steve davis

Welcome back to the final installation of my interview series with Dr. Steven Davis.  If you don’t know who he is by now, it’s probably best to go back and start with part one.

Anyhow, I want to say a big thank you to Steve for hanging with me through all of this, and for being honest and candid in his answers to my questions.  I don’t think it does any of us any good to fake and fluff our way through difficult issues, especially when it comes to the topic of God.  Steve has had a huge impact on my thinking and theologizing in the past, and he continues to challenge me to be a better thinker even to this day.

If you have any questions for Dr. Davis, feel free to shoot him an email.  Or fire one off to me if you’d like to chat with yours truly.

Alright, let’s do this.

 


So, where do you go from here? You say on your Facebook page, “I suppose I’m still a pastor and teacher in some sense.” What does this mean for you going forward? Are you going to be an apologist for atheism, an unbiased promoter of free-thinking, or are you hoping to step away from the discussion of theology and faith altogether?

I’m not going to be, nor have I ever been an apologist for atheism. “Atheist” and “atheism” are ambiguous terms, so they need to be dropped from the discussion.1 Here’s why:

  1. Most people think that an atheist is someone who says there is no god or gods with certainty. This is incorrect. There may be a few of this type of atheist, but not many. An atheist is merely someone who doesn’t think there’s enough evidence to believe in a god or gods.2 So, the term is misunderstood, and I don’t see this misunderstanding being corrected.
  2. Atheism is often associated with political or social perspectives and movements (e.g., many atheists are far left politically), and people begin to think those movements are what atheism is. Nope. An atheist is merely someone who doesn’t think there’s enough evidence to believe in a god or gods. The political and social additions are something else, but they’re not atheism.
  3. The terms “atheist” and “atheism” don’t really make any sense. Why identify yourself with something you don’t think exists? It would be like someone who doesn’t believe in unicorns calling themselves an Aunicornist. As James Lindsay writes, “It is very odd to describe oneself in terms of what one doesn’t believe.”3 So, I’m not going to continue to argue against something that I don’t think exists.4
  4. Atheism creates the impression that theism should be taken seriously. As Dan Barker has so aptly stated, “Theology is a subject without an object.”5 My position regarding theism is the same as that of Keith Parsons:

I have to confess that I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position—no more than I could present intelligent design as a legitimate biological theory. BTW, in saying that I now consider the case for theism to be a fraud, I do not mean to charge that the people making that case are frauds who aim to fool us with claims they know to be empty. No, theistic philosophers and apologists are almost painfully earnest and honest… I just cannot take their arguments seriously any more, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote serious academic attention to it.6

I’m also not an unbiased promoter of free-thinking. I’m a practitioner of free-thinking, but I’m not unbiased. I can already hear some of your readers: “I told you that guy was biased!” My reply: “No shit!” The point is that one has to recognize their biases in order to mitigate for them. That’s why it’s so important to understand and apply the principles of rational thinking. If you’re not willing to admit your biases and adjust for them, you’ll never be a rational thinker, especially regarding your most deeply held beliefs.

I much prefer the label “rational-empiricist” over “atheist” or “freethinker.” A rational-empiricist is someone who is willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. This means, of course, if evidence for a god or gods is discovered then a rational-empiricist would have to accept it. Due to the fact that I don’t think there’s enough evidence to demonstrate that there’s a god or gods, I’ve been referred to as “arrogant” on numerous occasions. How odd! I’m open to evidence but the committed god believer is sure that god exists without evidence. Who’s the arrogant one?

For what it’s worth, I’m going to step away from the discussion of theology and faith temporarily.7 I know that I’m not going to attempt to have a serious discussion regarding these issues on social media. I’m a pragmatic person, so I try to use my time wisely. Discussing theology and faith online is a fruitless enterprise. Most people have no intention of seriously considering an opposing point of view, nor do they have the tools to do so. I have a couple of book ideas, and I’m working on the first one, but I wonder if it’s really worth the effort. Only time will tell.

 


What resources (e.g., books, websites, etc.) would your recommend for people wanting to challenge their own belief systems? I’d love to hear what you’d endorse, both on a popular level as well as for academics and intellectuals. Anything specifically aimed toward Christians?

Most people aren’t going to seriously challenge their own belief systems unless they’re first genuine rational thinkers. I have numerous book recommendations, but in answer to this question I’ll provide a list of books that contain topics that must be regarded as the starting point for any further investigation. I don’t have a separate list for academics. Academics aren’t any more likely to be rational thinkers than laypeople are, especially regarding their religious beliefs. In fact, they may be less likely to seriously examine their deeply held notions.

Ariely, Dan. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. Revised and expanded edition. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.

Brockman, John, ed. Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.

Brookfield, Stephen D. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995.

Brookfield, Stephen D. Developing Critical Thinkers: Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1987.

Burton, Robert A. On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008.

Fine, Cordelia. A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.

Gilovich, Thomas. How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. New York: The Free Press, 1993.

Harrison, Guy P. Think: Why You Should Question Everything. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. First paperback edition. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

Kida, Thomas. Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006.

Law, Stephen. Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2011.

Shermer, Michael. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. rev. ed. Foreword by Stephen Jay Gould. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002.

Shermer, Michael. The Believing Brain. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012.

Stanovich, Keith E. The Robot’s Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Stanovich, Keith E. What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

Sternberg, Robert J., ed. Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Tavris, Carol, and Elliot Aronson. Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): How We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. Boston: Mariner Books, 2015.

Van Hecke, Madeleine L. Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007.

I know that most people have limited time, but I would suggest reading all of the above (I have). However, I think it’s more realistic to pick one or two and get started. However, if you’re not going to read them with the intent to understand and apply what the authors are trying to teach you, there’s no reason to waste your time and money.

I’d also suggest learning statistics and probability. Here are a couple of resources that I would suggest:

Meaning from Data: Statistics Made Clear

What Are the Chances? Probability Made Clear

Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning, 2nd Edition is another course I highly recommend.

All three of the above courses are published by The Great Courses and come with a course guidebook. These courses can be costly, but they are on sale at least once each year.

Once you’ve completed the above and are willing to honestly apply the principles you discovered to your religious beliefs, you may be ready for something like The Outsider Test for Faith (Loftus).

I could provide you with a list of valuable websites, but I’ll only offer one at this time. Visit The Secular Web for studied counterarguments to all the theistic arguments you think are insurmountable.

 


I’d love to give you some room to just say anything that’s on your mind. Any parting thoughts for our readers?

Regarding part 4:

I asked your readers to make a solid case for a god or gods. As a reminder, I predicted the following about what the responses would consist of:

“But, guess what? I don’t think they can do it. They’ll probably come up with all sorts of rationalizations for why they can’t or why they won’t. Or, they’ll go back to criticizing me. Whoops, still haven’t made your case. Make a substantive case or quit pretending that you have one!”

I’m now officially a prophet! No case was made, but straw men8 and red herrings9 were abundant.10 Let me repeat, “Make a substantive case or quit pretending that you have one!” Asserting that there are “other ways of knowing” isn’t going to cut it. If there is another way of acquiring reliable knowledge about the world, then clearly articulate it so that unenlightened people like me can understand it. Otherwise, you’re just engaging in wishful thinking and sophisticated theology. Merely asserting that there is another way doesn’t demonstrate that there is another way. I don’t have the time or the desire to point out the numerous problems with these proposed existential theologies.11

There’s not much more to say. If any of your readers decide to research, understand, and genuinely apply the principles of rational-empiricism to their religious views, then I’d love to engage with them. I can be contacted at nosacredcows01@gmail.com.

1: See James A. Lindsay, Everybody Is Wrong About God (Durham: Pitchstone Publishing, 2015).

2: Book suggestion: Russell Blackford and Udo Schüklenk, eds., 50 Great Myths About Atheism (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

3: Lindsay, Everybody Is Wrong, 46.

4: But, I remain open to any legitimate evidence that one may have to offer for the existence of god or gods.

5: John Dickson at the ABC: Theology is so sophisticated that it doesn’t need a subject.

6: A Philosopher of Religion Calls It Quits

7: I’ve deleted my public Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’m part of a face-to-face study group that discusses these issues, and I’ll continue my involvement there. If you’re in the Manhattan, KS area and would like to be part of this group, please contact me at nosacredcows01@gmail.com.

8: E.g., My position was misrepresented as “a militant rational empirical epistemological approach.” False. The rational-empirical approach merely asks for reasonable evidence. If that’s militant, all hope for dialogue is lost. My position becomes “militant” only to those who can’t produce legitimate evidence. Here’s an example: Not long after I revealed that I was a non-theist, a member of my family asked me to explain something related to the Bible. I then asked them to explain to me why they believed in god. Their reply was, “You just want to argue!” So, it’s okay to ask me for an explanation, but it’s not okay for me to do likewise? Why did my family member respond as they did? They couldn’t provide any legitimate evidence, so they had to misrepresent my position in a way that made me appear to be unreasonable. All I’ve asked for is evidence. The legitimate way to deal with my rational-empiricism is to provide genuine evidence, not mischaracterize my position. But, the evidence is not there, so the theist has to resort to straw men and existential epistemologies. Bertrand Russell’s words are pertinent here: “There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dares not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.” Human Society in Ethics and Politics, (New York: Routledge, 2009).

9: The bulk of the commentary avoided my challenge entirely.

10: Concerning the comments that I read (I did not read them all) related to this series of blog posts: Straw men and red herrings for the most part. I initially kept a record of them, but it became too tedious.

11: The resources are readily available. Or, don’t you read material that challenges your pet view?

| Culture | Science | 6 comments so far

Ready for another article?

Rocky Munoz
Jesus-follower, husband, daddy, amateur theologian, former youth pastor, nerd, and coffee snob. Feel free to email me at almostheresy@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter (@rockstarmunoz)

6 Comments

  1. Austin Bazil, January 2, 2016 at 12:42 pm:

    Doing far less damage to the faith that you used to Steven, glad to see that. I would say you are angry and you have not demonstrated critical thinking at any level. It seems angry and dishonest as you have drawn conclusions without demonstrating scientific method for origin, age, math, or proof. Pretending a probability model exists without trillions of blind assumptions is comical. I am sad that I as well as hundreds of people provided you with students to teach over the years. I thank you that you got out of that position of influence where you once had the blind respect and ear of young people.

    • David, January 5, 2016 at 9:30 am:

      I’ve read through all five installments and am still waiting for Dr. Davis to provide any evidence at all for his position. He has very clearly stated what his position is, but has yet to give any reason why. If you believe the Bible is untrue, please give us some solid reasons why you believe that. If you don’t believe in God, give us some evidence for why you believe that. You insist on evidence from your detractors, yet offer none for your own position other than “I read a lot of books” (paraphrase).

      • Rocky Munoz, January 5, 2016 at 3:00 pm:

        That’s a fair assessment, David. Originally, part 4 was going to be where Davis presented some of his strongest arguments. He sent me a draft of what he was going to write (which I’m hoping to turn into a separate guest post later); however, since atheism isn’t about believing something, but not believing something, his reasons for becoming an atheist weren’t because of evidence he had per se, but rather what he perceives to be a lack of evidence for the existence of God. This is why he sent out the challenge he did. I suppose he could have tried to dismantle the major arguments for theism, but he figured it would be better to allow the readers to decide which arguments or evidences they found most compelling (to which he intended to respond).

  2. David, January 5, 2016 at 10:18 pm:

    His argument (if he were to actually offer one) would hold a lot more weight if he actually showed what caused him to leave theism rather than simply state that the evidence for it was lacking. Without any specifics he really is making no argument at all. It sounds like you’re saying that he just wants those who read the blog to tell him what evidences for theism they find compelling so that he can pick those reasons apart. That’s a very strange way to approach this.

    • Rocky Munoz, January 6, 2016 at 2:53 pm:

      Yeah, I think he didn’t want to waste a bunch of time arguing against a piece of theistic evidence only to have people respond with, “that’s not even a reason why I’m a theist.” But, like I said, I’ll do a future post with his initial arguments against theism…. you know, some day when I have the time. Thanks for reading though, David! I’m excited to hear your voice whenever I get around to that post someday.

  3. David, January 6, 2016 at 3:11 pm:

    He is the one who claims there is no valid evidence for theism so it is up to him to at least give his reasons why he believes that. Considering he is unwilling to do that makes me wonder if he really has a case at all. I have truly tried to read what he has to say with an open mind and have come out of it thinking that his main position is — “I’ve read a lot more books than everyone else on this subject so everyone should respect my opinion.” Thanks for indulging me.


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