Monday, January 24, 2011

Episode 78 Why Bother?

Getting into debates over religion can be frustrating and people rarely ever change their minds. So why bother? What would an atheist possibly hope to achieve by debating religious apologists? Justin Schieber has had plenty of time to ponder those questions. He represents the atheist viewpoint for a monthly debate series called "A Christian and an Atheist Walk Into a Coffee Shop." For this episode the doubtcasters are joined by Justin for a roundtable discussion on the joys and frustrations of debating theists. Also on this episode: the latest development in the Catholic child-abuse scandal and inspiring proof that moderate Muslims do exist.

To download this or any previous Reasonable Doubts episode click here. Find the episode you want and right click the "play now" link and select "save target as..."


Luke said...

You can test whether or not you are banned in China, here:

You do indeed seem to be banned in China. But my site is not. :(

Laura said...


I've been listening to your podcasts for about a month now and I'm almost caught up. I was so excited to find a new one posted today. In fact, today's designated homework time has gone out the window as I spent it plugged into my ipod listening to you!

I wanted to let you know that you have a small fan base here in my corner of the UK. A group of us even used the show as *revision* for our critical thinking a-level exam.

The show has also helped me in my many discussions with my Christian friends. I find my favourite approach to debating them is to ask honest questions, preferably coupled with an innocent, wide-eyed look, and see how they respond. The blagging and spluttering as they try to explain how they decide what parts of the Bible they should and shouldn't follow really warms the heart!

Lastly, as I've been listening back to your past shows including your most recent, you've made a few comments about your not always strictly politically correct way of talking about some of the Catholic sexual abuse stories, and you've joked a few times about the volume of complaints you expect to get. I thought you should know that, as a survivor of sex abuse, I'm not the least bit offended by anything you've said so far. And whilst others may feel differently, and I certainly cannot speak for all abuse victims, I find your approach refreshing and just the right balance of seriousness and humour.

That said, I did wonder if there was any way to put a warning in the itunes description of the podcast in the future whenever this topic comes up, for material that could be potentially triggering. It's not really a big thing and it doesn't put me off the show at all, but others I know who may find the show interesting may find some references difficult if they're caught off guard.

Anyway, just a suggestion, and it doesn't detract at all from my listening enjoyment.

Zyaama said...

Regarding your comment that your listeners didn't seem to notice your absence: I did. I just don't think I have a right to write in and demand a new show every two weeks, after all you're doing this in your spare time and for nearly no money. Which I really appreciate.

That being said: Get back into the studio, will you?

Lausten North said...

As one of the 10 or 20 people who missed you, great show once again. I have asked myself the "why bother" question more than once. It is a difficult balance between wanting people to change and knowing all the problems that go with trying to directly convert.

I try to focus on providing an alternative. I certainly appreciate the communities I have found online and elsewhere and I want to keep those alive. Also, and I realize this isn't what you guys are into, I agree with John Shelby Spong that if no one provides a philosophical and historical perspective of the scriptures, they will be left in the hands of the fundamentalists. Nobody wants that.

And, yes, I am banned in China. Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

You guys have always struck me as being reasonable and not knee-jerk...until now. Although I think Sarah Palin is a buffoon, your characterization of her as a White Supremacist and Anti-Semite was vile, unsupported by the facts And unfortunately typical of exactly the type of rhetoric which you are falsely claiming only comes from the right.

And it looks like the shooter was more of a Zeitgeist fan than either a righty or a lefty...but that will likely not stop you from lying about the right.

Apparently only Daily Kos readers are welcome at RD.

I've unsubscribed, delinked you from my blog and facebook, and will no longer recommend you to questioning believers. And although I neither like nor agree with her, you'll likely blame it on Palin...she apparently lives rent-free in your heads.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

I don't remember the podcast being half as filled with liberal propaganda fueled by right-wing paranoia as you claim it to be . Let's disregard the fact that the guys said at the beginning of the podcast that they were basically going to bullshit about some news stories quickly, and focus on how they never called Sarah Palin anything; However, they did say she could potentially fall into a number of categories likely due to her own ignorance. When you say things, especially as someone constantly in the media, you should know what you are talking about. Sarah Palin talking about a blood libel either means she was making a hateful statement(towards Jews specifically since it is a term that usually involves them, and congressman Giffords is Jewish), or she is just plain dumb. Likely the latter. Either way, everything she seems to be involved with seems wrapped up in hate or ignorance, regardless of topic.

The right using dehumanizing propaganda is not a lie. It is well documented and can be found with a simple google search.

I honestly think you are a troll, because how do you expect these guys not to have a liberal slant? Don't take my word, but look at how education statistically goes hand in hand with a liberal view, and they are prof's.

So, I don't know...I guess they should apologize for being educated.


Keep up the good work guys! Glad you are back, I sure missed you.

Jeremy said...

First anon,

Not sure how you got all that from our brief mention of Palin's blood libel comment. But just for the record I think we all agreed that she was just a moron and didn't actually realize what she was saying--not that she's anti-semite. The rest was called humor (we dont seriously think Palin has regular coffee meetings with Mel Gibson, for example. Its a joke).

As far as the shooter is concerned, yeah Dave made a comment about how the right needs to tone down rhetoric but he followed up by saying really in the end its the shooters fault (ie. didnt call him a republican) and I followed up with mocking the idea that this could blamed on anyones politics.

Anyway, thanks for unsubscribing. I welcome conservative listeners but I do tire of the tantrums people throw when we make fun of Palin.

Anonymous said...

I'm a different anonymous, and it bugged me too. You can call it humor about the antisemetic/Mel Gibson thing, but unless you believe on some level that being a conservative indicates being an antisemite and a racist, it doesn't really work.

Plenty of atheists/skeptics are conservative on a lot of issues, especially financial and governmental, (think Paul Kurtz), but we are pretty careful to keep quiet about it. There is no room in the skeptical movement for political diversity. The easy assumption that all skeptics are left-wing Democrats gets tiresome.

BTW, I'm a sociolinguist (with a PhD from a pretty liberal school, even) and I can assure you that "blood libel" has become far more widely used over the last decade or fact it's been used by politicians and pundits of both parties when referring to unfair accusations of involvement in violence. It wasn't important enough to keep sacrosanct until Sarah "Goldstein*" Palin used it.

And I too am an atheist who really wants Palin to go back to Alaska and keep out of politics. But she's not actually Hitler and PolPot and Fred Phelps all rolled into one.

*if you don't get this, go read your Orwell

I'm not going to unsubscribe, though. Sorry, you'll have to suffer the agony of knowing that you have a conservative listener that you cannot get rid of. Horrors.

Now, to the rest of the show. Totally agree with continuing the debates, even when it seems pointless. Especially in this area of life, people don't change overnight. Ideas need time to accumulate and germinate and get processed. Skeptical thought is corrosive, and will eventually begin to break down the fluffy and poorly-thought-out ideas we all have, but the ideas need to be continually available.

Catholic priests probably are just as or less likely to abuse, but their position of trust and access to victims makes it likely that when a priest does abuse, he will be able to continue doing it for decades. This is the reason the Church's failure to do much about it is so unconscionable.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys. I've been listening for the past year and always really enjoy the show & look forward to the next one. I always learn something new and you leave me with plenty of food for thought. I appreciate your different styles of humor... Yes even Luke's. This past episode in particular had some great laugh out loud moments! Here's to many more great shows. So, thanks and keep up the awesome work!

Pittsburgh, PA

andy said...

Nice to see you back. and with another host, too! Is he going to be a regular now?

James Redekop said...

Here is the theme music for the Catholic abuse scandal, courtesy of Tim Minchin.

Atemis Ward said...

You guys discussed the Tucson shooting and concluded that Loughner was ultimately the one responsible. I agree--for the first six victims. For all those after six, I hold Congress responsible. They are the ones who allowed people to buy 31-bullet clips. Unfortunately Congress has authority but no responsibility for its actions or inactions.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys,

I am a libertarian skeptic, and I generally enjoy your podcast. I was disappointed to hear your take on the AZ shooting.

If you're going to say that the right needs to tone down its "rhetoric," I'm sure you'd also agree that the left needs to tone down it's rhetoric as well. See this page for evidence that the left is just as guilty:

Sarah Palin and the "dehumanizing" rhetoric on the right had nothing to do with the shooting in AZ. Not a single thing. The guy was not identifiably a member of the left, the right, or a libertarian. He was/is one thing, however: mentally ill.

Regarding Palin's "blood libel" comment: it's not as bad as you guys made it sound. Here's what Alan Dershowitz had to say about it: "The term “blood libel” has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse. Although its historical origins were in theologically based false accusations against the Jews and the Jewish People,its current usage is far broader. I myself have used it to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report. There is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations that her words or images may have caused a mentally disturbed individual to kill and maim. The fact that two of the victims are Jewish is utterly irrelevant to the propriety of using this widely used term."

Citation: (

Finally: please keep making fun of Sarah Palin. She has no business running for office. (That said, neither to 98% of the people who do, but that's another topic).

Keep up the (usual) good work.

-Corey S.

James Redekop said...

I have to disagree that the left is "just as" guilty of violent rhetoric. Consider that the examples of right-wing rhetoric that have been circulating -- "don't retreat, reload"; "Second Amendment solutions", etc -- have been from prominent right-wing politicians and pundits. Only a couple of Malkin's examples are from people with any public exposure at all.

If we want to start including non-public figures on the right-wing side, we can start throwing in the comment boards from Little Green Footballs, Free Republic, World Nut Daily, etc -- not to mention incidents such as Jim David Adkisson shooting up a church because he wanted to "kill liberals".

None of which is to say that there are no cases of prominent liberal politicians or pundits using violent language. However, you will not find many public figures on the left saying something along the lines of "I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it." (Glenn Beck), or "[My] only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building." (Ann Coulter), or "And Joe Wilson has no right to complain. And I think people like Tim Russert and the others, who gave this guy such a free ride and all the media, they’re the ones to be shot, not Karl Rove." (Rep. Peter King)

Of course, using Michelle "In Defense of Internment" Malkin and Alan "Want to Torture? Get a Warrant" Dershowitz as authorities isn't a great way to gain sympathy for your position outside circles who approve of internment and torture...

Anonymous said...

LMAO at citing Michelle Malkin as evidence of anything remotely objective. She is a faux news hack to the core.

James Redekop said...

To be fair, all of the Malkin examples I checked were real examples. They just weren't examples of public discourse at a level comparable to the many examples from the right that have been cited recently. Throw in a lot more national news figures, elected officials, etc, and then maybe she'll be comparing apples to apples.

Melissa Galatas said...

I too, like some of you, have more libertarian leanings. I don't think what the RD guys said about Palin and the right was out of line or uncalled for in the slightest. If the tea party (speaking as a former tea party member...until the social conservatives hijacked it) and the right are going to use rhetoric full of violent allegory then they better be able to take responsibility for its consequences. Not to say, like Dave pointed out, that the shooter did what he did because of them, but they do need to tone it down. In fact, *they* think they need to tone it down. If they didn't think so Palin wouldn't have removed the cross hairs from her website and deleted tweets about telling the movement to "reload". Their words didn't cause it, but the event did humble them in that regard.

Guys, you are super awesome and I am SO glad you're back. Expect a Gospel of Doubt entry from me very soon.

Nicholaas said...

Great show.

Anyone else check out the "...walks into a bar" website? I read the Christian's posting on why he believes...and I'm reminded why I don't actively seek out religious debates anymore. I can't handle that much stupid all at once.

mknmn81 said...

This was my introduction to your show. So good!!!! I had recently been entertaining myself with every Hitchens debate on the net as part of my 'rediscovery' of reason, and just started branching out to other events, such as Jeremy's MSU debate. This was the perfect show to start with. Many LOLs. "Tide goes in, tide goes out..." hahahaha!

Tucker said...

Hi All,

I was doing some unrelated research on why traditional classroom-based education structures are so difficult to change despite all the evidence describing how our system fails young learners in so many ways. I picked up a paper that makes a strong point about how an individual educator's personal belief system and *not* their personal knowledge of effective teaching methods is what will manifest in their classrooms. The article describes why belief systems are so difficult to change even in the face of strong evidence of their occasional weaknesses. It made me think of the "terror management theory" stuff I learned from you guys last year, and thought I'd share a paragraph from their paper that contains some insight (and sources!) other listeners might find useful:

"The potential power of beliefs as an influence on behavior is inherently related to the nature of beliefs, as outlined by Nespor (1987). Among other characteristics, Nespor described beliefs as relying on episodic memory, with information being drawn from personal experiences or cultural sources of knowledge. Early episodes or events, then, have the potential to color perceptions of subsequent events, especially if early experiences are particularly unique or vivid. Furthermore, because of their highly personal nature, beliefs are unlikely to be affected by persuasion. This is readily illustrated when we consider how initial experiences with computers, especially traumatic or negative experiences, can shape teachers’ subsequent encounters for years to come, despite great efforts to persuade them differently. The past events have created a guiding image, or what Goodman (1988) termed “an intuitive screen,” through which new information and experiences are now filtered."

Though they're describing why our education system is so difficult to advance in positive new directions, the role of "belief" here and their description of the "intuitive screen" seems like a perfect way to describe the difficulty in making persuasive arguments to an ideologue. Further in their paper they describe some of the research in how beliefs are formed, and importantly, how beliefs are changed.

Ertmer, P. Teacher pedagogical beliefs: The final frontier in our quest for technology integration?
Volume 53, Number 4, 25-39, DOI: 10.1007/BF02504683

Nespor, J. (1987). The role of beliefs in the practice of
teaching. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 19(4), 317–

Goodman, J. (1988). Constructing a practical philosophy of teaching: A study of preservice teachers’ professional perspectives. Teaching and Teacher
Education, 4, 121–137

Tucker said...

Oops, sorry guys, I posted the wrong draft of my comment-- quickly here, my comment is on the "Why Bother" topic of this episode and was intended to point out some resources for understanding the nature of belief, even outside of religion, and how it *can* be changed. So, as Jeremy pointed out in the episode, we should bother with this because creating positive change is not impossible here, especially as we learn more about what determines people's belief structures and how they can be influenced by the light of reason if done in mindful ways.

Anonymous said...

I have missed you guys so much. Please know how much you mean to people who value, well, thinking, and who value the pursuit of truth.

You really are something good to hold on to. (No crass jokes Luke)

Keep up this important work


Anonymous said...

Listening now and the points are hitting home. My experiences were similar - the search for truth led me out of religion. I'll be saving this episode for future listening, too. Keep up the great work!