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« Those Not-so-Rational Rationalists | Main | A Movie-Inspired Stabbing »

September 24, 2008

Re: Those Not-So-Rational Rationalists

Alice Regis:

While the Journal piece made some good points, its triumphalism leaves me a bit cold.

It would be more accurate to say that the difference between the "new atheists" and conservative Christians isn't that one group is credulous and the other isn't: instead, it's that they are credulous about different things. After all, conservative Christians' disbelief in Atlantis, Big Foot, UFOs and new-age medicine isn't so much rooted in intellectual rigor and/or skeptical empiricism -- it's rooted in a a belief system that a priori declares such things to be impossible ("the Bible says nothing about life on other planets"), verboten or a kind of culture-war treason. It's, at best, a selective empiricism, just like Maher's exclusion of religion while expressing a belief in new-age medicine.

It wouldn't be very difficult to name ideas with wide circulation in conservative Christian circles that you and I would regard as nonsense: the worst kind of credulity. Some of them have even been the subject of BreakPoint commentaries! In other words, among some Christians, the following passes for catechesis:

"I can't believe that!" said Alice.

"Can't you?" the queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

I enjoy seeing people hoist on their own petards much as anyone else. Probably more. But, to paraphrase the Sermon on the Mount, I must be careful to first pull the petard from my own pants.

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Dan Gill

On a personal level, I have to disagree with you. I don't believe in UFOs, Bigfoot, or New-Age medicine because I am skeptical, not because such things are ruled out by scripture. As far as I know, they're not. There simply isn't a strong case for them.

I think the reason that non-believers in Christianity believe so easily in nonsense is that people must believe in something. It's in our makeup. I will go so far as to say that once you know the real, imitations hold little attraction.


"Isn't so much" allows for the possibility that folks like you have empirical reasons for not believing in these things.

Steve (SBK)

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that the difference is that 'the new atheists' appeal, without success, to empiricism? Isn't this just ironic?

For my records, could you list some of the "ideas with wide circulation in conservative Christian circles that you and I would regard as nonsense: the worst kind of credulity." (Simply because I'm interested to know what 'folks like you' think 'these are'). Thanks.


The biggest dif between (say) me and (say) Oprah or Tom Cruise or Bill Maher is - that I as a Christian woman face probably more skeptics. I get the hard questions.

And I don't have millions of uncritical adoring fans waiting to buy some scrap of paper I doodled on - on Ebay. Which is- actually - good.

So when I do it right, I respond with courtesy to the tough questions about God--and I do my research. I admit what are the "grey" or "tough" areas of my beliefs.

But a Tom Cruise, an Oprah, maybe even a Bill Maher may have their crew fend off too many tough questions.

Since their general beliefs seem popular (with the persons who follow them) they will be confronted FEW times. They will not be pushed to FACE UP to the tough questions...often. (Though the Holy Spirit has a way of penetrating the toughest crew.)

Jason Taylor

"For my records, could you list some of the "ideas with wide circulation in conservative Christian circles that you and I would regard as nonsense: the worst kind of credulity." (Simply because I'm interested to know what 'folks like you' think 'these are'). Thanks."

The idea that the Book of Revelation can be decoded as if it was a secret message in a cliffhanger yarn. And the related idea that it is possible to find one-to-one correlations with current events by such analysis.

The fondness for conspiracy theories among some evangelical circles.

Jason Taylor

Speaking of that sort of thing, Jan Morris tells how one of his fellows had found what the local Sherpas said was a yeti scalp at a Buddhist temple. Somehow it was taken back to London. Everyone waited with baited breath until the reply came,"that hairs are those of a hog, repeat hog. What can you do to recover are money?"

Source of story from "Coronation Everest" by Jan Morris

Steve (SBK)

JT, thanks.
What are some well-known conspiracy theories?

Jason Taylor

Oh, lets see. If I recall, King Juan of Spain is the antichrist, the UN is about to militarily take over the United States any time soon.
And don't forget the Bilderbergers, the Trilateral Commission, and what not.


Jason is on the money. While I wholeheartedly embrace western medicine, I think that being open-minded toward some alternative medicines is far less credulous than buying the science fiction that passes for eschatology in some Christian circles.

And -- let me put on my flame-retardant suit -- believing in UFOs is no more credulous and probably less so than young-Earth creationism. And don't get me started in the magical new-agey thinking in stuff like the "Book of Jabez."


First off, this is proof positive that Roberto's presence at The Point raises the quality of the discourse. I've been hard-pressed to find someone with whom I can disagree on so many issues, and yet so completely respect his opinion and how he arrived at it.

YMMV, of course.

One thing that I think is not entirely clear in this discussion is the distinction between the *leadership* of the new atheists and conservative Christianity, and the *average non-leader* within either movement. So if Chuck Colson believes something that is patent nonsense, it would be far more significant than if one of us believes it. (Particularly so since, by identifying any such item, Roberto might engender significant personal financial risk. ;-) ) So it's not of as much import if the masses believe Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins wrote not a speculation but a prophecy with "Left Behind"; it *would* be important if Tim himself believes it.

That said, I recall hearing great speculation about the date of the return of Jesus during the *first* Iraq war under the *first* President Bush, using both Old and New Testaments with breathtaking fluidity. And this, from conservative Christian leaders known for their caution about predictions.

And I was going to ask, SBK: did you want Jason to start from Martin Luther's time and work forward, or from the present day and work backward? ;-)


Roberto wrote: "[...] believing in UFOs is no more credulous and probably less so than young-Earth creationism."

Well, yeah - Francis Crick believes in "directed panspermia", which is essentially the idea that UFOs brought life to Earth. And if a Nobel Prize winner can seriously propose that, and show evidence to support it, it's certainly no more credulous than following Bishop Ussher.

But I think I'll step out from between Roberto and Regis. "Let's you and him fight."

Regis Nicoll

Keep in mind that these studies do not conclude that believers are free of superstitions and pseudo-science gullibility, only that religious belief, contrary to the rationalist cant, does not increase--and in fact appears to decrease--one's tendency for such.


There is nothing in the Bible or the Biblical worldview that makes aliens, North American apes, or even drowned cities -impossible-. There is no evidence for the first, a little for the second, and the last has several instances.

Maher's mockumentary is just hate speech. More "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" meme effects just like Handmaid's Tale.

So, Roberto, God's Word is superstition to you. Especially the Creation and the Fall. So, why did Jesus die on the Cross, again, exactly?

Gina Dalfonzo

Labrialumn, that isn't at all what Roberto said. Please don't put words in people's mouths.


I agree, Regis. My concerns were with the implicit triumphalism of the original article and, more to the point, the way some Christians were already citing the studies.

While I'm here, let me just add that whatever ones thinks (and I don't think much) of folks like Dawkins' and Hitchens' arguments, suggesting, as the article does, that Bill Maher is somehow in their league and representative of their views isn't fair. Maher is literally a clown who makes a living telling jokes about sexual organs. We wouldn't want the same thing done to us.

Steve (SBK)

I've never heard of any of those 'conspiracy theories'. Granted, I've heard variations on some of them - though never with any weight. (e.g. The Pope is the Anti-Christ, cf. Martin Luther's Time, right LeeQuod?).
Still, I'd hardly think that these conspiracy theories have 'wide circulation', or at least 'wide acceptance' - in conservative Christianity. I'd think there are huge pockets of superstition/misinformation in all 'brands' of Christianity, from Lourdes to Snake-handlers.
But then, I'm not an expert on what people believe and why.

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