Afternoon Inqueery

AI: You believe *what* now?

A week on from my last AI I’ve found myself in another situation involving debating with someone who I barely know. Part of me hopes I won’t be making a habit of this for the sake of my already tenuous sanity; part of me just likes arguing with silly people.
So, I’m involved with running an Amnesty International group at university. This year the committee is all new and I’d never met any of the others before this Monday, since I’ve been away for two years. On Tuesday we had what’s called the Freshers’ Fair, where all of the university’s three hundred or so clubs have a stand and try to convince freshers to join up. It went pretty well overall, but I ended up finding out something about one of the other committee members that shocked me quite a bit.
Towards the end of the day someone from the Catholic Society came round with Bible verses trying to recruit people. Those of us on the Amnesty stand politely declined, then got into a discussion about how much evil the Catholic Church has perpetuated (spoiler alert: rather a lot). The topic of homosexuality came up, to which this guy responded along the lines of “I love everyone, because of Jesus, but being gay is a sin”.
I was completely shocked by this, and ended up getting into a big theological discussion with him. I asked him what would happen when we as a society campaigned for LGBTQ* rights, to which he responded that he loved everyone and Jesus loved everyone but sinning sinners who sin are sinful. Something like that. To me there’s a weird cognitive dissonance between telling someone you love them and then saying that a natural and completely harmless part of them is enough to condemn them for eternity, but he didn’t really get that. The other things I can remember him throwing at me were Pascal’s wager, “well you believe in science!” and, most tellingly, that the Bible is a legit historical document. (If we were on Tumblr I’d have all sorts of “no” gifs right about here.)
There are a lot of religious people at my university, despite it being a scientific and technological institution, perhaps in part because of our high international student population. A lot of these religious people (and, of course, the atheists too) will inevitably have horribly conservative views. I guess having the weirdly patronising “I love you but you’re going to hell!” opinion is better than out-and-out hatred, but it’s still concerning. Plus, of course, that “being gay is sinful” opinion is the root of centuries of homophobic discrimination (including the instances we’ll be protesting against as part of Amnesty). I’m just hoping that this guy will come round without me having to yell at him any more.
Has someone you’ve met ever surprised you by having an opinion at odds with other more prominent aspects of their personality? What’s the weirdest example of illogical thinking you’ve come across? Also, as an aside (and partly because I need some tips), what’s your favourite argument against the existence of God, in terms of effectiveness or whatever else?
The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, at 3pm ET.

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Courtney is a theoretical physics student at Imperial College London, broadly identifying as cisfemale, panromantic, asexual and atheist. She lives with mental illness (worst room-mate ever) and hopes to help break down the stigma attached to admitting that. Her hobbies include campaigning, internetting and spectacularly failing to defy any stereotypes regarding British people and tea. She also identifies as an X-Phile/Browncoat/Whovian, which are clearly the most important things.


  1. October 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm —

    Most surprising bit of irrationality: An acquaintance of mine in my graduate program (chemical engineering) is a staunch atheist, and we’ve had several animated discussions about rationality and the case against deism…. and then one day he tried to lend me a book about “real” UFO encounters.

    I have two favorite arguments against the existence of a god… not because they’re especially effective at convincing other people, but because they’re most of how I discarded the last of my religion/woo.

    1) The “Science: It works, bitches” argument (for faith of any sort): I establish that everyone (including the listener) uses evidence in order to make informed decisions, all the time. [I hear rain on the roof; I conclude that it is raining and that I should therefore not wear my favorite silk shirt today, because past data regarding silk and water says they don’t like each other.] We all argue that things “make sense” or “don’t make sense” based on evidence. If there are things that those rules don’t apply to, how do you decide? What are the implications of faith applied to how you actually live your life? How reliable are your input:output connections when dealing with matters of faith?

    2) The “I’m the Engineer, and You’ve Gotta Deal With It” argument (specifically for Divine Watchmaker-style arguments that protest that ‘we can’t know’): This putative deity of yours neither communicates with us nor has any effect on our world. It is therefore not a useful concept. If the answer is completely unverifiable, I have no reason to care what it is, and will therefore assume the simplest case (no deity).

  2. October 4, 2012 at 10:58 pm —

    I’ve met a few people with that one illogical belief, and it’s always religion. The smartest, most logical woman I know refused to date me because I wasn’t a Muslim like her. Religion seems to do this quite a bit: It sneaks in when people are young, and hides behind their mental filters, usually never being subject to sincere scrutiny itself.

    My favorite argument against the existence of God is the argument from evil. If isn’t the one most likely to convince someone like me, but I think it is the one most likely to make a believer start questioning. In simple terms, you could phrase it like:

    “Why is there so much evil, pain, and suffering in this world? Is God not omniscient, or not omnipotent? Then why call Him ‘God’? Is God not loving? Then why worship him?”

    Many believers have heard of this before, so here are a few counters to possible replies:

    Reply: Free will necessitates the existence of evil.
    Counter: Not all evil is caused by free will. What would stop a loving God from curing cancer, preventing a horrible storm, etc.

    Reply: Evil in this life is justified by the great joy in the afterlife.
    Counter: Among humans, do we ever forgive a horrible crime based on unrelated good deeds? Even if heaven in joyful, that’s no excuse to inflict needless suffering in life.

    Reply: Denial of the existence of evil itself.
    Counter: “So, you wouldn’t mind if I tortured you, would you? After all, there’s no evil, is there?”

  3. October 8, 2012 at 5:48 pm —

    –If god’s so large, (larger than the univesre, which is pretty large) why would he bother about puny me?
    –I am sure there is little spot/spark in your heart that doen’t believe in god.
    –If everybody would agree on the definition of god, why is everybody still at everybody’s elses throat? I think there is a problem there, and since nobody agrees, I guess we can talk forever and never see the end of the discussion.
    –It depends on how you define ‘belief’: I believe you are possessed (very certain, you can’t help that), I believe I am possessed (not so very certain, I might be delusional). It’s just play of words. Or, to the creationists: Yes, evolution is indeed a ‘theory’, just like fysics, which can be proven over and again – the factuallity of the bible leaves a lot to wish for, and generally needs like your average movie, a suspension of disbelief.
    –Why is that a nowadays 12-year-old does a better job at an essasy on the creation of the universe than the bible does?
    –Why did god put some angel at the gates of paradise (with a flaming sword, why not a gun, or a taser?) to prevent people to eat ever again from the fruits of wisdom, after first supplying them with a large enough brain – what seems a bit cruel to me? Isn’t it that it would be the devil that would be better served with people staying ignorant? Isn’t it (which is, in my general impression) more to the truth that the devil wrote the bible, and is that why he is so proficient at quoting it? Christians worship in the end satan? Why let god make abuse of a figleaf possible in his might and provision? What is the male/female ratio of contribution to the bible? Why is it so terrible written, and have so many illiterate people contributed to it? Why is that there are far more contributions to science than to religion in square tons of paper? (really, every ten tons of scientific books seem to outweigh any religious contribution by, say, 9.98 tons)
    –And on, and on, and on…

    –Don’t get me started on examples on illogical or rather, unlogical thinking. (As the OED gives as example for illogical: There is a £5,- fine if you don’t put rubbish in this bin.)(If you can’t read this, find someone who can read it for you…)

  4. October 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm —

    Personally I don’t see the problem with the belief that homosexuality is a sin. It’s not like heterosexuality isn’t. Masturbation and lust are sins.

    I think the part of that movement that needs to be challenged isn’t the idea that homosexuality is a sin, but rather all of the ways in which they treat homosexuality differently from other sins. Of all the ideas we challenge, why do we only focus on the one that we’re least likely to change?

    It doesn’t follow that if homosexuality is a sin that parents should abandon their gay children. It doesn’t mean they have to oppose it in other people. When was the last time a Jehova’s Witness came to your door to tell you not to get blood transfusions? They try to get you to be a Jehova’s Witness; they don’t expect you to follow their religion’s proscriptions when you aren’t in their religion. They certainly don’t try to legislate it on other people.

    We should rightfully ban conversion therapy for children. But we should treat the sinfulness of homosexuality as a valid religious belief. We should shift the conversation to them. What do gay people that don’t believe in homosexuality DO, anyway? Do they only date other gay people? Is it okay for them to marry heterosexuals? We’re all in agreement that they should disclose their “struggle with homosexuality” to their partners, right? That’s one kind of gay marriage I can’t support!

    This whole culture war is perpetuated primarily to provide cover for religious homosexuals that want to pretend they don’t exist. There’s two kinds of gay marriage, and Michele Bachmann is in one of them. If we can start acknowledging those relationships and talking about them that will actually change the conversation. When being anti-gay stops conferring presumptive heterosexuality on people, most of that stuff will stop.

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