Dave here; I hope you’re all doing well. Tomorrow, Wednesday at 5:30, we will be meeting in the same room as last week, Agriculture Building room 2-16. Mikkel Lanzky (Journalism grad student from Denmark) will be presenting a SASHAtalk about state churches in Scandinavia, and we will be announcing a very fun event for next week! Here’s the Facebook event. If you need directions, please call/text me at 573-424-0420. The building is right across Hitt Street from the MU bookstore. See you there!
Yesterday, the Lake Road Chapel preachers were back at Mizzou’s campus, and we had some fun chit-chatting with them while they preached and handed out tracts. I had an interesting conversation with two of them, mostly Helena, and also a self-proclaimed born-again Christian & martial-arts expert, who declined to name himself.
Left to Right: SASHA member Theo; Helena from Lake Road Chapel; self-proclaimed martial-arts expert who declined to name himself; me on the right (with Scarlet A pin & "Atheist Dave" nametag)
Helena was very pleasant to talk to, and I really enjoyed our back-and-forth. Her main line of reasoning seemed to be that God said ___, and I would repeatedly correct her to say “The Bible says that God said ___.” These are not equivalent statements. Lots of books make claims about what this-or-that god is supposed to have said; by introducing the Bible (or any book) into your reasoning, what you are really doing is adding one more layer of something you now have to back up with evidence. I repeatedly asked her why I should believe the Bible, and she (very nicely, I want to stress) would just tell me again what God said. I started simply repeating back her own statements, just replacing Brahma with God, to show her how irrational it is to believe something just because a book claims a god said so. I’ve had this exact same discussion before with Taylor from the same church, the last time this group was here. It seems to be a line of reasoning they prepare or are taught in advance. My favorite part of the afternoon was when Helena said that I have obviously studied the Bible and methods of debate – as I recall her wording was “you know this better than me” – and I remember thinking, well, shouldn’t that tell you something? If not that you’re wrong, at least that you have more to learn (and therefore shouldn’t rationally claim certainty in your position)? We got into a friendly discussion about certainty, and she just kept insisting that she knows these things, despite not being able to back up her statements with good reason for believing them.
I think this just boils down to a misunderstanding of the difference between belief and knowledge. Belief is a prerequisite for knowledge, but belief does not wholly equal knowledge. If that were true, then everyone would be right, regardless of the fact that many of their “facts” directly contradict each other. It’s a case of special pleading, I think, which is a logical fallacy. Christianity is true because I believe it; but when other people want to argue that their beliefs are true because they simply have faith, they’re wrong. I mentioned to Helena the idea that Brother Jed is one of the best critical thinkers I know when it comes to critiquing everyone else’s religious beliefs. He is just unable to apply the same critical standard to his own thinking, and that’s the same thing I saw happening yesterday.
The martial-arts-expert-who-declined-to-name-himself, honestly, I don’t really recall too much of what he said. I have no good reason to believe he was a martial-arts expert other than that he made a big deal of it within 30 seconds of my meeting him. In my experience (I happen to know several people who teach martial arts professionally), they tend not to talk about it. He appeared to be making an argumentum ad baculum, and honestly I tune out when I start to hear such an obvious fallacy, and out of self-preservation – I’m not really interested in finding out whether he’s a martial-arts expert or not, if you catch me. He made an argument about moral law and objective morality, and gave the example of stealing my bag with my laptop in it. He tried to argue that I must know objective morals exist, because even though I’m an atheist, I still recognize that stealing is wrong. I know you have to be patient with people in these debates, because even though it’s not the first time YOU’VE heard this argument, it may be the first time THEY’VE heard it properly refuted. But honestly, sometimes I just get tired of the same arguments. I told him that as a student studying economic anthropology, I specifically study the evolution of morality in cooperative species, and that there are excellent scientific explanations for why stealing is counter-productive when it comes to gene proliferation. In other words, we have excellent reasons for why humans and other animals consider stealing non-virtuous, without appealing to fairy tales. Unfortunately, his group was heading out, so we didn’t get to continue our discussion. Overall he was a nice guy, and he shook my hand at the end, but I’m glad there was a group of people with us.
In other news, the Pope has extended his hand to Protestants in a concerted effort to push back against secularism. According to the Washington Post, he said: “The most urgent thing for ecumenicalism is, namely, that we can’t allow the push of secularism to force us, almost without noticing, to lose sight of the major similarities that make us Christians, and which remain a gift and a challenge for us.”
I’m reminded of Nicholas Klein’s speech at the 1914 Biennial Convention for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America: “In this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”
Secularism is spreading, especially in people under 30. The internet is fueling this spread, especially in rural areas where access to information about history and science has been historically harder to find. Students no longer have to depend on biased classroom teachers or parents to tell them about creation vs evolution, or about the secular history of the spread of Christianity or Islam, or about the compilation of various “holy” books. I really think that it is only a matter of time before Christianity is viewed by the majority of Americans as, in Sam Harris’ words, Iron Age fairy tales, not any different from Greek or Norse or any other mythology. Take, as one example, this Internet meme, “Good Guy Greg.” Good Guy Greg is a picture of a college-aged guy, and people online put different captions to the picture giving examples of what a good guy Greg is. For example, “Sees Grammatical Error. Doesn’t Correct You ‘Cause He Knows What You Meant” or “Asks About Your Day. Listens.”
I saw this one the other day over on QuickMeme:
The important thing to note here is that it’s assumed Greg is an atheist. Not only that, but that being religious is a minority position. The expected thing to do would be to criticize your beliefs [for believing religious claims], but because Greg is a nice guy, he doesn’t do that. I think that 25 years ago, this cartoon would have said something very different. If this meme had been around back then, it probably would have said “Knows you are an atheist – Doesn’t try to convert you” or something along those lines. For people my age, it’s assumed that we don’t fall for this stuff. I think this represents a turn of the tide.
I have been in love with this song since someone I know posted it on Facebook. I want to share it with you now. My three favorite quotes from it are Sagan’s “Science is more than a body of knowledge; it’s a way of thinking, a way of skeptically interrogating the universe,” Richard Feynman’s “I can’t believe the special stories that have been made up about our relationship to the universe at large. Look at what’s out there; it isn’t in proportion,” and Phil Plait’s “Teach a man to reason, and he will think for a lifetime.”
Have a great night, everyone!
(573) 424-0420 cell/text
Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, he posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website ishttp://www.DaveMuscato.com.