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.
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:
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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 email@example.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?