Bring on the crocoducks
Remember Ray Comfort, of Crocoduck fame? Tony Miano, Comfort’s vicar on Earth, made a blog posting in which he argued that the Clergy Project (which tries to help ministers of religion who’ve become closet atheists) was doing the church a favour by ridding it of people who were never Christians in the first place. He also mentioned that atheists know there’s a God really (see previous discussion).
This attracted the attention of the Dawkins massive, mainly because they thought it was written by their arch-enemy Comfort himself, so it got quite a few comments. There was some good stuff. An ex-Christian called The Skeptical Magician had a go at beating the fundies at their own game, arguing from the Bible that he was a real Christian (someone who believes Jesus was the Son of God who rose from the dead) who changed his mind. I stuck my oar in, pointing out that if Miano is right, we can’t know someone’s a Christian until they die. Is Tony Miano a Christian? Well, we’ll have to wait and see, by his definition.
Had the Magician merely said that he was a believer, the first responses from Christians would have been “it’s easy to say you’re a believer, but that doesn’t make you one”. So he gave examples of doing things he would likely do only if he were truly a believer (faith without deeds being dead, as James tells us). He got replies telling him that his faith had been all about “doing” rather than “believing”, therefore his actions were evidence against him being a believer. This is cheating of the “heads I win/tails you lose” sort, as any Bayesian could tell you.
Some presuppositionalists commented, including my old mate the Internet-famous Sye Ten Bruggencate, who invented the Proof That God Exists (Danger! Atheists, don’t click that link!) Presuppositionalists start out sounding as if they might be fun, in a “late night conversation with philosophy students” sort of way: they like to ask for “accounts” of stuff that most people take, if not as a brute fact, then as a reasonable starting point (the evidence of our senses, memory, logic, belief in the sun rising tomorrow and so on). This might lead to an interesting philosophical discussion, but they spoil it all by applying radical scepticism to all views other than their own, which is cheating. If you read their literature, the reason for this is that they’re not interested in a discussion where both parties might modify their views, they just want to force their opponent “below the line of despair” so they’ll turn to Christianity. It’s fun to ask what an “account” would have to look like to satisfy them, and how they “account” for God’s unchangeable nature. They don’t answer, of course, but the point of intervening in such discussions is to defend the philosophically naive marks who’ve never run into Hume and Descartes before, not to change the presuppers’ minds.
But! I’ve never been one of them
Leah Libresco, an atheist blogger who originally started her Unequally Yoked blog when she was going out with Catholic, announced she’d converted to Catholicism because she’d realised that Morality is a Person who loves her. Camels with Hammers did a good summary of ways atheists responded, noting that the best response was probably to point out that she seemed to have missed a few steps in her argument, rather than accusing her of being off her medication.
squid314 wondered about local maximas in belief-space (which is mathematician speak for wondering whether the steps he’d have to take to get Catholicism individually made his new view seem less likely than before, even if once you get there Catholicism is actually more likely than the Official Bayesian Conspiracy Worldview). He noted that he knew quite a few clever people who’d become Catholic, so maybe it was worth looking into. He reported back on his investigation of the Catholic blogsphere in an amusing fashion, which makes me think he’s safe, for now.
A friend of Libresco’s started a thread on Less Wrong’s discussion board on how to thwart the conversion. Someone there was prepared to predict that the conversion won’t stick, as it’s based on metaphysics rather than the unpleasant reality of the Catholic church (Libresco is already wobbling a bit on the issue of homosexuality). We’ll see: I don’t know her well enough to want to bet on it.
I made a few comments on Libresco’s blog: on the Euthyphro Dilemma (ended up going in circles as usual, gave up); pointing out that the Catholic orthodoxy is that God is not morally good (he’s ontologically good, see Camels with Hammers again), making him a poor choice for a virtue ethicist like Leah; and dealing with the usual bad arguments about science.