bias and (2) lazy. I explained confirmation bias earlier in a response to Jeremy (and probably will explain it again below). As for laziness, if you see something that does not have an easy explanation and choose to attribute it to god rather than investigate it, I do think that is intellectually lazy.

    Let me give an example from my own work. In one of my early research projects I noticed that the Mormon religion has either negligible growth or negative growth in highly developed countries. I found a fact. Great. Kudos to me. The question is: Why? If I were intellectually lazy, I could simply attribute the lack of growth to god (e.g., not wanting those people to join the religion). But that is an intellectually lazy position. There are other very likely explanations. So, not being intellectually lazy on this question, I pursued the answer. I may not have the right answer (that financial security translates into existential security and that reduces interest in god and religion), but I think my answer is more plausible than “God doesn’t want them to convert.” In short, I discovered something, realized there had to be an explanation, and pursued it until I came up with a compelling one. My theory will continue to be refined, but it is our current best understanding.

    So, by saying that people who immediately attribute events to god are intellectually lazy, what I am saying is not that the people are lazy in other ways, just that they have opted to proffer an explanation that does not require any real effort to justify. “God did it” requires no serious thought. It’s a cop out. My explanation has required hundreds of hours of both data collection and serious thinking to develop into a viable explanation (by both myself and dozens of other scientists). Does this mean I’m not intellectually lazy? On this point, yes. On other points, I probably am (I don’t attribute it to god, but I also don’t pursue a viable answer; I simply suspend judgment).

    Would it be fair of me to call all believers in god “intellectually lazy”? No. And I’m not equating “belief in god” with “intellectual laziness.” What I’m saying is that quick and dirty attributions to god are lazy. Belief in god may be the result of a lot of thought and deep introspection, but, in my opinion, a believer should still never simply say, “God did it.” That’s still intellectually lazy. A believer should say, “Hmm… That’s intriguing. I wonder if there are plausible naturalistic explanations for that phenomenon. If not, I may eventually lean toward attributing this to divine intervention, but only once I’ve ruled out all other possibilities.” Ironically, of course, it’s impossible to rule out all other naturalistic possibilities because we do not have a perfect understanding of nature. Ergo, the believer should never actually say, “God did it.” Instead, they should say, “Based on our current understanding of this event, we cannot conclude that it has a naturalistic explanation. That does not mean that god did it, but that is one possible explanation. Alas, the “god did it” explanation is not falsifiable, so it is only an alternative we would choose once all other possible explanations have been ruled out.”

    Based on the above understanding, I am left with an obvious question: Can you name one thing that you know god did?

  10. Now Jeremy’s turn…

    Jeremy, show me evidence of someone being healed of blindness or a serious illness (Bible and Book of Mormon don’t count as they are clearly fictitious). Oh, and it can’t be modern medicine that did it, because that is obviously not something god did. A great illustration of this point: http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

    God doesn’t heal ailments that are unhealable, like amputation. Funny how that works. If god is all powerful and can heal people of headaches (almost all of which go away on their own), why can’t he heal amputees? Or does god hate amputees?

    Do I suspend judgment on those cases? Of course not. I have no need to do so. I have yet to see a well-documented case of someone being healed by god. If I had evidence of an amputee growing his arm back after being blessed by a religious functionary, that would be pretty compelling evidence for the existence of god. It’s never happened. Ergo, no judgment to suspend. At this point, my position is firm: There is no compelling evidence that god has healed anyone of anything. Does this mean god cannot do so? No. Of course not. But every instance of healing on record has a perfectly naturalistic explanation.

    In my post to Mario I explained the issue of laziness. Basically, you are saying “god did it.” As I explained to Mario, you cannot know that. At best you can believe it. But you have no evidence to indicate god did it. It’s really no different than me attributing everything I can’t explain to leprechauns. Can you, Jeremy, say that leprechauns didn’t do it? Obviously you cannot. But would you think I was right if I constantly went around saying, “Oh, leprechauns healed that person” or “I had an amazing spiritual experience caused by leprechauns.” I have no evidence for the existence of leprechauns. I have no evidence that they actually have any role in any events. Yet, they could be my fallback whenever I can’t explain something. I say, as a skeptic, don’t simply attribute it to some unknown and unknowable force. You can lean toward that as a believer, but you cannot, logically, say that god did it anymore than I can say leprechauns did it. You can say, “I have no naturalistic answers, but can’t rule out the possibility that one will arise. Thus, I lean toward attributing it to god, even though I can never know if that was the case.” That’s as close as you can ever come and make a logically sound attribution.

    As for Mormon missionaries making people believe, I never said that. What I said is, I’m not going out trying to make people listen. I do no evangelizing (which is trying to get people to listen to your message, not forcing them to believe). I rarely put anything religious on my blog and am perfectly happy with people looking at it or not. But I don’t go out and try to get people to look at my blog. It’s there for people to peruse or not. Missionaries do try to get people to listen; I don’t.

    Continuing with your comment, you said, “It only means they have felt God’s power in their lives and want to help other people understand what true hapiness is.” Really? Come on, Jeremy, you served a mission, didn’t you (I actually don’t know, so if you didn’t, just let me know)? Is this really why most missionaries serve? If I go through the missionaries I served with, I’d say less than 10% were there for this reason. I didn’t serve for that reason and I’ve said as much since the day I left on my mission. I served out of a sense of obligation – modern-day Mormon prophets have said it is an obligation. So, I went. I never had an overwhelming urge to share my beliefs with anyone, but I did because I was told to by people who I believed spoke with god. I wasn’t alone. I knew missionaries who where there simply so they could marry their sweetheart. I knew one who was there because his parents said they would buy him a porsche when he returned. Let’s not be overly idealistic here about Mormon missionaries. A small percentage serve because they have an overwhelming desire to share their beliefs. The rest do it for a variety of reasons, ranging from obligation to bribery.

    Your next sentence is even more disturbing and apologetic, “It’s never been forced upon anyone unless the missionary lost the Spirit of the Lord and tried to force it.” What you do with this sentence is remarkable. First, you suggest that missionaries can never do wrong, unless they do wrong. Which is a tautology. Then you suggest that the only way they can do wrong is if they lose the spirit, which is doing wrong. Also a tautology. The ultimate suggestion in this sentence is actually: God can do no wrong, only his representatives can. And the representatives do wrong when they chose not to do the will of god, which means they are no longer his representatives. So, technically, no Mormon missionary has ever done wrong, because upon doing wrong they are no longer Mormon missionaries. Ergo, any Mormon missionary who has ever done wrong should not reflect on Mormonism or god because they were not acting as god’s representatives in that particular moment. Beautiful, Jeremy, beautiful! Mormon missionaries can do no wrong, because when they do wrong, they are no longer Mormon missionaries but simply fallible people.

    Many Mormons make this same argument with Mormon prophets. This is how Mormons justify Brigham Young saying there were people living on the moon and that Adam was god the father incarnate – they simply say that their prophet, who taught both of these as Mormon doctrine, was not speaking as a prophet but as a man. This is a major cop-out. Why? Because you can also change someone’s actions or teachings ex post facto based on what you think they should be now. Ergo, during the 40 or so years that Adam/God was taught in Mormon temples, it was a doctrine of the religion. Now, it’s just an idea Brigham Young had. That’s slick. You’ve given Mormonism an easy out and kept it free from being tainted by its own members who represent it. I’m calling cop-out on this.

    Finally, as to confirmation bias… I’m not saying how you’ve lived your life. I’m saying that you attribute only positive things to god, never negative things. Name one negative thing god has done. Just one. Name one evil thing. Just one. Can you? Why can’t you?

    You then say, “What if, in fact, I tried to prove God doesn’t exist? Then, and only after trying to prove God doesn’t exist scientifically, I found out that he does exist, but can’t prove it through hard evidence.” There are two points here: First, this would not be confirmation bias. If you started out with a hypothesis and find evidence that DISCONFIRMS your original hypothesis, then you have not fallen prey to confirmation bias. Second, you belie a bias in the wording of your question. You say, “I found out that he does exist, but can’t prove it through hard evidence.” If that is the case, then you have NOT found out that god exists at all. What you’ve found is a reason to believe in a god, but not based on any evidence as you have no evidence, per your own quote. Ergo, you have chosen to believe in an entity that has no evidence to support its existence. I have just as much evidence to believe in leprechauns as you do to believe in god. Yet, neither you nor I believe in leprechauns. Why is that?

    Lastly, you are correct that “Just because God can’t be explained scientifically, that doesn’t mean he isn’t there as you’ve pointed out.” However, this also doesn’t mean he/she/it is there. It simply means we cannot know, either way. Ergo, you do not KNOW there is a god. You simply believe it. And attributing any events to this god is illogical. At best you can suggest that god may be one possible cause, but you cannot assert that you have any evidence to support that claim. You can just say, “Because I have no evidence supporting a naturalistic explanation, I lean toward attributing it toward the divine, but I don’t know that.”

  11. Let me explain myself a bit here. In terms of your final question to me, although I appreciate your forum and some of the concerns you explore here, I’m really not interested in entering a debate on semantics or epistemology. I’ve been reading your blog for years now and I essentially know your answers regarding that issue. You probably already know my responses as well. Not much to build on there.

    I’ve only tried to engage you in this forum (in addition to occasional queries for elucidation) when I felt that some of your comments indicated a particular undercurrent of intellectual superiority (e.g., religious thinkers are lazy). But I also think we’re misunderstanding each other a bit. You say that it’s intellectually lazy to see an apple fall from a tree and assume immediately that “God did it,” and I entirely agree. But when I see an apple fall, Ryan, I think of Newton and gravity. You see I’ve also studied Kant, Hume, Darwin, Campbell, Chomsky, etc. And although that’s a smattering, of course, over a broad spectrum, and a lot of my knowledge there is rudimentary, my point is that with particular explanations that I attribute to a higher power, I’ve only done so after I’ve already studied the naturalistic explanation. Is that intellectually lazy? Of course it isn’t.

    But my real concern here is that whether you intended it or not, you’ve swiped a rather large, dismissive hand over a group of people (your family included) who actually know the difference between reason and faith, nature and super-nature, and who are not, by any means, intellectually lazy— who would never make the same assumption about you regardless of any intellectual or spiritual disagreement. Having known you personally, I doubt this sort of thing is intentional. Just occasionally, and maybe subconsciously, apparent.

  12. Okay, so we draw a line – intellectually lazy is when someone attributes something to god without considering possible naturalistic alternatives. There is probably a lot of gray between intellectually lazy and not intellectually lazy, but let’s assume this is a clear enough delineation.

    Where does that leave us when people attribute events to god after careful consideration of the alternatives? Well, they are not intellectually lazy. Agreed. They are, however, depending on how they frame their claim, asserting something that cannot be known. As I outlined above, given god’s status as a supernatural entity, it can never be known if god caused something to happen. It can only be assumed once all other explanations have been ruled out, which is impossible to do. Ergo, it cannot be known.

    This suggests that individuals who assert “god did it” after careful consideration of the alternatives may not be lazy, but they are making a logically unsound assertion. This suggests that such people are unschooled in logic and philosophy. So, they aren’t lazy, but they are naive. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense; I’m naive about a lot of things and I freely admit it.

    If, however, someone suggests, after carefully considering all the naturalistic explanations, “It is possible that a divine entity caused this to happen but I cannot say that with certainty as that cannot be known,” I would actually be perfectly fine with that assertion. Such an assertion belies neither laziness nor naivete. In fact, I can’t disagree with it at all.

    In the end, you raise a good point, Mario. My goal really isn’t to belittle people. I try not to do that, but I’m sure it happens at times. And I do appreciate you asking me for clarification at these times as your prompts for clarification usually force me to think more deeply about the issues. So, thank you!

  13. Ryan,

    Simply because there are a lot of Mormon Missionaries serving for the wrong reasons does not mean that they don’t discover the true reason behind what they’re doing. There is obviously pressure put on young 19 year old Mormon men to serve a mission, and I felt this pressure stronger because I waited until I was 20 1/2 years old before I left for my mission (what a disgrace, eh?). I realized as I served, though, that the people who accepted the Gospel were much happier. As I realized this I truly wanted to share the Gospel with more people so they could feel this true hapiness. You’re condecending attitude to why I and other missionaries went on missionas is insulting. I will admit that many go for the wrong reasons, which probably isn’t right, but many of them discover the true reasons as they’re serving. Perhaps you are casting more blame on Mormon society pressuring young men to serve than the young men themselves; and if this is your intent, you’re probably right. No one should be forced to do anything; that’s one of the important tenents of Mormonism, and those who look down on young mormon men who don’t serve should understand that they are being judgemental. My point about missionaries losing the spirit is not a cop out. What I’m saying is something I’m sure you’ve heard many times before. Mormon missionaries are human and make mistakes just like everyone else. This should mean that the Mormon religion isn’t true. Does a proseletizing atheist who forces his beliefs on others mean atheism isn’t true (according to you)? Members of any religion (or lack thereof) should not be judged by the things their members do. And I never said that missionaries can never do wrong. They can and do all the time. Does this mean that Mormonism is untrue? . If so I’d like to hear the logic behind that.

  14. Jeremy, there was no condescension in my comment about Mormon missionaries. It was an honest depiction of the motivations of Mormon missionaries. If you’ll look again at my comment, you’ll see that I listed myself among those who served for the “wrong reasons”. Unless I was being condescending toward myself (which is an odd thing to do), I don’t think I was being condescending. I was simply describing my experience. I also suggested that I don’t think my experience is unique. Having discussed missions with a number of other missionaries, I got the impression based on the behavior of missionaries in various missions that the motivations for serving varied widely. I don’t think stating that is condescending or insulting. I never said it was true of all missionaries or even specific missionaries other than the three specific examples I gave (me = out of obligation, Elder B. = sweetheart, Elder P. = Porsche). Ergo, no insult or condescension intended.

    The irony in your claim that I was condescending is that you then admit that I was right. How is describing reality condescending or insulting?

    I said nothing about whether or not missionaries discover the “true” reason while serving. Some may. I know others who went for the “true” reason and “lost” it while serving, becoming disillusioned with missionary work as a result of: poor behavior of other missionaries, the harsh and demeaning attitude of their mission president, or the failure to find anyone receptive to their message. Ergo, there is a lot of variation in motivations among Mormon missionaries.

    As for the issue of Mormon society pressuring Mormons to go… I wasn’t actually saying anything about it directly. I do think it is a problem, but I haven’t said much about it in the past. The main reason I think it is a problem as regards missionaries is because of the pressure. I saw two of my cousins attempt to serve missions, only to go home early because they couldn’t handle it. One ended up suffering from major depression for quite some time as a result and admitted to me that he felt: (1) like a failure for not being able to handle being a missionary and (2) like our extended family – all very Mormon – thought he was a failure for not completing his mission. That doesn’t seem right. But, I actually am not going to be all that critical of Mormon culture on this point. Most subcultures have strong social norms. Deviating from them results in shame. And I don’t think all Mormons or even the Mormon Church wants individuals who cannot serve missions to feel shame. I think this is more a problem of individuals in the Mormon community who are uber-self-righteous, not the Mormon community itself. So, there you go, I just defended Mormonism.

    I’m not sure where you keep getting this “forcing” idea from. I never said I or Mormon missionaries force beliefs on anyone. What I said is that I, as an atheist, do not try to get people to listen to me. Mormon missionaries do. They evangelize. I don’t. Whenever you force someone to do something against their will you are treading dangerous territory (within reason, of course; forcing someone not to commit murder against their will is probably more ethical than the alternative). So, please stop using that term. I never suggested it. There is, as far as I know, virtually no evidence of Mormon missionaries forcing conversions, ever. There is some of coerced baptisms in the 1980s (so called “baseball baptisms”), but I’m perfectly willing to chalk that up to deviant missionaries and undue pressure placed on missionaries by self-seeking mission presidents and not on the Mormon Church.

    As for judging a religion based on the behavior of its members… Well, now you’ve raised a whole new can of worms. Let’s use a hypothetical situation: Let’s say I, RC, claim to be a prophet who can speak with god. I convince a number of people my claim is authentic and I begin to gather followers. I then convince my followers that it is god’s will that they give me all of their money so I can divide it up evenly based on need. I also convince them that I should marry all the women to ensure their eternal salvation. Jeremy, should you judge my religion based on my behavior? Or should you simply judge my religion based on the teachings? Will you join? Will you hand over your money and your wife?

    Now, before you say that I just described Joseph Smith (which, of course, is true), let me also note that I was actually describing: Jeffrey Lundgren and David Koresh , two religious leaders who, I’m assuming, you do not believe to be authentic prophets. Why don’t you believe in Jeffrey Lundgren or David Koresh, but do believe in Joseph Smith? Do you find Jeffrey Lundgren and David Koresh’s beliefs objectionable, or their behavior, or both?

    The point being, claiming that you can’t judge a religion based on the behavior of the members is problematic. If you can’t judge a religion on that, what can you judge it on? And, yes, we should judge religions as they are making important claims. The only other alternatives for judging a religion are: the beliefs of the religion and/or the structure. Well, if you want to go on beliefs, you should probably be a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it more closely adheres to the original beliefs of Joseph Smith than does the modern LDS Church. Then again, you may judge them based on the behavior of Warren Jeffs. But you then turn around and say that no one should judge Mormonism based on the behavior of: (1) past leaders or (2) modern-day representatives.

    Fine, I’ll refrain from judging Mormonism based on the behavior of its members if you’ll refrain from judging other religions based on the behavior of their members. Deal? (This means I’ll be waiting for you to join the FLDS…) But until all Mormons are willing to judge religions based on their beliefs and not the behavior of the members, I’ll simply call Mormons hypocrites and continue to judge religions based on the behavior of the members… and the beliefs.

    Lastly, claiming that you saw people become happy as a result of accepting the gospel is another example of confirmation bias. Did you ever see Mormonism ruin someone’s life? I have. I have seen it break up four marriages of people I know. I saw it embitter one family entirely (a family I baptized in Costa Rica). I saw it tear one woman apart emotionally. I’ll refrain from saying it destroyed my cousin’s life (mentioned above), as that was just the members, not the religion itself (though drawing a distinction is always fuzzy). Why is it that you only remember the people who benefit from Mormonism but forget those who are destroyed by Mormonism? I met one girl whose parents disowned her when she was 14 years old because she didn’t want to attend church services anymore. She was kicked out of her house and forced to make it own her own at 14 because she disagreed with her Mormon parents about Mormonism. Sure, Jeremy, Mormonism may help some people. I’ll give you that. But it also hurts lots of people. You are confirming your pre-existing bias but not realizing how many people are hurt by your religion. Proposition 8 comes to mind here. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who were hurt by Mormonism in November 2008. Why don’t you see that?

  15. I had the same comments, from the same person, over the exact same video. I posted it for the same reason you did, and God was never a real point. I couldn’t handle the circular reasoning, and other fallacies. It was like trying to paint a fart. You are much more patient than I.
    I enjoyed your comments.

  16. Haha. I just deleted a bunch of stuff by pushing the back button on my browser. Anyway…Brad, I’d like you to explain my fallacies, and circular reasoning? I’ve simply tried to argue my point. I concede that by your definition of evidence I can’t prove that God exists. Now you’ve conceded that God may exist but haven’t seen evidence; I have. That’s all I’m saying. The evidence I’ve seen is strong enough to convince me. So you haven’t seen that evidence? That’s fine. I’m just defending something I believe strongly about. I in no way mean to offend, but trying to paint a fart? I don’t even understand what that means.
    On another note, Brad and Ryan, what WAS the point of the video if God was never a real point? I’m sorry for taking it that way, but my initial reaction to my beliefs being called supernatural was offensive, that’s all. I’ve come to the realization that the term (while it may still be meant to be offensive) shouldn’t be taken as an insult. Taking offense to anything even when offense is intended is foolish.

    Another point Ryan. How have I been hypocritical of members of other religions? How have I judged the people and not the religion itself. You throw that out there and I’m not sure how you connect me with this hypocrisy.

    Anyway, I feel like my reasoning is sound, and Ryan and Brad obviously don’t. That’s fine. Brad, if you don’t want to talk about God and religion, that’s fine, but I don’t like my beliefs to be attacked, that’s all.

  17. Ryan how can you connect the faults of individual Mormons with the Mormon church itself. I’ve seen the unconditional love of a Mormon family for their Gay brother and son (my brother-in-law). I feel like they’ve loved him no matter what while disagreeing with his lifestyle. I do agree that ostresyzing him would be horrible, but even if my family members did this horrible thing would the Mormon church be responsible? And no I’ve never seen the Mormon church destroy lives or families. Individuals within the Mormon church are doing those things. And when they do them, they are not living according to the teachings of the Mormon church.

  18. Hi Jeremy,

    The point of the video was really just to dissect the accusation leveled at atheists and skeptics that they are not open-minded. I thought the video did a good job making that clear. Here’s the argument in a nutshell: Believers like to claim skeptics are closed-minded because skeptics do not accept the evidence put forth by believers (this does not have to be evidence for god; it can be evidence for homeopathy, crystal power, etc.). The argument of the video is that the skeptic is, in fact, open-minded because he/she is willing to be persuaded by good evidence. In contrast, the believer is unwilling to be persuaded regardless of evidence. This last point is part of the reason why I’m not sure this video works all that well regarding god as the atheist cannot disprove god. The atheist simply says, “I have no evidence against god and you have no evidence for god, so I suspend judgment.” But when it comes to pseudoscience, there is tons of evidence against homeopathy, crystal power, etc.). Ergo, the believer is actually closed-minded as they have a preconceived belief and they cherry-pick or convolute whatever they can to confirm their belief rather than follow the evidence. That, to me, was the point of the video.

    As for finding “supernatural” offensive… Super = above or beyond; natural = nature. Your god is above or beyond nature, by definition, Jeremy. Nothing offensive intended. It’s your god; it’s your definition. Just because it is in the same realm as other things that are supernatural doesn’t mean we are trying to be offensive, just that the arguments against the existence of that supernatural entity have a similar basis. I can argue against the existence of Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, leprechauns, and god all on the basis that they are supernatural entities. That doesn’t mean I hate them, just that they have a shared quality.

    As for being hypocritical… My point: Have you ever judged another religion based on the actions of the members? If not, I’ll be astonished. I judged the Branch Davidians based on the actions of the members (they shot and killed many of the people inside before lighting the fire that killed the rest). I absolutely do judge religions based on the actions of the people. Are you honestly going to tell me that you are a fan of the specific version of Islam that Osama bin Laden advocates following 9/11? Sure, you may not judge all of Islam based on bin Laden’s actions, but I’m guessing you’re not signing up to join him based on his actions. Ergo, you have judged his beliefs based on his actions. You then ask that I not judge Mormonism based on the actions of Mormons. That is hypocritical. (Caveat: If, somehow, you have not judged Osama bin Laden’s teachings based on his actions, then I guess this point is moot. But come on!)

    I wouldn’t expect you to defend your reasoning if you did not think it was sound. However, I don’t feel like you’ve responded to about 90% of the points I’ve made in the above discussion:
    -no response to god not healing amputees
    -no response to the fact that leprechauns are just as compelling an explanation for the unexplainable as is your god
    -no response for the fact that rare things happen because there are a lot of people and a lot of actions
    -no response to me asking you to name one evil thing god has done
    -no response to my point about people being terribly hurt by Mormonism

    Finally, as far as attacking your beliefs… I don’t think I have. I simply posted a video that suggested that skeptics are open-minded, contrary to the claims of some believers who accuse them of not being open-minded. I fail to see how that is attacking your beliefs in any way.

  19. Jeremy, you’re doing it again… You are absolving the church and god from all responsibility for the bad done in its name by claiming that people who do bad cannot be working in god’s name. That is a tautology (go look that up before you respond).

    Let me paint this logically for you:

    1) God’s will can only be good.
    2) You are a follower of god when you do god’s will.
    3) Followers of god can only do good.

    Thus, you are not a follower of god when you don’t do god’s will. Anyone who does evil is not a follower of god.

    What you have done is made it impossible for any representative of god to ever do anything evil. Now, if we ignore the fact that your logic is completely circular, which means it is worthless to begin with, we can still find examples to illustrate the problems with your logic. From pretty much the inception of Mormonism in 1830 until 1978, blacks were not allowed to hold the priesthood. Using your logic:

    If the leaders of Mormonism are followers of god, then:

    1) God’s will can only be good and God’s will is that blacks not have the priesthood.
    2) The leaders of Mormonism are followers of god as they do god’s will.
    3) It was a good thing to deny the priesthood to blacks.

    However, Mormons claim that god changed his mind. (Great – a god that changes his mind. So much for perfection…) Let’s pretend that is even logically coherent. That leaves us with:

    1) What is good to god can change.
    2) Mormon leaders are god’s followers, regardless of what god says is good.
    3) Since Mormon leaders are god’s followers, that must mean it was god’s will to discriminate against blacks for 140 years and that doing so was good.

    Thus, even by your own tortured logic, god was a bigot for 140 years.

    What’s more, because Mormon leaders can do no wrong, that means they can never do wrong. Thus, if Thomas Monson and the Quorum of the Twelve were caught tomorrow raping a child, you would have to say that it was god’s will because they are god’s followers, which means whatever they do reflects god’s will. Is that really what you want to say, Jeremy? That doesn’t seem like a great position to take.

    Now, just because I’m feeling nice, Jeremy, I’m going to give you a hint: Maybe how you should respond to this is not to say that you can only be a representative of god when you do god’s will but rather to say, “Well, people are human. Sometimes they misinterpret god’s will. They end up doing whatever it is they interpret to be god’s will. This means people who represent god may do some bad things – like discriminate against blacks for 140 years – but it’s because they don’t have a clear understanding of god’s will.” This position is more defensible, logically, but still problematic. Why? Because it now implies that these followers of god don’t really know god’s will.

    See, you’re stuck in a logic trap: You want to believe that Thomas Monson actually speaks with god, but that would imply that Thomas Monson should never do anything wrong because he speaks with god. But Thomas Monson does do wrong. Which means: (1) He only speaks with god sometimes, but we have no way of knowing when that is. (2) He does speak with god but misinterprets it sometimes. (3) He doesn’t actually speak with god and is just a guy trying to do the best he can.

    I’m sure you can guess my position…

  20. I guess I’m not smart enough to counter argue the points you have made. I’ve simply said what I believe. All this “logic” is hurting my head. I can’t prove anything to you because you’ve heard it all. As far as the people being terribly hurt by Mormonism, I’d like to hear details of how Mormonism destroyed these marriages and families. I’ve never seen Mormonism destroy ANYONE’S life. All I’ve seen is people being taught correct principles and ultimately leading happier lives. I simply haven’t seen evidence that tells me the Mormon church is causing families to break apart or that the Mormon church is responsible for anything negative. Many members of the church do stupid things because God gives us the choice to do good or bad. Even Mormons have this choice. When you claim that you’ve judged Islam teachings based on Osama Bin Laden and his follower’s actions, I find that absurd. You have to attack their belief system AND their actions. If I had seen negative effects of Mormon Doctrine I would attack that, but I really haven’t seen any. You say you have, but what I’m saying is you shouldn’t connect individual Mormonism with Mormon Doctrine. When these individuals do wrong they are going against the Doctrine of the church, and, yes their actions should be judged. Their actions are AGAINST Mormon Doctrine so how can you say these actions should be connected to the church. I fail to see how the church should be responsible for their stupidity.

  21. Jeremy…

    Point 1: Mormonism denied the priesthood to blacks for 140 years. If the Mormon Church is inspired by god, that means god was a bigot for 140 years. Do you not see the problem here? You’re saying the Mormon Church can do no wrong, yet I gave you a glaring example of it doing something wrong. Blacks being inferior was part of the doctrine of Mormonism (it technically still is, just read the Book of Mormon). How is that not evil?

    Point 2: The Mormon Church just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and encouraged its members to spend millions of dollars to pass Proposition 8 in California. That Proposition is preventing people who want to marry and receive the legal benefits of marriage from doing so. When given the opportunity to allow civil unions in Utah, the requisite bills were killed before leaving committee. If the Mormon Church wanted civil unions in Utah, there would be civil unions in Utah. The Mormon Church is prejudiced and discriminatory towards homosexuals. If you don’t believe me, watch this:
    The Mormon Church has condoned torture of members to “cure” homosexuality. They don’t do that anymore, but they have never apologized and will not admit that they were wrong, even though they now admit that homosexuality cannot be cured (though they still think it is a sin).

    As for specific stories of Mormonism ruining lives, where to start… Why not spend some time reading the following:



    I could give you specific examples, but I don’t want to reveal the names of the people whose marriages were destroyed because of Mormonism. I could tell you privately and they would probably confirm it, but let me just summarize the situation of the two men I know whose marriages ended this way. Both are people I work with now. They were both raised Mormon, served missions, and married in the temple. Over time they lost their belief in Mormonism. But they still attended services with their wives and even served in callings. However, both made the “mistake” of eventually telling their wives that they no longer believed. That was the beginning of the end. Rather than live with a non-believer who was willing to raise the kids Mormon and continue to behave as a Mormon, they told their bishops what the situation was. With their bishops’ guidance, they both gave their husbands ultimatums – regain a testimony or the marriage is over. How is this Mormon doctrine? It probably isn’t, technically, but it is common advice within Mormonism – don’t spend time around apostates. They followed that advice. Neither of the men I know could force himself to regain a testimony given what they knew about Mormonism and its past. As a result, their wives filed for divorce. Neither man wanted a divorce. Both were willing to do whatever they could to save their marriage. But, with guidance from their Mormon leaders, their marriages were destroyed because they didn’t believe. They weren’t sinning. They weren’t drinking. They weren’t watching porn. They simply didn’t believe.

    I don’t doubt that you believe you’ve never seen Mormonism destroy anyone’s life. But, then again, you haven’t been looking for that information. Here’s one of the most famous examples:

    It happens, Jeremy… Now you just have to admit it’s possible for a religion supposedly doing god’s will to destroy someone’s life. Maybe Mormon leaders don’t actually do god’s will? Maybe they are just men doing what they think is right? When you look for the evidence to support that understanding, it’s pretty apparent…

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