In “Why John Loftus and Reasonable Doubts shouldn’t be laughing” I offered a two-part critique of the Reasonable Doubts podcast. The first part was a general critique that the tone of the show adopts a condescending attitude toward Christians (and other “religious” people) which is uncharitable and unhelpful. The second part was a critique of a particular observation made on the show that Christians and other theists believe God holds the same beliefs they do. I pointed out that this is a trivial observation which would apply to any thoughtful atheist who would surely believe that any counterfactually existent omniscient being would hold the same set of true beliefs held by the atheist.
One of the doubtcasters protested the first part of my critique with some vehemence. (However, he said nothing about the second critique.) “Reasonable Doubts” (as he was identified) commented as follows:
“Oh give me a break Randal, make sure you find one of the few clips that appears to be petty and dismissive and insist on ignoring the several parts in the interview where we talk fondly of your willingness to engage and how we can appreciate it when atheists and theists get along and treat each other as persons while being so dramatically different in their view of the world. If you want to criticize us for being so biased in our treatment, it would help if you checked your clearly eager confirmation bias at the door.
“This really is a disappointing and surprising post especially coming from you. The one time the word ‘bullshit’ was used in this episode was in reference to the typical Christian platitudes that are so pervasive in Christian culture and not to the doctrines of Christianity
“Even then, what’s the problem?
“in past episodes we have certainly referred to Christian doctrines as ‘bullshit’ meaning ‘clearly false’. And well, if its not an aversion to swear words, I have to ask, why don’t we have your permission to be express our views?”
I don’t know why Reasonable Doubts would be surprised at this coming from me. After all, I’ve called out the show’s hosts on their tone and characterization of Christian belief before. (See my article “Lessons in Partisan Broadcasting: A Response to ‘Reasonable Doubts’.“) Certainly there are many things I enjoy about the show. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother listening! But I want it to be better. I’m not asking them to cease being irreverent. Indeed, one of the hosts referenced the Christian satirical magazine “The Door” which had a long history of hard hitting, irreverent social commentary. In the comments I noted that The Door was a mix of Adbusters and Mad Magazine. (It continues to exist, sort of, in its online presence, a sort of epitaph of a once venerable, if fledgling, institution. See also the websites http://www.larknews.com/ and http://www.shipoffools.com/.)
But you can do powerful social commentary (and Reasonable Doubts does some at the beginning of this episode when they talk about “Man of Steel” targeting churches for promotion) in a way that joins hands with Christian critical voices like The Door and Lark News and Ship of Fools without treating all Christians as a ship of fools.
And yet it is very difficult to escape the conclusion that Reasonable Doubts believes Christians are a ship of fools. Consequently, in my response I focused on replying to this statement (among other points):
“in past episodes we have certainly referred to Christian doctrines as ‘bullshit’ meaning ‘clearly false’.”
Here is how I responded:
“Well thanks for clearing that up! So you think Werner Heisenberg and Kurt Gödel accepted “Bullshit” by which you mean a set of “clearly false” beliefs about the nature of reality. Don’t you see how absurd you sound? And this is your defense?”
In a later comment I expanded the point:
“When you perpetuate this position that Christianity is “clearly false” you only leave two options: either those who maintain Christian beliefs are ignorant or they are irrational. Since it is implausible to suggest the leading intellectuals I referenced earlier are ignorant, it seems you are left saying they are irrational for maintaining their belief in clearly false truth claims.
“Can’t you see why I would be taking offense at this and why I would find this impression that is conveyed by your podcast to be false and harmful?”
I also asked Reasonable Doubts:
“what would you think if a group of Christians on a podcast constantly referred to the views of atheists as ‘crap’ (since “bullshit is too edgy) by which they meant ‘obviously false’. Would you take issue with their consistent characterization of the beliefs of atheists as crap?”
Reasonable Doubts replied:
“Of course I would, but I would be far more interested in the arguments they made in that episode and in the broader context of their show’s library for that conclusion.
“We both know words are cheap.”
And I concluded:
“Well in this article I engaged both the attitude of the show and a sampled argument from the show.
“If you agree that you wouldn’t appreciate that behavior from a Christian show, then why do you perpetuate it on your show? Isn’t that a double standard?”
You know, it may just be as simple as that, the good ole’ Golden Rule. If Reasonable Doubts wouldn’t want Christians calling their beliefs crap, then they shouldn’t call the beliefs of Christians bullshit.
Of course, the doubtcasters may indeed believe that Werner Heisenberg, Kurt Gödel, Michael Dummett, Hilary Putnam Alvin Plantinga, and other Christian scientists and philosophers are (and were) fundamentally irrational in the set of beliefs they hold (or held) about the ultimate nature of reality. But then the doubtcasters should probably stick to that clearer and less inflammatory (even if equally implausible and uncharitable) description of just saying that all Christians, including the world’s leading Christian scientists and philosophers, are just plain irrational. Perhaps that is the most I can hope for. It may not seem like much, but at least it’s better than believing “bullshit”.