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This includes the bonus video from this episode, of Glen Scrivener and Matt Dillahunty discussing the trans controversy that divided The Atheist Experience.
About this episode:
New Atheism and the internet have fuelled the rise of many secular, humanist and atheist organisations in the 21st Century. Many atheists claim religion has had a negative impact on society. Can secular morality provide a better foundation for society than Christianity? As people search for meaning in an increasingly post-Christian West, can atheism deliver the grounding needed for living a truly moral life?
Matt Dillahunty is a well-known voice in the world of atheist activism. He hosts The Atheist Experience call in show, and leads the Atheist Community of Austin. He argues that secular humanism is a better foundation for morality than religion.
Glen Scrivener is the director of Speak Life, an organisation using modern media to bring the Christian message to a secular world. Glen’s videos have reached millions of people and often defend the Christian worldview against the atheist worldview.
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More from this season:
- Episode 1 | Part 1: Religion: Useful fiction or ultimate truth?
- Episode 1 | Part 2: Religion: Useful fiction or ultimate truth?
- Episode 2: The Universe: Where did it come from and why are we part of it?
- Episode 3: The story of Jesus: Can we trust the historical reliability of the Gospels?
- Episode 4 | Part 1: Is God Dead? A conversation on faith, culture and the modern world
- Episode 4 | Part 2: Is God Dead? A conversation on faith, culture and the modern world
- Episode 5: Did Christianity give us our human values?
Justin Brierley (JB), Matt Dillahunty (MD) & Glen Scrivener (GS)
JB: This is the Big Conversation from Unbelievable? with me, Justin Brierley. The Big Conversation is a series of shows exploring faith, science, philosophy and what it means to be human, in association with the Templeton Religion Trust.
Welcome along to the show today. We are debating morality. Can atheism deliver a better world? And the Big Conversation partners I’m sitting down with are Matt Dillahunty and Glen Scrivener. Matt Dillahunty is a well-known voice in the world of atheist activism. He hosts the Atheist Experience call-in show and leads the Atheist Community of Austin. Glen Scrivener is my other guest. He is the Director of Speak Life, an organisation using modern media to bring the Christian message to a secular world. Glen’s videos have reached millions of people and often defend the Christian world view against the atheist world view.
So today we’ll be looking at the modern atheist movement. Can secular morality provide a better foundation for society than Christianity? And as people search for meaning in an increasingly post-Christian West can atheism deliver the grounding needed for living a moral life.
Glen and Matt welcome along to the show.
GS/MD: Great to be here.
JB: It is great to have you both here with me – really looking forward to this one today. I’ve even donned my glasses which you rarely see me in on this programme but I lost a contact lens the other day so these are my back up pair.
GS: You look very studious.
JB: Thank you. I hope it would bring some gravitas to the programme.
MD: Grab my glasses if I need them. We’d outnumber Glen.
JB: Look, it’s a real delight to have you here in the UK with us Matt. You don’t get over here very often but I’ve seen you many a time through your YouTube videos and your speaking and lecturing and so on. Tell us a bit about yourself, you began an atheist community out in Texas. Why did you do that? What was the reason behind it? Why did you start a call-in show about atheism?
MD: Well I didn’t actually start the show although that is a common misconception. I was, I grew up Southern Baptist. My parents thought God wanted me to be a preacher, so did the people in my Church which was an interesting story when I did a debate against Michael Connor. Some of them showed up…. (JB: Oh really) from my past (JB: From your former Church? Wow!) Thirty years ago we thought you were going to be a servant of the Lord. What happened? (JB: OK) But I’ve, I found my way out of religion while trying to..to..be a better Christian. Essentially, I thought that God was punishing me into going my tech job because I hadn’t become a preacher like he wanted and so I said, Ok, if that’s what you want me to do, I’ll do it. That kind of lengthy story led to me eventually realising that I wasn’t a Christian or couldn’t be a Christian and a kind of a search for what else might I be or what could I call myself.
The Atheist Community of Austin has been around for twenty-three, twenty-four years and they started the Atheist Experience TV Show and it wasn’t live initially. It was a kind of recorded conversations. Eventually it became a live call-in show and I joined in 2005 which coincides with YouTube and everything else and so that’s when the show blew up and became something more than just here’s a public access TV, you know, like, The Wayne’s World type of thing (JB: yeah, yeah) and it became a little bit more, so, it’s fortunate that I joined when I did although, you know, maybe I had a little something to do with the popularity of the show.
JB: Well,…and I think your face through it has become very known if you like as a well-known face in the atheist movement. Now I don’t know if you think of atheism as a movement per se or whether you’ve kind of become a leader in a movement. What’s, what’s your thoughts on how atheism tends to portray itself to the public?
MD: Yeah, I tend to draw a distinction. I mean atheism from a purely like philosophical position it’s I’m not just convinced there’s a God. But there are movements that are tied to atheism. There’s a lot of kind of discussion and debates about what is the atheist movement and what counts as it and of course like any other movement there’s infighting and there’s division, but I always viewed that as a positive thing because when your group is big enough for you to split in two over a disagreement then you’re probably doing something right. (JB: Ok) I guess until then it was just a handful of people sitting round patting themselves on the pat for not believing in God and complaining about religion and government and things like that and we’ve moved on beyond that, even if you just look at the Atheist Community of Austin and the programmes that we’re producing now. For years it was the Atheist Experience was the premier call-in show, it still is, and then we had Non Profits which was a pre-recorded kind of political discussion about separation of religion and government and Godless Bitches for a while, which is going to be making a come back but talking about women’s issues and things like that from a secular perspective because a lot of that gets lost. We’ve now, we work with a foundation Beyond Belief which is a secular charitable organisation and Recovering From Religion which was founded by my friend, Darrel Ray, and we often direct people to those resources because when people are finding their way out of religious belief that’s not trivial and it’s not easy and there are people who describe it as like, everybody in my family may have well just died because now they are no longer there and I’m grieving this. Umm, there’s a lot of issues surrounding that and to work producing more and more programmes to kind of address the whole person so that it’s not just, let me call in and argue with you about that.
JB: Sure. And I mean, what you’re describing sounds almost like an atheist media production company, producing different types of media as you would find a Christian media production company like ours (MD: yeah) producing different programmes and so on. Are you the equivalent of the atheist TV evangelist, or…is that not quite fair.
MD: God, I hope not. I think (JB: you haven’t got the hair for it, that’s the problem.) Yeah, I think I operate considerably differently because it’s not so much that I’m,…..if you watch a tele evangelist, what I see is there’s communication coming from them. Ours instead is caller driven. (JB: Ok) Somebody calls in and tells me what they want. We have a discussion. Sometimes it gets heated, sometimes it can…sometimes I can be awful, I can be arrogant, condescending on occasions, sometimes I hang up too quickly but a lot of it is, I mean, it’s all genuinely an attempt to…right let’s figure out where our disagreements are. It’s just that with people with our call-in show are not dealing with somebody who’s been through a life studying it, somebody who has some expertise in this, it’s just the average believer most of the time and because of that they can’t often distinguish between attacking a belief and attacking the person who holds the belief and so, even when, you’re not attempting to make anything personal it might still be taken personally. It’s a fine line to walk and nobody’s going to get it right all the time but I think it’s been incredibly valuable not just in the fact that you know we have thousands of people who would say, hey I’m an atheist now or I’m a sceptic now because of what you’ve done on the show but also because there are plenty of Christian apologists and, and preachers that I’ve made friends with over the years who still value that kind of conversation.
JB: Sure….yeah, we’re all about having the conversation here so it’s great to have you on the show today. Glen, great to have you as well.
GS: Thank you.
JB: Tell us a little bit of your background, you kind of grew up in a Christian setting. Was that always the case?
GS: Yeah, a proper Church going home but I guess very early on there were sort of issues within our family which made everyone in the family want to think very carefully about whether we wanted to follow mum or dad in terms of the way that faith was developing and unfolding for them and I think as children we made that decision quite early on and I think during my teenage years though I went to youth group and was the kid with the hand in the air getting the answers right, if you stick with Jesus you’re kind of on to a winner, internally I kind of had this idea that God was a large being, far away, watching and waiting to spot my mistake and found myself less and less compelled by that vision and I think by the time I went away to university I was pretty much done with Christianity and didn’t want to really have anything to do with Church or that sort of thing. But I think towards the end of my university career, studying philosophy and studying philosophy of religion and ethics and meta ethics and these sorts of things and starting to think through why the intuitions of my heart that were that love is the greatest thing and that a life of love is the greatest value, and a friend who was challenging me to read through to the gospels and get back to the heart and soul of Christianity, Jesus Christ, and remember reading through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and just thinking half way through Luke’s gospel, ahh if God’s like Jesus I’m in. And so that was a real turning point for me aged about 21 and I kind of jumped in with both feet at that stage and really, yes started loving Church, having hated it before and started loving getting into conversations the way that Matt loves getting into conversations with people, but yeah, I then found a graduate job afterwards that I was not very suited for, I’m not very suited for office work and then discover that you could do this thing for a living and started working for churches since the year 2000 and I’ve been shooting my mouth off about Jesus ever since then.
JB: Yeah. And that’s kind of what you’re here to do, in as much as you’re here to engage with Matt on the issue of atheism: can it deliver a better world? we’re going to look at the issue of morality, unpack all the issues there as well. What about the atheist movement as a whole though? I want to maybe tease that out a bit as we start today’s show. What, how have you seen it develop in the years that you’ve been, obviously, as a Christian engaging with the secular world and seeing I guess different forms of atheism emerging in that time?
GS: Well, I guess there’s not just one atheist movement just as there’s not one atheism. I think you know John Gray’s latest book ‘The Seven Types of Atheism’ sort of, you know, puts pay to the lie that there is only one way of being an atheist or one kind of metaphysical outlook that you could describe as atheism but I guess what I’ve been very used to in the last twenty or so years maybe a bit less than that is the sort of what has been described as the ‘New Atheism’.
I remember debating Andrew Cobson, the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, who has been on this show a number of times, I believe, and I was debating him in Oxford, I guess this must have been about eight years ago and the crowd was vibrant, and it was pulsating, and it felt like you know lions thrown to the….Christians thrown to the lions. It felt very much like I was in a minority of one, you know, against the whole room that was very much of a Dawkin style of atheism…(JB: You felt that was the overwhelming kind of feeling in the room was) In that.. (JB: that they were backing that kind of atheistic point of view..). In that moment that it would be a better thing if religion ceased to exist.
And then what was interesting is Facebook reminded me, you know the time hop thing reminds you, that eight years ago you were in Oxford and I happened to be in Oxford last year to see a Jordan Peterson talk. And I happened to see a number of people from an atheist, from the atheist community like Cosmic Sceptic was there and the number of people who were at the debate that I was at eight years ago and suddenly they were listening to Jordan Peterson who is a very different voice, a secular voice still although he has a much you know grander vision for the place of religion in society. And it made me see that things have moved on, you know, in eight years and there are other strands to this and you start reading people like Jonathan Haidt and start reading people like David Sloan Wilson, and they again have a place for religion even though they themselves might be atheists. And so, I think it’s a mistake, and sometimes Christians make the mistake of thinking that every atheist is Richard Dawkins and yet he is one brand of one kind of atheism and really you need to have a better conversation with people and you need to figure out what they actually believe. You know I could assume all sorts of things about, about Matt’s metaphysical beliefs without ever having actually interrogated them and I think that’s what’s really great about having conversation and saying oh but what do you actually believe about morality, metaphysics, morals.
MD: It’s interesting you talk about, essentially I would think you would be striving the tone of things eight years ago versus this and while I don’t look at it as if there are different types of atheism I’d look at it as, you know what, atheism is a thing but there are different atheists and they going to have different ways of doing things but also just the general tone of things is going to change.
In the United States, around the time that Sam wrote ‘End of Faith’ and there was you now the initial rise of, of what was called new atheism which annoys a lot of us because it’s not new….it’s I guess a new activism on behalf…(JB: Yes….I think that’s what that was new about it was that maybe the tone and the way it was being put across and the fact that the internet was now fuelling it…to a large degree.). Well, we were also at that time…Bush was President; there was concerns about evangelicals encroaching on government and then you, you know…there’s that wrap up, and then Obama becomes President and you know we legalise same-sex marriage and we do a bunch of stuff that, and not that all atheists are remotely liberal progressives but there’s a good chunk of them that are in that category and so we were having conferences all the time. I think I did twelve, thirteen, fourteen conferences in one year.
That sort of died down and there was concern that people, oh atheism has had its hay day and now they’re done and afterward I think really what happened that the, the environment that we were living in changed and now there were other things to worry about. You didn’t feel like there was this encroachment of religion in your life as much and that has shifted of course since Trump’s been elected (JB: Right) but the tone and how people are doing things changes. And, you know, I can look back on the early days doing this show and I was “Raa Raa Raa Right….” and now there’s a lot less of that….(JB: You’re a bit more chilled out now) but yeah, there’s tonnes of, I think we need a number of different approaches because, first of all, not everybody believes for the same reason, they’re not going to give it up for the same reason and if I’m going to be trying to educate myself on which believers are going to give the most compelling, you know, justifications for their belief or the best descriptions of the world view they want to have, then I have to go into, without doing the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ not nearly so much as I’m just not convinced, can you convince me? And we end up having much more conversations, or much more stringent conversations about epistemology (JB: Right) and you know what is, what is in fact justified even if, even if it turns out we agreed on the actual political positions and things like that.
JB: Yeah. I mean, sticking with the atheist movement per se, I think there are those who want atheism to be just that negative concept of simply not having belief in God and others who do see it as allied to a whole set of, you know, propositions about the way we should treat each other, LGBT issues and so on. What’s your view? Where do you feel like, you know, if I am say I’m an atheist does it entail anything along those lines?
MD: (??15.25)..once you’re identified as an atheist, I’m, I just stick with that label that you’re not convinced there is a God doesn’t tell me anything else about you. But it’s undeniable that, like for example the Atheist Community of Austin has a list of position statements, I know because I wrote them. It took quite a while to get the Board of Directors on board with us having these position statements. I wasn’t redefining atheism, I was defining what the Atheist Community of Austin is going to stand for (JB: Right), what are group was going to be doing and this is why the simple answer to your question which I, you know, can atheism lead us to a better world – No! It can’t – If you’re looking at atheism as just that. (JB: Yeah) If you ask, you know, can secular humanism, can these kind of values that we’re packaging together that people care about, that happen to be held by some atheists, there not exclusively atheism at all.
JB: And even within, you know, probably a quite well worked out set of ideas that you put together for the Atheist Community of Austin, I know you still had your complications with a recent guest on this show with rationality rules and I know that he appeared on yours and then there was an outcry because of a video he’d created on trans issues..(MD:?Stephen Woodford) right, and so, so and I know that some people left the organisation because of that and you’ve had, you know a lot of, I think, hate mail (MD: No)..well maybe not hate mail is the wrong (GS: Hate videos) expression..(MD: there were) yeah strong criticism (MD: Yeah) let’s say
MD: Yeah there were people. The entirety of that situation is a mess of miscommunication (JB: Okay) and some people who were involved but didn’t know what was going on deciding to just talk (JB: Yeah) and once, you know, you want to know what’s wrong with the first Baptist Church you go to the second Baptist Church and ask them and they can tell you and so you can, you can get opinions about organisations and stuff and this is one of the reasons I’m President of the ACA again and the decision I made, you know after that, is rather than get into babbling YouTube videos of ‘this is what happened, no this is what happened, this is what happened’, we were just going to focus on continuing to do the things that we do which is to produce not only the content but to work alongside charitable organisations to make sure that, you know, I, I was being called a transphobe at one point (JB: Umm)..while I was sitting in the building with two transwomen, a young trans boy, two gay men planning out our pride festival events at this time. It’s one of those things where when people latch onto a particular idea that makes sense with their preconceptions of who they might be dealing with, they just run with it and the truth of the matter is that the Atheist Community of Austin’s doing (??17.54) the atheist experience TV show’s setting new records for viewers and where we have more LGBT people involved in our shows and content now than ever.
JB: Yeah. What’s your feeling on some of these issues in the Atheist Community…
GS: I mean, would there be some people within the ACA that even hearing that you’re having, having a drink with Stephen Woodford tonight would they be upset by that? (MD:…probably) you know you’re adjacent to a transphobe, you know (MD: probably) would be the accusation, which is, which is extraordinary to me because I think you know from my point of view I disagree with large swathes of what rationality rule says but you know, I think he made one video criticising one aspect of trans ideology and for him to be labelled as a transphobe, and then for those who are in any way adjacent to him to be labelled as transphobes, (MD: Yeah) it just, it just goes to show that you don’t need to be Christian to have a witch hunt..(MD: oh no, no)..these things happen….
MD: and this is what I was saying earlier that I kind of view it in one way as a good thing because I’m trying to find the positive. The truth is for me I sat down with Stephen, he was in my home, he was in Texas, we talked for days and days. There were things in his video that I had problems with. We had a conversation with it. I put him on the show. I was confident that it was going to be fixed. I don’t, I don’t view him as a transphobe. I view things that he posted as clearly there were people in the trans community who felt that way and that needs to be addressed, that needed to be addressed. I don’t necessarily know that that’s done but, you know, (GS: Um, umm) I don’t require that everybody I spend time with agree with me on everything and I don’t assume that just because somebody shared a stage or something with them. I mean, because I, you know, I shared a stage with Dawkins – there’s plenty of people who have problems with him. I’ve shared a stage with Harris. I shared a stage with Jordan Peterson. Those were different though. If Sam and, Sam Harris and I, are sitting down together the presumption is ‘Oh these two are in alignment and agreement’ which is true most of the time. There are things that Sam and I disagree about. (GS: Umm, umm) Indeed when I sit down with Jordan Peterson the assumption is oh, this is the head to head (??19.47) (JB: right) and the interesting thing is that, I don’t know Glen at all and there are people who are going to assume, ‘Oh this is the big battle’. But I don’t look at debates or these kind of discussions as if they’re WWE events. This is a genuine conversation. I find myself with far, I find myself challenging people in the atheist community far more often than I’m, you know, having conflicts with people who are religiously (??20.12) (JB: Umm, umm)
GS: Which is a great attitude to have but I think these days what we tend to see is cancel culture, what we tend to see is if you have the wrong views about things, a prescribed set of views which have only really, you know, arisen in the last five minutes, if you don’t, you know, if you don’t toe the line on a number of different orthodoxies, and I use that word advisedly, orthodoxies then you are kind of put outside the camp and again I use that word, you know advisedly. It’s, it’s very religious language isn’t it?
MD: Its, its yes…
JB: and, and its partly I think where the interest is coming for folks like Jordan Peterson and Dougs Murray and Bret Weinstein and others, their so called Intellectual Dark Web, who are, are perhaps pushing against what some people see as this sort of politically correct from a secular point of view and, and I, I find that there are some interesting bed fellows then between Christians who find themselves on the same kind of side as those guys and, and they maybe set against other secular people who are far more progressive in their views and that kind of thing. I mean, it is an interesting sort of time at which there’s a whole new set of questions that have been put on the table.
GS: Yeah, I think it speaks to the inner radicability (?21:14)of a religious spirit to humanity (JB: Okay) and, and I do think that, one of the things that I think has sort of marked out the new atheism if we want to give any labels to anywhere, would be the belief that it would be a better thing for society if far fewer people were religious…and I think, I think that, that certainly captured the four horsemen of the apocalypse, of the atheist apocalypse, you know Hitchings and Dawkins and Dennett and Harris, they certainly wanted to see people de-converted from Christianity in order to see a more flourishing better world. But I, I kind of think Dostoyevsky was wrong when he said, you know, when, when there is no god everything is permitted. I think what we are saying that when there is no God everything is very puritanical. And everything becomes actually even more heightened in its moralism. And I think what we’ve found is, getting rid of God at that level of public discourse has actually to led people pronouncing anathemas on people and burning them at the stake and going on witch hunts.
MD: You know I don’t think is actually so much tied to atheism, what I see a lot of is people talking past each other and people on both sides of an issue are engaged in hyperbole and perhaps not the most honest assessment of what they view as the opposition. But the sort of thing that, that Glen’s talking about, it’s not as if atheism is the foundation behind cancel culture or whatever you may say (JB: No) it is political ideology (JB: Sure) people who have it, you know I will brook no disagreement and I am not interested in any conversation, if you said this you are done, and if you are willing to associate with somebody who said this or whatever then you are also done.
GS: Yeah, no I don’t think its saying (MD: it’s not even an atheist thing)…..(???23:02)…its certainly, I don’t think, exactly, it’s human nature, I think someone like Jonathan Haidt would say in The Righteous Mind that we, we all, all orbit around these little totem poles of highest value, you know, and those totem poles bind and blind. They bind together communities but they blind us against what the other communities are saying. And therefore an atheist community can be just as religious in that sense as a Christian community, a Muslim community, a Buddhist community, because we all, we all have these highest ideals, we’re all involved in motivated reasoning, we all have our in-group, we all have our out-group and we can all engage in behaviour that is more or less tolerant of one another and then, then the question becomes how do we relate towards one another and the one thing that that then rules out is, we can’t then have an irreligious solution to the problem of these different communities. (MD: You know, I..)
JB: Is that a fair comment though, that atheism in that sense is quite religious when it get it’s expression in these ways, Matt?
MD: So, I was going to push back on this atheism thing. Just as far as the label but, yes, speaking kind of colloquially, of course it can be like that because there’s humans involved and this is what humans do. My only concern with religions at all is, is there any good reason to believe they’re true? I would not, you know, people say ‘Oh, religion is never done anything good.’ Well, that’s crap. Religions have done lots of good things, actually more accurately, people who are religious have done good things. They have given us universities, hospitals, that would be true probably as much for secular people as well if it weren’t for a disparity in the sort of privileged position that religion has had and benefitted from for all these years. Secular organisations had to a lot more fighting and in a lot more recent time just to get a similar status. For example, tax exempt status in the United States. It’s just, if you’re a religion, as long as you are one of the recognised religions, you just granted it de facto. We’re a Baptist Church, we’re a Catholic Church, we’re a Unitarian Universalist. Even the Buddhist had to fight for property tax exemption in Austin because it wasn’t on the list of like approved religions. (JB: Okay) The Satanic Temple just recently got approved by the, I think pretty sure it’s the IRS as a religious organisation so they can have tax exempt status. And that always seems strange to me. I realise I’m in the UK talking about American politics but I’ve always had a problem with the notion that, in the American Constitution, United States Constitution, where we get to this notion that you are tax exempt because you’re a religious organisation is incredibly convoluted and it puts the government in a strange position of saying, ‘Hey, you’re a Church, you’re not a Church’. How do you allow that decision to be made at the government level and not come to the conclusion that there’s a necessary problem there with entanglement between religion and government because if the religion can decide, or the government can decide which religions are good enough for tax exempt.
JB: Yeah…and that was the big issue with Scientology wasn’t it a few years ago, they, they fought (MD: yeah they fought like crazy) a big battle to be recognised as a religion. I mean obviously sometimes there are differences between one side of the pond and the other, Glen, with these issues but it’s interesting that Matt is willing to say ‘yeah, it can to all intents and purposes look rather religious in some ways.’
GS: Well, I mean to the point of why should churches have tax exempt status. I mean there’s a bid debate going on in Australia, where I’m from, right now about that very question. I mean one of issues to throw into the mix is that there is a tremendous amount of public benefit for religions to flourish in societies. So when you look at the studies you see that those who have an intrinsic religiosity that is, those who identified as ‘religion is the most important thing to me, it helps me to frame the rest of my life’, if you ask those people on any kinds of measures of reproduction; how many babies do you have; longer life; are you happier; will you have more of a resistance to depression; to recovery from illness, recovery from surgery; do you have a resistance to divorce, to suicide, there are any number of factors where an intrinsic religiosity, that is a body of people who are saying that their religion means the world to them, those people thrive in a world where if the government was able to put that into the water, if they were able to put a magic Alexa into the water that could deliver those benefits – longer life for goodness sakes, happier, healthier, those that they give more money to charity, they give more money to secular charities than secular people do, they give more time to secular charities than secular people do, they give more blood than secular people give, all of these things have been demonstrated in thousands of studies so, you know, throw that into the mix as a government is looking at what will lead to the flourishing of society, what would make society better. Actually intrinsic religiosity is something that could definitely do that, so
MD: See here’s where, here’s where we get to disagreement but it’s going to be difficult because I don’t have access to go look at studies and everything else, but if you do a google search for religiosity versus societal health there’s a study that was done years ago which was in the Journal of Religious Education I don’t know how many (GS: 2005) years, (GS: It was Gregory S Paul) Yes, Gregory S Paul which (GS: Yes palaeontologist) which shows something different but…
GS: He’s a palaeontologist who was actually hacked off with creationists. He, you know, you go to Wikipedia and you find Gregory S Paul…
MD: But that’s all by Gregory S Paul. I’m talking about his data..
GS: But you’ve been quoting him for fifteen years though.
MD: I know. But I’m quoting his data not him.
GS: Yeah but he’s one study against thousands of others and he, and he swims against the tide of literally 89% of the studies show that everything goes in the other direction. He did a univariate analysis about secularity and how it relates to public benefits. (MD: Sure and I’m not saying) and he cherry picked his results and it’s…
MD: Oh alright. Well see now, now we’re in different thing because if we going to start making accusations that his study is not good because he cherry picked it, I have problems with (JB: Just, just so…because I’m not aware of the study so could you just explain what is in the study, just so that I hear) Well that’s the thing (JB: he’s saying that..) well this isn’t what I came prepared to discuss (JB: That’s, Okay) so I don’t want to get this study wrong (JB: Okay)..the point I’m making..
GS: but you’ve been getting it wrong for fifteen years.
MD: I’ve been getting what wrong for fifteen years? What his study says?
GS: His study, yeah. His study is a univariant analysis of how secularity within European countries is indexed to a whole different number of things like murder rates and that kind of thing (MD: Right). He didn’t, he didn’t look at other things like crime rates and that sort of thing because it didn’t help his analysis.
MD: Sure…you are, you are pointing to problems that you have with his methodology but that’s not me getting wrong what his report says.
GS: Why are you camping out on his study when literally there are thousands of studies that show the benefits of religion?
MD: Well, I was getting to that a minute ago. (GS: Okay) because a number of the things that, in the studies that you would cite, I would also have a problem with their methodology. Because when you talk about, first of all you’ve got the issue of self-reporting: How happy are you? And we know for example, from especially from ex-Mormons that organisation groups like Mormon culture encourage people to, because they’re representatives of the Church, to present themselves as happier when what’s problematic. Now, who knows what the actual truth is there and I’m not saying what the truth is. What I’m saying is there’s an issue with self-reporting. There’s also an issue with what is the real foundation here. Is it that they are religious which, by the way, is independent from the truth of the religious proposition that’s why the challenge that I had for years (GS: Yes) was: show me a real true benefit of religion that is necessarily only produced by the truth of that religion. Because you can, you can produce the same thing with a compelling lie. They’ve got five religion and only five religions only one of them is true but all five of those religious individuals, or people who are adherents to those, are reporting that they’re better and happier and these other thing that has nothing to do with the truth of religion (JB: The truth of religion, sure) The truth has to do with who we are and it maybe the case that what people need is the community which religions have done a really good job of building those communities and it’s one of the things that secular organisations are working towards doing now, building stronger communities but we had to fight for just the right to exist and be open and talk about this before we could get to a point of building those sorts of communities.
JB: I mean it’s interesting that we’ve gone to this area of, of what is the value of religion, Christianity specifically in your case, Glen. I mean, is, is, are you saying that the science seems to suggest that actually there’s something about doing the things of religion, whether it be the community aspect but also the, I suppose the ritual, the belief, the prayer, that is in some way we’re kind of made for in some way psychologically, that that is our natural state whereas you don’t think that’s the case with someone who adopts an atheist perspective on the world.
GS: I think you can go there and you can make the argument that this seems to fit the human person better therefore it might be more likely to be true. You could go there but, but before you even go there I think it’s important that this difference between intrinsic religiosity and extrinsic religiosity is kind of (JB: Just explain what those two terms are)..so intrinsic religiosity is, you don’t treat religion like a means to an end, you know, so, you know, your wife goes to Church and so you go to Church too just to keep her happy – that would be extrinsic religiosity. Or you like the community or the pastor’s not such a bad guy, and you guys go bowling on a Friday and that’s fine. That would be extrinsic religiosity. But the key question that would identify you as intrinsically religious, would be: this is the most important thing to my life, or this is what helps me frame the rest of my decisions, or that kind of thing. And it’s that that seems to make the difference. So not just that you have community, that you seem to be orientated towards something that is higher, something that is transcendent that seems to give that added affect..
MD: And I’m..I wouldn’t even dispute that (JB: Okay) but it..we do some funny things with language when people are like ’Oh you don’t believe in anything higher than yourself’ and I’m like, what do you mean by higher? Do you mean that, I,.not.. that I’m just basically selfish, you know. Matt is the superior (??33:41), there’s nothing higher than Matt. No! because there are things that I value, there are things that I would sacrifice my time and energy for as well. There are folks who come, for example, the Atheist Community of Austin, where this community has saved their lives. People who were suicidal, who were ostracised by family, who felt alone and everything else and it has become essentially the most important thing to them. Like one of the, one of the differences is that, I try to make sure that we’re discouraging any sort of, like haaaa(34:09) but I wouldn’t deny or even object to the notion that the sorts of things that you’re describing as religiosity are important to humans and may in fact be beneficial. My objection is to whether or not there is actually a truth behind that (JB: a truth behind that..sure) and an actual God thing. If it turns out, it’s, I used, I used to irritate some atheists because I would say that I can prove to you that prayer works and I can demonstrate it right now because if you’re in a cave in and you pray, you are more likely to be rescued. Not because there’s some God listening to answer that but because prayer has a calming effect on you which extends the amount of time that you can be trapped which extends the likelihood that you can be rescued. The question then becomes, if you know that it’s the calming that extends the amount of time, could you do the same thing with meditation or does the awareness that it’s the calming somehow eliminate the benefit of it? And that’s the thing that I think we don’t know.
JB: I mean, are you interested in a sense though like the New Age Atheist project to some extent in de-converting people, getting them out of those beliefs? And if you do, isn’t they, do you run the danger of actually creating a worse kind of life for them because actually they may not make that transition into a secular version of the wellbeing that religion may have given them up to that point? I mean, it can be quite a really harsh process, you know (MD: Yes) de-converting. It can be terrible.
MD: And one of the things that we see undeniably within some people who leave religion, who identify as atheist, is they often fall into nihilistic kind of, I wouldn’t say often, occasionally fall into. Some of us don’t have any issue with that at all and so it’s not, I’d never pretend that there’s no problems or anything else. The, first of all, I know a good door-to-door (?). ‘Hey, if you stop believing in Jesus, share life and fix that’ (???35:57). We take incoming calls so we’re having conversations with people that want to. (JB: Yeah) And I think that if all we’re doing is actually questioning the reasoning behind a belief, and the same with the truth is always a, you know, a defence to slander, that’s what we’re engaged in. How much responsib…you know if someone gives up their religion because of what I said and they have negative consequences because of that, how much of a, am I responsible for it? This is something that I have considered quite a bit (JB: Umm) What I find is that the people who end up suffering the negative consequences, the core problem there is, still goes back to religion. It’s like if somebody told you when you were thirty that you were going to inherit a billion dollars and you get to be thirty and you find that you’re wrong, now your life may be crap from that point on because you may have lived as if you were going to inherit a billion dollars and you didn’t. You may have built up expectations and changed your, your fundamental perspective on the world so that once it’s not true you’re now miserable, maybe your bankrupt and everything else. But it’s not learning that you did not inherit a billion dollars that was the problem, it was the false promise of a billion dollars at the beginning that was the problem.
JB: Yes. I mean, I guess from your perspective as well as a Christian, Glen, you’re, you don’t want people to be Christians just because of the benefits it brings in terms of, you know, the community and the lifestyle and the psychological wellbeing, so you’re interested in truth as well.
GS: Absolutely, yeah
MD: What if we found out the happiest way to be was just to be high on heroin all the time
JB: Well quite (GS: Right, right…rattle the cage with..)
MD: We do know that it’s big negative consequences though long term so I don’t think that’s likely but that’s a possibility.
GS: Yeah, no absolutely. I think it needs to be existentially grounded. I think it needs to be true in order to live out that life because life is a wager. I am constantly, you know, I don’t mean this in a religious sense at all, life is an act of faith. You know I step out into the world not knowing what’s going to hit me. Am I going to open myself out to the world in a certain way that will make me vulnerable, that will make me weak, that could get me attacked but in another sense it could help people. All of life is a venture of faith and if it’s not true then I’m a fool you know, and I think Christianity is a venture to be in Jesus and with Jesus, extending my arms out to the world the same way that He was, in sacrificial love. If God is not on the other side of that raising me up again, which is the Easter story, cross and resurrection, then I am to be pitied more than all men which is what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 so I absolutely believe that, you know, we have common cause on this on. It must be true, but if it true I think that is what explains its workability.
GS: You know there are some people I’ve done debates online with, people who are very much atheists in the mould of Jonathan Haidt and David Sloan-Wilson and, (JB: who see the usefulness of religion) right (JB: in that sense) it’s metaphorically true so that which is true enough and really the debates we seem to have had, they seem to have been saying ‘well, to live this way, i.e. in this moral way, works therefore it’s true’ and I kept on saying, ‘well no I think it’s true and therefore it works (JB: Right) and I think that’s where I come to with that brand of atheist. I do think you need to ground it in what is actually true about the world but I think an inference to the best explanation for why it is that religion actually does work in the world, is that it is true.
JB: I mean, Matt says that you need to give secular humanism a chance – it hasn’t had a long time to actually get going and create community and potentially you will see all the same benefits accrue to someone who simply says that’s my way of finding meaning in the world, I don’t have to have religion. (MD: I don’t know if I’d say) or maybe you wouldn’t, well what you say? Well, what would you say?
MD: I come, I come pretty close. (JB: Okay) Okay. One of the things is when Jordan Peterson and I sat down I pointed out that there’s never been a secular humanist government and he tried to say that the Soviet Union was and he just doesn’t understand what secular humanists have, that, that wasn’t secular humanism that was (??40:02)stayed in forced atheism
(JB: okay) and was very much anti-religion and so if we’re going to use a language we can certainly separate, the types of things that we would put in a bucket as religiosity, maybe it’s a sense of awe, atheists can have a sense of awe. Maybe it’s the notion that there’s something that may be greater than the self that you might want to consider yourself with. I think so, I think there are concepts: truth and freedom; the society that I benefit that I’m also part of needs to be considered you can’t be myopic when you’re looking at something like wellbeing and to say well this benefits me, you know who cares what it does to anybody else because we’re intertwined. But there were a couple of, to kind of go back to something that Glen mentioned, I would agree that, if there were a God, we’ll stick with a Christian God so that we won’t have to drag anybody else into it today, but if there were a God that would be a sufficient explanation for why some of these devout religious tendencies seem to be beneficial to the practitioner. In the same way that- if there were a God, that would explain some of the things that creationists point to with regard to design. My concerns on these are separate. Yes, of course that would be sufficient but is it actually true because we’ve done this over and over again where we make an inference to an explanation based on whatever limited knowledge and information we have right now and then we find out later that we got it wrong. And every time we find out later that we got it wrong, it was scientific exploration and discovery that found out that it was wrong and at no point have we found that we were wrong about a God.
JB: What do you make of that Glen?
GS: Well, I, you know, is secular humanism new? In one sense, yes quite new, in another sense it’s, I think, it’s a repackaging of Christianity light. I do think, I do think nature’s critique holds that secular humanism tends to be Christianity where God is swapped out for the good.
MD: But to the extent that’s true, can we just say that Christianity the Hammurabi codes swapped or upgraded or changed or that all of this is derivative. At some point we’re talking about human beings and how they chose to try to answer the questions and live lives cooperatively whether going back to animism and some tribal struggle, then this becomes a more codified sort of language and when people aren’t paying attention to it and the, the village elder is no longer sufficient authority we appeal to one outside of there. I mean this would also be a sufficient explanation for the history of religion so to say that secular humanism is a newly packaged light-modified version of Christianity really isn’t relevant if Christianity is a modified version of other things that all tie back to the human being.
GS: Which is a big If and I don’t think it is at all. I think what you get when you look at human civilisations, what you get when you look at the Hammurabi code, when you look at Enuma Elis, when you look at any number of the ancient near eastern texts, when you look at any number of Greco-Roman understandings of the world, or Persian understanding of the world, or Muslim understanding of the world, it is basically that in the realm of the flesh, in the realm of biological reality it is survival of the fittest and therefore sacrifice of the weakest and I think what you get absolutely uniquely in Christianity is the reverse of that. You have in Christ the, the fittest who is sacrificed for the survival of the weakest and what you get birthed out of the Christian movement is a unique preference for the poor, the marginalised, the weak, the outsider, to draw them in, such that obviously in every society there is tit for tat, there’s let cooperate, let’s do all that kind of stuff, but who’s we in that sentence? Let US cooperate…well, who’s the us? You know. It could be just you and me and not Justin, or it could be just me and Justin and not you, right. Who are the people on planet earth who are actually saying, its actually all of us, even our enemies are those who we include in the circle of humanity and who we grant equal human dignity to and who we say they must never be marginalised no matter how weak they are, no matter how ineffectual they are, no matter how mal-adapted to survival they are; they are ours and we will, you know, and we will grant them a universal human dignity. That’s a thoroughly Christian idea and I, and it’s not, you know, obviously it’s found on the first page of the Bible so it’s there in Judaism but it’s a uniquely Christian idea that I think secular humanism has taken on but I don’t think you derive that secular humanism anywhere else but in Christianity.
MD: And Judaism.
GS: Let’s call it the Judeo-Christian world view (MD: Sure) or whatever..
MD: Let’s credit the Abrahamic God with everything, and what I look at, my issue is, if there, if there is an Abrahamic God, okay, that’s an important question which I guess we’re going to somewhat side line because at the end of the day, this notion that human beings who care about human beings are not going to come up with multiple different ways of structuring a society and that some of those which may be consistent with your view and understanding of Christianity which I would argue is perhaps different than some other peoples’ view on (???43:35) Christianity and I don’t think that’s particularly contentious at this point, doesn’t mean that this is Christianity-light and modified and updated or that it’s all derived from Christianity as the original source because that presumes that there’s something other than human beings that are the original source for those ideas. The fact that they it became popular within Christianity, you know the, that you have somebody talking about blessed are the meek, did that ultimately lead some people to the United Nations universal code of human ethics type stuff and secular humanism? (JB: Sure) Because we’re all together on a planet these ideas get passed around and my take on it has always been, take the best ideas, where ever you find them, get rid of the rest. And so from, you know, the Bible I can pull out some really good ideas and I can get rid of its support for slavery or genocide or misogyny or any of those things. I don’t have to hang on to the baggage or claim that I’m doing it because there’s a God.
JB: But in a sense though you’re getting rid of everything including God obviously in the process of doing that and is it your argument Glen that there is a danger in doing that? You can’t simply have the ethics without some of the supporting foundations presumably that you think are..
GS: Which is nature’s critique as well. Yeah absolutely but you get rid of the God of Christianity and you must get rid of the ethics of Christianity as well because it is founded on the God Who took flesh, Who became the weak one, in order to rise up again and, and bring us weak ones into His family. And He uniquely gives to the entire human race a dignity which you can kind of secularise that term and call it Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but that’s basically the Imago Dei, that’s basically the image of God from Genesis chapter 1.
MD: So, wait on the one hand you seem to be saying you can’t remove God and still maintain these things and yet you, you’re accuse, claiming that secular humanism has done exactly that.
GS: Secular humanism has done exactly that or hasn’t done exactly that?
MD: Has done exactly that. When I advocate for secular humanist principles, when I do that, that I’m basically taking the principle that you see in Christianity and just removing God from it. (GS: Yeah) So clearly you can do that.
GS: You can do that but on what grounds now is every human being in the image of God or now, in this new updated term, is every human being now included in the universal declaration of human rights?
MD: Yeah, this is, this is the thing that I keep running up against is, I have yet to find anybody presenting an objection to secular morality which is any way solved by appealing to religious one. The big thing that you get to is, well what’s the foundational source and why should I care about it. This is where when Sam writes Moral Landscape and people like, ‘well you haven’t fully explained well-being. Of course, we can’t, we haven’t, I mean this is a process where we’re continuing to discover things. Well, why should anybody care about well-being, is the big question that Sam always gets (JB: Yeah) asked. (JB: Umm) And the, this question also applies to why should anybody care about what a God says. And this is one of the things where, whether or not there is a God, I don’t necessarily see any evidence when I look at, Christianity in particular, at least the way I understood it when I was a Christian, that there is a God Who has human interests at heart. It’s humans who have human interest at heart so not all with secular humanism stand with regard to (??49:02) but the thing that we’re appealing to is the very thing that we’re seeking to do which is we care about us. Why do we care about us? We care about us because we’re us. Now, when you add in the God of Christianity you get the notion that no, God’s got a plan, you are a part of that plan and, okay, He loves you and He’s making a place to either torture you or, or rescue you to, and He can serve as a foundation that we can point to so we don’t have to point to ourselves. But nowhere in there is there any sort of guarantee that there (a) there is a God, or (b) that that God has the actual best interest of humans at heart. It’s just an appeal that God understands these things better than we do, and so when it seems like God doesn’t have the best interests of humans at heart that’s just our failure to understand Him, which is really foolish as reasoning.
GS: Except that Christianity is about God the human. I mean, foundationally, Christianity is Christ, its foundationally God the Son has become God our brother. We’ve just celebrated Christmas, it’s, it’s the time at which the Word became flesh which is just a stunning, a stunning religious idea that is found nowhere else. Disgusting to my Muslim friends. You know, it’s disgusting to the Greco-Roman mind. And yet the Christian claim uniquely is that God took flesh and even became a single cell in Mary’s womb. He became the weak and the despised thing for the sake of all weak and despised things and I think from there you get the principle that humanity in and of itself has a dignity because God has so dignified it. Otherwise it’s us elevating humanity to a certain , you know, position. Why should we elevate humanity to a certain position? Why should there be such a thing as human exceptionalism?
MD: Why shouldn’t there be?
GS: Is, is that just a power play? Right.
MD: I mean, I’m not just asking to like (GS: yup) you know (GS: Do you have an answer, like what do you think about human exceptionalism?) I don’t, I don’t really see any reason why it shouldn’t be. Of course, we’re going to be concerned about our own wellbeing. (GS: Hmm, hmm) You talk about, yeah there’s a, there’s a..
GS: Is that moral though? Or is that just a power play?
MD: So this, this is the thing we talk about, what is moral? So, quite often they’ll say well the thing you’re describing is all well and good but it’s not morality. Fine then I don’t care about morality. You need to tell me what you’re going..because if the only thing you’re going to count is morality, it’s some sort of, you know, divine command or a supernatural being that serves as a grounding for whatever you want to do, that’s not what I think anybody’s ever really cared about for morality. When we talk about morals, we talk about this, we’re evaluating the consequences of our actions with respect to some goal and does it ultimately increase, decrease or have no effect on our wellbeing. Which is why I think Sam went with well-being, I didn’t use to use that. I used a different language when I did my….
JB: But you, but you fundamentally grew with Sam Harris that is something we can objectively measure through say scientific means as long as we know what benefits, what generally humans want in their lives (MD: I think you can do..) We know the best way to get there (MD:..objective assessment, objective evaluation with respect to a standard) and that is morality as far as you’re concerned.
MD: You don’t have an objective reason why you care about that standard. Just like you don’t have an objective reason why you care about a God. If there was a God, there, it should come along and kind of clarify all of this, I would think that would be a duty. But the, the beautiful story you’re talking about, you know, where the most powerful being comes down and becomes a cell, becomes one of the, you know, one of the weak, one of the fallen in order to save them, that’s an incredible nice way to package it but that’s I have, I guess a completely different take on it, because the story is a little different. The story starts in Genesis where God creates everybody and all screws up and then He tries to fix it and it screws up and He tries to fix it and it screws up. It’s this parade, it’s this comedy of errors, and then you get to a spot where God, Who’s been demanding that we slaughter animals and burn them because He likes barbecue, is now decided that He’s going to come down and take human form and sacrifice Himself to Himself for a weekend to fix everything for everybody. That’s not, that’s blood magic, that is sacrificial (JB: Okay) blood magic thinking and nothing to do about human value.
GS: Who actually believes that, what you’ve, what you’ve just described as a summary of Christianity. I mean who actually believes what you just said? (MD: How could you not)..believe what you just said.
MD: Did God come down and become a human, sacrifice Himself (GS: God the Son, as I say God the Son became God our brother) He’s still God
GS: God the Son became God our brother, right. But the Son and the Father..
MD: Are you non-trinitarian, sorry?
GS: That’s, no, precisely because I’m trinitarian. God the Son, right, became our brother, full of the Holy Spirit (MD: Okay) in order to unite us as family back to the same source, back to the Father (MD: Okay) that’s just basic trinitarian theology.
MD: Did God not sacrifice Himself?
GS: The Father sent the Son (MD: But they’re the same) They’re not the same. (MD: They’re part of the Trinity) Yeah, they are definitely (MD: They are one right) They are definitely part of the triune (MD: are they one though?) They are united, absolutely. The Father, Son and Spirit.
MD: Oh they’re united. I mean we’re united at the table but we’re not one.
GS: The Father is in the Son, the Son is in the Father so that they are united on a level that is far superior to ours but they are…
MD: Why does there need to be a blood sacrifice?
GS: Well because, to, to walk away from God, to be disconnected from life means death, right, and in the Bible the life is in the blood.
MD: Well who made that rule?
GS: Its, it’s the nature of the case don’t you think? If God is life, God is the source of life..
MD: Couldn’t God have done it differently?
GS: Well, if God is the source of life and we reject life, what does that leave us with -death. If God wants to unite with us in our death, what will He have to take on – our death.
MD: So you’re talking, first of all you speak sort of metaphorically because I’m not rejecting life. I’m rejecting a proposition that there is some eternal life because I don’t see sufficient evidence for it. If there is, cool. But God, this notion why does it need to be a blood sacrifice at all. At some point we’re running round killing animals and doing it because God loved the smell of burning flesh, and literally it says that. Now, while its, I know, well I think I know what part of the objection is. It’s like the Easter story when they, when atheists will say ‘and then the zombies rose up and marched on Jerusalem and (???55:29)..there’s nothing in the Bible about zombies but it does talk about the dead getting up out of their graves and going in there, and so it’s a colloquialism to refer to it as zombies. I don’t even think the atheists, by and large, are thinking that we’re talking walking dead here but it’s a sure hand to show that there’s something that, is potentially absurd here, an extraordinary claim that doesn’t have evidence for it. This isn’t even that, this isn’t even an extraordinary claim that doesn’t have evidence for it; this is to me, bizarre. What is it about killing something that God needs you to do in order for God to forgive you? Because if God is the creator of everything including the rules of how all this works, couldn’t He have come up with rules that don’t involve killing things?
GS: Well, I mean, first of all the Priest was many other things but he was also your butcher, right. You would eat the lamb after you sacrificed it. You would eat the, the bull you know. We, we still go to the butcher. We still sacrifice our animals and, in that sacrifice, even today in a very secular sense, the death of that animal means our life in that, in that very literal sense. That animal dies so that we might live. And it’s just that in the Old Testament, it was also teaching a spiritual dimension. On top of the barbecues that we all love – you’re from Texas, I’m from Australia, we love barbecues okay – (MD: The vegans are going to hate us…..) it was a great conversation with cosmic sceptics by the way, on top of that butchering there was also a spiritual lesson being taught and the, the spiritual lesson being taught was not that the blood of this bull is paying for your sin but that, there is a Messiah Who is coming Who will pay for your sins. Because, no the blood of goats and bulls cannot pay for sin but God can take responsibility for His handiwork and God did take responsibility for His handiwork and it, and it was His death that actually paid for sin. That’s the story.
JB: I mean, I want, I want to move us on from what is a very interesting theological debate at this point. It may move us back a bit to the central thesis of this whole thing. I mean, we’ve been asking, can atheism deliver a better world, talking about this in the context of morality Matt. First of all, from the outset, what do you say to that question. We haven’t even asked that yet, can atheism deliver a better world? What’s your sort of..
MD: I have no idea. I’ve never suggested that atheism or even secular humanism guarantees a better world. First of all, we’re always dealing with human beings and so you can come with whatever rule system you want and it’s like, I got a thing wrong on this show the other day. Somebody was talking about natural family planning and I confused it with the rhythm method and I kind of mocked it. There’s nothing wrong with natural family planning other than you have to actually follow it diligently and it will result in you having sex less often. And then in, within the Roman Catholic Church they are required to just abstain rather than using alternate things in their fertility.
There’s nothing, I’m not saying that secular humanism it guarantees a better world but, even if we take what Glen’s saying, even if you were to look at this as Christianity-light without the God thing, I would already view that as better because (a) we guarantee that we have humans’ best interests at heart- that’s humanism, it’s the foundation of it. You can, you can say and you would be correct that it’s just a bold, bold assertion that we should care about humans, okay, and I have no response to that. I don’t even know why anybody would want to come up with a response. There’s nothing that says the world will be better this way except for this.
I did a debate in a Church of Christ where I told I could write a better book than the Bible and I could prove it to them. Because I could rewrite it word for word, reverse its position on slavery and it would be a better book. Because for the people who are looking at this, not so much as metaphorical lessons or like that, if there looking at this as an instruction book for life that book advocates slavery. That’s not even a question. If you were to say, ‘Thou shalt not honour human being as property’, that would be better than saying you can and that you can pass them on. And so this was the example I used for the people who, who are kind of like Bible worshippers. Not the people who go in looking for, hey there’s an interesting message here at they’re (??59:36) going to tell me something about my life but no, no, no this is literally word for word…that type of mindset is probably more responsible for the harm and damage that many of us would lay at the door of Christianity than Glen’s version for sure. I mean, I don’t think Glen’s pro-slavery at all and when you start looking at things that, that where you are finding a way to take a message that could easily be viewed as this is a blood magic sacrifice and say, well life has to consume life to exist and you kind of want to maybe blow off why God would’ve made it that way, or why it had to be made that way, which is a weird and interesting theological discussion. Getting rid of those things and keeping the good parts, is all I’ve advocated ever. And secular humanism to me is taking good parts, whether they’re found in Christianity, Judaism, Scientology, …(JB: And who’s deciding on, in a sense, and the good is simply defined by what you regard as the measure of human wellbeing and) yeah (JB: anything that basically points us in that direction) yeah (JB: and counts as the moral..) yeah and it’s not fully defined or anything else. But to pretend that we don’t have some beginning understanding of it, I think is a bit ridiculous.
JB: So what, I mean, so I think very briefly in the sense that Matt is sketching out this idea that there is a secular morality.
MD: Well there’s an example that came along which Glen produced when he was listing off societal health versus religiosity and teeing me up for the Gregor S Paul thing. He mentioned divorce rates but that comes with the presumption that divorce is a bad thing. (JB: Sure) and I don’t believe. I’m recently divorced. Me and my ex-wife are now as good friends now as we ever were and better, and we’re both in agreement that it was absolutely the right thing for us to do. And so what’s happened here is, from my perspective, and obviously people can disagree, religious thinking, religious teaching, religious dogma has done a number of great disservices to human beings by setting up a notion of a soulmate, by setting up the notion that marriage needs to be one man, one woman for ever – that’s caused countless problems, by setting up a view of death that does not allow people to deal with (??1:01:44) if we started with the notion that death is the eventual consequence of life it would fundamentally change, and then that was the end as far as we knew and anything else would be a bonus, it would fundamentally change, I think, how we treated people how they were still alive. And so there’s a number of problems here that are rooted in the theology, rooted in the notion that there is a God, which I think if you set those aside and just focus on the things that actually directly try to benefit human beings. It has to be better.
JB: Okay. So it’s all the benefits of Christianity plus a few more because you haven’t got some of the baggage essentially.
GS: Well, you know, I mean, Matt said that he could write a Bible that’s superior to the Bible by reversing its position on slavery. I think if you started from scratch without the Bible though, I don’t think you and I don’t think anyone has written a book or a series of books or a collection of books or a library of books that has done what the Bible has done for slavery in the world. Because slavery is a human universal, and it has not been overturned by anyone other than those who took the Bible seriously back in the eighteenth century. They were evangelical Christians, they were Quakers, they were people who took the Bible seriously, so
MD: parts of it seriously
GS: Well, yeah. Well you, it’s a longer discussion about how you take the Old Testament. But that, that’s got to be interesting at least because, I mean, we can’t do a compare and contrast. There’s no A.V testing about this. Okay, there’s only, there’s only..
MD: Which I think kind of undermines what you’re just saying and I, I, sorry I don’t mean to interrupt but I’m in agreement with you. You’re viewing it as nobody else has done this and you don’t think that anybody else could. And my thing is we’ve no way to find that out because we live in a world where this is the way things happen. And so, to, to argue that you couldn’t actually write a list of moral precepts from scratch that are superior to Christianity.
GS: But then aren’t you saying, okay at least with the Christian side we’ve got, there is one group of people that has guarantee universal equality for all human beings and has ended the slave time, okay. It might have taken far longer than you would have wanted it to have taken but there is one group of people who have done that. We don’t know if anyone has or could do that and let’s give it a go anyway, let’s walk away from this thing that has given us all these benefits of the universities and the hospitals and the schools and the scientific method and the emancipation of the slaves and all this sort of stuff, let’s walk away from that. That’s quite a leap of faith don’t you think?
JB: And am I also getting the sense, Glen, that I mean I want to come back to this, this human at the centre of this and the fact that Matt says, ‘hey human to humans and yet it’s natural that we’re going to prefer ourselves and that’s where the morality comes from, our own best interest’, and you’re saying, ‘no somehow Christianity is actually grounded in intrinsic dignity to the human that Matt’s godless ethics isn’t necessarily going to support. It might go in that direction for the, a moment but there’s no ultimate foundation to it.’ Is that what you’re saying…
GS: Yeah, absolutely. We are always going to look after ourselves but who is ‘we’ and who are ‘ourselves’ in that conversation. And we are always wanting to narrow the circle around us and our mates and exclude the other tribe and exclude the other kinds of people. So, you know, in the news here in the UK, just recently they brought in a non-invasive pre-natal test for Down’s Syndrome and it has the reliable effects that everybody knew it was going to have as people knew that they were going to have children with Down’s Syndrome, they abort them at ever higher rates, and yet the headlines said, ‘Children with Down’s Syndrome down by thirty percent’ and it sounded like people had like found a cure for Down’s Syndrome or something like that. They hadn’t found a cure for Down’s Syndrome they had just drawn the circle round humanity and kept those with that condition on the outside and wanted to eliminate them and that to me is a very chilling way of preceding with a kind of, a humanism because that’s always the danger, like who is ‘us’, who are those we are going to grant with the right to life and who are those who we are going to say do not qualify and it’s always tempting for the, the humans to say ‘okay, it’s the strong who will make the decision and it’s the weak who must take the hind most. What is it, you know, what is it that is going to stand up for all humans regardless of capacity, regardless of attributes, regardless of achievements? Who is it who’s going to stand up for all humans and actually be true humanness and grant them human rights too?
MD: Is it, is the problem is..so first of all, whether or not that abortion scenario that you’re talking about is humanism or not is subject for a whole nother debate but you’re, you say ‘well nobody could do this’ and then we talk about ‘here’s a list of precepts for where we don’t include God in it, then your answer is ‘now you’re just borrowing from Christianity. Its Christianity like you’ve just removed the God’. And then the other objection you’re going to launch at secular morality is, what’s going to be the foundation behind this. At least we have a foundation, it’s God. Well what if people don’t accept your foundation? That is exactly the same objection that you are leveraging, you’re launching at secular humanism. Whatever problem secular humanism may have with regard to foundations of ethics, no religious foundation has any way of solving that because ultimately, if, until some God comes in and says ‘I am in fact the God of the universe and I am the moral authority and all people are forced to recognise that this is the case, then the only thing that is happening is Glen saying that God is the foundation of morality and I am saying humans are, and nobody is going to be, neither of those systems is going to work for people who don’t accept that that’s a foundation.
JB: Do, do people have to all recognise this foundation in order for it to be the foundation?
GS: No, people don’t need to recognise that two plus two equals four for it to be the case that two plus two equals four and if you go to your grave proclaiming that two plus two equals four even if the whole world says it was otherwise, then two plus two would still equal four. People don’t need to recognise a moral truth to be a moral truth for it to be moral.
MD: They do if they’re, if you’re talking about moral system. If you want to create, you know, computer code and get people to start programming in it, you’ve got to be able to convince them about ones and zeros. So two plus two, plus equals four isn’t even in the same ballpark of there is a God. It’s either true or it’s not but it’s not a foundation for something. If you’re talking about a moral system, the only, the true foundation is agreement on what the foundation is. The three of us care about human beings. And then we can start arguing about how much we care, and whether there’s going to be conflicts and everything else but we can’t do any of that until we agree on the foundation. And if Glen’s foundation is that there’s a God at the bottom of this and he can’t demonstrate that, then we’re not even going to get started on talking about this
GS: That’s not what two plus two equals four is the analogue of in this conversation. Two plus two equals four is the analogue, all human beings are worthy of provision and protection, all of them. Right. Do, would you agree with that? All human, members of the human family, no matter what their achievements, no matter what their attributes, all members of the human family are worthy of all provision and protection.
MD: I’ve no idea.
GS: That’s a problem. It’s definitely a problem especially when you’ve got people who are discovering disabled children in the womb.
MD: When I say, I say I have no idea, it’s about that simplification…I, my instinct is of course is to say yes (GS: Hmm, it’s a very Christian instinct). Thank you, that’s a very atheist response. The instinct is to of course say yes, the problem is that we start talking about the specifics in language, there are going to be right conflicts that we have to address.
GS: Sure, sure.
JB: Sure. But all other things being equal as a general principle, would you say that what Glen has laid down there is, is one that you can agree to in order to treat it more….
MD: Sure.. (JB: and all members of the human…(??1:09:59)) general colloquial assent, yeah.
JB: Yeah. And what’s your point then Glen, that this two plus two equals four as it were, this agreed, agreement, that that ex.., that that doesn’t exist just on the basis of maths preferences (GS: Right) it’s a fact in the way, two plus two equals four is a fact (GS: Yes) as far as you’re concerned (GS: Yes) (MD: See and now I don’t…) Not quite so much for you?
MD:..that I don’t agree with. It is, it is certainly there are things that we are going to agree on, that I don’t know how you could ever demonstrate that this is in fact like true, like some intrinsic truth about it like, for example, I think human lives have incredible value. I don’t think they have any intrinsic value. I don’t think the universe cares at all about human life. They have value because they have value to us.
GS: And who’s us?
GS: All humans?
MD: Well,…(GS: Or is it…)..any of the able humans who are able to consider the proposition of whether or not they have value.
GS: Which is the strong, and that’s my problem is that it, it becomes an ever-shrinking circle of humanity that we have and it’s the strong who rule over the weak.
MD: Well a characterisation of evolution is being strong over the weak. I, I would argue is it necessarily accurate but it’s also because there’s no decision there. It’s, whatever survives survives, and what is strong in one sense, a weakness may become a strength depending on the situation. (GS: Hm,hmm) That is what evolution does. not like ‘oooh, me He-Man, you weak, I’m going to kill you’ type thing, maybe, you know, for example sickle cell anaemia provides a protection against certain things and so while it may be under certain circumstances. There’s a reason why animals develop camouflage and other changes… (JB: But why, why..) ..because of the fact that…
JB: Why in your view was it wrong for, you know, I’msorry to invoke God once more, even though we’re near the end of the programme, why was it wrong for Hitler and the Nazis to, you know, euthanise disabled people and gay people and people that they felt were outside of their, their circle of who they considered to be human? What, why, what was the kind of….
MD: I’m not sure that they considered them outside the circle of what they considered to be human, they had a view that these were somehow inferior humans. I think that they would all acknowledge that they were human, just that they were somehow inferior (GS: ..(??1:11:11) ..races) less or less deserving, yeah…(GS: yeah..) and things like that.
GS: Things like the master race.
MD: So it’s one of those things where people say (JB: Because a lot of people would say that Hitler was wrong about a fact there. Whereas, from what I’m, I’m wondering like and we’re getting to the issue of, is there this objective moral value to human, to humanity and..in a sense.) ..well it reminds of the people who argue that, you know, ‘hey slavery is really good for the slave owners’ and so if you’re a slave owner you can look at this and say ‘hey, slavery is a good thing because it benefits me.’ The problem is that when you look at the larger picture it’s not actually necessarily good for the slave owners, and get, beginning to recognise that every member of society effects potentially every other member, fundamentally changes and it shifts our in-group, out-group dynamic so that whenever Hitler goes after the Jews for whatever religious reasons he had, for whatever superior, you know, uber guy, (GS: or scientific reasons, yeah) reasons he had, that’s fundamentally different from whether or not killing them makes society worse or better. And it, it’s kind of this thing of, ‘Oh this is what I think makes us better’, which is independent from what actually makes us think better. Nobody, not Sam nor I nor anybody is suggesting that if we begin with an agreement on wellbeing as a foundation, that there aren’t going to be things that are, that we think we have the right answer about and find out we were wrong.
GS: At that stage then, it would seem that instead of having World War II we would have a symposium in which the Nazis would present their papers and others would present other papers and then we’d have a panel, and then we’d discuss them and then we’d try and trash it out. At what stage do you say that their vision for updating, for evolving, for having a master race, at what stage do you say that that is morally unjustified and therefore there is a just war that can be fought against them?
MD: I, I don’t know that there’s an answer for that apart from assessing the individual situation which is what we did. (GS: Hm, hmm) But we didn’t have to rely on a God for it.
GS: Well, we rely on (MD: Are you, are you suggesting..) we relied on 1941/1939 years of Christian understanding of, what is the good life and the good life is, that the sacrifice of the strong for the protection of the weak, and Hitler was doing the exact opposite of that. And so it was very obvious to people in that sense, the evil of the Nazis, and they went and fought a just war against it.
MD: Sure…so it was Christianity that was the credit for ending the Nazi regime and, and, and not even Judaism.
GS: No, it was Christianity that had shaped the West and its moral sensibilities, such that Nazism appeared to them as very obviously the very reverse of the way of the Cross.
MD: I…so this is something that you, that you just can’t argue with because it’s just an assertion from Glen’s perspective because if we come up with something that is good we are borrowing it from Christianity. There is no way to not be accused of borrowing because Christianity was around before and, if you find something that was before Christianity, well that was foreshadowing Christianity. Because the God, the God that he believes in has been there forever, so anything true and good that was pre-Christ was God foreshadowing it. And anything that’s afterwards, somebody borrowing from it. There is no response to this and there’s also no way for him to demonstrate that that’s what’s happening.
JB: Is that a fair criticism Glen?
GS: Well I think that we said from Old Testament to New Testament, we’ve said from Genesis 1, I totally believe in, in the same God from the beginning but I think what is the unique thing about the Christia…about the Christian story is you’ve got the sacrifice of the fittest for the survival of the weakest, you’ve got this way of the Cross, you’ve got this way of Jesus which is unlike the Greco-Roman world, it’s unlike the Persian world, unlike the Babylonians, it’s unlike the Muslim world. It is very like what secular humanists now say about inclusion and welcome and diversity and bringing people to the centre and caring for the weak and…
MD: If you’re very selective about what you read. You know it’d be really nice about Christianity if it, there were… the nice, unique feature of Christianity was, if it could be demonstrated to be true (GS: Hm, hmm). That would be a unique feature among religions which would be very nice.
GS: Well, we have the God Who was the Master came down, became the slave, he paid the slave price (MD: I know the story) yeah.
MD: You can’t demonstrate it’s true .
GS: Well we’re live, we’re living in the effects of it, we’re living in the ripples of the after effects of that story.
MD: You can’t prove that’s true either that’s just how you’re viewing it.. I don’t think we’re, we’re living in the ripple effects of people who believed that to be true which is independent from whether or not it is true.
JB: Yeah, I mean obviously we’ve all got our different standards of what would qualify as evidence for that to be true….
MD: Which is why, and this is the thing, this is why I keep saying that I have yet to be presented with an objection from religious, an objection to secular morals that religion solve and it’s not, God could fix this, if there is a God, God could fix this just like that. Just like he could have said ‘Thou shalt not own another human being as property.’ Instead He was more concerned about wearing mixed fabrics and whether or not you should eat shrimp, evidently.
GS: I mean, it’s conversation about the old, old covenant that we can have but the old covenant is called old for a very good reason. What I’ve been saying again and again is that…
MD: Why would there be multiple covenants? Why can’t God just say, here’s the way things are?
GS: That’s just the law. That’s just the law. The law does say, here’s the way things are, but as we’ve both admitted, humans get things wrong. But what we need is grace. What we need is the God, Who is the lawgiver to actually come and save us, to actually come and forgive us for all the different ways that we get things wrong.
MD: I don’t think I need a God to come and save me or forgive me. I need God to come down and demonstrate that He exists.
GS: Hmm…the God Who comes down in the Christian sense is the God Who becomes incarnate. But, but a number of times Matt you’ve used, you know, the Word of God being a sort of super being or a..I don’t know…what’s the phrase you used..anyway a super being which I imagine to be something kind of within the created order and who, you know, might appear, you know, in a cloud and that sort of thing..
MD: Are you talking about today because the only time I talked about super being was when we were referencing Nazis.
GS: No, no, super….anyway, forgive me (MD: But carry on) God, God is, God is not one more item within the created order. He is the source of being and, and, you know, so for you to say why isn’t God showing Himself, it’s, it’s a bit like Juliet saying, you know, ‘Where is Shakespeare?’. It, it’s in one sense where isn’t Shakespeare, okay. Its…
MD: It’s kind of the opposite of that because in that category you have a fictional character asking where’s the real one and in this one, you have the real character asking where’s the fictional one.
GS: Ahhh, but are you the fictional one?
MD: I’m not, I’m the real one. I’m a real boy as far as I can tell.
GS: Yeah, yeah. And yet you did not give life to yourself you know.
JB: Is, isn’t one of your, isn’t one of Glen’s contentions though in a sense that if you’re looking for evidence for God we find it by looking at the fact that we have this intrinsic view that humans are equal and that isn’t something we can just deduce from science. Science doesn’t have anything particularly to say to our moral values, its..
MD: Because it’s not a, it’s not a truth. It’s not intrinsically true. (JB:Sure) it’s not like two plus two equals four.
GS: No, it’s not mathematical truth. I, I mean, in terms of morality are (MD: It is subjective) you an objective…do you believe in objective moral values or like..
MD: Not the objective foundation but the objective assessment with regard to the foundation. I think wellbeing is the best that we’ve got.
JB: But in that sense, so science as far as it an give us a morality like Sam Harris says, it’s once we’ve agreed what the, the goal is… (MD: right, if you agree what the goal is..) but, but there’s no ultimate sort of, yeah, there’s no ultimate foundation (MD: Correct) this is the way we should all, this is the goal we should all aspire to. But presumably Glen you believe there is some kind of ultimate thing that we’re made for, something we’re about, a grand narrative we’re living in and that, the fact that we, is the fact we recognise that somehow within ourselves evidence for God in your view?
GS: You can, you can make a moral argument for God’s existence, yes. I do believe God is love and the good life is to live in love and I believe that not just Christians can recognise this and not just Christians do recognise this.
MD: Well we can do the same things. So, this thing of, the fact we seem to have a desire for meaning, purpose, value, all those things, he’ll use it as evidence for the God because that serves as an explanation for it. I can do that with that exact same example. The fact, the reason that Glen sees God as the justification for that because he’s uncomfortable with the possibility that there isn’t an explanation for it or that this isn’t some sort of universal truth. So a preference for ‘I want there to be intrinsic human dignity’ gets you to ‘Hey if there was a God there would be human dignity because this God is guaranteeing it’ and so that same circle of preference is there. I’m just eliminating both of them and saying, I’m going to go ahead because I care about human beings, and I value human beings because I am one and say whether there is a God or not, this is what I’m going to go for and if there’s a God that has a better way they can demonstrate it. Why isn’t a Damascus Road experience good enough for everybody?
GS: So the moral argument for God’s existence is, is not that we need some kind of arbitrary moral figure who has some whims and he will enforce them at the point of hell and therefore it would be better if we want to live in the moral world to believe in such a God. The moral argument for God’s existence is that there is an objective realm of moral values and the explanation for that objective realm of moral values is not going to be a, a material cause because morals are not material things, right. Moral values are not reducible to just biological reality and thank God for that because biological reality is the survival of the fittest, okay. But moral values are something distinct from biological values, natural values. You cannot get from those natural values to the ethical values. You can’t get from an ‘is’ to an ‘oughts’ and you sure can’t get from preferences to an ‘ought’, you can’t get from a ‘like’ to an ‘ought’. If there is..
MD: Course you can. You can always get from preferences to an ‘ought’.
GS: No you can only get from preferences to another preference. It’s just, it’s just, becomes another preference backed up with force.
MD: The problem…well alright we’re not going, we’re not going necessarily accept…so first of all, I don’t think we disagree on, on, on the example but as soon as you get into preferences that’s the objection. The reason you can’t get from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought’ is that you have to inject a preference. Its injecting a preference that gets you to the ‘ought’. I would like to live in a world where this happens therefore I ought to do that. The, the objection and the ‘is/ought’ thing is there’s thing if I try, if I start with the foundation of ‘I would like to’ it’s not a problem of what lead to but why should I lie to you….
JB: But what if the person with the power I suppose is what I’m getting kind of saying, If the person in power, say the Hitler, simply has a very different conception of what the best is for his life compared to your life, then do you have any moral, if you like, force to say ‘you’re doing something wrong’ isn’t he just going with his preferences as opposed to your preferences’?
GS: So what is that is up here that says those preferences are better and those preferences are worse…(MD: Right) what does that..
MD: This is the objection that is often launched. So I could sit down with Hitler, I wouldn’t because he’s dead, but I could sit down with Hitler (GS: It could be Hitler adjacent…(??1:23;41)) if we could find the thing that we agree on, that we care about, I can show, we can then demonstrate which one of our preferences are in conflict with that. If, if he, because what we, what we do as human beings often delude ourselves and we look at our preferences and assume they’re right but they’re going to conflict with something foundational which it..basically the beginning of a superiority secular morality talk. I talked about how you could begin with, let’s say three, foundational preferences: Life is generally preferable to death; health is generally preferable to sickness; and pleasure is generally preferable to pain. None of them are universally true. Sometimes pain is preferable. Sometimes death may be preferable which is why I support death with dignity for people who no longer have any hope of a, of a quality of life and with their individual autonomy and control over their own life. But you can begin with those and you can build something. But you could start with anything. You could start with death is better than life and what you get to is extinction. And if I find something, I think Hitler, probably, I mean there’s the old joke, Hitler probably loved his mother too, Hitler probably valued human life, just had justifications for excluding certain others (GS: Right) (JB: and you think you could reason Hitler into..) I don’t know that I necessarily could. (GS: Why wouldn’t he reason you into his way?) it might be, I’m not (GS: Right) I’m not saying that that’s not necessarily the case. I’m saying that if you can show that what you are actions are and the things you are justifying are in conflict with a foundation that you agree with, (GS: Hm,Hmm) that’s where the problem is.
GS: Right. And what if the, it’s the establishment of the master race because if the fittest do survive, then wouldn’t it be nice if the fittest should survive, like we take a hop, skip and a jump and (MD: Sure and then you ask..) we can force (MD: what criteria are you using to determine fittest?)
GS: And again we’re having a symposium when we should be fighting a war. And this is, (MD: No, no..we should always be having a symposium so we don’t have to fight wars. Why would anybody be saying that we should be fighting a war?) You sound like Neville Chamberlain. You know, I’ve found peace in our time with Hitler because I’m going to sit down with him and I’m going, I’m going to explain him (MD: I’m sorry, I’m sorry but advocating for a reasoning rather than blowing crap up is so anathema.) Oh, I think we tried to reason with him.
MD: I’m not saying, so this..okay, here’s where the confusion is. I’m not saying after the war started, ‘Send Matt in and he could sit down with Hitler and talk to him.’
GS: He’s very clever…
MD: We’re using a precise example but talk about a more abstract one which is essentially, let’s say you and I disagree on, you want to take some action, you want to exterminate some portion of the population. The process that I’m advocating for, is for us to figure out what shared foundation we have, if any, which we’ll find something to share, and show which one of us is more in conflict with, and which one of us is more in keeping with, that foundation. Is it always going to be the case? No. But you ask how you would actually solve that and I would..(GS: and if it the wellbeing) if it didn’t work I’d kill him.
GS: And if wellbeing, just very vaguely defined, if wellbeing is, is the metric that we are using (MD: Yeah) and Hitler could say, ‘oh, we’re so much better off without the disabled, you have no idea you know we’re, we’re soaring at industry, our numbers are through the roof, our wellbeing is doing incredibly well once we eliminate the sick, the weak, the handicapped…is he right at that point?
MD: Well, that’s when you go through and you talk about what data you’re looking at to define wellbeing, because (GS: What data?) Yeah
GS: You’re having that conversation about the dead because he’s, because he’s just told you I’ve eliminated the handicapped (MD: Oh my gosh, it’s not like I’m talking, no,..) Okay (MD: I’m saying..) because if it’s happening right now the, there is a Down’s Syndrome population that’s being eliminated globally right now and we’re having a conversation about it. Again, I think it’s better to have a conversation than to blow people up and all that sort of stuff but it’s, it’s a very live issue. I’ve, it’s not it’s not just a (??1:27;40) rule..
MD: I’m just going with the example that you say Hitler comes to me and says you wouldn’t believe how much better our society is now that we’re eliminating these people. Then you’ve got to go back and look at it and say, what have you lost? Is your society better and are you just looking at short term? Did you in fact, how do you know that you didn’t lose a cure for disease? how do you know that you’re not worse off because it has fundamentally changed your psyche? How do you know you’re not worse off because you’ve lost art? Because you’ve lost human connection? It’s not just, see this is one of the problems that you can point out to people that are going down there, wellbeing is not just… (JB: But is it, is it,) what’s my financial wellbeing (JB:..aren’t those people’s lives worth something even if they didn’t produce a cure for cancer or great works of art? Even if they just , you know, sat around and consumed all the resources that all the able people were doing] If somebody sat around and did nothing but consume, I, I don’t know how you could consider that as adding value. You have to point to something where they’re adding value to society.
GS: Is that what they, so they have to achieve, they have to add value. (MD: So..) But they don’t have value.
MD: Yeah. So, this is what I’m saying when I said that there’s no intrinsic value to it (GS: Right) but that I value, that I value human life and that everybody, almost everybody (GS: but who’s I? You, you might delight (??1:28:51)..) I’m, I’m speaking specifically for me but also I think there’s..(GS: But if somebody else doesn’t you try to reason them out of it but) What, what yes. Okay. See you sit there and you, ‘hm,hmm’ ‘Hm,hmm’. Okay, just try it. I don’t value human life, changed my mind.
GS: Hm, hmm. Look at the Nazis. Look at that vision of humanity.
MD: I don’t care.
GS: Hm, hmm.
MD: I don’t value human life, changed my mind.
GS: Hm, hmm. You have, yourself a humanity that has dignity. You might not believe it right now.
MD: I don’t, changed my mind.
GS: I’m trying to change your mind, by saying without achievements, without attributes, without contributing a penny of money, without expending a calorie of effort..
MD: I worry, by the way, that this is going to get cut as if this is really me saying this when it’s not!
GS: And I’m counselling you or something, I’m your therapist.
MD: I don’t even understand why this point is remotely contentious. (JB: What’s, what’s, what’s your point here though that, that if you simply choose not to believe humans have value then nothing, that nothing that he’s going to say is going to change your mind or not?) By telling me that there’s a God or a Jesus, that’s not necessarily going to change my mind than my line of reasoning…(JB: So what’s your point then Glen, cause, cause..?)
GS: My point is the changing in the mind is not the most important factor that is going on here. It’s the immorality of eliminating a whole people group that’s, that’s a little bit more important…
MD: And I think talking in someone’s openness (GS: And talking about is a conversation) We’re talking about someone who doesn’t value human life (GS: yes) not what they’ve done (GS: Yes) but what they think. (GS: Yes, yes, yes) You have to figure out a way to change their mind
GS: and the best way we’ve discovered over 2000 years is to tell the story about the God who becomes the weak and the despised and the marginalised and the single cell in Mary’s womb, and I think..(MD: and I think you can do better than telling a story.)…that’s what God’s like. But you think but what evidence do you have?
MD: What. Give it a shot. There’s no reason to think it’s not worse.
GS: So accept, accept all the scientific studies that have said it.
JB: Which brings us nicely to the end of the show and I’m just going to ask that question just one more time, can atheism deliver a better world in your view, Matt?
MD: I have no idea and that, that’s genuine. I think that there are things that, that if you take the good wherever you find it religion, non-religious philosophical thing, take those things, keep them, get rid of the baggage. How could we not be better off?
JB: And your final thoughts on that one too.
GS: Well I guess what follows from atheism, I mean atheism just a lack of belief in a God, I don’t think any kind of moral system necessarily falls out of that. I mean, if we’re biological survival machines clinging to an insignificant rock hurtling through a meaningless universe towards external extinction, what follows? You know, one thing that might follow is nothing. Another thing that might follow is anything and therefore I think, you know Matt’s venture is very much a venture of faith, you know, we want to, we are to create more atheists or at least create more sceptics about the idea, when everything we know about the utility of religion, is that it’s a net gain, a net win to society, and when the, the consequences of getting rid of this story, especially this story of the God Who became weak, is to have a certain callousness to the whole rest of society and I think that metaethical issue will play out in negative ways about how we treat the least and the last and the lost.
MD: And I agree with him that atheism doesn’t necessarily lead to anything which is why I keep advocating for secular humanism (JB: for secular humanism but thats..) but when you say that everything we’ve learned religion has been in that game, I’m not convinced.
JB: Well look I’ve really enjoyed the conversations so Matt and Glen thank you very much for being with me. (MD: Thank you.) (GS: Thank you Justin, thank you Matt.)