FTF1 JT Eberhard – Why the Arguments for God Fail

This entry is a  recap and review of JT Eberhard’s Freethought Festival 2012 presentation as observed by me as an audience member. Shitty writing or misinterpretation of the presenter’s material is completely my fault. If you see any egregious errors or you think I got something wrong, please let me know in the comments or feel free to email me at bio_dork(at)hotmail(dot)com.  

With a level of maturity rarely seen in presentations refuting the existence of God, JT Eberhard from What Would JT Do? presented somber, respectful counter-arguments to claims often made by proponents of religion:

Edit: Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! JT just pointed out that this slide is actually from PZ Myers’ presentation. But it fits so perfectly here, so just pretend okay? It’ll make another appearance when I blog about PZ’s talk. It’s going to do double work. Because it’s awesome. And who doesn’t want to see God tweaking Eve’s nipple again? Not me, I’m telling you that.

NOT.

The claims made by proponents of religion are often ridiculous and offensive, and one of the ways to address them is to laugh at them and call them out, demand that we see them for how stupid they can be. JT does this well.

JT opened his talk by telling us that while the arguments for god’s existence suck, we suck at talking about god and at answering those bad arguments. We have complex arguments for our non-belief, and believers have convoluted justifications for their beliefs. JT points out that while these discussions and debates can be difficult, we must have them, because god is used to justify some really bad behavior.

He told the story of Madeline Neuman, a young child who was prayed to death. She had Type II diabetes. We know how to treat type II diabetes. Unfortunately her parents – who undoubtedly loved her very much – had a bad idea about how the universe worked.

He addressed the critics who say “Why argue? We never get anywhere” and called BULLSHIT. JT had everyone in the room who had one point been religious, but were now freethinkers, to raise their hand. There were a lot of raised hands. Then he asked people to leave their hands up if they had been influenced by a book, conversations, online interactions, discussions of religion, atheism, or doubt. There were still a lot of raised hands. Talking about the arguments against gods works.

We need to have these arguments, even though believers are going to try to throw a lot of sand in our eyes. JT listed some of the tricks that people use to get us to not discuss religion:

You’re not respecting my beliefs! No we’re not, and it’s okay to be upfront about that. Respect is not synonymous with placating people. Tell people what you think. This reminded me of a related point that was made in Ophelia Benson’s article yesterday, in which she points out that a Christian is not Christianity. As she says, “People don’t get to consider themselves identical to an organization or institution so that they can consider themselves attacked when the org or inst is criticized.”

Misdirection. Changing the topic, turning the questions back on you, telling you what they believe instead of why they believe, suggesting that god is plausible so why not. JT’s response: Pay attention, demand the answers to the questions you ask, not the ones they want to answer. Stay on target!

Can’t we agree to disagree? JT suggests a brief answer: No.

In the last part of his talk, JT brings up some of the defenses you’re likely to get from apologists or believers. I’m going to sum them up quickly here.

Atheists are meanies. So what? Being mean doesn’t make us wrong, and it doesn’t make them right.

Science can’t explain xyz. No, it hasn’t yet explained it. Also it doesn’t mean that the explanation is God.

You can’t prove god doesn’t exists. You can’t prove smurfs don’t exist. JT had a fun argument for this.

Believer: You can’t prove that god doesn’t exist.

JT: You’re a thief. You take things from people. You should stop that shit.

Believer: *sputters* No I’m not!

JT: Prove it.

Believer: You don’t have any evidence for…ohhh.

JT was right to point out that this one dialogue isn’t going to instantly make someone stop believing in god, but it might get them to think about their belief in a different way.

The Bible and science are compatible. Nope, not really. At all. Scientists and historians have problems with all sorts of stories in the Bible.

There are scientists who are religious! But they’re not scientists about the stuff they’re claiming. They don’t have any peer-review about their claims. And innovative, productive scientists who are respected in their fields often leave their religion at the door when they’re conducting their work because science doesn’t require religion to function.

Historical evidence for God or Jesus? Nope. Also, even if we do run across some historical accuracy in the Bible, it doesn’t prove that the god claims or other untestable stories are true.

I feel god. – I believe you. But other people have these same feelings when praying to different gods. And we’re easily fooled. Learn magic to demonstrate how easy it is to fool each other. What makes more sense – that our feeling indicate that there is a god, or that we are having strong emotions that we’re calling god?

And a few final arguments: God works in mysterious ways. God’s thinking is, like, so beyond ours, man. You can’t judge god by human standards. JT responds that these are not evidence, they’re excuses.

JT’s talk was fast-paced, passionate, often times humorous and very well-presented. He managed to fit a lot of ideas (and 66 powerpoint slides) into a very short amount of time. Thanks for speaking at Freethought Festival 2012, JT!

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FTF1 JT Eberhard – Why the Arguments for God Fail
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432 thoughts on “FTF1 JT Eberhard – Why the Arguments for God Fail

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    Great summary. And like you said, these responses are not going to instantly convert anyone. The advantage we have (if we do our homework) is that we have a complete argument that holds together to back up our one-liners. If you go too deep too quickly into those arguments, you can lose simply by losing their attention. If you can get your point across quickly, like JT did, then you can do the dance of figuring out what they are prepared to hear and watching for active listening as you respect their need to talk too.

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    I don’t think we want to instantly convert everyone; that’s what religion wants, because they want a “flock” – sheep. I would rather see someone shake their head, but go home and not be able to forget the argument. Then, they start reading, and thinking, and finally come to a conclusion based on critical study. That’s how I got there, and I think many others, as well.

    Instant atheism? Please…that isn’t good. And all these studies about whether arguments convince anyone are done in an instantaneous mode – did the (one) argument convince someone at that time, rather than did the force of many discussions convince someone over a long period of time, following a course of critical study. This is what we want, not “revelation” or “conversion” to no-god. This makes better, more informed atheists, rather than just another flock of sheep.

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