AS191: Everybody Is Wrong About God, with James Lindsay

This is an interview that has been months in the making. James Lindsay is here to talk about his exciting new book, Everybody Is Wrong About God, which you can find here:

James was kind enough to send me an advance copy, so I was very prepared to talk about the fascinating thesis expressed in the book. As you could guess from the title, he thinks everyone, including atheists, is looking at god the wrong way. We need to change the way to discuss god and try to argue about god. Is he right? You’ll have to judge for yourself, after listening AND buying his book…

One thought on “AS191: Everybody Is Wrong About God, with James Lindsay”

  1. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find too much to agree with on James’ position. I liked the idea of trying to avoid tribalism and opening up discourse from a point where we’re willing to change our minds, but James himself seemed to betray this position to me. You did a good job of calling it out by highlighting the fact that his position itself is “ideological” (as he was defining it) given that he was starting from the position that the atheist position is the one we should be trying to convince people of and he didn’t seem willing to entertain the idea that the debate on god is still open.

    Along those lines, he kept using the terms “myth” and “mythology” to describe the theist’s position which seems incompatible with the idea that we should avoid tribalism (since it’s quite a dismissive way of framing an opponent’s view and not at all conducive to meaningful discussion). It’s the same hypocrisy as with Boghossian, who talks about the importance of civil conversations and having mature conversations, then tells people he disagrees with that they are relegated to the kid’s table.

    I think the way he’d salvage his position would be to point out that being “ideological” is in fact the only way intelligent meaningful discourse can move forward. If you don’t start with some fundamental point that you refuse to waver on then nothing can ever get done. Imagine if we tried to have a discussion where I argued that evidence shouldn’t play an important role in establishing the truth of positions – you couldn’t disprove me as to disprove me you’d need evidence, which I reject as a concept. I feel like the same thing applies, in differing degrees, to other topics. With social justice issues, the fundamental point is that people should be treated equally. It makes no sense to tell them that they should be open to changing their minds or compromising on that issue, which is effectively what James was arguing.

    One point that I was really confused about though was your description of the Yale Halloween incident. I can’t remember who it was but I think it might have been James who set the situation up as if somebody at Yale had been telling the students what to wear and then argued that they were wrong to try to “shut down open discussion” on what’s the best approach.

    This is really weird as the actual situation didn’t involve Yale telling students what to wear and it was Christakis (the person who replied) who was trying to shut down discussion. Instead Yale treated them as adults and left the decision up to them, and all they did was open up a discussion on the effects certain costume choices can have. To summarise it, the initial email basically said [paraphrased]: “There have been problems with racist costumes in the past being harmful to minorities and having them fear for their safety, so this year when choosing your costume just consider whether it’s possible that your choice could cause fellow students harm or to fear for their safety, and if it does then consider if you think it’d be worth changing your costume”.

    The response to this was just crazy and I think indicative of a growing problem of neocon/reactionary outrage, where Christakis started making strange arguments about how we shouldn’t be telling students what to wear, how they have the freedom of expression to be racist, and so on. It was truly bizarre. So understandably the minority students at the university who are used to being walked all over went through a bit of a rollercoaster ride, where suddenly the university seemed to care about their safety by sending out the entirely uncontroversial initial email, and then they went back on it by having Christakis send out an email basically stating that a discussion on what costumes are appropriate to wear shouldn’t be had and argued that there is no reason for the university to address the racial harassment that occurs at that time of year. I think with that context it makes sense that the students would dare to raise their voice to a university administrator (which for some reason caused a moral panic and nobody rushed to their defence to point out the importance of their free speech).

    On another topic, I thought it was odd that you described the atheist position as being one that was based on attacking the evidence for god (somewhere about 10mins in as part of a question to James). I mean, I’m an atheist and so I obviously wouldn’t say that we don’t have the evidence behind us, but in the atheist community as a whole I don’t see much in the way of addressing evidence for and against god. There are definitely some good people trying to make that happen, like the guy you interviewed a month or so ago who’s starting his new youtube channel, but the popular atheists don’t seem that concerned with it. They seem to try to challenge the basis of religion (arguing things like it’s an evolutionary adaptation, or that it’s “all in the brain”) rather than the actual arguments – or, when they do, they end up with pretty weak attempts like Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”. I can’t actually think of any mainstream atheist books that address the evidence for god in any real detail, which seems consistent with the fact that many popular atheists are philosophically illiterate and quite dismissive of philosophy as a whole so they end up failing to address most of the evidence for god which tends to be philosophical.

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