Saturday, 28 August 2010
Yesterday I was feeling frisky, so I got up earlier than usual, grabbed some permanent markers, bought a piece of foam board and a couple sleeves of Oreos, and made my way to campus. Once there, I grabbed a booth and drew up the following sign...
In the interest of hopefully getting my lunch paid for, I also made up a sign that read...
Convert an atheist
And chilled. Shockingly, I had a lot of supporters (and gave away a lot of Oreos). I did encounter the following arguments...
1. Christianity is true because I see Christ in everybody whenever I see kindness, compassion, etc.
I responded that those values are not intrinsically Christian and that a better explanation for them exists than a Jew rising from the dead. She was convinced. Win.
2. This is just so confrontational.
I conceded that it was and asked why that was a bad thing. I explained that there were three goals.
- Contribute to an atmosphere in which religion is not taken seriously, despite how much that may offend someone.
- Force the conversation - which was working.
- Recruit for the MSU Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - which was working.
He conceded that those goals sounded ok.
3. Religion provides societies with a moral code.
I countered that religion comes with a long list of liabilities on a societal scale (laws based on thousands-of-years-old dogma rather than a consideration for happiness/suffering, for instance) and that we did not need bad reasoning to generate morals. Not sure he was convinced.
I had another guy come up who recognized me from an astronomy course we took a couple years ago. He was very pleasant and we conversed for about 40 minutes. Got a whole spectrum of arguments from him:
- The world is 'broken'. I asked him to define 'broken', since if that word just meant 'separated from god' it assumes the fact we're trying to work out of god's existence, no bueno. Now, if that means there are things that contribute to suffering, I agree, but I think there's a better explanation. Convinced him on that one.
- Pascal's wager. Snore.
- Personal experience. I explained that if Christianity is right then all other religions must be wrong (see the first commandment). Not only every believer of ever other current religion must be wrong, but every believer in every other religion ever conceived must be wrong. Obviously, we are far more given to delusion about god than a pull toward the one true faith (tm). So if it's far more likely for people to sincerely believe they've had a personal experience and be wrong, why is that a good reason? I asked if he had cross-examined his personal experience the way he would do if he heard a fish speak to him. Convinced him here too, I think.
- Miracles. He said he had a missionary friend who reported that his team prayed for a little girl who had been born without eyes and her eyes regrew. I countered with several examples of similar situations that, upon being investigated, turned out to be hoaxes. Think about it. During the 60s, 70s, and even 80s, fuzzy photos of UFOs were a dime a dozen. Now that we have improved cameras and video cameras, suddenly E.T. has stopped visiting.
Same story here. How come all the miracle stories are second-hand and can never be investigated or confirmed? Sure, occasionally somebody tries to slip a miracle onto youtube, but they're never anything remotely impressive. Consider James Randi's million-dollar challenge to anybody who could confirm a miracle under experimental conditions. There's a reason nobody has won it.
Ultimately, I asked him, which is more likely? That the impossible happened and a girl regrew her eyes, or that a small group of human beings with an interest in that event happening lied? I think I convinced him on this one too.
After about a half-hour the guy really tried to give me five bucks. I laughed and declined.
All-in-all it was a good day. I made people think, publicly didn't take religion and threats of hell at all seriously, and made some new friends. Win.