Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Doubt Behind the Mixed-Faith Household

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Jeremiah Traeger

Mixed-faith households must have a terrible time deciding how to raise kids in their faith. It’s probably hard deciding which eternal hellfire is more of a risk and should be avoided. I’m horribly informed about the demographics of mixed-faith households, and  as usual I’m not interested in putting effort into much, but some quick Googling tells me that as many as 25% of households are mixed-faith. That trend appears to be increasing over time, and therefore more and more households will be raising kids under the roof of two religions. This certainly makes sense in a world emphasizing more cultural tolerance over time, and I honestly think this is good news for secularism. Though I found no good numbers on the faiths of children leaving mixed-religion households, my experience being raised under parents under two denominations makes me believe that it’s an environment that will cause children to question over time and become more religiously tolerant.

 

As a bit of background, my dad comes from a Lutheran background (his mom gave me a shirt that says “Luther Rocks!” for my birthday once), and my mom is Catholic. Both are socially liberal, though my dad is more of a political centrist and has cancelled out my mom’s votes from time to time in major elections. Both have supported gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights, and both even recently thought my recent advocacy for the transgender rights movement is wonderful. Both are supportive of immigrants and value the variety of cultures around the world, including religions. This appears to be a successful enough foundation for a successful relationship including a marriage that is now 30 years old.

 

At this point, some ex-Baptists or other such ex-fundies might cringe of thinking of the Catholics as a “denomination” of Christianity. After all, Catholics deviate from Biblical literalism in many aspects of their practice, including praying to saints and including extrabiblical Church teachings as an integral part of the doctrine. What many people fail to recognize (Christian and non-Christian alike) is that while a holy book may be part of the foundation of a religion or a denomination, the holy book is not the sum total of the religion. There are plenty of extra-Biblical concepts that fundie churches teach; the Bible mentions nothing about abortion as we know it today, transgender people, and it doesn’t really describe original sin in detail or mention it by name. As such it seems just as reasonable to include Catholicism under the umbrella of Christianity as any other group. As a non-believer, it’s not my job to decide who a real Christian is or not, I’ll let the Catholics and the evangelicals battle it out and let me know when they come to a consensus.

 

Despite what some perceive as large differences, it was actually pretty hard growing up with both denominations to remember which part of each church was which. Each service is pretty much the same. There’s some singing, a guy up front talks for a bit, and he reads from his book, talks some more, there’s some more singing, you sit up and down, you have snacks, and then you leave. The Sunday schools were pretty much the same, we colored scenes from the Bible and sang songs and made artsy t-shaped torture devices out of popsicle sticks. Growing up in both, they were so similar I didn’t really have a good way of remembering which was which. My siblings and I constantly had to be corrected when we referred to the Lutheran minister as the “priest”, or the service as “mass”. And I was always confused when I would see that the person up front leading the service was a woman a few weeks after learning in Catholic Sunday school that women couldn’t do that.

 

One of the other relevant experiences that most religious folks growing up probably don’t share is a sense of openness to other belief systems. For any healthy interdenominational relationship, there has to be a certain respect for other religious viewpoints, which my parents definitely have. Because we were raised in that environment, we were not only respectful of the belief systems of both parents, but that extended to belief systems of others. As such, it was easy to get along with the LDS people that were a large portion of my small Arizona hometown, or to go to my friends’ Churches when I spent the night with them. I recall my mom even taking me to see some Buddhist monks working on a sand mandala, and she educated me on some basics of their supernatural belief systems such as their belief in the Buddha (at the time I didn’t realize that my aunt also had converted to Buddhism, which had caused a ruckus in that family).

 

Of course, such openness to other religious belief makes you realize that not everyone is right. Some beliefs are mutually exclusive. The god that Christians believe in can’t simultaneously approve and not approve of women ministers, as noted above. The existence of saints is either true or it’s not. I can’t comment on the experiences of others who lived with interdenominational parents, but for me this set me in a mindset of having to pick which religion was true. In a world where Christians are the overwhelming majority and being raised exposed almost exclusively to that worldview, my biases led me to believe there was probably a monotheistic god of a largely Christian flavor, and all the denominations more or less had it right but had minor differences of opinion on what the truth was. But because of this perspective, this put me in a state of having to decide what doctrines seemed correct or not. Of course, even the leaders of each church disagreed with each other, even after years of going to their respective seminaries (not all denominations require this, but many do). Most of them had far more intimate knowledge of the Bible than I did. How could I even hope to find which doctrine held to the truth over another? While I didn’t know it at the time, these would be the cracks that would eventually burst causing me to abandon my faith. At the time, I went about my life, having faith that my god would reveal me the truth when I needed to see it. Until then, I was on the same spiritual journey of uncertainty that everyone else seemed to be on, with no clear truth in sight.

 

Of course, this was under the faulty assumption that everyone else was just as uncertain as I was. My parents both were both open enough that they felt that once I was old enough I could decide for myself what my beliefs were. My naiveté didn’t allow me to realize that parents of the same religion likely taught their children that theirs was the correct one, and there were no realistic expectations of converting. After all, without exposure to anything else and with the trusted parent figures insisting that they have it right, what motivation is there to do anything else. This baffled me when I met fundamentalists who wouldn’t budge. Imagine my confusion when I met an actual creationist for the first time. I found him so close-minded at insisting that, “the Bible says it, and that’s that!” What a small god, who couldn’t design the Earth utilizing the Big Bang and planetary cosmology? The only way he could have possibly done it is by the snap of the fingers, but over the course of six days, apparently. Imagine my confusion another time when a girlfriend of mine didn’t get my liberal faith. “How do you decide who is going to Hell or not?” Is that really our decision? Wasn’t that our god’s decision? Shouldn’t we just do our best to seek the truth and do our best to our fellow humans?

 

Thus far, I have illustrated the mixed-faith upbringing as a mostly positive experience. I think it was a beneficial upbringing, but I think it has its downsides. The liberal, mix-and-match cafeteria Christian has a lot of room for the other hippie bullshit. By its nature, it lends itself to the thought-stifling, “all religions can be true” uncritical nonsense. Because of this, other religions are fair game to bring into the mix, as well as all kinds of woo. This insulates religion from criticism, since it elevates mere faith as a virtue, and has all kinds of problems wrapped up in the coexistence message. If someone else holds some batshit religion, it stifles questioning, reducing that interaction to a mere, “Well, that’s what those people believe, so we have to respect it.” This extends to holding back on fundamentalist Christianity which has a myriad of abusive problems and societal harms, or stopping criticism of Islam since it’s “just what they believe”.

 

 

My sister has gotten wrapped up in this too. When I’ve rolled her eyes at her for being afraid of spending time in a supposedly haunted house, she got mad at me because she believed in ghosts. She chastised me, because, “that’s just what I believe!” At a funeral, she insisted that there was some grand plan and that “everything happens for a reason”, a sentiment I think is part of a grand failure of religion’s way of dealing with death. She’s into karma and all sorts of other bullshit that has a “spiritual” essence but doesn’t fall under the Christian umbrella. This may just as easily be a result of her personality, but an open-minded Christian upbringing certainly didn’t hurt it.

 

That being said, I hope that the trend continues and religious households continue to diversify. Even if people fall into the “Everyone is right” coexistence narrative, it’s better than an abusive, homophobic, or authoritarian upbringing. For other children predisposed to doubt and skepticism, it is probably the best religious environment people could hope for, as it sows seeds of questioning. Someone could probably make the case that it’s even better than a household with no religion, as it gives the child a real chance to think their way to the truth and think themselves out of the faith. I wouldn’t take that stance, I’d rather the falsehoods be done away with altogether.

The Worthwhile Problems

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Jeremiah Traeger

The world is a shitstorm right now. I don’t need to go into details, this has been plastered all over our social media feeds and news sites. The world is hurting.

I have noticed, though, that many of the members of my community are hurting as well. This includes health problems, family emergencies, accidents, anxiety, etc. Some of these apply to me, to a large or a small extent.

As someone who struggles with mild anxiety (most of the time), sometimes I feel guilty that I’m taking up space with a psychiatrist, when other people probably have far worse problems. And when I struggle to be productive at work due to these anxieties, I feel guilty that there are other people who don’t even have a steady source of income while I have a stipend. And when I come home to relax, I see videos of people being murdered by trusted members of society while I sit at home watching others’ lives being turned upside-down, guilty that I’m not affected.

This sense of guilt is misplaced, and it may take some rational thinking to come to that conclusion. You need to take care of yourself. And you don’t need anyone’s permission.

One of my biggest heroes is someone who thrived on analytical thinking and rigor, Richard Feynman. Watch any of his videos and complicated physics and abstract concepts will immediately come to life. He had a way of solving problems by thinking so clearly about everything, and communicating those ideas so simply to those who would listen. When a former student expressed shame at doing work that he felt was unimportant or simple, Feynman responded in a letter.

“The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to… No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it”

This speaks to the importance of what we do from day to day. I not only speak for myself, but also the members of our community, that we want to change the world for the better. There seem to be so many important problems. That’s because they are important. But any alleviation of suffering is important.

That includes you. And if your problems are solvable, then they are the most important right now.

We aren’t going to solve police violence overnight. We will not eradicate terrorist attacks next week. A year from now there will still be homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, and bigotry of every stripe. These are problems we will have to continue to pick and chew and scrape away at, bit by bit, little by little, and we will still be dissatisfied every day with how far we have gotten.

But today, you can disconnect from social media. You can take a breather from volunteering to visit your sick or dying relative. You can talk to a counselor next week about your mental health issues. You don’t have to pay attention to the news, you can drive your cousin to the doctor. You can just reach out to your friend who are just as distressed about the world as you are. You are able to detach and have a beer with a friend. And if this is able to ease anyone’s pain including your own, then it is worth doing.

You aren’t selfish for taking care of yourself, and you need no justification for alleviating anyone’s pain in your life no matter how trivial it may seem. You are solving a worthwhile problem, that is all the justification you need. As humanists, we know that this is the only life we are certain to have. Please make it better for someone, even if the life you make better is your own.

The big problems are worthwhile problems too. When you are ready, when you have all the mental health spoons in order, your presence will once again be welcomed to the fight. These are problems we can do something about too. It will be incremental and tedious, and we will have to remain vigilant to both keep ourselves educated and to speak out when we are needed. But if something is holding you back, something you need to take care of first, then why aren’t you doing that? Please, take a step back. Work on anything you can make a difference in. And do so without apology.


If you’re done taking care of your immediate needs and are looking for some problems that you can help solve a bit, please start by listening to the voices of people who have been affected. Here are a few. After that, take action, even if it’s a small donation of time or money. Due to recent events at the time of this piece, I recommend Showing Up for Racial Jusice (SURJ).

Just Random Chance?

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Jeremiah Traeger

One of the most common arguments (I won’t dignify it with calling it an apologetic) against atheism is, surprisingly, to rail against our existence under naturalism and mere physical laws as just a product of chance or an accident. The argument inevitably sounds something like, “How does an atheist find meaning in life? If all we are is just molecules and physical laws interacting, then we’re just here randomly! There’s no ultimate meaning if we’re all just an accident!” Of course, many, many, atheists have expressed how they find meaning and purpose in their life. It’s almost a cliché for atheists to have to answer this question, because the religious think our lives must be so pitiful and hopeless without a cosmic ruler of the universe for some reason. There’s even a whole book/film project by Chris Johnson dedicated entirely to this question for atheists. It’s safe to say that this question has been answered, and that we still find meaning and happiness, and can often find more than in our previously theistic worldviews. I’m not going to talk about that here.

I wanted to address the part of the argument that insists that under a naturalist worldview that, “we’re just here by chance, and that we’re an accident.” As someone who understands natural laws, probabilities, and statistics, the statement seems almost ludicrous to me on multiple levels, and trivial on other levels. The theists have tried to reduce a scientific perspective our existence as just being “up to chance”, yet even at a basic scientific level that claim is just nonsense.

On one level, we know that everything is due to chance. Quantum mechanics, for those who are unfamiliar, has shown us that at a fundamental level basic particles exist in the world of probability. They don’t behave the way we expect everyday objects to behave, sitting in one location unless acted upon by a force. Instead, they exist as a sort of “cloud of probability”, where an electron is 50% likely to be in one space and 50% likely to be in another. We also know that sometimes particles will “tunnel”, where they have a small probability of jumping from one location to another in a way that doesn’t make sense in classical “everyday” physics. It’s the equivalent of tossing a baseball into a concrete sheet and it ending up on the other side. This happens all the time in nature, and is why radioactive atoms decay despite the force inside the nucleus being so ridiculously strong. It happens to our DNA, giving us mutations in our genes every day. Everything is made up of these ångström and nanometer-sized particles at a basic fundamental level, so chance affects the universe and subsequently us whether or not there is a god to design the physical laws that create it.

On a slightly more everyday example, the laws of thermodynamics operate in this way too. Due to the quantum mechanics described above, atoms and molecules are always in a state of motion, constantly jiggling around and bumping into each other randomly. Even objects that appear to be sitting still have chemicals vibrating rapidly at the atomic and subatomic levels. The objects where the molecules are jiggling rapidly and at high energy are objects we call hot, and the ones with small vibrations are ones we call cold. The random behavior and subsequent vibrations actually describe a surprisingly large amount of the world we inhabit. It explains why we are able to suck air into our lungs by expanding them, since the random air molecules in the atmosphere will end up pushing each other into empty space by random collisions. It explains chemical reactions, since when molecules collide with high enough speed in random motion they are able to break and change chemical structure. It even explains why hot things heat up cold things, as the random movements of the molecules will cause the high-energy chemicals to transfer energy to low-energy chemicals. To illustrate this idea, imagine a box of atoms (pictured on the left), where all of the particles are on one side of the box. If all of the atoms are moving around at high speed in random directions and colliding into each other, it’s easy to see that they will eventually spread out evenly as shown on the right. This random thermal motion of things bumping into each other has a profound effect on us biologically, chemically, and physically. It would take a graduate-level thermodynamics class to explain this to a lay person, but these processes explain so many phenomena in our life, from the function of cells in our body to the wind outside.

Spreading molecules

[Image: a box of molecules starts with all molecules on one side, where the second box shows that they have spread out]

Random motion and chaos is everywhere as part of the world. Even Biblical literalists will have to accept this fundamental science theory, as so many fields of science rely on it. Creationists, likely unknowingly, rely on the truth of this behavior whenever they invoke the Second Law of Thermodynamics to try and refute evolution or abiogenesis. It’s safe to assume that any knowledgeable Christian would have to accept that this random motion and behavior is there. In this sense, everyone can accept that “mere chance” is an inextricable part of the universe. It creates things that are trivially true: the rain, the sunlight, the distribution of flora across the planet, etc. and it’s not very difficult to describe how it works. In this sense, stating that the atheists’ view of the universe is “just chance” is equivalent to saying that the atheists’ world is “just one where people breathe oxygen” or “just one where people sit on chairs”. It’s obvious and tells us nothing new about the universe, and this aspect of the universe does not differ from the Christian worldview anyway.

There is another way that stating that the universe is “just up to chance” doesn’t really make any sense. As we’ve established, everything is up to chance, but “chance” means a lot of things. It doesn’t just mean that all things are equally likely. There’s a chance that tomorrow I will get struck by lightning and killed. There’s also a chance that that won’t happen. The chance that I won’t is higher than 99.9999% but it is still up to chance. Nothing is guaranteed in the universe, which is another way of saying that absolute certainty is unattainable. I can’t even absolutely guarantee as I type this that I will be sitting here one second from now.

This is not to nitpick at words, since at some point we have a high enough certainty to say we “know” something will happen. It’s to illustrate strongly that not all things “up to chance” are up to the same trivial probability. There are lots of things in nature that govern whether things are more likely or not. The factors that go into these are all the physical laws of the universe and the way the universe is arranged as the matter and energy interacts. For example, we know that electrons are attracted to the positive charge of the atomic nucleus. If an electron flies towards a nucleus, they are more likely to collide than two neutral particles, since the attractive charge causes the two to be attractive to each other. This changes the probability of an event occurring, all due to the presence of a physical law. It wasn’t just chance that caused the two to collide, it was the way the universe works!

When creationists talk about chance, they are likely referring to abiogenesis or evolution (the same thing according to many of them), and both of these are consequences of natural laws shifting the probabilities in our favor. Let’s talk about abiogenesis for a bit. One component of abiogenesis is the formation of the cell wall, which is composed of lipids. Lipids are fatty molecules, where one part of the molecule is attracted to water (hydrophilic) and another part is water-repellant (hydrophobic). In the primordial Earth, when pre-biological chemicals were floating around ancient shorelines, the lipids were likely to be floating around like any other molecule, just as randomly as the atoms in the box from above. However, when two lipids interact, the hydrophobic ends of both of the molecules attract each other, until two lipids stick together. The two lipids will likely attract a third lipid, until they aggregate more and more. This process continues until a bunch of lipids “randomly” interact, but end up forming a wall where the hydrophilic parts interact with the water while the hydrophobic parts are comfortable on the inside. This creates a sort of bubble called a “vesicle”, which becomes the basis for the actual cell. This random process occurred “all by chance”, yet led to a structure guided by physical laws. For more talk on the probability of protein and RNA sequences forming for abiogenesis, I recommend this TalkOrigins page.

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CC: Wikipedia [Image: a vesicle comprised of lipids, illustrating hydrophilic heads on the outer walls and hydrophobic tails on the inner walls]

Evolution describes how humans got here in a different way. Of course, there are two parts to evolution: random mutation and selection, and we got here after a long, long, long, looooooong string of repetitions of these two parts from an uncountable amount of generations. Each generation led to slight changes in DNA sequences, almost unnoticeable from one organism to the next, and every generation had predators and/or environmental pressures that were more likely to prevent the ones outside of our evolutionary chain from reproducing. If it seems so improbable that so many trials of randomly altering gene sequences would somehow end up to form us naked primates today, that’s because it is. The probability that the actual sequences that would be altered would slowly but surely approximate our own genome, and the environmental pressures (including mass extinction events) were right enough to push the “fit” organisms into our direction is astronomically low. Yet here we are? Why? Because it had to lead somewhere. Assuming there’s at least some life on Earth, evolution will continue to change the organisms over time. Even though the probability of any given genetic sequence in particular is unlikely, the probability of any sequence is inevitable. Just like you have less than a one in a million chance of winning the lottery, eventually some person will win. In the lottery of random mutation and selection, we are currently one of the winners, along with our other species currently alive today. We’re here despite odds astronomically lower than any lottery we will ever set up. If that isn’t inspiring and meaningful, I know very few things that are.

Ultimately, the claim that under the naturalist worldview we are just some cosmic accident is an appeal to emotion, with the goal to make us feel worthless or hopeless despite not actually providing any evidence of a god’s existence. This is a cold, calculated response to an emotional argument, showing that there’s so much to unpack when someone gives the offhanded comment of our existence being merely “just chance”. We are a product of chance, but we’re also a product of the way the universe functions, and we’re a product of a sea of quadrillions of quadrillions of molecules on billions of planets on billions of stars in practically infinite galaxy. We’re here because of how large numbers work, and because of how basic rules about how matter functions shape the way nature behaves. Even from a worldview that only considers natural non-supernatural behaviors, we are chance, but also so much more.

No, Christianmingle Was Definitely in the Wrong: A Response to David Smalley

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Jeremiah Traeger

It’s a noble goal to have consistent principles and ethics such that you can defend people when they are wronged even when they’re not “on your side”. I genuinely think David Smalley is trying to do this in his latest piece, “Pro Gay Atheist Sides With Christian Mingle“. I like that David Smalley is trying to find a reasonable place to draw a good place for the line, as there will have to be a line somewhere. My objection is not that we can never defend Christians when they are wronged. It’s pretty reasonable that they will be legally wronged at least some of the time despite currently being the overwhelming majority of the country. My objection is that this case doesn’t cross the line of the Christians being victims.

For one, the case was an out of court settlement, not a legal ruling. It was voluntary, not court ruled. The legal specifics are things I can’t comment on in-depth, but this had nothing to do with a court forcing Christian Mingle to do something. That’s about as much as I can say about that.

So for now, I’m going to set aside what the law is and focus on what the law should be. Strangely enough, I think both David and I agree that businesses should be able to turn customers away at some point. But we apparently disagree what point that is, and the point of disagreement lies alongside the LGBTQ movement, where both David and I continue to push against discrimination. The fight for LGBTQ equality is far from over. We just hit the first anniversary of marriage equality, but there’s still a ton of work to be done.  Businesses will continue to discriminate against gay couples, and we still need to push against that. I don’t think we are close to being at the point where Christians being truly wronged is a significant problem, but that is still worth discussing.

Non discrimination means you shouldn’t discriminate based on the customers. When you sell product A, then everyone should have access to product A. Strangely, the battle for discrimination against gay couples has been over wedding cakes, but since that’s where the battle is we should discuss it. Multiple Christian bakeries have cried and cried about having to provide wedding cakes for gay weddings, often stating that by providing a cake they are “participating in” or “endorsing” anti-Christian behavior. Contrast this to Azucar Bakery, who refused to provide a cake with an anti-gay message on it to a customer. I am enthusiastically in support of the latter, both legally and morally. Isn’t this a double standard on my part?

No, it is not. Azucar Bakery did everything they should have legally been required to do, because they still provided their service towards the bigoted customer just like they would with any other customer. The product the bakery provided is a cake (apparently a generic one), and they are capable of providing that cake to anyone. Not only did they provide the cake, they provided the customer with icing to write any message he wanted on the cake, because they are not obligated to create a message they don’t stand behind. Azucar makes cakes, and if I want any of the ones they have on display, I should be able to buy the ones they provide, no questions asked. It doesn’t matter if I’m queer, Muslim, disabled, pregnant, or otherwise. But the product they provide does not necessarily include one of their cakes with any message you want. At some point, there’s a degree of personalization for some services and products that a private business should not be forced to accommodate, since forcing someone to promote or state a message that they don’t personally believe essentially amounts to violating someone’s free speech.

David brings up his personal experience turning down voiceover work for famous televangelist Benny Hinn. I thoroughly understand why David does not want to provide services for a man using his voice to exploit and spread falsehoods to the general public. He has brought up this experience many times on his show. The thing is, I agree with him, I think he should have the right to turn Benny Hinn down. I find it far more analogous to Azucar bakery than any of the Christian bakeries that flat-out refused to provide any cake whatsoever.

For those unfamiliar, David Smalley does voice over work for audiobooks. He provides a service for others, and at the time Benny Hinn approached him he was the head of an audiobook company dedicated to spreading secular and educational messages (the company has since been acquired by Pitchstone Publishing). But when he and his company provide a service, it is not the same service every time. When David reads “God: The Failed Hypothesis” by Vic Stenger, he is not promoting essentially the same message as “Fear of Physics” by Lawrence Krauss. There is a degree of personal and artistic work involved, all of which boils down to free speech. To state that David should be forced to do work for Benny Hinn is like stating that the bakery should have to write “God Hates Fags” on their cake, or that I should be able to forcefully commission an artist to paint me a swastika on a canvas. This isn’t turning away a customer, this is stating that there are some particular services that won’t be provided. It discriminates on the service, not the customer.

David has brought up this example many times on his podcast. One time that stood out to me was when he had Phil Ferguson live and on stage with him. Phil runs a private financial advising company, and discussed how he turns away clients on occasion. He doesn’t cite “because they’re Christian”, he cites when the client wishes him to do something counter to a philosophy of evidence-based investing, such as when a client wants to invest in gold. This appears to be the same type of action that David would take, and that’s ok! Phil Ferguson does not provide “service A” to every client. Every client is different and requires personalized work to make sure that their investments are in the best state possible, and Phil’s job is not to do whatever his client tells him.

At this point I’ve barely provided any information about the actual case this is over, christianmingle.com. They only provided two options on their site, “men interested in women” and “women interested in men”. There’s a lot of problems with this. Not only does it discriminate against gay people, but it completely erases nonbinary identifying people. Society already has a lot of catching up to do in the latter’s case, so I’ll leave it be. Under the model discussed here of what is proper discrimination and what isn’t, we have to look at the service provided. All they provide is a service for allowing people to meet up, and that’s it. Their “product A”, is a location to meet up with other singles. Whether it is between a gay or a straight couple doesn’t change what the product is. The service that christianmingle.com provided is exactly the same. Under the Christian worldview there may be a difference between a gay and a straight couple, but the Christian worldview is also apparently such that birth control is abortion. Hopefully I don’t need to address why kowtowing to any “sincerely held religious belief” is harmful for us, so I won’t go into why we shouldn’t consider that.

In order to look at ChristianMingle’s discrimination, I actually signed up for an account (my first online dating profile, woot!). I wanted to see who they actually let in and let out, and who they banned, since David brought up other websites that provided specialized online dating. Imagine my surprise when I looked in the FAQ to find this:

Christianmingle

“Do you allow non-Christians to join?

We are a community built to serve the unique needs of the Christian community. As such, our aim is to provide a place for people to connect based on shared faith and values. Anyone can join. We encourage our members to provide an accurate picture of their commitment to the Christian faith in order to create compatible matches. We provide several key ways for our members to communicate their faith online. Once you connect, it’s important to take the time to learn more about your potential match offline and in person to truly confirm that he or she is right for you.

So ChristianMingle actually doesn’t discriminate against non-Christians. And I think this should be the case for any other dating website. What ChristianMingle does is not to ban certain people, but it sets up a space conducive to meeting people of similar worldviews. When signing up, the closest things to “discriminating against atheists” I saw was asking my denomination (other) and how often I went to church (I picked “on special occasions” since I will go for weddings, funerals, and usually mass when I’m at my parents’ for Christmas). This isn’t discrimination, since it provides the same service to everyone. Furthermore, they create their atmosphere of accommodation specifically for Christians, even though other people could hypothetically do it too. They cultivate a setting such that nobody else would really want to be involved. They do this by setting up matching algorithms based on Christian denomination, smearing Bible Verses everywhere, and providing a setting where if you find a match, they are likely to only be Christian.

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*barf* [Description: Question of the week, what is the best gift you ever received? Responses include, “A Bible”, “Holy Spirit”, and “Some one cooking for me and a hug”.

By setting up this atmosphere, they aren’t discriminating, they are providing a service in the way they see fit. Only Christians are likely to join due to the type of service they provide (and LGBTQ folks as well), but discriminating based on orientation doesn’t change the type of service they provide whatsoever. If I have a leftist bookstore, I am not discriminating by having posters of Bernie Sanders all over the place and rainbow flags everywhere. I am also not discriminating by only providing certain books from being available. Right-leaning people aren’t likely to frequent the place, but that doesn’t mean they’re banned. They’ll just get funny looks once they walk in wearing the Confederate Flag. But if I prevent Republicans from coming in the door, then I definitely am discriminating.

Of course, ChristianMingle is allowed to kick people out. They too have a harassment policy, and are able to kick people out based on abusive behavior. Again, this seems consistent towards what progressives appear to be fighting for regarding non-discrimination. Businesses have a right to refuse service to anyone based on behavior (No shirt, no shoes, no service), but refusing service based on identity is discrimination.

One of David’s hypotheticals is one I find completely baffling and  non-analogous.

According to this logic, a judge would be able to rule that “Secular Media Group discriminates based on religion, by not offering podcasts or books for potential Christian, Muslim, or Jewish customers” thereby forcing me, by way of a judge’s ruling, to begin offering religious-based materials so that potential religious customers aren’t offended by what I don’t offer.

I think this thoroughly misses the point by focusing on the products that Secular Media Group (SMG) provides. Of course SMG only provides atheist, secular, and educational material. Nobody is entitled to SMG’s platform. And trying to force SMG to act otherwise would infringe on our free speech and freedom of religion rights. A better analogy would be focusing on the consumers of SMG products. David Smalley doesn’t get to decide who buys books from the group, or who gets to listen to the podcasts (I know it would be impossible to enforce that, but we have to look at this for the sake of example). Similarly, ChristianMingle doesn’t get to decide who uses their website. They do, however, have the freedom to decide the type of service they provide and how they go about doing it.

I really should end this post by stating that David has actually already changed my mind about this since discussing this on Dogma Debate long ago. His example of Benny Hinn made me re-evaluate how I thought about this. Previously, I would have stated that a baker should have had to make a wedding cake with the message “Congratulations Bobby and David”, but I no longer think they should have to provide any message. Now I have a better idea of where I stand, and I credit David for that. That being said, I’m still not on his side entirely. If a bakery provides a cake that they will sell, they shouldn’t be able to decide that it can’t go to a specific person or group. The moment the customer asks for a specific message on that cake or some artistic work, however, the bakery should be fully capable of doing their art and using their skills in a way that spreads a message they are ok with, or else decline that service to the customer. That’s not discrimination, since they are not refusing a “God Hates Fags” cake because of the person, but because of the product that they will not provide. I have no cognitive dissonance about that whatsoever, because I am able to separate who the product is for from the service provided. ChristianMingle attacked the who. Now that has changed, and we should be happy about that.

Hopefully I’ve made my case. Now that that’s over with I’m gonna see how street epistemology works as a first date.

 

7 Arguments Against Atheism that are Bad and You Should Feel Bad About Using

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Jeremiah Traeger

There are some theological arguments that have a lot of nested assumptions, a lot to pick apart, and therefore a lot to discuss such that they can take entire blog posts and books about. And then there are arguments that barely deserve a mention, arguments that are so vapid that I don’t care to waste any more time than they deserve. I’ve been seeing a lot of them lately. They’re not that interesting and don’t require a long drawn out post tearing apart every little detail, so I thought I’d hit a few out of the way so I don’t have to really deal with them in the future. Besides, the bossman Bobby C says I’ve been using too many big words and he needs something more digestible. A few bite-sized nuggets are a perfect way to knock a few easy ones out of the park, and listicles are always the most fun, right?

 

  1. Atheism says X

 

Atheism doesn’t say anything.  Atheism isn’t even really a thing, it is a non-thing. Atheism is the non-belief in gods. It’s not a belief system; therefore atheism can’t be true or false. There are some atheists that do claim, “God doesn’t exist” or, “There is no god,” but they are simply atheists, they are not practicing atheism. They are just as much an atheist as the person who states, “It’s possible that a god exists, but I don’t have a reason to believe so I don’t.” It’s a fairly useless label, but I think the reason so many of us claim to fall under its banner is not because it means so much, but because so many people do believe in gods and the actions that they carry out on behalf of their beliefs create harm. Since we aren’t tied to certain beliefs that don’t have good evidential support, it makes sense that we work collectively against those unfounded beliefs. If stamp collectors made up 70% of the US population, taught children that evolution was false, and collectively campaigned against masturbating as a result of their hobby, it would be sensible for non-stamp collectors across the country to fight against them regardless of how useless not collecting stamps is as a descriptor of a person. So if you are basing your argument on “atheism says…” then you are certainly constructing a strawman no matter where you go with it.

 

  1. You don’t KNOW X

 

This is an argument that could have some ties to semantics and definitions, which usually makes me exhausted for reasons. But the context I usually see it in is an appeal to absolute certainty. Theists occasionally claim to have the upper hand because they claim they have access to absolute certainty, even though I see no reason how absolute certainty is possibly attainable.

 

The situation will usually go like this: In an attempt to give a scientific explanation for a phenomenon, one person will bring up some scientific evidence. For example, “We know the age of the Earth is about 4.54 billion years due to radiometric dating”. At this point, the theist will state “But you can’t know that the Earth is that old, you could be wrong.” The latter half of the sentence is technically correct. Every experiment testing radioactive decay rates could have had an unseen flaw in them, or the overwhelming number of meteorite, lunar, or Earth rock samples could have been bad, or if I’m gonna go way off the deep end I could just be a brain in a vat. These are reasons why I’m not absolutely certain that the Earth is that old, but absolute certainty isn’t our yardstick for knowledge. In fact, not even the scientists claim absolute knowledge, as there’s around a 1% error on this, meaning there’s about a 99% certainty that the age is between 4.49 and 4.59 billion years old. Yet we are still capable of saying that we know the age of the Earth, since we have a really good degree of support for our claim. This goes for pretty much anything. We know that when we drop a glass, it will fall down. Even though our entire life experience tells us that it will happen and we even have the science nailed down detailing why it will happen, there’s a small, negligible 0.00001% chance it won’t in the back of our mind, and that’s perfectly fine!

 

  1. That’s just your opinion!

 

To be fair, I see this everywhere, not just in theological arguments. But it’s a perfectly inane, useless argument that doesn’t require much to address, so this place is as good as any to put it somewhere. I’ll make sure to frame it in a theistic context so I don’t do atheism wrong.

 

Of course there are things that are completely up to opinion and subjective, like what ice cream flavor is the best or what musicians are terrible (except for Nickleback, that’s a given). This is not what I am discussing. There are broad, sweeping opinions that can also be supported through evidence and reasoning. I am of the opinion that the Bible is a deeply misogynistic book entrenched in harmful, patriarchal gender roles. I also know that there are many who don’t hold that opinion. But I don’t hold the opinion just for the hell of it; I can support it by pointing out a multitude of verses and the logical conclusions that church leaders use to enforce these gender roles. To say that it’s just my opinion is really to claim that something is entirely subjective and can’t be supported by evidence or reason. Obviously, this is silly because there are multiple reasons why I can make that claim. It’s also silly, because for even subjective opinions I can explain why I like things. Film critics are able to explain why The Phantom Menace is such a piece of crap and Citizen Kane is a masterpiece. To say that it’s “just the film critics’ opinion” is such a useless counterargument that it doesn’t really need addressing, so it should make even less sense for a claim for which I do have some support. Saying that something is “just your opinion” adds nothing to the conversation.

 

This goes for pretty much anything, including ethics, standards of evidence, and whether I should get an Android or an iPhone. We are all judges of the world around us, and each of us individually assesses how the world behaves and comes to our own conclusions. When I say, “There’s no good evidence for any gods” I mean that in the sense that I personally have yet to see any good evidence. When I say that the Bible is morally wrong because it condones beating slaves, it’s because I have assessed it that way. I don’t have to claim I have the moral high ground over everyone else to make that claim, nor do I have to promote myself of supreme judge of the Earth to make that statement. We are both able to assess the world and come to our own conclusions, so reducing my statements to just my opinion is so trivial it tells nobody anything.

 

  1. Look at the trees!

 

Next.

 

  1. You don’t want there to be a god!

At its best, this is a claim that we are engaged in confirmation bias looking for facts to support the idea that we don’t want there to be a cosmic dictator ruling our lives and judging us. At worst, it’s ridiculously poorly thought out argument that’s completely untestable. For one thing, there’s no way to test whether or not any individual wants a god to exist. To claim to know what we want is to claim that you can read our mind, and evidentially useless. Sure, prominent secular leaders like Hitchens have stated that they don’t want there to be a god, but there are plenty of atheists who are more reluctant, including ex-pastors Ryan Bell or Theresa McBain. Missing a god isn’t a universal atheist experience, but it’s common enough to be worth addressing.

 

The other point is that it doesn’t get anywhere. I don’t like that one day I’m going to die. I don’t like that the temperature of the Earth is increasing at an accelerated rate. I don’t like that entropy inevitably means we lose useful energy and we’ll die out. I don’t like that children die of leukemia. But these are all realities, and I accept them as realities. Not wanting them to exist doesn’t put me in denial and cause me campaign against people who accept them as true. Why would this be the case for the theism question? Some of these problems are inevitable, some of them may be solvable, but denying their existence does nothing. If I don’t want there to be a god, arguing against theists is a pretty poor way of going about it.

 

  1. X happened to me!

 

This is one that deserves little discussion because it’s something I can’t really address. How am I supposed to verify what happened to you? I don’t have to take any given experience from you as an accurate account, and I don’t even have to think that you’re lying to think any experience you’ve had is inaccurate. We know that a variety of psychological phenomena can cause us to experience things that aren’t there. We also know that human memory is incredibly unreliable, and gets worse and worse as time goes on. I have a very clear memory as a child of watching a man disappear in a window at Halloween. It’s incredibly vivid, yet I have no good reason to think something supernatural occurred. Was my imagination running away with me at the time? Has my memory of the event over a decade shifted? Could I have perceived a perfectly natural occurrence, such as lights dimming in a dark room giving the illusion that a person disappeared? We know all of these have happened and been verified in human history, but we have never verified a person disappearing before the eyes. My money is on one of the first three.

 

  1. Aren’t you sad?

 

The short answer is no, I’m not sad. I could get into all the touchy-feely reasons why I’m happy to have the privilege of having this short life to live and that experiencing everything in a naturalistic universe is actually quite fulfilling. But that requires effort and I’m not very skilled at the inspiring bullshit. Watch Pale Blue Dot again for the thousandth time or something if you want that shit.

 

The reason that this is bad against atheism is it says nothing about atheism. Even if you found that atheists were sad, anxious, or depressed, it would still say nothing about the existence of a god. If you could verify that believers were 100% more likely to live happier lives, it doesn’t mean that what they believe is real. The kind of world that could give us warm fuzzies has no bearing on whether or not that is reality. A lot of people may say the reason they believe that there is a god is that they believe something is out there, and they feel that there is a purpose for them. If that makes them feel happy that’s perfectly fine, but it doesn’t give me any reason to think it’s valid at all. There’s really hardly anything to say about this other than that it’s based in flawed epistemology.

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