Why Do I Even Bother?

Why Do I Even Bother?

I’ve devoted a fair amount of time writing to Ben, The Militant Christian. I thought our conversation could actually prove fruitful. Despite his blog name, he’s actually a very “liberal” Christian that appeared to have a genuine interest in science and reason. He started the discussion by trying to establish things that we agree on. A good sign, right?

Stop the presses! The conversation turned sour. Shocking, I know.

Now, regardless of things agreed upon, whenever two people with different perspectives converse, it’s hardly uncommon for frustration to show, for passionate words to be spoken. In our first few posts, you’d be hard-pressed to find examples of that.

The trouble started when I asked Ben to provide a reference for one of the scientific claims that he made in his second response (Is the Bible Believable?) to my post about biblical absurdities:

Hi Ben, before I respond to this post, can you please provide your references for your scientific claims about the heart and senses.


Ben responds:

Jaco, I wasn’t aware of the need to be fully documented with footnotes, but if this helps, here off the top of my head are some of the sources…

He lists a book about the heart and a few others related to other topics. I reply back:

Hey Ben, there wasn’t an agreement about documentation. So far, I felt I could adequately respond to your writing. But here you make—what I think, is—a dubious scientific claim about the human heart, and it’s one that I’ve never heard before. To respond sensibly, I’d like to know where you get your information from. As I have little time to read entire books (I’ll check them out anyway), do you have a scientific paper you can point me to for review. I don’t need info on the quantum stuff.


Ben’s next reply is novel and best described as bizarre.

Claiming that I missed the forest for the trees, Ben proceeds—in some detail—to assert the following:

  1. His primary point was that science changes
  2. His science examples (in the fields of evolution, quantum mechanics, and neuroscience) points to the truth of his primary point
  3. It’s futile to spend the time to refute his scientific claims because life’s too short to get mired in details
  4. It’s disrespectful of me to try and refute his claims in our discussion
  5. Our discourse, he thinks, is not a legal exercise but rather a talk-over-a-beer discussion where the focus is on the big picture and not specifics
  6. “Dawkins and Hitchens were never asked to bring a book, white paper, or even PowerPoint to provide clarity in their debates with Christians. There was a mutual respect and focus on the big picture not the micro”
  7. He doesn’t want to proselytise to me; he respects me and my views
  8. He doesn’t demand that I back up my claims about the Bible with theological support from scholars
  9. It wouldn’t help a lot if I demanded proof of everything, instead of us talking and talking like he thought we were doing
  10. He’s anonymous and not a biblical scholar, so I get what I pay for and so does he
  11. He’s not attacking the bricks of my position, instead he’s talking about where I built the wall
  12. He thought the discussion was worthwhile without white papers, cites, footnotes, and nearly thesis leaning documentation
  13. He wrote the whole post off the top off his head, in one brief sitting on his laptop
  14. He could’ve said all of it to me face-to-face over coffee
  15. A follower of his blog said that atheists want proof of everything, yet tend to believe in nothing and show proof of nothing
  16. Point 15 causes a Christian rebuttal to be demanding, while atheists wing it with pointed questions and sceptical commentary
  17. He doesn’t think that’s what I’m doing, wasting his time, but it would be time wasting to support something (his scientific claims, presumably) that is missed on a “forest-and-the-trees” perspective
  18. We should keep it simple so we don’t go off track
  19. He won’t fact check every that thing I write, looking for “intention and purpose”
  20. In his responses, he’s honoured 18 and 19, and even agreed with many of the absurdities
  21. He focused on the issues of expectation and changing science
  22. He asks after all this if I’m now ready to proceed
  23. He instructs me to focus on the topic of changing science
  24. He says he’s not going to trick me with his claims about the heart and quantum mechanics, that he just used it to point out changing and evolving knowledge relating to humanity and our place in the universe

There are two things that I’d like to stress for context. At this point:

  • I hadn’t even written a response to his post yet
  • Ben already knows that I agree with his primary point. Before our “official” response blog posts, in an effort to gain some common ground, we had a short discussion where one of our points of agreement was that scientific knowledge changes

Knowing this, why would Ben overreact in the way he did when I asked him for a reference for one of his claims? What’s going on here?

So, I write a response to his post, That’s One Way to View It.

In the first half of the post, I talk about my view of believability, scepticism, the nature of evidence, that not all claims are on equal footing, and faith. I explain how my views differ from Ben’s. I correct his misconception that I expect “the Bible to prove God’s existence, God’s reliability, God’s trustworthiness, God’s intentions leaving not a shadow of a doubt,” and I make the point that he seems taken with the word irrefutable and that I don’t deal in such absolutes.

Now, in the second half we get to science. Here, I show that I agree with his primary point, that scientific knowledge changes, by quoting my comment from his post, “Do Not Be Afraid : Listening to Atheists”, where I clearly state my agreement amongst other things. I follow that up by saying it again:

Belief in the effectiveness of science doesn’t need faith. Science doesn’t deal with “truth” and the fact that it allows for correction and refinement of explanations is the key to its success. Science changes. Thank God it does (sorry, couldn’t resist). I agree with Ben, the understanding that we’ve gained through science evolves, but that’s because the process of science has no place for faith, preconceptions, and bias.

After this, I respond to his three science examples, saying that his view of evolution is pretty good, but that his examples of quantum mechanics and the heart is pseudoscience and woo, and I gave references for him to explore.

To conclude, I explain why I “refuted” his scientific claims despite his instruction to stick to the primary topic of changing science. I point out that his position wasn’t only that science changes. He continues and makes the claim that, as scientific knowledge changes, it gets closer to “ancient knowledge” and by extension, closer to God. I let Ben know that I don’t think it was disrespectful to ask for a reference and that he was being disingenuous by saying it’s a waste of time to refute specifics, given that his “primary” point included not just change but a destination too.

Now, my tone in my response was more serious than before, but it was hardly disrespectful. But given that I told Ben that his view on quantum mechanics and the heart was woo, I expected a serious response back. I did not expect a character assassinating rant of misrepresentations and lies cloaked in niceties by an author having a pity party and playing the victim. Please read it, it’s quite something: Imagine That.

Here was my comment to him:

Hi Ben,

I’m walking through London rain after a hot day, on my way to catch a train home, to the wife and kids. Later tonight.. Game of Thrones! Life’s pretty good sometimes, eh?

Right, let’s look at your comments…

Now, you say that it’s a fact that we’ve each taken a different approach to our discourse: you, off the top of your head; me…more thoughtful!? Only kidding. You’re saying that I’ve approached our discourse more like a debate than a conversation. Sure, that’s the type conversations I have, even in person.

Of course there’s an element of debate. I wrote a post about biblical absurdities, which I sent to you because of the previous discussions we had had; I knew you’d find it interesting. You offered to write responses to the post. My intention in responding to your responses was to consider your perspective, point out why I disagree if/when I disagree, elaborate on my perspective, and *defend* my position.

I don’t think your intent is all that different. Yes, you say:

“This is not about debating but listening, first. I am listening to Jaco’s thoughts, first, and seeking to understand his perspective.”

But you also say:

“Do not be dismayed if no one accepts the challenge other than me…sadly, many Christians are afraid to tackle the topics you highlight.”

Accepts the challenge, tackle the topics.. These mean more than just sharing perspectives.

Can you honestly tell me that your intent with having this conversation is not, *among other things*, to also defend and promote your position? That’s my intent, and I’d expect nothing less from any person that I talk to about something with who I disagree. It’s not a bad thing.

You say here that it’s not your intent to proselytize in our thread of conversation, but you at the start, you said this:

“I will respond, but first want to give others the opportunity to share their faith and belief. I do not see this as a waste of time but a discussion and opportunity to share The Good News with another.”

You are saying different things, Ben.

Now, you paint me in this post in quite a negative light. For example, you say that I attacked you with “point and click” references. Let’s look at that.

My initial post about absurdities (which wasn’t written for you) has over forty references. This is what you had to say about it:

“Your post was very well-documented, exceptionally well-written and deserves attention. Thank you for sharing.”

How many references did I attack you with in my first response to yours? Zero. I don’t count the link to Tim Minchin’s satirical song, which was injected for humour more than anything.

How many references did I attack you with in my second response? Four. One of which, I admit, is not relevant to our discussion, but I thought you’d find it interesting as it deals with why we, as humans, believe so easily and you once talked about the question, did humans create God or visa versa. One reference was to point out common frustrations physicists have with layman using quantum mechanics to mean things that it doesn’t. And two references were used to point out that the belief, as you say, “science has proven the heart sends 95% of the senses, the stimuli we connect with in life, to the brain,” is dubious.

I asked you for a reference for ONE thing, regarding the heart and senses, and when asked, I told you why I wanted the reference: so that I could understand your position better so that I could reply sensibly and point out if there was any pseudoscience involved as I expected.

You say:

“My suggestion that scientific truths reflect an ever-changing expansion of knowledge, an evolution of knowledge and truth, was overturned by attacking examples with point-and-click references.”

And yet, in my second response (and indeed before we even wrote any posts when we were still working for common ground) I conceded that your suggestion was true. I *agree* with you, and told you so twice. I simply disagree that this fact means that science is untrustworthy or that faith is required, and I explained why I think so.

Depsite what you keep saying, I make the point in my second response that your point wasn’t just “pretty simple stuff” that science changes (if that had been the case, I may have left things well alone). You continued and made a bold claim that science, as it changes, gets closer to “ancient knowledge,” and by extension God. I could have responded to that claim *off the top* of my head and said, “I respect your perspective Ben, but I don’t think that’s right, because your examples that you’ve listed sounds dubious.” But what does that achieve? Instead, I gave you three pretty good references to ponder. Is this attacking!? I had no idea.

You say:

“Throughout his writings, Jaco uses many cites to support what he has already concluded as his own truth.”

That’s disingenuous.

And this, is a lie:

“In regards to our conversation, Jaco attacks several assertions pasting in point and click references and then spends significant time asserting his positions are more factual by having more point-and-clicks.”

Show me where I said or even implied that my positions are more factual by having more point-and-clicks references, and I will apologise. Otherwise, I’d could use an apology, please.

You keep saying that we’re having a conversation, that it’s like we’re having coffee. But we’re not having coffee, we’re writing blog posts. Am I to be penalised for spending time trying to understand your perspective or for formulating my thoughts in the most coherent and accurate way I can? Am I to be made the “disrespectful” villain because I took the discussion seriously as opposed to shooting from the hip or off the top of my head?

I’ve made a point of being honest as best I can. This from my first response:

“Now, let’s be honest. It’s unlikely that Ben will change my perspective or that I will change his. I have my biases and I’m quite convinced that my perspective is justified on account of reason. Our readers are likewise unlikely to change their view based on our amateur musings. But I figure that there’s a reasonable possibility that I will learn something that has a fighting chance to refine my own position.”

You talk about respect and bemoan my lack of showing respect to your opinions, even saying that whenever I did acknowledge you, it came grudgingly. How you think the latter, I’m unsure. Look, I’ve been trying to be courteous, friendly, and respectful, have I not!? I don’t see where I haven’t been (except perhaps here, where I’m getting increasingly worked up about all the misrepresentations that I read in this post). I don’t have to respect your perspectives! That’s hogwash. I disagree with your perspectives, how could I respect them! I respect that you have perspectives, I respect that you write about them and try to communicate what they are. My challenging them doesn’t change that. We don’t have to respect each other’s perspectives to have a meaningful and respectful conversation.

You’ve been very kind about my writing and even my character. Thank you. But it feels like all of that is undone by this character assassination of this post. “skilled in the artful dodge” indeed!

You say:

“Before I embarrass Jaco and tear apart one of his references (and using his own practicum, all it takes is one to remove intellectual underpinnings from the whole) offering “proof” he himself pasted something he did not read the writer credentials and content in full, I would suggest in a conversation we stick to the points.”

First of all, “all it takes is one to remove intellectual underpinnings from the whole” is a logical fallacy. Second, I don’t blindly add references. I’m fully aware that I reference people who disagree with me. I reference a hell of a lot of Christians. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate my point. Depends on the point, I’m making. And many of these believers that I reference make good points even though we disagree on the conclusions. Your and my agreeing that scientific knowledge is evolving is an example, but disagreeing about what that means. Also, sometimes I just reference a quote. Sometimes even from a book that I’ve not read. Fancy that.

You say:

“If you reference it you must believe it and read it fully?”


So, please, embarrass me. Maybe I made a mistake. I’d like to know that so that I can go and fix it and change my opinion or argument. But even IF I made a mistake it doesn’t mean that all my research and references was for naught or that I can’t be trusted. Or that I’m just Googling stuff to confirm my existing belief. I’d have to be a repeat offender for that to be the conclusion. I know what confirmation bias is, and I try to avoid it. Do you?

You say:

“I will respond, as Jaco has requested, to his list of absurdities. In truth, I actually have and while he hints at this, evidently Jaco believes specifics, when it comes to ancient writings and supernatural beliefs, are warranted and necessary to buttress the time he has expended in his writing.”

I asked you to write about the specifics so that our conversation could move forward and because I’ve been enjoying our discussion. But you’re right, you have really answered because from your perspective there can be no absurdities. So perhaps we should call it the day there. Your call.

Finally, you say:

“When it comes to the supernatural it’s all about factual support, “irrefutable” evidence.”

I’ve mentioned several times that you seem taken with the word irrefutable. I keep saying *good* evidence. I use words like *likely*, *maybe*, *I think*… I don’t care for irrefutable evidence. I simply care that we have good reasons for the things that we believe.

Right, it’s almost 10pm now. Haven’t watched Game of Thrones yet. Your post has frustrated, angered and saddened me. The happy start to this massive comment seems far away.

Anyway. Have a good night.

Blog friend,

From there it got worse. Ben says things like, “Grow up” and “Have respect.” And he took mighty exception to my having said that respecting other people’s perspective, even when you disagree with it, is hogwash. Maybe I should have said poppycock instead. Forgotten were my follow-up statements where I say that I respect that he has perspectives and that he writes about it and try to communicate what they are. Instead, I’m branded as the “angry atheist.” Well, what would you be when your views are grossly misrepresented. How would you feel if your effort and time—that you’ve devoted to understand someone else’s position and to respond with thought and care—was dismissed with such abandon?

Diversion, deflection, false accusations. Just bizarre.

Where do you go from “Grow up!” The effort to wrestle the conversation back to anything sensible is…well, I don’t have it in me at the moment. Ben and I have decided to halt our conversation. As I said to Ben:

Our posts stand testament however. I’m very happy to leave it up to readers to decide.

Right, it’s out of my system now.


13 responses »

  1. Uh, the Bible cannot prove anything. It is a book. Well, maybe a mathematical or logical proof might be possible. Since I find professional apologists annoying I suspect that you can accept that I find amateur apologists even more so. Most know little about either science or their own religion. So, I think your title poses a very apt question.


    • To be fair to Ben, he concedes the Bible cannot prove God.

      I still think having these conversations are worth it. I’m just annoyed at how this one went out and it feels atm like it was a waste of everyone’s time.

    • Was this supposed to be a reply to my comment? Assuming so…

      No, I don’t think you said something contradictory. I was referring to Ben’s accusation that you were missing the forest for the trees. In general, in the analogy, in such a discussion, I think the trees are the claims one makes, and the forest is the worldview one holds. If a claim is false, the tree isn’t there. If enough trees are missing, maybe the forest isn’t there either…

      Theist false claims = arguing for invisible trees… You were justified in challenging them.

  2. Dis altyd interessant dat as ‘n Christen in ‘n hoek gedryf word, dan begin hy “onchristelik” optree. Ek respekteer en waardeer jou benadering, Jaco. Hy kan ten minste dít van jou leer, dan het hy die cheek om vir jou te sê “grow up”. Ek sou ook graag wou hoor waar hy sy informasie oor die hart se funksie gekry het. Groetnis.

    • Google translates this as:

      It’s always interesting to note that as a Christian is being driven into a corner , then he started “unchristian” act . I respect and appreciate your approach, Jaco. He can at least get there from your study, then he took the cheek to tell you “grow up”. I would also like to hear where he got his information about the heart ‘s function. Greetings .

      • Ha! Here’s a more faithful translation:

        “It’s always interesting to note that when a Christian is driven into a corner, he then starts to behave in an “unchristian” manner. I respect and appreciate your approach, Jaco. He can, at least, learn that from you. And he had the cheek to tell you, “Grow up!” I would’ve also liked to hear where he got his information about the heart’s function.”

  3. Jaco,

    You entered a debate with a self-described “Militant Christian”! A brave undertaking in any atheist’s book. Ben’s description of it as a “conversation” is perfectly reasonable, but to deny it is not also a debate is disingenuous when the two participants enter the conversation with wildly divergent positions.

    The few times I have engaged in such debates, I have had trouble. Debating beliefs never, in my experience, results in a satisfactory conclusion. To concede that your beliefs may not be the “right” beliefs (whatever that may mean) is a greater blow to the ego than many will allow, and in debating, it is debating skill that wins, not necessarily the more reasonable position.

    In this case though, the debate was sabotaged so no real conclusion can be reached!

    Personally, I take exception to evangelists, militant christians such as Ben, and even outspoken atheists such as Dawkins. I’m of the belief that people should accept that what is right for one is not necessarily right for another. In the atheist case, we should accept that the sense of fulfilment and guidance that many people get from religion is not easily substituted, and in the evangelist case, they should accept that those who are so inclined will find their religion and share their joy without indoctrinating the world. You and I are fortunate to have grown up in relatively privileged, moral environments, to have strong families and intellectually stimulating careers, so religion is not required or necessary for guidance on to live a fulfilled life.

    However I agree with Ben’s distaste for “intellectual snobbery” (as he invoked in one of his comments in reference to Dawkins). No position is positively served by being exclusive to intellectuals, and Dawkins comes across as superior which can only infuriate anyone that disagrees, especially if they can not understand what he says. I don’t think you came across as such at all; you thought you were engaging with an intellectual equal which sadly turned out to be far from being the case.

    That said, I think “moral snobbery” is also a thing, which Ben did display. He and other “militant” christians would do well to be more mindful of it.

    He repeatedly stressed his “respect” for you, while refusing to engage in a constructive manor, instead attacking you for not adhering to the supposed “spirit” of the “conversation” (not a debate of course), falling back on his moral position and avoiding truthful representation of fact. Perhaps thou doth protest too much.

    And attacking you for feeling anger at being attacked and misrepresented? That’s pretty much the definition.

    Anyway despite all this, I found both your posts very interesting, and it was far from a waste of time. Ben is a skilled writer, as are you, and while it turned sour, my take on it is that Ben could sense going further down the scientific road of evidence, probability and reasoning would do his position no service. So he derailed the debate with misrepresentations, logical fallacies and ad-hominem attacks, thinly veiled with polite language and an assumed moral high-ground.

    Unfortunately, I think you took the bait somewhat, but you are quite right to feel angry, as it was a civil debate deliberately sabotaged!

    Finally, I think your position as a reformed christian means your words come from the unique position of someone who has held strong beliefs and had the strength to question them. I hope you continue questioning and continue writing.



    I find the most ironic statement of the debate was Ben’s accusation of you as “skilled in the artful dodge”. If sabotaging a debate because you didn’t want to address evidence and reasoning isn’t a dodge, I don’t know what is.

    • Thank you Alex for a very thoughtful/insightful comment.

      I suspect you’re right about taking the bait. I did what he did, writing off the top of my head without careful consideration. I wrote what I felt. I stand by what I said, but had I thought about it more I would have recognised that I was giving him what he wanted. I did, in truth, suspect as much, but my emotion overrode the good sense to articulate what he was doing.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Appreciate it.


  4. Pingback: Why Do I Even Bother: Angry Atheists | themilitantchristian

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