Why Should We Bother Having These Conversations? August 4, 2009

Why Should We Bother Having These Conversations?

Here’s the gist of the conversation I had the other day with a Catholic over this story and the headline “Publisher, editor out over wafer story”:

Catholic: I’m offended by this headline. It’s disrespectful to Catholics.

Me: No, it’s not. It’s accurate. It’s a wafer.

Catholic: No, it’s the Consecrated Host.

Me: To you, maybe. But to the rest of us, it’s a wafer.

Catholic: Would you call a yarmulke a beanie?

Me: Of course not. A yarmulke is actually what that thing is called. A beanie is something completely different.

Catholic: This conversation is over.

Did I say something wrong?

Was that a conversation I should’ve even tried to have?

Reader Richard also had a conversation with a deeply religious person recently. Here’s how he describes it:

Two days ago I was engaged in a two-hour conversation on a flight with a fundamentalist Christian who believed, among other things, that the Tribulation was coming in six months, gays were the root of all evil, prayers needed to be in public schools, etc. He was also convinced of the existence of god because of the many miracles he had witnessed while on mission trips. Obviously he was a complete literalist.

He also used to be a drunk before he found god. And he thinks Ray Comfort is a genius. In essence, he was the antithesis of everything I believe and my perfect caricature of a fundie.

I relished talking to him, to set him straight with my brilliant arguments, but at the end, he insisted that I would convert at some point and that both he and Jesus loved me.

I felt that he came away more convinced that he might have saved a lost soul than I was convinced that I had taught some reason to a religious nut.

Richard also wonders: Is it even worth having that discussion when everything you say just goes in one ear and out the other?

Why try to reason with someone whose faith will automatically trump anything you have to say?

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  • TXatheist

    I use to call them beanie when I’d forget yamakah. But no, it’s not worth discussing if the person is set on those issues like that. Tribulation is coming…oh boy, a nut job.

  • TJ

    Is it even worth having that discussion when everything you say just goes in one ear and out the other?

    Why try to reason with someone whose faith will automatically trump anything you have to say?

    That’s exactly it.

    If everyone were to ignore and ridicule these nutcases instead of being friendly debaters, then perhaps religion wouldn’t have such an inflated idea of its importance. Perhaps these people would get sick of being laughed at and would wake up and THINK.

    People have been too friendly and too respectful for too long I’m afraid. That’s why religion is able to push itself into areas of public life where it doesn’t belong.

  • ayer

    For your conversation with the Catholic, she is simply incorrect; “communion wafer” is the correct term: see http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/communion+wafer?qsrc=2446
    certainly when it is being discussed with nonCatholics, and there should be nothing offensive about the term.

    On the conversation with the fundamentalist, perhaps the fundamentalist would also view it as a waste of time, since his belief is based on the experience of miracles and the atheist dismisses the miraculous a priori

  • You can only plant the seeds of reason with these people. Rarely should you expect to see those seeds sprout right away if at all. They need watering, sun, etc…

  • I would ask the Tribulation guy to put his money where his mouth is. Ask him to define some clear criteria to determine whether or not the Tribulation has occurred, and then each of you put up a $100 bet, with the winner determined by whether the criteria have been met in nine months.

    If he waffles, point out that if he really believed and was truly certain, then there’s zero risk in making the bet.

    When it will actually cost them something to be wrong, people start to think a little more deeply about their beliefs.

  • That’s stupid, even to a Catholic it’s not the Consecrated Host until it’s blessed by a man in a dress and little boys ring magic bells. Before that it’s a wafer and it’s unfair to a headline writer to ask them to use a term like “eucharist” or “consecrated host” those words are so long!

  • Is it even worth having that discussion when everything you say just goes in one ear and out the other?

    Probably not. There might be a small chance you can plant a few seeds of doubt, though. You never really know what they take away from the conversation. It’s not like they’re going to admit to you that you said some things that made them think.

    Otherwise, you could just see what you get out of it. Do you like having discussions, or does it just frustrate you?

  • Geesh, you’re just lucky you didn’t call it a Frackin’ Cracker….

  • Epistaxis

    For your conversation with the Catholic, she is simply incorrect; “communion wafer” is the correct term

    No, not once it’s been magically transformed into the flesh of Zombie Jesus.

    It would have been cooler if PZ had mixed it in with a batch of unconsecrated ones and asked them to figure out which one it was.

  • J. Allen

    Noone will lose their faith, or at least reflect on rational arguments, when directly challenged. It always happens later in private when emotions have calmed and their defenses are down. That’s when a good point will pop up in their head like an unwanted weed.

  • Siamang

    Say “I’ll call it the Consecrated Host. But from now on, you must refer to me as the ‘High Exhaulted Grand Pooh-Bah of Atheism, Excelsior!'”

    But seriously, I might call a yarmulke a hat or a head-covering. But usually not, because I’m well aware of the actual word.

    It’s not technically wrong to call it a hat, though. Nor is it technically wrong to call a communion wafer a wafer. However specifically it was the fact that the wafer had been consecrated that made it potentially offensive to Catholics when it wasn’t handled according to their protocol. Oh shoot. I said protocol. I’m sure that’s offensive in some way, because I didn’t use the right inside baseball term.

    At some point, in a live-and-let-live society, religious people will need to come to grips with the idea that not everyone is going to know all the right ways to act when handed a wafer, or the right way to talk about that wafer.

  • Tyro

    I like the “rules of engagement” set out on Brother Sam’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JloO47PZf5k

    I think the Catholic might have been worth some time, but not much. It’s really a judgement call.

    Way I see it: if you show him two wafers and ask him to tell you which, if any, is the “Consecrated Host” and which is just a wafer and he refuses or can’t get it right more than random chance, then they really are just wafers. Sorry but reality bites.

  • “You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves in to.”

  • wall0645

    Is it even worth having that discussion when everything you say just goes in one ear and out the other?

    Why try to reason with someone whose faith will automatically trump anything you have to say?

    One of my favorite quotes, from who I do not know:

    “You can’t reason somebody out of something they didn’t reason themselves into.”

    So, basically, no, there’s no point in trying to reason with these people. The only cure is to give children better educations than their parents and hope it works itself out.

  • wall0645

    “You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves in to.”

    CosmicThespian, from where did you get this quote!? LOL 😀

  • absent sway

    Even when your arguments do the water-off-a-duck’s-back thing, your sincerity will often register. Some will think of you as just another poor lost soul, but others will admire your honesty and remember your pleasant demeanor or interesting perspective when they encounter stereotypes of atheists as evil subhumans. It’s up to the individual whether it’s worth it to engage in this sort of thing; usually you will see no evidence of progress but when someone thinks of that nice guy on the plane instead of some shadowy agent of Satan, the world is a slightly better place. 🙂

  • the atheist dismisses the miraculous a priori

    Simply not true. We dismiss it if there is no evidence provided to support the claim.

  • Pustulio

    If I were describing a yarmulke to someone who was unfamiliar with the term, I probably would call it a beanie.

    It probably was not a conversation worth having. You’re right that the beanie comparison isn’t at all the same thing, but if your friend was genuinely offended over a headline that does not explicitly accept Catholic belief as true, then there’s really no hope for rational discourse. My response to the opening comment probably would have been, “Too bad.”

  • Charon

    The version of that quote I know, “You cannot reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into,” is from Ben Goldacre. I got it from a Guardian article, although he says the same thing (slightly rephrased) in Bad Science.

  • Brad

    As a Christian, we could say the same about you… what is the point of having a conversation with someone who is so closed minded about their adamant belief that God doesn’t exist, that they will not even consider an alternate possibility.

  • Is the Tribulation where the Tribbles finally eat all the food?

  • Siamang

    Brad, who said we didn’t consider an alternative possibility?

    I’ve been a Christian. It was the inability to “consider an alternative possibility” that kept me so until about my 25th year.

    It was the ‘considering’ that did in my faith.

  • What is the point of having these conversations? If your only goal is to change someone’s beliefs about a fundamental part of their worldview, then you’re bound to be frustrated.

    If, on the other hand, you are interested in trying to learn more about others, to understand them, and perhaps help them to understand you, then conversations with religious people can be very rewarding.

    We’re realists. We’re rationalists. Let’s be realistic and rational about engaging with people.

  • Alan E.

    CosmicThespian, from where did you get this quote!?

    Love correct grammar. People often look at me oddly when I say something similar.

    As a Christian, we could say the same about you… what is the point of having a conversation with someone who is so closed minded about their adamant belief that God doesn’t exist, that they will not even consider an alternate possibility.

    I think most atheists have considered many alternate possibilities. For me, it took understanding many other religions to come to my conclusions. Experience has shown to me that those with religion often have their head deepest in the sand.

  • ayer

    Simply not true. We dismiss it if there is no evidence provided to support the claim.

    Ok; since the fundamentalist did not have “no evidence”, but instead had the evidence of his personal experience and the experience of others, then he should not be dismissed as a “religious nut” (as Richard did).

  • wall0645

    As a Christian, we could say the same about you… what is the point of having a conversation with someone who is so closed minded about their adamant belief that God doesn’t exist, that they will not even consider an alternate possibility.

    I’ll consider whatever possibility you want me to, as long as you provide some evidence alongside it.

    And again: atheism is not “belief that God doesn’t exist”, but rather “lack of a belief in a god”. The distinction lies in that we accept that there could possibly be a god, but have not been given sufficient evidence to believe as such. Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, extraterrestrials, and even fairies could exist, but I’m not going to believe in them until you give me some evidence.

  • wall0645

    Ok; since the fundamentalist did not have “no evidence”, but instead had the evidence of his personal experience and the experience of others, then he should not be dismissed as a “religious nut” (as Richard did).

    This is one of my least favorite sticking points. When I say “evidence”, I mean, probably, “non-anecdotal, scientifically verifiable, testable evidence”. I have to hash out a good definition of “good evidence”, but until that point I will continued to be slightly annoyed when people say “they have evidence, just bad evidence”.

  • Siamang

    then he should not be dismissed as a “religious nut” (as Richard did).

    Sorry, but “believing in God” doesn’t get you the “religious nut” moniker.

    But “end of the world clock starts in six months”?
    Religious nut.

  • Cafeeine

    I would ask the Tribulation guy to put his money where his mouth is. Ask him to define some clear criteria to determine whether or not the Tribulation has occurred, and then each of you put up a $100 bet, with the winner determined by whether the criteria have been met in nine months.

    If he waffles, point out that if he really believed and was truly certain, then there’s zero risk in making the bet.

    When it will actually cost them something to be wrong, people start to think a little more deeply about their beliefs.

    if anyone actually tries this, you may get the “that’s gambling, that’s a sin” excuse, as I have. The appropriate retort is a) It is the only way he can actually convince you, and b) If he thinks its a gamble, he’s not as sure as he thinks he is about it.

    To the other point.

    The catholic was obviously wrong, accustomed to getting his personal creed validated. As for the yarmulke, I was calling them skull caps & “jewish caps” for years until I learned what the term meant. The difference however is huge. The yarmulke is a specific style of headgear. As I understand it, it would remain a yarmulke even if I wore it, and I’m not Jewish.

    The “consecrated Host” as a term is equivalent to “the body of Christ”. To assume that this believe will be taken as granted is absurd. Furthermore, communion wafer is the best term for the catholic cracker, as other churches (like the Greek Orthodox church) use plain bread dipped in wine, so Host won’t do it.

  • Ok; since the fundamentalist did not have “no evidence”, but instead had the evidence of his personal experience and the experience of others, then he should not be dismissed as a “religious nut” (as Richard did).

    Anecdotal evidence is not evidence. We’re talking about something that can actually be confirmed to exist. Personal experience is also never evidence for an extraordinary claim.

  • Siamang

    I second what Timothy Mills has said.

  • flawedprefect

    I was raised Catholic; I identify as non-religious. So what, it’s a wafer, but following in the steps of PZ Myers to make a point is just disrespectful. To disrespect someone’s beliefs is not what we should be about. Most of my own family and friends of the family are still practicing Catholics. While I don’t believe what they believe, I would never dream of disrespecting them by walking into a church service and desecrating a wafer. Regardless of what it is or symbolizes, this is tantamount to going into someone’s house on Christmas morning and taking all the kiddie’s toys marked “from Santa” to make the point that he doesn’t exist. So what if he doesn’t exist: you’re offending someone for the sake of being offensive.

  • Secular Humanist

    As a Christian, we could say the same about you… what is the point of having a conversation with someone who is so closed minded about their adamant belief that God doesn’t exist, that they will not even consider an alternate possibility.

    I have this conversation all the time, and I am a former lay preacher who knows the bible forward and backward. So how could you insinuate that I, in particular, would not even consider an alternate possibility? I already have and have found it wanting.

  • Bruce

    he thinks Ray Comfort is a genius.

    Sorry, there is no reasoning with this person. Move along.

  • Richard P

    I would ask the Tribulation guy to put his money where his mouth is.

    A 7 day adventist was telling me about the end of the world coming in 2012.
    I asked him if I could have his truck. I said if he would agree I could have the papers drawn up that would give me ownership after DEC 21 2012. He got really mad and said “no”

    It was worth it just to see his face.
    as far as:

    Is it even worth having that discussion when everything you say just goes in one ear and out the other?

    Absolutely YES. It keeps you practiced for those times it will make a difference.

    When I was a Christian I often challenged J.W’s to their beliefs trying to convert them. It makes me quake in my boots to think those that did convert traded one lie for another now. However that experience as futile as it was has gave me an upper hand in talking with them now. Even though I never seem to get through to them. I do have the odd chance of talking to people that are truly interested in a different point of view it is at those times that keeping it all fresh in my head pays off.

  • Siamang

    flawed,

    Who is talking about entering a church service to do such a thing? I don’t see anyone advocating that here.

  • Kahomono

    A yarmulke is not a beanie, and “beanie” does sound vaguely mocking of it. A yarmulke IS, however, a cap — cap just being a more generic word for it. And calling a yarmulke a “cap” is a MUCH better analogy for your use of wafer thaqn is anything involving the word “beanie.”

    Some people are only happy when they are unhappy.

  • Siamang

    I asked him if I could have his truck.

    Priceless!

    You didn’t get a picture of that guy’s face, did you?

    Better yet, do you needle him about it every time you see him?

  • Siamang

    Kahomono,

    Yep.

    “Beanie” is mocking. It would be like calling a communion wafer “a Triscuit”.

  • Richard P

    No, I did not get a picture, however every time I think about I burst out laughing.

    No, I don’t needle him every time, that would be annoying. When he brought it up again (we have coffee in the same place every once in a while), I did.
    Funny, he has never mentioned it since.

  • To disrespect someone’s beliefs is not what we should be about.

    Beliefs do not automatically garner respect simply because they’re beliefs. If I see someone’s beliefs as silly, I won’t respect them just because someone believes them. That’s ridiculous.

  • Aj

    Hemant is right, a yarmulke is not a beanie, what Catholics call a “Consecrated Host” is a wafer. A yarmulke is a hat, specifically a cap. It sounds like this Catholic realised they had said something stupid, so wanted to move on and forget about it.

    ayer is obviously a troll. We’ve already explained that rejection of miracles is not a priori but a few different epistemic positions that different atheists hold. We’ve already explained that when we say evidence we mean evidence that would justify a specific belief not hearsay and anecdote, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. A claim that someone walked instead of drove a car requires a lot less evidence than a claim that someone walked on water. That ayer keeps repeating the same absurd claims, that are clearly aimed at getting angry responses is evidence that ayer is a troll.

  • Ron in Houston

    No, it’s not worth having those discussions. They are nothing more than pissing matches into a stiff wind.

  • Mathew Wilder

    ComicThespian, your quotation is catchy, but I think absent sway has the right of it.

    Putting on my pedant hat to address Alan E.: “ComicThespian, from where did you get this quotation!?” is technically more proper, if you’re in to that sort of thing. Quote is a verb, quotation is a noun, although quote is informally used to mean quotation. 😉

  • “You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep seated need to believe”–Dr. Carl Sagan

    “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”–Jonathan Swift

  • If the person forces the issue, I’m always happy to talk religion, but I try not to be the one who does force it. I alwasy try to look for common ground – a moral (or even non-moral) topic that you actually both agree on. Mr./Ms. Fundie likely has not met a nice atheist before, encountering only caricatures of us, and especially not met a nice atheist who shares his/her interest in (golf, opera, Nora Roberts, etc.) Most of religion is a social mode of thinking, so this person will either have to accept that atheists can be decent people (and in so doing, erode their certainty) or work extra-hard after the fact to convince themselves why you’re bad.

  • Beanie
    –noun
    a skullcap, often brightly colored, worn esp. by children and by college freshmen, esp. in the 1940s. (from Dictionary.com)

    I’m confused. How is a beanie not a cap or hat? In fact, a beanie is a very specific type of cap or hat that very closely resembles a yarmulke. It is the closest description in traditional North American culture to what a yarmulke actually is. Why would it be insulting to call it so?

  • Nope, not worth the brain damage to have those conversations. You can’t reason someone out of a positions they’ve arrived at by giving up all reason and rationality.

  • Stephan

    Brad:

    Do you really think it is a good idea and try to use straw men of atheism against atheism??? Wait, that would be assuming you think.

    Find me an atheist that has an adamant belief that there is no god. I’m sure there has to be some, but please just find me one. Then show me this atheist never considered different possibilities.

    Until that time, you are a troll. Go back to your bridge if you aren’t going to add something useful to the conversation.

  • I still try if I have time. You never know when you might get through to that one person; also, you don’t necessarily have to see it happen to know that it might.

    I mean, if it doesn’t, big deal; it’s not like you had money on it or anything ;D But seriously….I can think back to times when I was really pissed about something somebody said to me, but then later I had an experience that made me reflect on that and say, “You know what? Maybe that guy/girl was right about that….”

    Or maybe I just don’t like the idea of giving up, even when the odds seem hopeless…0.0

  • Stephan

    Ok; since the fundamentalist did not have “no evidence”, but instead had the evidence of his personal experience and the experience of others, then he should not be dismissed as a “religious nut” (as Richard did).

    Ayer:
    If you have a personal experience, you can still have evidence. However, if I claim that I met the real Santa Claus, would you accept my claim? How about if I met the real Zeus?

    The problem with personal experience is that, while it is fine for you, it is useless to everyone else unless you have evidence. It is equally (for the sake of argument) likely that this “personal experience” is just a delusion.

    You have to have some evidence besides “I say so.”

  • The Other Tom

    Hemant:

    Of course not. A yarmulke is actually what that thing is called. A beanie is something completely different.

    I looked up both “yarmulke” and “beanie”. The only obvious difference is that yarmulkes are explicitly defined as being worn by jewish men, while the definition of “beanie” doesn’t mention religion. So, they’re not actually necessarily different at all, and to say that they’re “completely” different seems to be, well, entirely mistaken.

    While I would agree that someone who says that calling it a “wafer” is offensive to catholics is being an ass, I would say that if they ask you what they did about the hats and you reply as you did, they have a valid reason to believe that you are applying a double standard to them, even if that was not your intention.

    Given a moment to consider it, what I would say to them is something more like “Most people call it a ‘wafer’, and if the headline referred to it as ‘the consecrated host’ most people wouldn’t understand, and anyway it’s 15 characters longer and probably wouldn’t fit correctly in the space allotted for the headline. They’re just trying to be concise, not to offend. Get over it.”

    I still think that “this conversation is over” is one of the rudest possible ways of conveying that you no longer wish to discuss the topic, however.

  • trixr4kids

    RichardP@: “A 7 day adventist was telling me about the end of the world coming in 2012.
    I asked him if I could have his truck. I said if he would agree I could have the papers drawn up that would give me ownership after DEC 21 2012. He got really mad and said ‘no'”

    Funny how they never want to put their money where their mouths are. CFI-West (now CFI-LA) made a pennies-on-the-dollar offer to imminent-Rapturists. There were no takers.

    http://www.cfiwest.org/info/Rapture.htm

  • ayer

    ayer is obviously a troll. We’ve already explained that rejection of miracles is not a priori but a few different epistemic positions that different atheists hold. We’ve already explained that when we say evidence we mean evidence that would justify a specific belief not hearsay and anecdote, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. A claim that someone walked instead of drove a car requires a lot less evidence than a claim that someone walked on water. That ayer keeps repeating the same absurd claims, that are clearly aimed at getting angry responses is evidence that ayer is a troll.

    To the contrary, if you reject miracles a posteriori and not a priori, then I stand corrected.

    However, I have to point out that your evidentiary standard “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” does not hold up in light of Bayes Theorem:

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/01/extraordinary_c.html

  • ayer

    If you have a personal experience, you can still have evidence. However, if I claim that I met the real Santa Claus, would you accept my claim? How about if I met the real Zeus?

    The problem with personal experience is that, while it is fine for you, it is useless to everyone else unless you have evidence. It is equally (for the sake of argument) likely that this “personal experience” is just a delusion.

    You have to have some evidence besides “I say so.”

    I generally agree with you; however, an analogy: if X knows that he is innocent of a crime (because of his personal experience), X has “evidence” justifying his belief in his own innocence even in the absence of supporting forensic and other “external” evidence. That may not be helpful in persuading others of X’s innocence, but it does mean X is not a “nut.”

  • Delphine

    I call it a cracker, and when Catholics correct me, I look at them, and say, “This, is a DISGUSTING tasting cracker. I can’t believe you eat this. Sick!”

  • ChameleonDave

    ‘Beanie’ is not necessarily insulting at all, but its ‘-ie’ is a diminutive suffix, and thus can add a note of flippancy or condescension, depending on the context.

    Here, since ‘beanie’ is not the appropriate term, one might get the impression that the intention is to mock. The fundie chose this word deliberately, to create a faulty analogy with ‘wafer’ v ‘host’.

    Why is ‘beanie’ inappropriate? Because these days the term most commonly refers to a tight woollen cap that comes down quite far around the top of the head. The Jewish item is usually very small, and held to the very top of the head with a hair-clip.

    What would be appropriate? To me, it is strange that you all seem to accept ‘yarmulke’ as ideal. I grew up always hearing the correct Hebrew term ‘kippah’. ‘Yarmulke’ is simply Polish for ‘cap’. The correct English term to describe the kippah is ‘skullcap’. Indeed, these days one virtually never hears the term ‘skullcap’ used to describe anything but this traditional Jewish item.

    So, a more sensible question would have been ‘Would you call a kippah a skullcap?’ to which the answer would be ‘of course’. End of conversation.

  • Ezrael

    if X knows that he is innocent of a crime (because of his personal experience), X has “evidence” justifying his belief in his own innocence even in the absence of supporting forensic and other “external” evidence. That may not be helpful in persuading others of X’s innocence, but it does mean X is not a “nut.”

    So:
    X says he experienced something;
    We assume X didn’t imagine it/isn’t confused or deluded/has intact mental processes (IE X is not a nut);
    Thus, he is not a nut.

    Agreed!

  • Aj

    ayer,

    To the contrary, if you reject miracles a posteriori and not a priori, then I stand corrected.

    However, I have to point out that your evidentiary standard “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” does not hold up in light of Bayes Theorem:

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/01/extraordinary_c.html

    We’ve been through this before. You make a false claim. I refute this claim. You make another false claim that’s unrelated to your first claim. I refute this claim, and so on.

    a) You made the mistake of assuming that atheists claim they have knowledge of miracles in any sense when I stated otherwise.

    b) The critique of the statement “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is unsatisfactory and is clearly countered in the comments section as inapplicable since “extraordinary” was misinterpreted. It does highlight something the statement does not address, that is it assumes the person believes the claim, and the honesty of the one making the claim is not in question.

  • Dan W

    Ugh, this is why it irritates me to talk about religion with some of the more zealous religious people. Because no matter what you say, no matter how good your arguments are, and no matter how easily you show the illogic of their arguments, the very devout religious person almost always seems to think that they somehow “won” the debate because due to their sheer refusal to stop debating even when their arguments have no leg to stand on anymore.

    And they maintain that annoying notion that somehow you’ll convert to their beliefs in the future. And there’s the implied idea from them (often from their facial expressions in real life or their “I’ll pray for you”-type post on the internet) that they’re somehow superior to you because they believe in their nonsensical bullshit.

    The more devout/zealous a religious believer is, the less likely they are to accept that their arguments are illogical. And you simply cannot have a satisfying, intelligent, rational discussion of religion with most of them.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    However, I have to point out that your evidentiary standard “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” does not hold up in light of Bayes Theorem:

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/01/extraordinary_c.html

    Huh? How do you get that from the post you link to? While I have some issues with the post, it doesn’t contradict the idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, when used with respect to miracles. It supports that evidentiary standard, with the appropriate qualification as to what consistutes “extraordinary evidence” for certain boring “extraordinary claims” (i.e. boring in that they’re only extraordinary due to their specificity).

    The post is actually an interesting read, but it doesn’t support what you said it would.

  • I suggest one way to avoid wasting time is to just ask the person at the very beginning of the conversation “Hypothetically, if there isn’t a god, is there any evidence that could come along that would convince you of it?” If they say “no” then there’s no point in continuing the conversation because they’ve admitted that they won’t be convinced regardless of what you say.

    Of course you have to be prepared for them to ask you the same thing, but I think we could all think of what it would take to change our minds pretty easily.

  • ZombieGirl

    Regarding what to call the “consecrated host”…….. there are a lot of people who are unfamiliar with Catholicism so it makes more sense to call it a “wafer” which suggests the structure and size of the object.

  • If you’re debating a strong theist on a blog or forum, I think that trying to deconvert them on a personal level is an unrealistic and pointless goal. I’m thinking of someone like Ray Comfort here. 🙂

    However…the true value of being a dissenting voice on the web is to those readers who have not fully made up their minds. There are likely to be more of these people than we think so having such public discussions is absolutely worthwhile.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    The catholic in question seems to be miserable for the sake of it.

    A communion wafer or consecrated host IS a wafer. Likewise a Yarmulke or kippah IS a skullcap but not a beanie (in the UK beanies are knitted hats that come down to the ears, very different piece of headwear to the kippah).

    As for the innocent man analogy that Ayers suggested, i entirely agree.

    If i get accused of a crime i know i have not committed then my own knowledge that i didn’t do it is sufficient for me. But, as in the case of religion, i do not need to prove myself right. The prosecution need to prove that I did do the crime. My innocence, like the non-existence of god, is the default.

    let me expound. If someone accuses me of a crime, they must provide evidence to prove this that is acceptable to a others. Personal experience is not sufficient. The prosecutor cannot say he “Just knows, deep in his heart” that i did a crime.
    Likewise, those who assert that not only is there a god, but that it is the particular god they worship, must provide evidence beyond personal experience if they wish to persuade others.

    Belief in the concept of god CANNOT be the default simply because there is more than one god and all gods (or rather all pantheons) are mutually exclusive.

    If believing in god is the default, can someone enlighten me as to which god is the default and why it is this god over the others.

    In fact, now i think about it, i don’t think atheists should talk in terms of “god”. This allows the use of vague arguements such as ID, etc. Instead we should talk (where posible) in the terms of the specific god that we are presented with.

    After all, arguements for the christian god are much easier to slap about than arguements about a vague, deist kinda god.

  • llewelly

    There have been times when a devout religious believer just talked, while I tried to avoid “having a discussion”. Every time, the believer, and / or some other observer, was left with the impression that I “didn’t really disagree”.
    The alternative to having these seemingly pointless discussions, is silence, which results in people assuming you believe the default – what they assume “most people” believe. If you want people to be aware that atheists exist – you must talk about what you don’t believe in.
    That’s why believers so devoutly wish we’d sit down and shut up. They know that if we did, we would effectively disappear. We can’t afford that. They need to be reminded that there are people who do not accept their beliefs.

  • Kaylya

    You’re not generally going to change someone’s deeply held beliefs about the nature of the universe in one conversation.

    That doesn’t mean it’s pointless to have that conversation. People can and do change their views, but it’s a process that takes time in most cases.

  • Mountain Humanist

    I’ll offer the same advice I used to offer teens when I was an evangelical youth pastor: Plant the seeds. Even if the person does not appear to have consciously acknowledged your argument, they have a little thing in their brain called the unconscious and it processes everything whether they like it or not. I know in my case I was likely deconverted by several small arguments, books and encounters that I was not consciously aware of when they were brought into my brain. There never was a “Damascus Road” experience for me but rather many small steps to free thought. The Catholic who ended the conversation with Hemant only thought he or she was ending it but those words and logic are still being processed and that may be one reason why they put up their mental shields by trying to end a logical conversation. The same goes for Richard’s airplane seat-mate. Often the person who seems the most vocal is the very one who harbors the most doubt in the Christian community. I know when I began to doubt I preached just as fervently if not more so trying to bolster my own house of spiritual cards.

  • ayer

    Huh? How do you get that from the post you link to? While I have some issues with the post, it doesn’t contradict the idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, when used with respect to miracles. It supports that evidentiary standard, with the appropriate qualification as to what consistutes “extraordinary evidence” for certain boring “extraordinary claims” (i.e. boring in that they’re only extraordinary due to their specificity).

    The post is actually an interesting read, but it doesn’t support what you said it would.

    I disagree. This portion in particular is particularly relevant to a miracle claims such as that of the Jesus’ disciples regarding his resurrection:

    On the other hand, if there are kinds of claims and types of people such that these people are rewarded less for making such claims, relative to silence or other claims, then we should hold these claims to a lower standard of evidence. So while we should be extra skeptical of hard to check claims that would bring media attention to media hogs, we should be extra trusting of embarrassing claims from shy people, or of claims that associates will interpret as betrayal or lunacy.

    Since the right standard of evidence depends on the claimer’s incentives, it is appropriate to consider these incentives. But it is not true in general that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, beyond the extraordinary evidence already embodied in the claims themselves.

    Summary: Be skeptical about any claim people tend to make without enough evidence, but not otherwise skeptical of extraordinary claims.

    Since the disciples faced the prospect of persecution and martyrdom from their own Jewish in-group for making their claim, the incentive structure was stacked against making the claim. (The fundamentalist Richard was talking to did not face such persecution–just a grilling from Richard, so his miracle claims have less credibility based on this criterion). Further, Bayes Theorem shows that rationally believing in a highly improbable event does not require an enormous amount of evidence, but that the evidence be far more probable given that the event did occur than given that it did not. This is particularly true in the case of the resurrection:

    http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Resurrectionarticlesinglefile.pdf

  • The yarmulke has no religious significance in itself. A baseball cap, a silk top hat or a handkerchief with knots in the corners fulfills the same purpose. The analogy isn’t even close.

  • I think the best you can be ensured of doing is asserting your simple point. In the first story, your point was that you thought the headline was accurate. In the second story, the point was you had a different opinion for each topic brought up. In my opinion, when someone discusses something with the goal of sharing on a level playing field, then that person is making future encounters with people like him or herself a little better for the people like you and me. After all, we might think broad categories of people are technically nuts or at least at odds with our way of thinking, but when we are forced to deal with nuts on a regular basis, we work out the socially effective ways of navigating through those communities. I’m asserting that the socially effective ways are not obvious or common sense to someone of one world view dealing with someone with a different one, and so experience is the tool we use.

  • Sebeka

    In the context of a newspaper headline, a bald “wafer” is incorrect and misleading: no one was fired over what happened to an ordinary wafer, it was precisely because it had just been used in a ceremony that the thing and its (falsely reported) whereabouts became newsworthy.

    We can argue that no superstitious meaning is conferred upon the wafer in the ceremony, but it definitely takes on a new dictionary meaning. This is exactly the difference between a beanie (cap worn by Girl Scouts, including Jewish ones) and a yarmulke (identical cap worn by Jewish men).

    The Catholic in the story is wrong to request that non-Catholics call something “holy”, “consecrated” or “host” if they (or, in the case of newspapers, their audience) don’t believe it’s any of that (and might get confused over the unfamiliar term). But it’s also inappropriate to call the things wafers, zombie snacks, holy crackers, and other silly names in the context of a serious news story that isn’t about religious beliefs, specifically. Fortunately there’s a middle ground.

    The journalist should have written

    “Publisher, editor out over Eucharist story”

    “Communion wafer” or just “Communion” would also have been perfectly acceptable. (If the title started out with “communion wafer”, shame on the editor who removed the wrong word.)

  • Is it even worth having that discussion when everything you say just goes in one ear and out the other?

    I just want to say that yes, it is. It is worth it because sometimes even the most unreasonable, stubborn, deep-rooted fundamentalist will start to think and investigate things for themselves after you leave.

    If no one had ever had those discussions with me, I would likely still be blindly following whatever the church told me. It is sad and makes me ashamed of myself, but it’s true.

    So, to paraphrase Stephen Hawking, we MUST keep talking.

  • When someone insists on referring to something in a certain way according to their faith, I think that’s fine. When they insist that everyone else do the same, they cross the line. I’m sorry, but if you perform virtually any test on the wafer, you will discover that it is in fact a wafer and not human flesh. It’s not disrespectful to say that out loud.

    Is it worth having a conversation with someone even if they disagree with you? Perhaps even if they are unwilling to consider your point of view, or additional evidence? Yes. Don’t we think religious people should be willing to have conversations with atheists? Why wouldn’t the converse also be true?

  • Ash

    Ayer; using the bible to prove the bible is circular logic. Stop doing it please.

    So while we should be extra skeptical of hard to check claims that would bring media attention to media hogs, we should be extra trusting of embarrassing claims from shy people, or of claims that associates will interpret as betrayal or lunacy.

    Since the right standard of evidence depends on the claimer’s incentives, it is appropriate to consider these incentives. But it is not true in general that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, beyond the extraordinary evidence already embodied in the claims themselves.

    Massive slip in logic right there; the extraordinary evidence of the claims themselves only works as evidence of an incentive, not as evidence for what those incentives are. It’s probably just as likely, if not more, that extraordinary claims that appear to counter reality as observed (such as X knows he’s innocent because he was talking to a leprechaun at the time) made by X are indicators that X is in extraordinary circumstances such as hallucinating or experiencing insanity.

  • Regarding wafer/Eucharist nomenclature…

    Calling it a wafer is not completely accurate or complete. However calling it a host or other religious term demands explanation and qualification. The solution would be attribution.

    It’s a small piece of bread considered holy by Catholics.

  • Richard Wade

    I was going to write a comment about how when you get as old as me, you won’t be as willing to waste time in futile conversations like the one Richard had on the plane.

    BUT

    Thank you to all those here who have expressed their thoughts about not giving up on the process of dialogue, not giving up on their fellow human beings, and about putting the memory of a civil, courteous atheist into the mind of a fundamentalist, so that they are perhaps just a little less adamant in their prejudice.

    Once again, you have renewed my resolve to keep up the dialogue.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Ayer, you’ve switched your claim. You said that the post contradicts the idea that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” It simply doesn’t, it discusses what constitutes “extraordinary evidence.” Now, rather than defending your original claim you seem to be abandoning it without admitting this. You’re instead quoting the post to show that the only reason to be skeptical of an extraordinary claim is that the claimant has good incentives to lie; but that’s not what the post says, and even if it did, that would only go to show that the post was illogical.

    As the post points out the saying that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is “obviously true in a simple Bayesian sense.” The lower my a priori probability for X is, the lower my probability for X will be after seeing evidence Y. It follows that If the a priori probability for X is very tiny, Y will need to satisy certain strong conditions to give a sizeable probability ffor X after seeing Y. The Bayesian calculation is that the probability of seeing Y, given X, should be orders of magnitude larger than the probability of Y, given not X. In other words an “extraordinary claim” requires “extraordinary evidence” and evidence is extraordinary if and only if it is much more likely to occur in a world where the claim is true, than likely to occur in a world where the claim is not true. Or, in plain English (and Bayesian logic isn’t really necessary to understand this), we should only believe an extraordinary claim if it’s very difficult to understand how that claim would have come about if the claim were false.

    So the claim by an honest person with no reason to lie, that “Andrew Wiggums bought three pencils and an attic fan at 3:50 P.M. at the corner of 35th and Russell” consitutes extraordinary evidence of a (boringly) extraordinary claim, because it’s easy to imagine this claim in the (unlikely) world where the claim is true, and hard to understand why the claim occurs in the worlds where the claim is false.

    But it’s ridiculous to claim that “evidence” (I hesitate to even call it that, although in the strict Bayesian sense, it does constitute very weak evidence) in the Bible is difficult to understand unless the miracles in there actually happened. We know of many ways in which people are bad at processing data that make them mistakenly believe in supernatural occurrences, and believe they saw miracles when they in fact did not. We know cult leaders will often lie and fool people into believing they have supernatural powers when they in fact do not (and many of those cult leaders continue to lead their cults in the face of government persecution, so if you’re really claiming that’s all it takes for a claim to be extraordinarily convincing, you’re going to have to believe in the magical powers of lots of cult leaders around the world). And we know that people can come to be invent stories or become convinced by completely fictional stories with no basis in reality. It’s in fact rather trivial to come up with any number of purely secular, high-probability, reasons that the gospels would come to have been written in a world absent miracles, which is why they don’t constitute “extraordinary evidence.” They don’t even constitute “mildly good evidence.”

  • ayer

    In other words an “extraordinary claim” requires “extraordinary evidence” and evidence is extraordinary if and only if it is much more likely to occur in a world where the claim is true, than likely to occur in a world where the claim is not true.

    Actually, I believe we are in basic agreement here. Bayes’ theorem requires that the evidence be far more probable given that the event in question did occur than given that it did not, which is equivalent to your statement that “evidence is extraordinary if and only if it is much more likely to occur in a world where the claim is true, than likely to occur in a world where the claim is not true.” This is also consistent with the original post, which stated that “it is not true in general that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, beyond the extraordinary evidence already embodied in the claims themselves.”

    The key point being that “extraordinary” evidence does not mean “an enormous amount” of evidence (which is what those who casually throw this slogan around often believe). I am glad to see you are not in that group.

    Regarding the biblical claims, my comment did not refer in general to “the miracles” in the Bible, but to the analysis of one miracle in particular, the resurrection of Jesus. I would be interested in your response to the Bayesian analysis of that event presented in the McGrew article linked to in my comment above. It holds the biblical accounts to the same standards critical scholars apply to all documents of ancient history to make the case that the evidence is far more probable given that the resurrection occurred than given that it did not.

  • Ralph

    Sorry, but I’m on the side of the Catholic, not because I think a wafer is the “Consecrated Host” but because you are being a hypocrite. To call something a wafer because it looks like a wafer is absolutely the same as to call something a beanie if it looks like a beanie. If you can’t accept people calling your yarmulke a beanie, then why would you expect someone else to accept your calling their “Consecrated Host” a wafer? It’s only a matter of degree not principle and, therefore, you are the hypocrite. In the end, all of these names are made up by us humans and none of it is real.