Fun stuff

The site of the book of the sites, The Internet, now in handy book form, is good fun. Crackbook and Poormatch are particularly well observed. It reminded me of TV Go Home, but a little less bitter and scatological (only a little, mind you).

Quotable quotes of the week:

“… any time anyone’s said anything comprehensible about the Trinity the Church has declared it a heresy.” – gjm11 on a Rilstone post created specifically for him.

“The universe tends toward maximum irony. Don’t push it.” – jwz on taking reliable backups (which is much harder on a Mac than it ought to be).

“All those fine words about the rule of law safeguarding our liberties, the arbitrary exercise of power and Bunker Hill, Lexington and Normandy went right out the window on 9/11. That was when Henry and the rest of his stalwart defenders of the rule of law promptly wet their pants and then let their president use the constitution to clean up the puddle.” – Digby, via a friend of a friend.


There’s an option that I might have considered instead of apostasy. Unfortunately, in those conservative days, you couldn’t really do that sort of thing. These days, if LiveJournal is anything to go by, it’s all the rage. A woman tells us how she’s in an open relationship with Jesus.

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Fresh new Rilstone, while it’s hot, they’re luverly

Andrew Rilstone has posted some more in his Sceptics Guide to Richard Dawkins. There’s a critique of Dawkins’s response to people who complain that he doesn’t know any theology, and another criticising Dawkins’s claim that “You shall not kill” was only ever understood to refer to fellow Jews.

atreic has a small discussion about it. gjm11 has commented on Rilstone’s blog, and, not very surprisingly, I think we’re in agreement on this. As I said in a previous entry on Rilstone’s earlier entries in his Guide, I don’t think he’s answered Dawkins’s best arguments.

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Attention stalkers!

pw201_links is a LiveJournal feed of my bookmarks on del.ico.us. If you want to see stuff I’m looking at but haven’t yet bothered to write a proper post about, you can befriend it (it’s not equivalent to adding pw201 as a friend, it’s a separate thing which I set up but I don’t control directly, see below). It’ll be composed of equal parts religion stuff, technical stuff (security is a special interest at the moment, but that’ll vary with time), and random internet bollocks. There’ll probably a few posts a day at peak times, but usually one per day or less.

Exposition: pw201_links is what LiveJournal calls a syndicated account. There are lots of these on LJ, as paying users can create them from the feeds exported by other websites and then read those feeds on their friends page. I tend to read these feeds in Bloglines and keep my LJ friends list for people and communities who are actually on LJ; if you do that but want to spy on me anyway, add the RSS feed to your feed reader.

You can make comments on the postings on a syndicated account, but I won’t get notifications about them so probably won’t read them, and they’ll be deleted as postings fall off the bottom of the feed.

While we’re on the subject of syndicated accounts: sumanah, I tried to respond to your email the other say and got a bounce with the error code “553 5.3.0 sPoOf”. I’m not sure what that’s about, but it looks like I’m hitting a spam filter of some sort.

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A peach / looks good / with lots of fuzz / but man’s no peach / and never was

robhu linked to a post on convert_me in which pooperman realises he’s an atheist after reading Dawkins, Dennett and Harris. There’s some interesting reflection on the origins of scriptural literalism, which is related to the stuff about science and truth in my last post. pooperman writes:

Basically, Harris’ has ceded–on behalf of religion, apparently–the hermeneutic of scripture to the fundamentalists. What Harris fails to understand is the scriptural basis for a more-moderate and more-metaphorical (as well as through the changing lens of historical contexts) interpretation of much of scripture. Also, Harris presumes that the literal approach to scripture is more-primitive, more-fundamental–that the “first” believers in these ancient religions understood and interpreted the texts in a straightforward and unquestioningly literal way.

There is a good chance, IMO, that Harris has this completely backwards. It is entirely possible that religious moderation is more primitive, and that literalism is a more modern corruption of religion–a corruption from the outside, not from within. What is the source of this corruption? It is reasonable to suggest that the rise of science and the increasing rhetorical value of the “objectively true” that science (and, more to the point, engineering) has infected the religious mindset and caused some of the religious to prematurely devalue the indirect truths and insights of a beautifully-complex metaphorical image and to seek to replace these images as images with a direct, parsimonious, and straightforward representation of Truth, without sacrificing the images themselves. The literalists have, I think, slit their spiritual wrists with Ockham’s razor.


I’ve often heard that evangelicalism is a modern heresy, but I’ve never seen the historical evidence for it. Does anyone have any references for that idea?

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The Origin of Apostasy in the Breakdown of the Evangelical Mind

Evangelicals like to quote scary (to them) statistics about how many teenage Christians will “fall away” (Christian jargon for leaving the faith) on going to university, or how many student Christians will no longer be Christians 5 or 10 years later.

P Z Myers over at Pharyngula pointed to a recent press release from US evangelicals who were worried about their teenagers going astray, quoting surveys which said over 50% would fall away at university. It’s not clear who did the surveys, so atheists should probably find that out before joining Myers in jumping for joy. As one of the commenters at Pharyngula says, moral panic is a great way to raise funds for your organisation.

When I was a lad, CICCU liked to quote similarly hopeful surveys about the perseverance of their graduates. In an old post of mine you can see my notes from a leavers’ talk given by the students’ curate at my old church. She quoted a UCCF survey which gave an attrition rate of over 50% after 5 years. It turns out that UCCF have never heard of such a survey. The link to the UCCF web forum where they said this is now defunct (presumably as part of the UCCF’s goal of ruthlessly suppressing open discussion), but you can see what Dave Bish, one of their staff workers, has to say about it. As well as saying there is no such survery, he writes that Christians should be careful of the post-hoc fallacy if they are tempted to blame university Christian Unions for their apostates. After saying that, he replies to a comment saying that someone should get some real statistics (which must include appropriate controls for non-CU Christians, and non-Christians, I think) by saying that such statistics are irrelevant because God has already told us in the Bible what causes people to fall away. Phew! I’m glad we sorted that one out.

Back here in the reality-based community, though, I’d be very interested in the results of such a survey. I know lots of people like me, and another LJer has said that “to say that I keep stumbling upon people with similar experiences is an understatement”. But the plural of anecdote is not data. Such a survey wouldn’t prove anything about the truth or otherwise of Christianity, of course, but that’s not why it’s interesting.

The discussion on Pharyngula turned up something which struck a chord with me. In the past, when talking about other post-university ex-evangelicals, many of whom studied science, I’ve spoken about them as seeing evangelicalism as a spiritual analogue of science. Is it science students that fall into evangelicalism and then fall out again? Perhaps that’s a bit too simple. A commenter on Myer’s posting quotes The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer, a free book about the state of politics in the USA. Chapter 4 discusses evangelicalism. The author writes about ex-evangelical apostates, and completely nails it:

What then gnawed away so mercilessly at the apostates that they could no longer overpower doubt with faith?

Their families will say it was Satan. But we thought, after interviewing dozens of “amazing apostates,” that (most ironically) their religious training had made them leave. Their church had told them it was God’s true religion. That’s what made it so right, so much better than all the others. It had the truth, it spoke the truth, it was The Truth. But that emphasis can create in some people a tremendous valuing of truth per se, especially among highly intelligent youth who have been rewarded all their lives for getting “the right answer.” So if the religion itself begins making less and less sense, it fails by the very criterion that it set up to show its superiority.

Similarly, pretending to believe the unbelievable violated the integrity that had brought praise to the amazing apostates as children. Their consciences, thoroughly developed by their upbringing, made it hard for them to bear false witness. So again they were essentially trapped by their religious training. It had worked too well for them to stay in the home religion, given the problems they saw with it.



The truth will make you free, as someone once said.

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