Ask Richard: Richard Asks You About Being Respectful But Not Wasting Your Time June 27, 2011

Ask Richard: Richard Asks You About Being Respectful But Not Wasting Your Time

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

I read your answer on how to absolve your guilt. But why do you have guilt in the first place? Where do you as an atheist get your morals? If your truly an atheist isn’t it survival of the fittest?

Don

Hello Don,

I am often asked these questions, and so are most of my atheist friends. Unfortunately, most of the time these questions are not asked as sincere, earnest, and honest information-seeking questions.

Usually they are what are called “rhetorical questions,” which are statements the person wants to make disguised as questions. More often than not, the person asking is not really interested in hearing an answer. They are just pretending to ask a question so they can make a little speech, essentially saying that atheists have no morals.

Responding to people who ask such rhetorical questions is a complete waste of time, because they are not honestly interested in learning something new. They are not honestly interested in an atheist’s answer.

So, before I respond to you with a lengthy, detailed answer, please forgive me for asking if you actually want to know, or are just being rhetorical. I have a great deal of work to do, trying to help people who are in serious pain and anguish to improve their relationships with their religious loved ones.

If you are honestly, by your own moral definition of honesty, wanting to hear and consider my answer, please write back to me, and tell me more about where you are coming from with this question.

With sincere respect,
Richard Wade
_____________________________________________________________

To the readers: I sent Don the above response on June 10, and have not heard from him yet.

I could have spent many hours writing a lengthy original response explaining humanist/naturalist/atheist views about guilt, morals and the misconceptions implied in Don’s use of the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and/or I could have referred him to several articles that I have since found because I became curious, such as these: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Your suggestions for other referrals and resources are greatly appreciated)

But I didn’t want to risk wasting my time doing either for the reasons that I explained to Don above. I’ve done that too many times already. I didn’t want to brush him off dismissively, but I think it’s understandable in situations like this to want to find out if all my effort will at least be seriously considered, regardless of agreement or disagreement.

I was trying to respectfully yet frankly explain why I need some reassurance that he’s actually going to read it.

So I’m asking you about my response. What do you think or feel about how I handled it? Don’s questions might have been sincere and earnest, or at least interested, or they might have been rhetorical, or maybe something else. It’s not his fault that other people have so often been manipulative or disingenuous with these questions, but I have developed a low tolerance for futility and now have little patience for wasting my breath. How do you respond to these or other questions that you’ve been asked many, many times, and have some hesitation because too often your carefully considered answer has not even been heard?

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

"It didn't until after he had some, "work", done. He's always wanted to look like, ..."

Liar Charlie Kirk: If Biden Wins, ..."
"I know you meant this to got to Atheists Are Evil Haters (who switched nyms ..."

Ohio Gov. Signs Bill Banning State ..."
"He means *Jingoists*, not "patriots"."

Mark Taylor: “Patriots” Will Revolt if ..."
"No one is afraid of the Patriots anymore anyway, now that Tom Brady is gone."

Mark Taylor: “Patriots” Will Revolt if ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Rob Bos

    It would be reasonable to write a detailed response once, and use it as a form letter for future instances of the same question.

  • I agree with Rob above. I have numerous letters that are practically form letters that I send out to the parents of my students in various instances. I frequently have to change a detail here or there, but other than that, I usually do a find/replace and change the names of the students and send them out.

  • Siamang

    I think you handled it quite well. You handled it in a way a grownup would. Basically telling him, ‘I can see your little game, and I don’t wish to play, thank you very much.’

    These are often the little games that family members want to play around the Thanksgiving Dinner table, so your refresher for folks does do some good.

  • Heidi

    Maybe we should have an atheists’ FAQ.

  • Ali

    I’m impressed with your response.

    I don’t fully agree with a generic letter to be used over and over again. That’s kind of insulting. Also, it doesn’t address the fact that rhetorical questions are not appropriate in this forum.

    So you handled it perfectly!

  • Rich Wilson

    I think that’s a very reasonable response, and I’ve done similarly. Usually it’s after I’ve been told to read some book which will convince me of the error of my ways. I explain I’ve got a lot of books to read with new stuff in them. If someone wants me to read a book, they’re going to have to give me some evidence that this isn’t the same argument I’ve heard before. And I can’t recall that last time I heard a new argument.

    I’ve sent out Greta’s great “why atheists are angry” link a few times.

    And I got what I think is a similar response from the ‘other’ side. I was watching an archived sermon from a local mega church, and the pastor mentioned a book he was writing that Christians could hand to their doubting friends, with a bunch of reasons to have faith, or believe in God, or something. He only mentioned a couple in the sermon, but they were things like “we grieve”. He also said he was looking for people to critique the current draft.

    So I emailed him and said I’d be interested in playing devil’s advocate (and did tell him I was an atheist). He quite understandably wanted to know more before emailing out his pre-published work. So I wrote back what I felt was a pretty complete and honest bio. I even offered to meet for coffee at his time and place of convenience.

    He never did respond to that. I don’t begrudge him in the slightest not wanting to hand over his manuscript, but a simple ‘no’ would have been nice.

    Oh, and on Saturday I got handed one of Ray Comfort’s “million dollar bills”. You know, the one that tells you you’re a lying thieving blasphemer. Unfortunately I didn’t realize what it was in time to ask the person if he had a banana to go with it.

  • Mattir

    I’m in favor of developing a form-response for such queries, which I agree are seldom made in good faith. But while reading is very helpful in formulating a response, each person has to develop their own answer to the question. This is why humanism is different from those religions that stress the parroting of official dogma…

    And I’ve found that I’m more coherent and persuasive when I’ve done the intellectual work of answering the question myself rather than just repeating what someone else has said.

  • I agree with that response entirely. If they aren’t even willing to say that they actually want to know, and the wording of the question definitely makes it sound like they don’t, then it makes more sense to save your time for those who actually do care. As a Canadian Christian (where we are the minority) I get the same rhetorical questions meant to attack and my response is usually similar. Many people genuinely ask those questions and it usually isn’t that hard to tell the difference, so save your time answering for those who are genuine.

    The form letter does make some sense if you get asked regularly as well but in some sense I think that directly questioning their motives will go farther in the long run. They would be more hesitant to ask other people without actually wanting to know after having their motives questioned, I think, whereas a form letter they’ll likely just ignore.

  • Chris Slaby

    I like the idea about making clear the questioner’s sincerity, since if they are truly interested, a longer back-and-forth conversation would be beneficial.

    I think no matter what, there’s always time for the short, but productive response about morality/ethics and religion/God. All you need to do is point out that our concept(s) of good precede our concepts of God, to show that people who have faith in the supernatural and those who don’t basically have the same process of understanding morality/ethics (except, of course, when religion gives them bad reasons for doing good things and/or “good” reasons for doing bad things). All you have to do is ask a theist if God is good. Whether they answer yes or no, your followup question clears things up a bit: “How do you know what good is?” If they’re annoying and/or dense, they’ll simply say that God is good because good is God. But if they have the slightest bit of intelligence, they’ll realize that the positive (and negative) attributes that they assign to God come from a personal sense of morality.

    There’s a nice call to the Atheist Experience on just this issue (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ua7C5FkbW8).

  • selfification

    Richard.. can you close your </i> tag?

    Richard says: Oops, sorry. Done. Late night.

  • Matt H

    Unfortunately, I’ve honestly responded to these questions before. Naturally, I found myself knee deep in explanation, as if trying to teach arithmetic to a fish, and I eventually throw my hands up in frustration when it becomes obvious that I’m wasting my time. I guess I am just a masochist who loves driving nails through his head.

  • johannsone

    Survival of the fittest?

    Q-Where do you (believer) get your morals from?
    A- The Bible

    I’ve read that thing, I’d love to get my morals from it as well.

    As to your response, I think it was well written and obvious that you are emotionally invested in the answer. It is something a lot of non believers experience, having to live in tandem with family members/friends/co-workers who have values associated with a belief system. I tend to see these queries two ways, either I am like that person kids see with a disability or it’s plain arrogance tempered with intolerance.
    Real interest in such non religious ‘odd’ lifestyles is fine. I would never hush a child who asks ‘what’s wrong with that person’. Those times are valuable teaching moments. Ones where you can alter perceptions or further the disdain. Asinine lines of questioning, meant to draw you into an argument defending your lack of faith are annoying. It’s like asking a heterosexual man to defend his use of his penis in a sexual relationship. I mean there are other ways to enjoy sex and have sex, why do you feel the need to use your penis?

    I find his lack of response typical, unfortunately. Instead of wanting to know more, he runs when you don’t meet him with anger. If you really feel that strongly that non believers are going to die in a holy fireball, why ask us to defend our choices? Go somewhere and follow your own tenets, “Judge Not, lest you be judged” “Pray for your brothers & sisters”, believers or not. And finally, my favorite, Trust in the Lord your God, “If it is His will..”

  • Lauren S

    Overall I think your response was appropriate and exceedingly reasonable. I normally get myself wound up talking to people who are not interested in an actual exchange of ideas.

    I think that explaining what rhetorical means in great detail was a bit condescending. It is not that obscure of a phrase and since the individual has the internet on hand, it is reasonable to expect them to google it if they are confused.

    it might have turned off a sincere person. The whole second paragraph could be one sentence added to the first paragraph. “In my experience they have been asked rhetorically so that the individual can then launch into a speech about how athiests have no morals.” or something like that.

    Using “I” statements and talking about your experience would emphasize that, if the question is in earnest, you would want to answer it.

    I doubt it was sincere, but if you were concerned about how the tone my come off, that was my impression.

  • Digitus Impudicus

    @Heidi: Assuming one were to write such a FAQ, isn’t it “survival of the fittest species” not “survival of the fittest individual”? Compassion and other virtues make for a very fit species.

    And why are all the comments in italics? Or is it just me?

    Richard says: My error. Sorry. Fixed.

  • I think it’s a reasonable response, however I also think that you are focused too much on the asker. Remember that in a public forum, there are many others reading/watching silently on the sidelines, and this may have been an opportunity wasted to reach some of them. Especially when you’ve goat a very large audience, in some sense, the one-on-one conversation isn’t even the point. It’s just there for other people to witness.

  • It’s always ok to ask, essentially: “Are you a human being who wants to have a conversation?” when easy-to-spout-hard-to-answer questions are asked. It might be a troll; it might be an honest inquiry.

    After spending a little over a year immersed in ethical philosophy, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to give a straight answer to moral questions is this:

    List the things you value.

    You could say, “I believe in relieving human suffering when we can. I believe in fair treatment that respects people’s differences. I believe in the freedom to question and to hold strange opinions. I believe in the freedom to experiment, so long as it doesn’t hurt those who haven’t chosen to participate. Most of all I believe in living a life of love and curiosity, and giving others the opportunity to have that kind of life too.”

    I could go into an explanation of my metaethical views, but that doesn’t answer what most people are really interested in knowing.

  • Steve

    It’s not “survival of the fittest” ANYTHING. It’s survival of the species best adapted to its biological niche. That doesn’t necessarily mean the meanest, baddest, fastest, deadliest or strongest.

    The phrase wasn’t even coined by Darwin, but a sociologist and philospher, though Darwin later incorporated it in an edition of “On the Origin of Species”

  • dauntless

    @Ryan

    As a Canadian Christian (where we are the minority) I get the same rhetorical questions meant to attack and my response is usually similar.

    So 77% is a minority? Interesting.

  • f

    I had a similar experience. On a Facebook conversation, I referred a Christian critical of strident atheists (you know, the kind of believer who thinks that critics of Christianity “discriminate” against religion) to Greta Christina’s “Why atheists are angry.” His response was a list of mostly petulant questions. I pointed out that the article I had referred him to contained all the answers, and since he could not be bothered to read it, it was pretty clear to me that he was not interested in a conversation, and I was not interested in wasting my time.

  • JD

    It seems to me that a lot of people regardless of beliefs exist in bubbles, cliques, etc. Often, they have a group understanding of those outside their collective bubble which isn’t based on anything but an opinion or stereotypes.

  • Digitus Impudicus

    @Steve: Well, I understand “fittest” to mean “best adapted” as it “best fit”. Does everyone else understand “fittest” to mean “toughest etc…”? Hmm…

  • TFM

    I agree with Lauren S. It was reasonable to not want to waste your time, and politely inquire about how serious the question was. Perhaps there was more context showing evidence of age or educational level that you left out of the quote, but assuming one adult writing to another, the detailed explanation of what a rhetorical question is could easily come off as condescending.

    I think writing a complete, heartfelt answer from scratch every time someone asks such a question would be a colossal waste of time, but I don’t think it would be a waste to address the topic in a form you could re-use, whether by linking to it online somewhere, or making it easy to copy and paste into email with a short preface for correspondents like these.

    Offering links to several other pieces on the subject that resonate with you is occasionally useful, but it’s sort of a variation on the Courtier’s Reply. “Go read all this background material, and perhaps you’ll understand my answer to your short question.” If you have an answer of your own to refer to, then it doesn’t come off as a dodge, *and* you can still cite sources that influenced (or express) your own thinking. If the reader is sufficiently interested in your answer, maybe they’ll go ahead and read some of those citations, too.

    FWIW, one of my favorite essays on atheism and morality was left out of the ones you noted: The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick (from Ebon Musings).

  • Steve

    @Digitus Impudicus
    People who claim that evolution leads to immorality, social darwinism and an “everyone for himself” competition usually do. It’s a pretty common misconception

  • RQ

    @Digitus Impudicus: Regarding “Survival of the Fittest”, in biological terms it is referring to the individual member of species that is “most fit” or has the characteristics that allows it to live and pass on it’s DNA to offspring. DNA is passed down by individuals. Just because you accept that evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of species, doesn’t mean you have to accept that “Social Darwinism” is the best way to organize a society to live together.

  • Greg

    I completely agree with your response Richard. To be completely honest, I have yet to come across a theist who has wanted to talk to me on the matter of god that actually is interested in what I have to say. Oh, they claim they are, but it eventually comes across that they have no willingness to change their mind even slightly upon the matter we are discussing. I don’t see the point in having a conversation with anyone who has that view. I can remember hours I spent on this very website constructing replies to someone, only to have them come straight out and say that they would never change their mind (despite saying the opposite at the start of the conversation). (And then they had the cheek to accuse me of being closed minded, simply because I was pointing out their fallacies…)

    Now I do just what you did when that situation comes up. Interestingly enough they never come back to me either – at least a lot of time and wasted effort is saved.

    I suspect the problem is that religions like Christianity (or at least some forms of it) demand that its followers go out and proselytise – which is pretty much by definition a conversation where you are unwilling to truly listen to what the other person has to say.

  • Lin

    @Ryan

    Where are you in Canada that Christians are a minority?

  • I liked Richard’s response. Sometimes you have to filter the bullshit. It saves everyone time across the board. Why waste the time in energy on someone who ultimately doesn’t care?

  • Luther

    And here is a piece from last week that paints us all with a broad brush and makes a lot of assumptions about people we all respect. 5 Things Atheists Have Wrong About Religion.

    Some I don’t agree that atheists believe, certainly not all.

    Some I agree with but don’t agree that I have wrong.

    Once again, a different example of what is hard to respond to, not because the five items are so short, but the extensive wishy washy details behind the five statements make the statements really hard to pin down to refute or confirm. They assume most atheists are of one view and that we all view all religions alike.

  • Ibis

    Since there are no gods, atheists get their morals from the same place as everyone else: an innate, naturally evolved empathy shaped by culture and childhood indoctrination, and examined to a greater or lesser degree by reason.

  • walkamungus

    Your response could be cut in half, approximately as follows:

    I am often asked similar questions, and so are many of my atheist friends. Unfortunately, most of the time these questions are not asked sincerely, but rhetorically; the questioner has no interest in what I, as an atheist, might actually say.

    Before I respond, forgive me for asking if you truly want to know my answer. If you do, please write tell me more about where you are coming from with this question.

    This drops the long-suffering trope so popular with Christians and, being shorter, is more likely to encourage a response if the questions were real.

  • Parse

    Frankly, you were more polite than I would have been. If Don’s questions are not rhetorical, they’re painfully immature, and show no indication of independent thought on the matter. There’s a hundred different signs that could have shown that he was asking legitimately, but none of them show up here.
    I would keep most of what you have as a form letter, rewriting the end of the second paragraph as necessary. For questions like these, I’d also provide a link to Google, or Let Me Google That For You – Don is asking you to do his research for him, when it’s obvious he didn’t do any on his own.

    Richard, your time is a limited, precious commodity. You don’t need to spend it crafting intricate, individually tailored replies to every single Don who emails you – they probably won’t even bother reading your response.

  • T-Rex

    What morals?

  • ff42

    Your response was excellent. An alternate response is along the lines of “what will you do with (or how will you change your life because of) the answer?

    Although I do like this approach 😎

    Socrates and a student were walking near a body of water one day. They were talking about the sort of thing that wise men and their students talk about when the student asked,
    “How does one gain knowledge?”

    Socrates grabbed the student, and pushed his head under the water and held it there. At first the student assumed his teacher was trying to make a point of some sort.

    When the student began to need air, he began to struggle. Socrates did not let him up. Soon the need for air became greater and the student struggled harder.

    When the student realized that his teacher was going to drown him he fought with all his might until he broke free and gasped for breath.
    The student – confused and angry – asked Socrates why
    he had tried to drown him.
    Socrates replied…
    “When you want a thing as much as you just wanted air..
    then it will be hard for you NOT to find it

  • Rich Wilson

    Just remembered, in the off chance you haven’t seen it, PZ covered rhetorical questions quite nicely:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/06/dear_emma_b.php

  • Claudia

    I think you did the right thing. In a different situation, I think humoring the questioner just in case they were willing to listen would be fine, but as you said you have a lot of people waiting to hear from you. There are terrified teenagers and marriages in crisis and families about to break apart. All of them could do with a little of your wisdom and it would be wasted on someone trying to make a snide, bigoted little point. It would be like getting into a long explanation about poverty and the criminal justice system with a racist who spat “Yeah? Well if blacks aren’t inferior, how come so many of them are in jail?”.

    However I do think it would be nice if we could have an essay to point to that discussed the matter in an easy to understand way. Morality is a complicated subject, and it’s easy to get bogged down in word definitions and circular reasoning. Having an easy resource to read or point to for when we are confronted with the theist who is asking out of genuine curiosity and not just filthy bigotry would be very helpful.

  • Beauzeaux

    Years ago I used to get inquiries from people asking how to break into my field. A first I wrote out detailed responses until I realized that none — exactly none — of these people were ever going to do anything. So yes, I think you answered appropriately.

  • It’s worth working up as a FAQ so the next time it comes up you can cut and paste it as a reply, or send a link to where it’s located on your about page.

  • ACN

    Rationalwiki has something like an faq, although the intended audience isn’t exactly the same. FAQ for the Newly Deconverted.

  • Chris

    Being that you run a website, why wouldn’t you tackle this question in a post putting affiliate related books (ie “Good Without God”) throughout the post? Then when someone poses this question, you can refer them to the post garnering up potential affiliate money, potential ad clicks, and more page views. That’s what I would do.

  • ACN

    Flipping back through that faq again, although the intended audience is newly deconverted folks, it answers a number of common questions like this in pleasant, matter of fact ways. I’m extremely fond of this part:

    But I miss the social setting at church…

    …Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with Sunday brunch with friends. Just make sure you tip well—church crowds are, according to many waitstaff, notoriously cheap. (Try to make sure you go somewhere with the opportunity for waffles. You’re always better off with the waffle option available.)

    Emphasis mine.

    Notably, they also include a wonderful brunch cookbook in their bibliography. This was responsible for me discovering one of my favorite brunch dishes, pastrami and eggs. Delicious heart attack on a plate 🙂

  • doglovingirl

    I like your response. It’s respectful (“forgive me for asking,” “with respect,” etc) and honest, and asks Don to make minimal effort before you spend your time on a lengthy response. Don didn’t even show you the courtesy of a response (although no response is better, I suppose, than an insincere “Yes, I’m truly interested” response).

    I also like the idea of an FAQ or essay or something similar to which you could point people. A “read this and come back if you still have questions” type of thing.

  • I have always been impressed with your kind and thoughtful responses to people who have written you with real world problems. And, oooo, a FAQ would be great. Also … a book!

  • Nicky

    I think you handled that very well. I also don’t think that some sort of form letter or FAQ would do any sort of harm.

    I’ve been told that the way I handle that question is kind of mean, but I don’t think it is. What they’ve done is imply that without religion, people would just be a bunch of murderous savages–I just ask if they’re THAT incapable of being a nice person on their own.

  • Angel

    I actually snorted at the “Christians are the minority in Canada” comment. Thankfully, a number of you were all over that before I got here 🙂

  • Tom

    It’s not just how hard it is to write a response properly addressing the question, so much as the massive ratio of how long and hard it is to write an honest response to how very quick and easy it is to ask a trite, rhetorical but still technically valid question.

    At the same time, though, honest questions, even if they happen to exactly resemble the stupid, disingenuous ones (occasionally, I’d imagine it’s because it’s from someone who’s heard their brethren ask the same question disingenuously, for the purposes of rhetorical attack, and has subsequently wondered if the answer might actually be worth knowing), deserve an honest answer. In attempting to discern whether or not the question was sincere before devoting further resources to it, your response was perfectly appropriate.

    Stock answers, I think, are perfectly fine under the following combination of circumstances: 1) the question is indeed a frequent one, 2) the particular instance of the frequent question does not contain any subtlety or variation that the stock answer fails to cover, and 3) you inform the recipient of the stock nature of the answer, and the reasons for not writing one from scratch.

    I’ve also been referred to books, allegedly guaranteed to prove Christianity to me, invariably by people who then utterly fail, when asked, to even vaguely summarise the supposed ironclad arguments presented therein in order to pique my interest and show me they’re worth my time to read. My response is always that if the book-pusher can’t even remember the basic gist of such a perfect argument, it can’t have been terribly persuasive or even interesting – it’s hard to make that response sound polite but, hey, if you’re pushing a book on someone that you evidently haven’t spent much time on yourself, and thus doing it disinterestedly in order to advance your own agenda, that ain’t really so polite either.

  • Isaac

    QualiaSoup has a recent video on Morality –

    http://youtu.be/T7xt5LtgsxQ

  • Heidi

    @Digitus Impudicus: You’re right that survival of the fittest does not mean what he thinks it means. Natural selection does work at both the individual and species level. But getting ostracized for acting against the best interests of the group (e.g. thrown in prison) is not going to give an individual an evolutionary edge.

    OTOH, morality expressed in forms such as empathy, cooperation and compassion would lead to the individual being valued among the group. And the same behaviors would also give a species an evolutionary edge.

    This is definitely the kind of thing should go in an FAQ.

  • Interesting – I wonder where that 77% stat came from. Last time I heard a stat it was 20% of Canadians go to church at least once a year, and 8% at least once a month. Something like 60% were a theist of some kind but most of those had no practicing or defined faith, just a general conception that they think there might be a god. That’s a pretty drastic difference from the 77% number, and much closer to my own experiences. In my experience, Christians usually get dirty looks if we say anything about Jesus or actually go to church or a Bible Study, and people always seem surprised that Canadians actually still do that. I got made fun of lots in high school by most of my fellow students who had never even stepped foot in a church, and people still run away from the conversation quickly when I say I’m studying theology. Which I know is the opposite in the U.S. where atheists get the same or usually worse treatment, so my point was that I can sympathize. I don’t see any value in debating it, but that definitely is a curious statement of 77% to me, though.

  • Dan W

    I think your response was pretty good, Richard. I may be being too pessimistic, but when I see questions like the ones “Don” asked I get suspicious. He may be a theist who honestly is curious about atheists and morality, but the way he worded his questions makes me suspect he’s just another willfully ignorant theist who doesn’t care to learn more about us. If he wanted to learn more about atheist perspectives he could have easily googled “atheists and morality” and found plenty of good results in the first few pages.

    Considering that “Don” didn’t respond back to your email, I think my suspicions were correct.

  • Keljopy

    I think your response was perfect. On the internet it’s impossible to tell tone so he could easily be genuine or smug. You explained your reason for not immediately responding and gave him the benefit of the doubt. If he really wanted to know he could easily send a response that would take probably 5 minutes for him to write. Judging by the fact he hasn’t yet I would bet he falls into the smug rhetorical question asking group.

  • Just point him to Christopher Hitchins’ challenge: Name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.

    Also survival of the fittest is a tautology. It means “survival of those species most fit to survive” or in shorter terms “survival of the survivors”. Well we’ve survived so well done there but that doesn’t say anything at all about our morality.

  • Pixie Song

    In some ways I think this response is more beneficial than simply providing a link or recycled manuscript. You’re putting the writer on the spot; making him question his own motives and likely provoking more thought than he would have achieved by skimming through the actual answer.

    He could easily disregard the latter. I think it’s harder to disregard a response that directly questions our motives and sincerity.

  • Sarah

    @Ryan
    My guess is the numbers came from the ‘Religion in Canada’ Wikipedia article:
    “The 2001 Canadian census reported that 77% of Canadians claim adherence to Christianity, followed by no religion at 16%.[1]…A 2005 Gallup poll showed that 28% of Canadians consider religion to be ‘very important’ …The rates for weekly church attendance are contested, with estimates running as low as 11% as per the latest Ipsos-Reid poll and as high as 25% as per Christianity Today magazine.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Canada

    I think we’d all be interested in knowing where your numbers are from.

  • Rainer

    I think your response was great. I wish I could be that considering and considerate.

  • Martha

    I am a month late, maybe no one will ever read this.  🙂

    When I am asked by family questions about my lack of belief I can see in their eyes that they are gearing up for a battle between good and evil.  It tires me and I back out of the conversation as quickly as I can.  Rationality will not win in the face of emotion.