Laughing at fundamentalists? Lessons from John Loftus and Keith Parsons

Posted on 06/10/13 77 Comments

The title of John Loftus’ article says it all: “Professor Keith Parsons Advocates Ridicule.” Well, okay it doesn’t exactly say it all. You have to read the article to find that Loftus agrees with Parsons. Fundamentalists should be ridiculed. However, Loftus adds “Keep in mind we don’t advocate this as the only response.” Why even bother adding that? That’s like saying “Illegal immigrants should be beaten. But keep in mind we don’t advocate this as the only response.” Gee, isn’t that thoughtful.

So we ought to laugh at and ridicule fundamentalists. But then what is a fundamentalist, exactly? In a delightful philosophical reflection on the way the term functions in common parlance, Alvin Plantinga concludes:

“The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine.’” (Warranted Christian Belief, 245)

Okay, so now you know, whenever you find somebody who has more conservative theological (or political or economic or social or…) views than you, you have as one of your options laughter, mockery, ridicule.

But why? What benefit is it to laugh at people and mock them? The conclusion of the Parsons’ quote provides the reason:

“As a sign admonished on The Simpsons, put the fun back in fundamentalism. Laugh it to death.”

I guess the idea is that if you really strive to ostracize certain people, to stigmatize them socially, to instigate hatred and disdain of them, then other people will not want to be a part of their numbers and their groups will shrink.

One might hope for his sake that Keith Parsons is right about that. Because I can readily think of another possibility, namely that those you laugh at learn nothing of your high falutin’ nuance, but they do learn a new level of rage and hatred as they retrench into larger, radicalized groups of the similarly marginalized and dispossessed.

To be blunt, not only is this Parsons/Loftus advice reprehensible and inhumane, but it is completely stupid and dangerous. The only way forward in the open society is to treat others as you would like to be treated, with kindness, dignity and respect. And that applies even to those stupid sumbitches whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of yours.

  • John

    “To be blunt, not only is this Parsons/Loftus advice reprehensible and inhumane, but it is completely stupid and dangerous. The only way forward in the open society is to treat others as you would like to be treated, with kindness, dignity and respect. And that applies even to those stupid sumbitches whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of yours.” – Randal

    Thank you very much for posting this, Randal. This is a commendable stance to take. Widespread intolerance of others is a path to societal destabilization (imo).

    • cyngus

      Laughing is not intolerance. When atheists are laughing at theist fabrications, theist are free to continue to fantasize or make apologetic for their god as long as they want.

      Laughing is an appreciation for a good humor, especially when god is involved. You don’t know, but the best jokes are about religion, sex, and politics. The most scary subjects.

      • John


        I don’t know where you are from, but I lived in the Bible Belt in the US for many years (several decades). I literally know scores of people who were raised as Christian fundamentalists. They had fundamentalist teachings (often based upon a literal translation of the King James Bible – including every single OT and NT miracle claim) drilled into their impressionable heads from a young age. I don’t think laughter and ridicule is the best way to engage someone who may have been taught something different from what you believe (certainly as long as they are not trying to foist their beliefs upon you). It is not the best way to bring people of a different ken to the table (imo).

        • David

          Great post! Mockery doesn’t work, especially if the people whose minds you are trying to change are likely to think you are “working for the devil.”

        • J_M_Green

          Ridicule is simply one tool in the toolbox. What works for one person may not for another. In my case, satire and ridicule paved the way for my deconversion.

        • cyngus

          I know, you can get killed in the “bible belt” just for smiling when somebody read from the bible.

          “Jesus cried”- That’s the spirit!

  • Syllabus

    This isn’t the first time a prominent atheist advocated mockery of a certain religious constituency. Dawkins recommended something similar with regard to Catholics and Catholicism. One would think reasoned argumentation would be the way to deal with one’s opponents, but apparently not.

    • cyngus

      Reasoned argumentation did not, does not and won’t work when dealing with faiths.

      Reasoned faith is an oxymoron

    • Carmelita Spats

      Reasoned argumentation with Mexico’s creepy Archbishop Norberto Rivera? ROFLMAO! If it’s possible, I’m very open to learning. I’m Mexican and nothing has been more liberating in my country than playwright Jesusa Rodriguez’s witty mockery of Catholicism. Jesusa Rodriguez began writing, producing and staging the ridicule of Catholicism twenty years ago in underground theaters frequented by the stigmatized Mexican LGBT community. Her theatrical performances slowly gained visibility in a predominantly Catholic country. She touched many taboos with her humor, wit, blasphemy, creativity and became a force for dialogue, whether the RCC wanted it or not. Jesusa’s scathing humor has also been a tremendous help in getting Mexican women to vote in a country of much, manly, macho, grunting and in obtaining gay marriage in Mexico City. Aesthetic ridicule was just the beginning….There is still work to be done…So we do both…We quietly roll up our sleeves and we laugh.

  • Orion Silvertree

    A question: do you take the same position in reference to those occasions when you have availed yourself of pointed humor?

    • Randal Rauser

      Humor can be a marvelous tool, particularly when it comes with a peppering of self-deprecation. But mockery is a bludgeon.

      Needless to say, the clever ironist uses humor for the pedagogical benefit of all. By contrast, the mocker may not use humor at all, and if he does it is to the end of destruction, not redemption.

      • cyngus

        It is better to demolish old structures than to build new terminology on them.

      • Orion Silvertree

        Agreeably answered. Another question: given that pointed humor runs a gamut, and that what one calls “clever irony” another will call “mockery,” is “mockery” specifically meant here to denote pointed humor wielded solely for destructive purpose?

        • Orion Silvertree

          Having slept on it, “Agreeably answered” sounds unintentionally arch. Let me try that again.

          I’m in full agreement with the nuances of that answer.

          I do intend to argue against your larger position, as I understand it – and I want to do my best to understand it before I do. I only have one more question, and it’s purely about terminology.

          Are you using “mockery” specifically as a term for unjustifiable ridicule? An extreme analogy: if a homicide is demonstrably justified or accidental, we don’t call it “murder.”

          • Randal Rauser

            Asking about “unjustifiable ridicule” begs the question of whether ridicule is ever justifiable.

            Sure, one can conceive of an extreme case where ridicule would be justified. Let’s say a child is about to get into a panel van with a pedophile. As you run toward the van your only recourse is to mock the appearance of the pedophile to prevent the child from getting in the van. Yeah, if mockery were the only tool in that case then go for it.

            Needless to say, Parsons/Loftus were not advocating anything like that extreme, limited use. Rather, they were advocating a dangerous recourse of denigrating those with whom they disagree. And as I argued that is bad advice both in principle and pragmatically.

      • J_M_Green

        Randal, you might want to toss out your Bible then:

        Elijah and the prophets of Baal “Shout louder, maybe your god is travelling or sleeping”… the apostle Paul “I wish they would go all the way and castrate themselves”…

        Or, how about Jesus:

        “Then began He [Jesus] to UPBRAID [Greek: oneidizo] the cities wherein most of His mighty words were done, because they repented not” (Matt. 11:20).

        Strong’s Greek Dictionary, “#3679, oneidizo, from #3681 [notoriety, that is a taunt (disgrace):--a reproach] to defame, i.e.rail at, chide, taunt:–upbraid, reproach, revile, cast in (one’s) teeth”

        You are sawing off the very branch you sit on by rejecting mockery.

        Using mockery to treat silly ideas with the disrespect they deserve has a long tradition.

        How about Luther, Erasmus, or Mark Twain?

        Are you really claiming that mockery is ineffective?

        • Randal Rauser

          Elijah is using sarcasm which, as I’ve already noted, is not mockery. To the extent where Elijah uses mockery, I wouldn’t agree with him.

          Paul is using hyperbole. That has nothing to do with mockery.

          Jesus is offering a “woe”, a reproach. The very lexicographic entry you provide explains that.

          I’ve written critically of Luther’s use of rhetoric. As for Erasmus, he was a masterful satirist. If you can’t tell the difference between socially engaged satire and mockery then that’s part of the problem.

          • J_M_Green

            Are you claiming that satire is not mockery?

            • Randal Rauser

              Correct. Ridicule/mockery is not satire. If you want to advocate for the socially informed use of satire rather than bare ridicule (that is, making fun of another simpliciter), then I don’t have an objection. But the article doesn’t advocate for that nuance.

              • J_M_Green

                “satire, artistic form, chiefly literary and dramatic, in which human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, parody, caricature, or other methods, sometimes with an intent to inspire social reform.”

                Satire is most definitely a form of mockery. It is clear from the Parsons quote that you object to on the DC site, that his main focus is on fundamentalists ideas, although he does cast the net wider in the first few sentences. He does not advocate pointless mockery. In the case of persons such as Pat Robertson (and his various ridiculous pronouncements) or say, the founder of Westboro Baptist church, I think a reasonable case could be made that they are deserving of mockery because of their high visibility, and that they are using public media to disseminate their ridiculous ideas.

                Parson’s recommendation of “pointedly drawing attention” to what fundamentalists believe is a completely valid (and useful) technique. A lot of Christians exist within such an echo chamber that having some of their beliefs brought out into the open, in plain language, for everyone to see, is the mental equivalent of realizing that you’ve shown up to work in your underwear.

                • scattered

                  I agree completely. You made the point I was trying to make above with the reference to the Brick Testament much more clearly than I was able to. It seems that Rauser had a visceral reaction to the word “mockery” rather than a considered response to what Parsons actually said.

                  • Jeff

                    The Brick Testament is great. You know, something that comes to mind here is the contrast between Thom Stark’s book length review of Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster” and Stark’s own book “The Human Faces of God.”

                    Both share very much of the same content, but the former adopts an often irreverent tone whereas the latter adopts a very even, academic tone. I read his review of Copan’s book before reading “The Human Faces of God” and I found something profoundly freeing about the review. It was as if Stark had at last given me permission to react freely and even irreverently to the biblical content that is deserving of irreverence. I also very much enjoyed and appreciated “The Human Faces of God” by the way, when I read it a few months later.

                    • Jeff

                      I should add, it wasn’t merely the irreverent tone of Stark’s review that I found so freeing. It was the irreverence paired with very careful, compelling, and thorough argument. By contrast, I had previously run across the Brick Testament and had found it to be a bit of a guilty half-pleasure, but it wasn’t freeing for me in the same sense as Starks’ review was.

          • scattered

            You seem to be using “mockery” in its most pejorative sense of viscious insults. Last I checked “lampoon” is one of the many synonyms of “mockery”. Is it really wrong to lampoon Answers in Genesis? The Parson’s quote contained the statement “most ridicule would consist of pointedly drawing attention to what they really believe”, so it seems that the goal is to lampoon beliefs rather than hurl personal insults at people.

            It seems clear that the sort of things that Parsons is advocating includes things like The Brick Testament:


            (Where Bible stories are rendered in Lego).

            A fundamentalist is likely to consider this website blasphemous. I think that it is devastatingly accurate. It *faithfully* depicts various stories in the Bible (with the text drawn from the Bible itself). But when rendered in Lego they somehow seem laughably absurd. This website manifestly does not respect the sensibilities of those who believe that the Bible is a sacred object. You would almost certainly be targetted for death if you tried to make a “Brick Koran” in a Muslim country. Is this website “reprehesible, inhumane, stupid and dangerous”?

      • Jeff

        Randal, I’m sympathetic to your perspective here and I certainly think the line can be very fine between appropriate satire and inappropriate mockery, and I definitely think that satire is never a replacement for reasoned argument, but rather, at most, a supplement to it. I am wondering what you mean by the mocker seeking “the end of destruction, not redemption.” How does that translate into practical do’s and don’ts? Most such “mockers” would probably say that they’re seeking the destruction of particular ideas and movements, but that they certainly hope for the “redemption” of those people involved. I’m just not sure how helpful this purely psychological distinction is.

  • cyngus

    “So we ought to laugh at and ridicule fundamentalists. But then what is a fundamentalist, exactly?” ~ Randal Rauser


    Good question! When you defend fundamentalists you became one. You already defended radical Muslims when you misinterpreted Sam Harris “preemptive atomic attack”. You defended religious terrorism just because it had a note of theism in it, and it made you look like a fundamentalist theist.

    You are a fundamentalist when you are mad when atheists question your beliefs or laugh at you. Yes, laugh is the way to liberate yourself from the terror of the “necessary agent cause of great power and the source of moral goodness”.

    “Moral goodness” my ass, you repeatedly run or failed to explain why is it moral because it is moral or it is moral because god.

  • scattered

    Operational definition of a fundamentalist: a young earth creationists who believes that Noah’s Flood explains the geological record.

    Premise 1: These beliefs are ludicrous.

    Premise 2: Those who promote these beliefs do real damage, especially to children. While the point can be over-stated, it really is a form of child abuse to teach these beliefs to the young, and bares a resemblance to such things as feet-binding and female circumcision. Such fundamentalists are almost always homophobic as well and thus cause mental anguish and occasional suicide of gay children who have the misfortune of being born to such parents.

    Premise 3: Humor, including mockery, is an effective and appropriate weapon against ludicrous beliefs. It might hurt people’s feeling but those people are in the act of hurting children.

    Conclusion: Humor, including mockery, is an effective and appropriate weapon against fundamentalists.

    The Loftus post began with a quote from H.L Menken. He effectively framed the public’s perception of anti-evolutionist fundamentalism for much of the 20th century. There were 15 states that had anti-evolution bills up for consideration when the Scopes trial concluded. 13 out of 15 were voted down. I suspect that Menken’s biting humor had at least some role in defeating some of these bills. Lawmakers didn’t want to be associated with those widely perceived to be fools. Does your opposition to Loftus extend to Menken?

    “The Devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked” (Thomas More). Apparently neither can some Christians.

    • Kerk

      While I agree with the premise 1, how in hell is teaching children ludicrous beliefs classified as child abuse? I’ve been taught to believe in the flood, gently and humbly. No one would try to scare or punishing me for raising questions. And I don’t recall any physical or emotional damage done to me.

      • scattered

        I did say the point can be overstated, but it is still legitimite. You said that “I don’t recall any physical or emotional damage done to me.” — but what about *mental* damage? Here we are in the 21st century, in the midst of an astonishing explosion of human knowledge (with the evolution-based biological sciences being among the most astonishing). But millions of kids are being taught 3000-year old mythology instead of this. Furthermore, it is not just a sin of omission in that certain fields of knowledge are not being taught. There is a very real sin of commission in that these children are by and large taught to distrust, even demonize, working scientists. As evidence of this, note the very high correlation between young-earth creationism and climate-change deniers. A general attitude of fear and rejection *is* being taught. Kudos to your parents if they were counter-examples to some of this.

        An analogy: suppose that a certain religious sect has a belief in the sacramental nature of lead pipes. Sure, the leaders of the sect are aware that mainstream scientists insist that heavy metals are unhealthy — but those are godless scientists. It isn’t like the children in this sect walk around with traumatized expressions. In fact, they seem happy enough. They have Vacation Bible Schools where they sing catchy songs like “Lead me home, leaden pipes”. They spend a great deal of their time watching computer-generated cartoons such as “Pipey Tales” where talking pipes enact little morality tales about caring and sharing. They are not actually beaten with the pipes (at least not too often, though some of the leaders of the sect are ominously fond of the paraphrase “spare the rod, spoil the child”), so little or no *flagrant* child abuse takes place. Still – the overall situation is highly destructive to the health and well-being of the children. If that isn’t a form of child abuse, what is it?
        Now, unlike say foot-binding, the damage can be undone. This is one of the reasons why I qualified my original statement. You seem to be an example which shows how the mental damage of anti-scientific thinking can be repaired later in life. But the fact that a shockingly high percentage of US cititizens are young-earth creationists indicates that, alas, the damage is more often than not permanent.

        • Kerk

          So, let me get this straight – you’re saying that teaching children anything that is widely known to be false is mental child abuse? And you’re also going to claim that false beliefs are per se harmful? That’s a veeeeery long stretch in my book. I realize that the term “child abuse” is hard to define, but stretching it to the extent that it covers pretty much everything is most useless.

          • scattered

            Teaching something widely known to be false is not child abuse per se. It is widely known that chicken soup has no real medicinal value vis-a-vis the common cold but it is clearly not abusive for mothers to inculcate the belief that it does to their children. But YEC is *not* just a harmless belief. It represents a profound mutilation of the intellect which renders those who hold it incapable of perceiving the most fundamental truths of science. Furthermore, it tends to have a ripple effect in which those who hold it tend to have paranoid Jack-Chick style views of the world.

            I hesitate to give the following link since it contains the sort of overstatement that I wish to avoid; but you can still (hopefully) discern the underlying point.


            • Kerk

              Aha! I do so love the argument about the Amish! They are shown by all surveys to be the happiest and most content community in the North America. But that happiness is bleak, because it’s not received through free choice. Good old libertarianism. And I don’t want to say that I disagree with it, but consider this, at least those liberals who are utilitarianists MUST agree with the Amish approach. Because, our free society is clearly failing at making us happy.

              So what are you going to do? What’s your argument for freedom of conscience? Because you see, they are happy and they live longer than us, and they don’t even threaten others. So where’s the harm on the utilitarian account here?

    • David

      Do you find that mockery is an effective means of changing peoples’ minds? If not, can it really be used as an effective weapon? I think it could be used to PUNISH people if you do not like their beliefs, but if your goal is to change them, then I don’t think it is effective. When I am mocked for something I believe, I tend to get defensive and dig in. If someone respectfully and humbly shows me why I am wrong, I am more likely to listen and change my mind.

      • scattered

        Good question. To make the discusion more concrete, the following YouTube video makes a mockery of a literal belief in Noah’s Flood (with part two containing a pointed barb aimed at Answers in Genesis). I think that it is an “effective and appropriate weapon” rather than something which is “reprehensible and inhumane, [and] completely stupid and dangerous” to quote Dr. Rauser. What do you think?

        • David

          I don’t think the video is inhumane or dangerous — I just think it is unlikely to change the mind of a YEC. I think a polite argument would be more likely to change their minds. That’s not to say it won’t work for any of them, but I think the majority will just be offended and not seriously consider the points made. On the other hand, the video is basically a reductio ad absurdum, which can definitely be effective. I’m wondering now if mockery may be more useful for people who are on the fence. A firm YEC might be just offended by the video, but someone who is on the fence might watch it and think “Wow, that really is stupid!” But I’m not sure that mockery would be effective in a case where polite argument would not. If the respectful argument fails, I think the mockery will fail. Any thoughts?

          • scattered

            You are unlikely to ever convince a Ken Ham of the absurdity of their beliefs, so the fact that such a video is unlikely to do so isn’t much of a criticism. But such a video might be seen by a high school student in a Fundamentalist school who has spent their entire lives being subjected to the drivel in A Beka “science text books”. A video like this can be very effective in awakening such students from their dogmatic slumber. On the other hand, respectful dialogue of the sort that treats YEC as a respectable position can leave such students under the false impression that this is an area in which legitimite differences of opinion exist. There of course is a place for careful discusion of the weakness of creationist claims, but there is also a place for pointing out just how absurd some of those claims are, of “pointedly drawing attention to what they really believe” [to echo the Parson't quote which Rauser feels is so objectionable].

  • Jon Garvey

    The nineteenth century mockery of conservative theology by the liberal Academy produced academic Fundamentalism. The mockery of Fundamentalism produced conscious anti-intellectualism. The mockery of anti-intellectualism produced bigotry. Not a win-win situation, it seems to me, unless your aim is to encourage the widest possible spread of bigotry in the population.

    But that might be the case, since mockery is the mark of the bigot.

  • TheAtheistMissionary

    I’ve always taken the position that people are deserving of respect but their beliefs are not necessarily so deserving.

    I consider those who honestly believe that a snake ever spoke to be worthy of ridicule for holding that belief. Why? Because the belief is ridiculous and therefore, by definition, worthy of ridicule. I’ll give a few examples:

    1. I believe that I am the reincarnation of Marcus Aurelius.

    2. I believe that the world was created at 6 a.m. this morning (just prior to my arrival at Tim Horton’s) and all of my memories were implanted at that time.

    3. I believe that I used to be able to walk on water (for some strange reason, I have now lost that ability).

    4. I believe that the Smurfs are real, live in my basement and whisper to me in the early hours of the morning.

    First of all, let’s observe that all of the above noted beliefs are harmless. However, if I arrived at my local psychiatric ward and shared any of these beliefs with the attending physician, the odds are that I would not be leaving anytime soon. However, people can profess to believe that snakes talk, a virgin gave birth and zombies traipsed through Jerusalem without any fear of being diagnosed as psychiatrically infirm.

    This post as suggests that ridiculing ridiculous beliefs is “stupid and reprehensible” because it will “ostracize certain people, … stigmatize them socially, … instigate hatred and disdain of them“. If I am interpreting this claim correctly, it means that a group of people should be immune from ridicule regardless of the content of their beliefs as long as a sufficient number of them share that belief, no matter how ridiculous the content of those beliefs. If I have overstated the maxim, please set me straight.

    • David

      As I wrote about to scattered, I think the approach depends on your goal. If you want to punish someone for their ridiculous beliefs, then mockery is the way to go. If you want to get them to change their minds, then a humble and respectful approach is the best technique.

      • TheAtheistMissionary

        No one is suggesting punishment such as flogging in the public square. What is being suggested is that holding ridiculous beliefs is deserving of ridicule … nothing less and nothing more. Is a “humble and respectful approach” the best technique to deal with a person (not a psychiatric patient) who believes that they are the reincarnation of Marcus Aurelius or that Smurfs live in their basement?

        • David

          I think deserving of ridicule and the use of ridicule as a persuasive technique may be two different things. I definitely believe that certain beliefs are deserving of ridicule, but I would not use it to persuade the person who holds such beliefs. My geologist friend and I will poke fun at YEC beliefs among ourselves, but I would not start mocking a Christian who is a YEC. I would try to get them to read some of Hugh Ross’s material.

          If a person strongly believes he has Smurfs in the basement and he is not mentally ill, then presumably he thinks he has good reasons for believing that there are smurfs in the basement. If you approach him and say, “You stupid idiot! Nobody has smurfs in their basement! They are cartoon characters!” I suspect he will get really angry and respond with the reasons he has for believing that there are smurfs in the basement. He will not listen to you.

        • Randal Rauser

          As I pointed out (and as you seem happy to ignore), the target of “fundamentalist” that Parsons/Loftus’ advice focuses on, is wholly relative to one’s personal perspective.

          And look at the examples you give, Smurfs and the like. That shows your own disappointing but persistent penchant to caricature the views of others with silly sidebar examples.

          • TheAtheistMissionary

            Let’s not use caricatures. Let’s use an actual example; the belief that a snake spoke to a person. In your opinion, is that belief ridiculous (defined as “deserving or inviting derision or mockery; absurd.”)? If not, please explain why not and describe some beliefs that you would be willing to define as ridiculous. Thanks.

            • Randal Rauser

              I’ll respond to this in a blog post. But after all this time I’m quite disappointed that you think it is meaningful to abstract a single proposition from an entire network of belief. Don’t you realize all sorts of beliefs can be abstracted from their background explanatory context in such a way that they end up looking absurd?

              • TheAtheistMissionary

                Well, I’m disappointed that you’re disappointed. I’m also extremely disappointed that you have decided not to answer what I thought was a very succinct question. Perhaps you’ll be kind enough to answer it straight on in the promised post. I’m not concerned about “other beliefs”. I’m concerned about talking snakes, virgin births and roaming zombies. If these beliefs are not ridiculous (as defined above), I want to know what you feel are ridiculous beliefs and how you discriminate between the two sets.

              • Jeff

                Don’t you realize all sorts of beliefs can be abstracted from their background explanatory context in such a way that they end up looking absurd.

                Can you give a concrete example of this? In the case of the talking snake, this simply goes to show that the “background explanatory context” of literalistic biblical inerrancy is absurd. I think it was Origen who said, to paraphrase, that of course God didn’t mean to literally convey that a snake spoke to Eve, for what thinking adult would believe such a thing?

                • Randal Rauser

                  “This block of granite is largely empty space.”

                  • TheAtheistMissionary

                    This block of granite is largely empty space.” Randal, surely you are not providing this as an example as an absurd belief are you? Amazing – yes. Certainly counter-intuitive. However, anyone sufficiently trained in particle physics will understand that the statement corresponds to truth, or at best as we can presently discern the truth.
                    I am still waiting for you to explain whether the belief in a talking snake is absurd and, if not, what kind of belief you belief would qualify as being absurd. In the absence of a response from you, it seems like you are going to shy away from describing any Christian theological belief as absurd, all the while hoping that nobody notices the fingers crossed behind your back.

                    • Randal Rauser

                      You just made my point. The statement “This block of granite is largely empty space” is absurd unless it is embedded within a background understanding of the atomic theory of matter. And when David Lewis says all possible worlds are actual, well that sounds pretty crazy too … unless you understand his nominalist modal commitments. My article-length response to you is in the queue for Thursday.

                  • Jeff

                    Of course belief in a talking snake is reasonable on the assumption that literalistic biblical inerrancy is correct, just as the belief that a block of granite is largely empty space is reasonable on the assumption that contemporary particle physics is correct (or at least, more correct than any known alternative). But that seems a rather trivial point which merely begs the question of how well supported each of these background explanatory contexts are. With that in mind, it seems very incorrect and problematic to try as you are here Randal to level the playing field, so to speak.

  • RayIngles

    Sometimes, you can’t change their minds. But you can help others avoid the same mistakes and keep up your own morale.

  • AdamHazzard

    On the premise of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” perhaps we can ridicule the delusion but have compassion for the deluded.

    • Randal Rauser

      What would that look like?

      “Haw haw! What a stupid belief. Your belief is idiotic! But you’re not. Just your belief is.”

      • AdamHazzard

        Well, take Scientology as an example. I find no contradiction between:
        1) Pointing out that its cosmology is ludicrous and laughable;
        2) Feeling compassion for victims who were suckered into it; and
        3) Expressing scorn and moral opprobrium toward those who actively seek to spread the nonsense and profit by deluding others.

        • RayIngles

          (Is it even possible to discuss the core Scientological beliefs without mocking them? They are almost self-mocking.)

  • Counter Apologist

    Mockery is a double edged sword, but to pretend that this sword is always unnecessary is wrong.

    Certainly there are plenty of atheists who don’t engage on the issues strongly, and all too often resort to mockery of religious believers. Blanket mockery is a dangerous thing that can lead to uncritical acceptance of the status quo. I would imagine that this is something you’d appreciate.

    However, this doesn’t mean that mockery cannot or even should not be used. It does mean that mockery should not be the default response, reason and kindness should always be the first thing to be employed. But that can only go so far.

    Riddle me this Randal:

    What response should we have towards the more dangerous fundamentalists like Ken Ham, or the (US) congressmen who cite bible passages as to why climate change isn’t a real problem because human’s can’t really harm the planet due to god’s providence?

    Ken Ham is a perfect example, many have attempted to reason with the man, and his response is to ask “Were you there?” as though it was a piece of rhetorical brilliance.

    When reason has been tried, and your ideological opponents consciously
    reject the use of reason and science to determine the truth of empirical
    matters, what exactly are we left to do?

    These are the people who define “truth” as a literal reading of the bible, and they reject any attempts at defining it otherwise. Reasonable, meaningful dialog is pretty much lost at that point.

    I think quoting Sam Harris is appropriate here:

    “If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide that proves they should value evidence?

    If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument would you invoke to prove they should value logic?”

    There are certainly many problems that will come as a result
    of mockery, and you’ve highlighted many of them. The conscious anti-intellectualism, the Young Earth “Creation Science”, the increasing levels of cultural isolation (homeschooling, ideologically “pure” colleges, etc).

    The only good thing is that on the long haul, the mockery is
    working. The numbers of the Young Earth creationists are dwindling, and they will continue to dwindle as each generation progressively rejects their ideology.

    That said I fear we have no other recourse. There is at the core of this a fundamental disconnect between science and religion because sub-groups of religious people have decided to reject your accomodationist approach and have made it the case.

    • Randal Rauser

      “mockery should not be the default response”

      Then Parsons and Loftus should lay down strict criteria for when mockery should be invoked.

      “kindness should always be the first thing to be employed”

      Yeah, be kind to people and if they still don’t agree with you then start mocking them. Makes perfect sense. (Incidentally, sarcasm is a valuable tool, mockery is not.)

      I find your question rather bizarre. The way you respond to Ken Ham or the climate denier is through a generous spirit and carefully presented evidence and counter-evidence. You may not win them over, but you’ll be more likely to win over some of their followers. I find this whole attitude of mocking those who insist on not agreeing with you to be completely bizarre and, as I said, a threat to the free society.

      • Counter Apologist

        Yeah, be kind to people and if they still don’t agree with you then
        start mocking them. Makes perfect sense. (Incidentally, sarcasm is a
        valuable tool, mockery is not.)

        There’s a distinction you’re not making.

        This isn’t “mock those who disagree.” You and I can “disagree” on whether or not there is some supernatural force behind evolution, or cosmology, or whatever.

        But when someone is going to outright reject any reason or scientific evidence, or even an impartial definition of the word truth, then at that point, mockery is all we have left.

        Of course when you engage with other people, you try to engage with respect, but if they’re going to come out of the gate with “this is my definition of truth and all others are heretical”, then we don’t have many options left.

        • Randal Rauser

          The article flags “fundamentalists” as ripe for ridicule. As I pointed out, “fundamentalist” is a relative term. Everybody is a fundamentalist relative to somebody else, and hence everybody can be ridiculed.

          • Counter Apologist

            So it’ll depend on how one defines “fundamentalist”, they probably painted with too broad of a brush. My point is that mockery is a tool that should be used in some scenarios.

            • Randal Rauser

              When I debated last week one atheist in the Q&A insisted that none of her beliefs were held on the basis of testimony from others. This is an absurd statement as foolish and ignorant as anything you’ll hear from a “Christian fundamentalist”. But not for one second did I think it was proper to mock her for asserting such a view, and I really can’t fathom the ignorance of anybody who would think that would have been a proper response.

              • Counter Apologist

                I would reserve it for those who effectively refuse to be reasoned with on a repeated basis. Basically the textbook case would be Ken Ham.

                • Randal Rauser

                  Of course he thinks you refuse to be reasoned with. So he should mock you too, I guess. And what is gained?

                  • Counter Apologist

                    Well when someone takes a fundamentally different view of the definition of “truth” then dialog is effectively impossible in principle.

                    What happens is exactly what’s happening in the real world right now. We’ve segmented, with Ham and his ilk becoming more and more isolated.

                    The mockery is working since the “evangelical” movement as a whole has shifted more towards your views, and those YEC’s have become ever more isolated even within the Christian sub-group. Eventually demographics will take care of the problem.

                    It sucks that this is the way it will eventually be resolved, but I’m not sure I see another way.

                    • Randal Rauser

                      What evidence do you have that “mockery is working” as opposed to the careful, engaged critique of young earth creationist science and hermeneutics?

                    • Counter Apologist

                      The fallout of the following incident is something that I think helps confirm that:

                      (FYI, supposedly the parents of the kid involved are pulling the kid out of the school, they sent her there because they thought it was a better option than the public schools in the area)

                      That said, knowing exactly what is “working” is going to be rough, and FWIW I don’t advocate mockery until after we’ve already had the engaged debunking of the claims.

                      I do have some anecdotal evidence from engaging with believers that many of them are embarrassed by the YEC crowd. More and more, it’s becoming socially unacceptable to espouse those views.

              • cyngus

                I would want to see you mocking her than insulting her..
                If you would mock her, maybe she would understand your point, but you insulted her instead of going to explain why do you think she has *some* beliefs held on *some* basis of testimonies.

                You could prove that she has some beliefs based on some testimonies, but you could not prove that she has beliefs based on the bullshit biblical testimonies.

      • Jeff

        I find this whole attitude of mocking those who insist on not agreeing with you to be completely bizarre and, as I said, a threat to the free society.

        Like I said, I’m not sure quite where the fine line is between appropriate satire and inappropriate mockery. But as for it being “a threat to the free society” that strikes me as a stretch. What is a threat to free society is when some people seek to forcibly silence those with whom they disagree.

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  • J_M_Green

    This quote seemed relevant:

    “Goldsmith said there are two classes of people who dread ridicule–priests and fools. they cry out that it is no argument, but they know it is. It has been found the most potent form of argument. Euclid used it in his immortal Geometry; for what else is the reductio ad absurdum which he sometimes employs? Elijah used it against the priests of Baal. The Christian fathers found it effective against the Pagan superstitions, and in turn it was adopted as the best weapon of attack on them by Lucian and Celsus. Ridicule has been used by Bruno, Erasmus, Luther, Rabelais, Swift, and Voltaire, by nearly all the great emancipators of the human mind.”

    –G.W. Foote (From his essay “On Riddicule”

    • Sarah

      All I see there is someone who doesn’t know what “reductio ad absurdam” is. It is a logical tool that is nothing like simple ridicule.

  • Jeff

    I had an incredibly brilliant :) idea the other day, that I would love to have pitched for the Chappelle Show. [Don't say you haven't been forewarned, and Randal you can do a little censoring if you must.] I was perusing the site of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the following idea struck me like a bolt of divine lightning:

    The Council on Biblical Whitehood and Niggerhood presents: An evening with Chauncey Chauncington.

    [Cue a Masterpiece Theater-style lead-in to a shot in a library of interviewer and interviewee.]

    Host: “Good evening. Tonight we will be conversing with Chauncey Chauncington [Chappelle, in his "White News" getup], senior fellow with the CBWN. Chauncey, thank you for joining us.”

    You get the gist…

    Reprehensible and inhumane? Hilarious and effective? I don’t know. Thoughts?

  • David_Evans

    Randal, do you ever say of someone’s beliefs, to them or to a third party, “That’s ridiculous”?

    • Jeff

      He certainly likes to call some of my views “absurd.” Does that count?


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  • Alejandro Rodríguez

    I don’t mind this attitude except when it is directed at every religious follower. I think it was dprjones who advocated mocking Christians as a response. Dawkins also says that Catholics should be mocked, though he doesn’t say that that should be a response.