222-227: Understanding Atheism after Mormonism

In this multi-part interview, Dan Wotherspoon interviews Tyson Jacobsen and Randy Snyder about their transition from devout Mormonism to atheism.














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  1. Great so far guys. I just wanted to reiterate the statement “if mormonism is not true then no other religion is true.” Mormonism has better answers for the problem of evil, the transcendental argument, and many more of the kinds of arguments that atheist lobby against the believers. One could even say that mormonsim is non-supernatural, and I consider the problem of supernatural natural interaction to be one of the biggest defeaters for any kind of supernaturalist religions which most are.

    Cant wait to hear the rest!!!

  2. Great interview! I had stopped listening to Mormon Stories for about a year, but I think I’ll tune back in. I travelled parallel paths with Tyson from TBM Mormonism to atheism during the exact same time frame. We might have even taken some classes together at BYU since we graduated at the same time (I went on to med school, so I’m sure we had a lot of overlap in our studies). Our stories sounded very, very similar. I listened to the podcast with my wife tonight (who also left Mormonism with me) and she kept telling me, “You sound like long lost brothers. You even use the same phrases.” We were cracking up with the Satan mission story. Do you think it was a hypnagogic hallucination? That would be my naturalistic explanation.

  3. Sorry Randy – I got your names mixed up. I’m also from Arizona, so the next time I visit my family (who live on the more LDS dense East side of town) maybe we can get together and enjoy a glass of wine or beer over . Maybe two. The conversation would be great.

  4. I can hardly wait to get into this Podcast. It may happen after midnight this evening. I do want however (for lack of a better place) to announce that our own John Dehlin is an important contributor to a recent story in the Salt Lake Tribune. It identifies “scrupulosity, an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in which worries of a religious or moral nature consume an individual.” It is so worth reading. The article was published on December 16th. You can also locate it by searching via John’s name.

  5. Good one! Looking forward to the rest. The best thing about leaving religion is leaving behind all the evil notions like Satan and God holding puppet strings…it will free your mind, and I highly recommend it.

  6. Thanks Joahua, I’d love to get together and have a few mild barley drinks (D&C 89:17). Here’s my email address if you ever want to contact me (snyder.braces@gmail.com). To answer your question, which I answer later in the podcast, I’m nearly positive it was a waking dream which you gave the more medical term for. I’ll never forget Steven Novella describing the phenomenon of waking dreams and that he gets them too. It was like “Hey, that’s what that was!” I have gotten them all my life actually but they usually manifest in giant spiders coming down from the ceiling :-) But all the signs were there: early morning, paralysis, visitation from an other that takes on a cultural familiarity (many alien visitation stories can be explained by this).

    Shane, it’s funny you mention that Mormonism isn’t necessarily supernatural. That idea fascinated me my freshman year in college. In my writing class, I wrote a paper about how the Mormon God does not use magic but is the ultimate scientist. He has supernal knowledge of how the universe works and simply uses that knowledge to command the elements to do ultimately natural things that would only appear supernatural to us lowly mortals. I got a 98% on it :-)

  7. Joshua: The “satanic” experience was almost certainly due to sleep paralysis. It’s not at all uncommon, in fact, I experience it myself at least once every few months. It’s terrifying. I usually realize that I’m asleep and try to yell at someone (usually with limited success) to wake me up.


    Great podcast. That’s one thing I love about Mormon Podcasts — I get to listen to thoughts and experiences that parallel my own. I’m currently struggling with two personalities in one body — one that remembers that sweet and almost overpowering spiritual experiences I’ve had at times, and one that deals with all the messy empirical data. I don’t know how else to manage things.

    Keep up the good work, John and Crew! :)

  8. Randy – your paper about a super-scientist God sounds interesting. Mormons do believe in an evolved, exalted, “natural” God who was once a human much like us. Although the science of this is a bit shady, I often wonder why most Mormons have such hard time accepting evolution. It seems many get stuck in some sort of pseudo-scientific/pseudo-religious “intelligent design” stance on evolution (ie. God directed it).

    Lee – I like your description of “struggling with two personalities in one body.” I felt the same way for a long time too. It reminds me of Robert Frosts poem “The Road Not Taken” where he describes feeling of sense of schism – wanting to travel two paths at the same time, but being unable to do so and remain whole.

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth.

    I would use the term “cognitive dissonance” to describe that same feeling. Holding two contradictory sets of ideas can be difficult: spiritual and empirical worldviews, as you say. Sounds like that is maybe what you are feeling too. Best wishes on your journey.

  9. Great Podcast Guys ~!~ — I am looking forward to the next parts.. I am continually amazed as I research “faith crisis” stories within the LDS framework. when someone looses their faith in the LDS Church — they first move toward fundamentalism — then mysticism — then quickly toward agnosticism -or- atheism — very very rarely does one convert back to orthodox Christianity.. John, I would love to hear from a sociologist, or anyone who has done any official research as to why the common path for LDS people who encounter information that challenges their faith, seems to always lead to a loss of belief of God & Christ all-together..

    Seems like the Church needs to do a better job in creating a more stable framework for belief —

    thanks ~ Current Recommend Holding “Agnostic Mormon” :)

  10. I have yet to listen to the podcast (but I will! It’s just I find the listening to be more time-intensive than reading), but I wanted to address Red:

    Have you really not read about the many people who lose their faith in the LDS church and do become “orthodox” Christians (I put orthodox in quotations, because they don’t necessarily become Orthodox, but more often Protestant.)

    We have to remember that for whatever it seems the rate of Mormon -> agnostic or atheist rate is, actually, Mormons who convert away move to other religions at about the same rate they become secular (there is a Pew Forum research paper that shows this…of the people who grew up Mormon, 70% are Mormon later in life, 15% have another religion, and 15% move to no religion. Pew addressed the issue that many Mormons may leave the church and return [in which case they’d count within the 70%], and “no religion” doesn’t necessarily mean “agnostic” or “atheist.”)

    Anyway, there was another episode of this podcast, for that matter, that had an interview with an ex-Mormon “traditional” Christian…Born-Again Mormon Sean McCraney. I don’t know if there have been other episodes here about that.

    But anyway, if it seems like all ex-Mormons eventually become agnostic or atheist, then I think that is a self-selection bias from blogs, etc.,

    Additionally, you say, “very very rarely does one convert back to orthodox Christianity.” This is curious. Why would a Mormon convert back to something they didn’t start as? Getting away from that “Are Mormons Christians?” debate, the real issue is that Mormons *aren’t* the same kinds of Christians that your standard evangelical or mainline Protestant is. Mormonism is based on an awareness that “traditional” Christianity got some things very wrong.

    It would kinda be like saying, “very very rarely does a Christian convert back to orthodox Judaism.” Right, because Christianity is quite different from Judaism, despite its historical relationship.

    1. @Andrew S. I live in Canada, so things may be a bit different up here than in Utah. In thinking of my peer group that I went through the LDS youth program with, I don’t know of one of them (who no longer attend the LDS church) that attends a different Christian church. Most that I have talked to are agnostic or atheist. A couple are spiritual in a vague way, but don’t attend any organized religion. Just anecdotal I know, but the group is large enough that I suspect it represents the typical exit path for mormons on the west coast of Canada at least.

    2. If you think about innate temperament, it makes perfect sense to me actually. When it comes to Structure and reliance on Faith, Mormons do an amazing job. Its an idiot proofed religion. A person attracted to this would have no reason to find worship elsewhere.

      I would suggest that the ones who leave are purely not designed for such a closed ended religion.It would seem that the (Jungian) temperament of persons that find their way out of Mormonism, probably do it because of these things…i.e. lack of scientific support, the blind obedience, and the smothering structure. This blind obedience, reliance on faith, and inflexible structure is exactly what is a comfort to most of the other temperaments.

      The idealists and scientists would quite naturally find either a more open minded doctrine or, being quite spiritual already, prefer no organized religion at all.

  11. Red – Maybe it’s because of the restoration and apostasy doctrine. We’ve been taught our whole life how deficient the other churches are, so if our church isn’t true, then it’s difficult to think the others might be. Also, when you use the tools of reason, logic, history, science, and unbiased skeptical inquiry (the same tools that you also used to debunk Mormonism) and apply them to the claims of Christianity, the arguments for the existence of God crumble pretty quickly. The big struggle is whether to stop believing in Mormonism. Not believing in God was pretty easy.

  12. That’s the problem with Mormonism. They have you beleiving it’s the only true religion and that nothing else could be true. So when you discover you’ve been deceived, atheism is your only option. Then you start reading everthing you can to try to disprove all religion, but never read anything that might show very good evidence for Christianity. I would challenge you to read “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” by Frank Turek & Norman Geisler or some of the books by Lee Strobel such as, “The Case For Christ” or “The Case For a Creator”. The evidence is there. But are you willing to look for it?

  13. I would disagree with your characterization of how Mormons become atheists. I speak from experience, and that’s not quite the way it happens. There were countless options open when I left Mormonism, it’s just that a naturalistic worldview (without the supernatural) makes the most sense.

    I’m willing to go wherever the evidence leads. But that is what lead me out of Mormonism and theism. There is no evidence for it, and there is a lot of evidence against it. What evidence is there, other than circumstantial evidence, anecdotal accounts, wishful thinking, and acceptance by faith? I read all the apologists for religion when I was trying desperately to salvage a testimony. I gave their “evidence” a very fair chance. I was even indoctrinated in a religious world-view growing up, so my original bias was towards believing. So, please don’t infer that I haven’t looked at both sides of the issue. I have, but am willing to check out the books you mention. Would you follow your same advice and read some books I recommend?

    1. Couldn’t have said it better myself. When I was on my way out, I looked for every reason I could find to stay – I desperately wanted it all to be true. It just wasn’t – none of them are. I don’t need to read things either it’s really more about common sense.

  14. Questioning faith for me led to questioning thought and re-examining all of my reasons for behaving as I do. Early on, I realized that I had significant issues not just with Mormonism in particular, but with religion in general (especially Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: three popular belief systems that tend to mistake fiction for fact and and then foist that mistake on the world by force). Some more thinking led me to realize that my problem is with human institutions generally: I don’t like having to believe nonsense myself, and I am not really fond of selling it to other people either (at the point of the sword or using slick rhetoric, though the latter offers the victim more opportunity to escape). While some nonsense in human thought (particularly institutionalized thought) is inevitable in my (admittedly limited) experience, there is no moral advantage that comes from revering that nonsense as absolute, inalterable truth. Having faith that the earth is flat does not make one a respectable exponent of alternative geography (which has advanced since primitive religion took aim at it ages ago). Having faith that honor killing is righteous does not make one a respectable exponent of alternative ethics (which has advanced since primitive religion took aim at it ages ago). Having faith that homosexuality is a voluntary decision does not make one a respectable exponent of alternative biology (which has advanced since primitive religion took aim at it ages ago).

    In short, I agree with Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Joseph Smith (in one of his more lucid moments): the truth should be free to cut its way through all the crazy crap that we think and say about it; belief should never be coerced (whether by force or by poor reasoning). The institutions I am comfortable belonging to are the ones that let me speak my mind about the idiocy they espouse. The institutions where I do not feel comfortable participating are the ones that demand respect that they have in no way earned. (Accepting primitive mythology as the last word on the human condition will not win you any ethos with me, no matter what office or authority you affect in any institution.)

  15. More please. ASAP.

    The first day back to work after a holiday break and I need something to listen to as I work.

    I appreciate Randy sharing his story. As others have mentioned it’s amazing how similar my story/journey has been to his. In my case however my wife has not questioned the Church since my disaffection— unfortunately — which makes things tough at time for us both.

    I think that Mormonism unintentionally pushes it’s disaffected members towards agnosticism or atheism through 1) setting itself up as the only truth and 2) creating a black/white paradigm around ‘truth’. I also think that those BIC are more likely to become atheists than converts. Converts have already traded belief systems in becoming Mormon and likely can again. Lifetime Mormons often find the idea of moving to another faith just too foreign and daunting.

    I’d love to hear more — including Tyson’s story. Thanks.

  16. Only going to reiterate some points already made in response to why it seems many ex-Mo’s end up atheist/agnostic.

    First off, I’m not sure that is the case. Many who do become this way only do so because they really care about the truth. This could lead to self selection as already stated of being more visible. There could be many who just don’t care about these questions anymore but would probably still self identify with Christ after leaving Mormonism.

    Secondly, as to the poster that said the “problem” with Mormonism is that it leads people to atheism, that is what is great about Mormonism to me. It stresses the value of truth and that things should make sense or be logical (however, their logic or epistemology launches from faulty assumptions). So, like was already said, once you realized you have been fooled by Mormonism but value the truth, you will use the same tools of reason and logic to deconstruct Christianity, and I’m sorry, Christianity is not hard to debunk, especially fundamentalist or orthodox Christianity.

    I could list all the ways to do this, but I really don’t have to go further than the Christian notion of hell. So our omniscient, omnibenificent, and omnipotent God creates, in his infinite goodness, a place called hell for not only the evil of the world, but the unfortunate people not born into it in far away lands, to suffer in eternal torture. Eternal torment is a worse evil than even the most evil person on earth is capable of doing to another human being, infinitely worse. This notion of hell is the equivalent of me putting a gun up to someone’s head and saying, “Give me 100 bucks or I’ll blow your brains out.” When the person gives it to me, I walk away, feeling good about myself and how much “mercy” I just showed to that person.

  17. OK, where is Part II? Senior citizens hate waiting, especially if they are considering moving from Mormonism to Atheism. For now, my season of discontent has forced me back to Protestantism (I was a convert to LDS). Protestantism to Atheism? A downward slope or upward slope? I’m getting confused. I can’t remember if I took my morning meds…

  18. It’s interesting that Joseph’s polyandry was the first chink in your (Randy) armour. I agree that this is a disturbing fact about Joseph Smith. However, it seems to me that we can only speculate about the details of these marriages. We can imagine the worst (he had an uncontrollable sexual appetite and a need to dominate others, etc.) or the best (he was interested in sealing people to him).

    It’s also interesting that your wife gave up on the church after a mere three months. A lot of people pray for years before getting an answer to prayer. It seems like she gave up too easily. Perhaps your influence had a bigger impact than you think.

    Good luck with atheism. I can understand why you’d gravitate towards it after leaving the Mormon Church.

  19. Jeremy,

    This is one thing that I didn’t articulate as well as I wanted to in the podcast (partly because it wasn’t meant to be an attack on Mormonism but a description of a journey to atheism and partly because I wiffed on emphasizing an important point). I didn’t lose my faith in the church simply because of polyandry. I had suffered cog diss for years surrounding why God would have his one true church be so obviously racist with the priesthood ban and the BoM obsession with dark skin. I also took a church history class at BYU by a progressive professor that told us about the Book of Abraham papyrus being found which caused more cog diss. I suppressed this because the professor did a great job of giving an apologetic answer and I wanted to believe and the priesthood ban I rationalized as a test of faith for the same reason, I wanted to believe. But polyandry simply shook me up enough to not be satisfied with those previous justifications and it all came crashing down on me. I still, as you heard in the podcast, took my time before really digging into church history and it was the Prop 102/8 issue that made it then a moral imperative to find out the truth.

    As for my wife, obviously I had a strong influence on her. But she was seeing me spinning out of the church at break neck speed and she needed her Mormon God to give her a boost or throw her a lifeline. His silence was deafening to her. Perhaps if she would have prayed incessantly for 4 months instead of 3 she would have had a “revelation.” Perhaps she should have gone 4 years. Perhaps she was praying to the wrong God. Perhaps she was not using real intent or her heart was not sincere enough. Perhaps she didn’t have enough faith. Perhaps she didn’t use the approved Mormon nomenclature and God was not willing to look past such a breach of protocol. I could go on and on but the point is she gave it what she felt was her best shot and since Mormon epistemology is a black hole of circular reasoning, what’s the point?

  20. Actually, one last point. Your advice of being more patient with God is great advice to keep someone in the church. A bishop could say, “It could take years to get an answer so just keep going to church, paying your tithing, and doing your calling and you’ll get your answer someday if you are worthy and faithful.” Then you go 20 years with nothing that seems like a revelation to you and you say, “Hey, what’s the deal?” And the bishop says, “Well, did you ever feel good while doing church things?” “Yes, yes I did.” “There you go, that is your answer from God the church is true.”

    It’s perfect.

  21. Don’t understand why we only got Part 1 and not Part II at the same time — what a rip. I want my money back :)

  22. Randy and Tyson:

    Did either of you consider the Community of Christ? Most of the baggage that you see in the LDS Church doesn’t seem exist in the CoC.

    • Polygamy–Nope, not there; Their claim is JS may have had a issue similar to David of Old
    • Racial prejudice–Not there; They appear to be on the right side of history here
    • Women’s issues–They look great on these issues too
    • Sexuality issues–There handling of these topics has been very mature; It’s impressive
    • Scripture–Their D&C is actually different; They never included several troubling sections
    • Beliefs–They don’t ostracize you if you don’t take everything 100% literally
    • By Common Consent–They still believe in this principle

    I have been to services at CoC. It is very spiritual. And they seem to practice a type of Christianity/Mormonism that would conform with your understanding of Gospel principles. But more important, there services might feel like home… in a good way.

    So I am just wondering, did you ever check out the Community of Christ?

  23. Oh, I forgot one point:

    • Masonic Temple Ritual–The never adopted this practice either

    But hey, that was implied in the Polygamy and Scripture points.

  24. So apparently I should chime in on a few posts, and in classic hitchens style, I’ll do so in reverse….

    Joe (1/5),
    After leaving mormonism, I was open to any and all beliefs, be it CoC, Islam etc…seeking truth was the preference, I wasn’t prejudice who had it. Problem was, I needed to learn how to define and recognize truth, so while I was working through the cog dis, I was also learning about how historians analyze history to identify the most probable accounts, how science tests and refines ideas and requires evidence, etc…So naturally, I applied this more rigorous process to my current and future beliefs. In so doing (to be specific to your CoC question), via the study of Bart Ehrman’s books, I learned Christianity’s history is deeply problematic, and the truth claims pronounced by modern day christians, are not supported by the evidence. So if the question is to the theology of the CoC, I am unconvinced, if the question relates to a cultural milieu, I’m of the opinion there are better ones to be a part of than the CoC.

    George (1/4) Atheism is not a system of beliefs, just think of it like you do all the other myths and dead gods (well over 2,500 and counting), we have just gone 1 (or 3, depending on your 3in1 interpretation) god further. What is the upward slope then? Well I for one think humanity is worth keeping around, and well worth investing in our general well being and happiness. Some may argue that we need rituals and ceremony in order to do that, I don’t think so, and neither do many secular countries whose standards of living and measurements for happiness exceed that of religious countries. Oh, and part 1 was something like 50 minutes, there’s 7 more hours of material that they are sifting through, ergo the challenge in getting the balance up.

    Heremes (1/3) Amen brother.

    Jerry (1/2) I second what Josh said on 1/3, although I have read Lee Strobel’s case for christ, and I have watched Turek in debates, both still rely on old arguments and evidence that have been thoroughly deconstructed. I admire the valiant defense, but the evidence doesn’t support them. What’s concerning is, I think they know this quite well, and still pursue their cause leading me to question 1) their sanity or 2) their integrity. But I could be wrong…I just need better evidence, and more than the continually growing mountain we have for explaining the natural world.

  25. Andrew Ainsworth


    I truly enjoyed hearing about your journey in this first part. I’d heard bits and pieces of your journey before, but you were very articulate in relating your experience in a complete way in this podcast. Looking forward to the next episodes and for Tyson’s grand reveal! :)

  26. I’ve been to community of christ and really like the church. All the points mentioned referring to CoC are correct. If it wasn’t 2 hours away from me I’d consider attending. Looking forward to the next part of this podcast!

  27. The Unitarian Universalists are another good option for those leaving Mormonism. They accept atheists, agnistics, ex-Mo’s, active Mo’s, anybody who wants to participate. Most congregations are made up of those who were dissatisfied with their childhood faiths. No doctrines, just a bunch of liberals trying to do good within a spiritual context. At one point I thought that my wife (disaffected Mormon) and I (active yet liberal Mormon) could find a home where we could attend church together again but it didn’t work out. I subscribe to their magazine and it is MUCH more enlightening and spiritual for me than The Ensign.

  28. I would second Bill’s recommendation for the UU fellowship (they don’t even call themselves a “church”). One of the problems of leaving Mormonism is the loss of community and social aspects of the Church. The social/community aspect is especially appealing for my wife and children (I’m somewhat of an introvert and was never wedded to the Church because of it’s social institutions). Leaving the Church left a bit of a gap in our social life since the LDS Church is a “one-stop-shop” religious-Walmart for all your needs, including the social.

    Like Bill said, in UU there is no dogma, no doctrine, and they are very accepting of all faiths – and those with none at all. After I went to their meetings a couple of times, I could tell I was among like-minded people. They asked me to speak about my experience in extracting myself from Mormonism, and how a loss of faith can negatively affect family relationships (as it did for me and many others). Ironically, my Mom and Dad were coming into town that weekend for a rare visit. I didn’t think they would appreciate my talk, or that I was attending another Church – so we postponed my talk. But I really like their philosophy and would consider being more active in the UU “fellowship” if they had a larger congregation, that was a little younger, and had more kids. I live in a fairly small town, but I know in larger cities, the UU organizations are well-attended, have more kids, and have better social programs.

  29. I’m also really looking forward to hearing Tyson’s story in part 2. With 7 hours of footage to choose from, I hope we get at least 4 or 5 episodes out of the interviews with Randy and Tyson. So …. where is the next installment?

  30. Tyson:

    I ask about CoC for four reasons:

    (1) Socially, the CoC feels like a hybrid of Christianity and Mormonism. However, most of the “questionable?” LDS/Christian stuff isn’t present. In short, the CoC seems to bring out the best of both worlds.
    (2) Many people who I have spoken with (in your situation) still have a strong since of LDS morality (minus the baggage). The CoC values/doctrine/ideology often seems to conform to these values.
    (3) The membership appears open to accepting a wide variety of beliefs. As John H stated in an earlier podcast, you can believe the doctrine as 100% literal. Or you can believe the stories to be metaphors… metaphors used to teach moral principles.
    (4) As Richard D said in his podcast, “There are still experiences (spiritual/supernatural) that I cannot explain.” Can you relate to this? The CoC seems like a plausible answer if you do? Or have you gone so far past agnosticism (into atheism) that this point is moot?

    Thanks for the response, Tyson.


    Do you have any thoughts related to my initial question?

  31. Tyson:

    One last thought. You referred to your study of Bart Ehrman’s books… stating “I learned Christianity’s history is deeply problematic, and the truth claims pronounced by modern day Christians, are not supported by the evidence.”

    I completely agree with this point (I grew up in an LDS family, but I arrived at this conclusion by 14 or 15 years of age). I have always thought it completely asinine for a “Christian” person to criticize Mormonism when their same regressions tests would blow up their own Christian church/faith.

    But that brings up the beauty of the Joseph Smith story. If JS really had the experiences he had, then Jesus is the Christ. And this would be so despite all the BS and baggage.

    For me, I was 19 when I was challenged to test JS and the BoM. I ended up having several pretty profound (spiritual?) experience. And I had these experiences understanding the baggage. Then I had experiences (spiritual) on a mission that I still cannot explain.

    But I have arrived at a spot similar to you… and Richard Dutcher… and maybe many others who visit this site. I cannot reconcile (or apologize) any longer for several LDS positions.

    So I have experiences (spiritual) that are so profound that I cannot simply write off everything (completely). But my moral compass is fighting against much of the LDS baggage for years (described in my bullets above).

    So what does a person do when the arrive at this place?

    That is why I bring up the Community of Christ. If there is any chance (even remote) that Jesus is the Christ and that JS was a prophet, is it possible the BY simply was NOT the rightful successor? If so, the CoC (or Church of Christ) seems like a potential answer to the succession issue.

    But even if it is a bunch of crap, it seems as if the CoC provides enough flexibility in member beliefs that you can participate and experience the goodness, while not having to support all the BS (that exists with the LDS Church). I suppose the CoC starts to look a little Unitarian at this point… but with more fun stories, myths, and legends to draw on.

  32. Correction:

    “CoC feels like a hybrid of mainstream, protestant Christianity and Mormonism…”

    Or in other words, I wasn’t saying Mormons aren’t Christians.

  33. Bill, we discuss the UU in the podcast, I like them too, and the quote I remember seeing in their program was from Robert Ingersol (that comment will make sense once you hear the podcast) As with the CoC, I choose not to attend because I think there are better organizations out there, and I haven’t finished searching for new opportunities/associations. I could be mistaken, and end back up at their services full or part time since there really isn’t a theological, or dogmatic position to wrestle with and the people are top notch humans, but I can tell you the scientific community has “delivered the goods” thus far.

    Joe, We discuss the numinous and transcendent in the podcast as well. We definitely do not write them off, and I think I have had equally spiritual experiences since leaving, although I don’t ascribe them to supernatural events. Before looking to the supernatural for explanations, I think we should be patient with, and give every effort to use, natural explanations for their origin. This reasoning has only created more wonder, more questions, and amplified the specific meaning and intimate purpose of these experiences for me. Reality is awesome. Let me know if you would like further commentary on the CoC after the previous response.

  34. Tyson said, “Before looking to the supernatural for explanations, I think we should be patient with, and give every effort to use, natural explanations for their origin. This reasoning has only created more wonder, more questions, and amplified the specific meaning and intimate purpose of these experiences for me.”

    Wow. That is a thought that pushes a person.

    And yes, that does, indirectly, answer the CoC question for me.

    Thanks Tyson.

  35. Very good interviews.

    For mw it went like this. Degree of difficulty the same for deconstructing all three.

    1 Deconstruct Mormonism

    2 Deconstruct Christianity

    3 Deconstruct God

    Applying logic and reason it was like laying a hot sharpe knife through a slab of butter.

    Never looked back Never been happier.


  36. Joe, I live in a northern community in Western Canada. Very lovely place and wonderful communities surrounding me but not close to some of the amenities that city life affords. That’s the only downfall, if there is one.

  37. Thank you John and Dan for having the courage to tackle these issues and ideas. I have encountered most people in the church react to my agnostic-atheism differently than they would someone who had left the church but remained christian. They look at me with fear in their eyes. I know this fear is not just of me as a person, although I’m sure they believe anyone who denies God could only have been deceived by the adversary and therefore must also be in his camp, but more importantly, they fear the idea of no God. This is perhaps because they have pondered the possibility themselves, and the idea of uncertainty about the afterlife, forever families and any link to something or someone more powerful than themselves in this life is just terrifying.

  38. Joe,

    Going from your original question I was left to infer that you perceived that I left Mormonism because I wanted to either disassociate myself with the baggage of real Mormon history or was looking for a religion that didn’t have so much baggage. For me the process was going from TBM to doubter of Mormonism to doubter of religion to doubter of the whole concept of god. The CoC was completely flown over without a second glance in this journey for me. Once I deconstructed my faith in the original truth claims of any form of Mormonism, I didn’t find anything compelling in looking for a version of Mormonism that was more palatable to my sensibilities, if that makes sense. My journey followed from the deconstruction of Mormonism to questioning everything I previously gave deference to.

    As for all of your profound spiritual experiences, I echo what Tyson already said about exploring the naturalistic explanations first. The human mind is an unbelievable organ. We are barely scratching the surface of our understanding of the brain and we have learned so much already over the last 140 years. If you want to get a full appreciation of the phenomenon of the brain and what we have learned and what we still need to learn about it, I recommend the Charlie Rose Brain Series. I DVR’ed it on PBS but I’m sure you can find it elsewhere like on Netflix or some other medium. It features leaders in every field associated with this incredible organ.

    Lastly, if your point was about finding a social organization that I would feel more morally comfortable with, I guess the CoC would be a good candidate as they would already have a lot in common with my history without the whole gay issue and patriarchy issue which are two hot buttons with me. But, on Sundays, I think I would rather either do a hike with the family or visit a museum, or go to a football game ;-) than go to a church that will likely promote some sort of surrendering to a higher power which simply does not resonate with me anymore.

  39. Just listened to Part 2. Great interview. Both Tyson and Randy brought up great points. Here’s a few I wanted to highlight:

    1. Raising your kids outside the church, or in a secular worldview, is healthy.
    When I left the church, my family was extremely concerned about how we were going to parent our kids. We eventually had to set some personal boundaries (something of a foreign idea to some LDS) when it comes to how we parent. There is an assumption that you can’t raise a good family without the church. This is so obviously false that I don’t want to debunk it, other than to say that millions of successful families are raised without religion in general, Christianity in particular, and Mormonism especially. You just don’t have to indoctrinate your kids to believe a certain way, from the time they are Sunbeams, for them to grow up to be happy, productive, ethical members of society. Like Tyson, I find that I have much more personal time with my kids now, I enjoy having engaging conversations with them more where I listen to them more than I tell them what to think. Hands down, I would say my family life is better outside the church. Not to say that you can’t have a good family life in the church either, but to insinuate you can’t have a happy and fulfilling family life outside the church is just plain old prejudice and ignorance.

    2. Our level of belief in something should scale with the level of evidence.
    Amen Tyson! Randy also brought up this point when he said that scientific naturalism is a “more probable” explanation than a supernatural one. He also did a great job of articulating Hume’s problem with miracles. In short, Hume says we shouldn’t believe a miracle has occurred unless it is the most probable explanation. But since miracles are, by definition, a violation of the laws of nature, and the laws of nature have never been violated, a miracle story is the least probable event. A natural explanation will usually be the more probable explanation. Isn’t it more probable that the person claiming a miracle occurred could either be sincerely mistaken, he could have lied, or else the listener was mistaken? Notice Hume doesn’t say a miracle is impossible – just more improbable than a natural explanation.

    Science deals in probabilities, not certainties. Therefore, a good scientist is willing to change their mind if better evidence if found that refutes a prior belief. Therefore, scientists scale their belief in something based on the evidence for that thing. More evidence = more belief. Less evidence = less belief. No evidence = no belief. I think we all (religious or not) use this scientific rule in everyday life. So we are all scientist empiricists. But religious faith seems to be an exception to this rule, where people believe things when there is a lack of evidence. I like what Mark Twain said about faith: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Many reasons for this, that I won’t go into, but just ask yourself what religion you would believe in if you happened to be born in Saudi Arabia or Iran?

  40. Jacob Michael Smith

    I truly loved both of these stories because they are very similar to mine and the membership needs to understand why we are the way we are. Excellent job.

  41. About half way through part 2… science should regulate morality… I find this idea alarming. I see horrible things arising from that. Eugenics, for one.

    I’m not coming at this from an ignorant stance, either. I have a degree in the biological sciences. I’ve been engaged in scientific inquiry (both in college and when I worked at a research station for the USDA). I’m also a huge science buff and most of my reading is devoted to science.

    Though, I’m still trying to suspend judgment and wait to hear them out completely.

  42. Heather, it sounds like you’re leaping to conclusions. The idea that science can inform our moral judgments (which is what they said), is not inherently alarming or dangerous. Do you really see a majority of scientists advocating Eugenics? I don’t, but I’m not sure where you live. I have a hard time seeing how relying on scientific observation to inform our morality is any more inherently problematic than relying upon copies of copies of copies of what we think were once original manuscripts written by a Bronze age tribe of nomadic desert wanderers to inform our morality. Not a lot of folks these days who would support the death penalty for violating the Sabbath and such. I’m sure there would be some oddball mad scientists here and there, but is basing your moral judgments on your observations of the natural world inherently more problematic than basing your moral judgments on what one of the world’s competing spiritual authorities claims his invisible God said to him?

  43. Heather,
    Thanks for your comment, and for suspending judgement. It is an issue we deal with more in the podcast, and I can tell you it is a topic I love to debate. I’ve thought long and hard about the argument, and I have a hard time seeing how science should not be the language we use to define our morality. Although Harris is not the first proponent of this line of thinking, he is certainly the most prominent at the moment. You can get a snippet of his latest book “The Moral Landscape” from his TED presentation here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj9oB4zpHww

    I’d love to hear your thoughts based on the evidence he presents.

    In fact, for anyone interested in the book, send me your name and address on fb and I’ll send you a free copy. Let’s just say I got a 10% raise a few years ago so I’m happy to support a good cause.

  44. Thank you, Dan, for putting together a good podcast. I am looking forward to part 3 (did not know there was a part 3 until I saw John’s note above). I am interested in your take on all this. My husband and I listened to part 2 on our way to a ski resort this morning, and felt that one issue that occurs commonly is that when people leave the church they still have a very black and white outlook. It’s all true, or all bunk. Why do some see nuances, and others do not? Maybe looking at characteristics of those who tend towards atheism vs. those who search for spiritual sources in other religions or private spiritual practices would be interesting.

  45. @Heather – while I agree that sciencists don’t have a 100% ethical track record, overall their history is very good and much better than religion’s. Eugenics=nasty stuff…but it was also practiced by the Spartans; only they did it with the help of their “gods”.

  46. Just finished part 3 and 4. Fantastic! Very interesting discussion. Great questions. Especially enjoyed the discussion about religious experiences, afterlife, and free-will vs determinism. Randy references Daniel Dennett, and his wonderful lecture at Edinburgh University, where he discusses a solution to the thorny problem of free-will in an apparently deterministic universe:


  47. I suspect Heather’s problem with science, if examined closely, will end up being a problem with human institutions. There is no fundamental difference between science and religion: both provide tools for discovering and implementing information (i.e. decision-making). There is no fundamental difference between a scientific corporation and a church: both are groups of people dedicated to promoting particular tools for discovering and implementing information. The real problem is not (1) what institution should we sell our souls to, the university (or some other scientific corporation) or the church? but (2) how can we best deal with the fact that institutions historically have always ended up forcing their tools violently upon the rest of the world? In my opinion, “science” typically comes out marginally ahead of “religion” because it professes (for the most part genuinely) an openness to self-critique. There are issues (nutrition, global climate change, economics) where “scientific” institutions have fallen into the dogmatic trap that captures almost all world-religions from the get-go. The bottom line is that every person must be raised to understand that she is responsible for herself: she should not sell that self wholly to any institution (scientific or religious), but should critically evaluate every piece of information she receives from any outside source before accepting it as “true” (with the provision that she can always renege in light of further evidence). This is the goal of science: a world-view that is (1) personal/individualized, (2) scalable, (3) voluntary, (4) open-ended/calibrated to account for information it does not yet possess. Unfortunately, the goal of religion is often the opposite: a world-view that is (1) institutional, (2) absolutist/all-or-nothing, (3) involuntary, (4) closed/calibrated to assert that all relevant information has already been discovered and correctly implemented. Inevitably, some “scientists” operate in a “religious” mode, and vice versa, but at least the scientific “scriptures” make a point of calling such people out as phonies, rather than canonizing them as saints. When T. Colin Campbell publishes a piece of shoddy scholarship affecting to be the last word on human health and nutrition, someone with the chops to handle his data can call him out on the carpet (as Denise Minger did). Instead of wars, fisticuffs, etc., we get dialogue: that is how “science” typically works. When Boyd K. Packer makes ridiculous comments about homosexuals in a religious setting, “the thinking has been done.” At least Packer would only go as far as to dis-fellowship or excommunicate the LDS who disagreed with him too vocally. If the religious figure making a normative statement is Torquemada, Brigham Young or the Ayatollah Khomeini, dissenters die. That is what “religion” typically gives us (from a historian’s perspective) instead of dialogue: ostracism/excommunication (in various stages) and/or death (often grisly).

    Personally, my own faith crisis has made me a reluctant participant in any organization that affects to force other people to behave a certain way or believe certain things. I prefer dialogue to force, even when force ends up being necessary. I think individual people are much more reasonable and “scientific” (in a good way) than the institutions that pretend to represent their interests. So I support efforts to disseminate good information freely (science qua methodology; religious mysticism) against efforts to control information as a means of manipulating people for profit (science and religion qua institutions: every institution, no matter what its charter says, always ends up existing to perpetuate and serve itself, not those individuals it pretends to care about).

    Thanks again for a great podcast.

  48. I think that to understand how determinism can coexist with the concept of “free will”, you just need to think of determinism existing at a much lower level of abstraction than free will. Our thoughts, which are the impulses behind decision-making, occur at a much higher abstraction level than the myriad of deterministic forces at the tiniest level. Just think of how a computer works. When you play a game on your computer, there are many layers of abstraction at work. Ultimately there are a bunch of electrons flowing through circuits, but you perceive what is happening at a much higher level, each level below providing some amount of perceived nondeterminism, simply because you cannot begin to comprehend it all. The brain is much more complex than a computer. The ultimate causes at the very lowest levels of existence that may be deterministic are at such a low level of abstraction that there ends of being plenty of nondeterminism at the level of our thought process. The fact that it may all be deterministic at some lower level really doesn’t matter to us. This is at least how I see determinism.

    This is also why I have a hard time understanding what determinism could possibly offer as far as having an impact on how we approach life. While I think it’s good to recognize that environmental factors and DNA are huge influences on how a person thinks, I don’t think that necessarily follows from the idea of determinism, which is only saying that things are at some low level fully determined. It doesn’t make claims about what is determining them. So I fail to see what determinism has to offer me as a philosophy.

  49. Carson – I agree that “free-will” is an emergent phenomenon that arises from deterministic physical properties which occur at a cellular and molecular level. Everything we do, think, and feel is determined by this molecular interaction (all deterministic) between our 100 billion neurons and their 100 trillion synapses. Unlike Laplace’s demon, who theoretically could know all the deterministic factors that would predict future outcomes, we cannot know all the sub machinations effecting our behavior. These unseen variables would include our genes, experiences, environment, and culture. However, God, if he exists and is omniscient, would know these things just like Laplace’s demon. How can God then punish or reward if he already knows what we would do? If we live in a deterministic universe, doesn’t the whole idea of a war in heaven based on free-will, and the resulting damnation of 1/3rd the hosts of heaven, seem a little bit unnecessary and cruel? It would be like punishing a baby or handicapped person who we knew could not act otherwise. In the preexistence we didn’t even have complex physical brains that had evolved the ability to create the illusion of free will. So how does that all work out? How can God punish us or reward us if He already knew what we would do? Why not just skip the entire probationary state if he already knew everything, like Laplace’s demon? I just feel bad for the 1/3rd hosts of heaven who were punished before they even had a brain to decide with :)

    Maybe this is like trying to debate what colors of stripes a flying zebra has, but it is interesting to consider. I would say whether or not we should punish or reward beings in a deterministic universe, is what determinism has to offer as a philosophy. It helps me to not be so judgmental of others since there are factors that nobody knows, effecting our actions.

  50. I would say whether or not we should punish or reward beings in a deterministic universe, is what determinism has to offer as a philosophy. It helps me to not be so judgmental of others since there are factors that nobody knows, effecting our actions.

    This is what I don’t understand. From what I can tell, determinism only states that at a very low level, everything is equally determined. A man betraying his friends and murdering his family despite a healthy upbringing is just as determined at the lowest level as a man accidentally wounding his brother. Surely this doesn’t give any reason for equal punishment. It seems to me that determinism does not add or take away anything from our perspective as far as judgement is concerned. There are always factors that nobody knows affecting our actions. How does it follow that we should reserve judgement because of this? The judgement itself is fully determined, is it not?

    I think it’s perfectly acceptable and right to recognize that someone’s environment is a major cause of that person’s actions. This way we can try to improve the state of humanity by focusing on the causes rather than the shallow effects. However, the philosophy of determinism applies equally to everything, and it does not give any reason for compassion or empathy anymore than it gives reason for hatred and prejudice. Determinism in itself says nothing about how people should be judged, only that the actions that are judged and the judgement itself is at the lowest possible level fully determined. If determinism is correct, then we still all live in the emergent phenomenon of free will regardless, both the judgers and the judged.

  51. I think both of you should read more on near death experiences. The descriptions and testimonies of such events are more convincing than what skeptics have said on the matter. You can start with testimonials on youtube, if you don’t want to buy a book just yet.
    When you compared being unconscious at the dentist to being dead, you inadvertently gave more credence to the claims of near death experiencers. If being deeply unconscious means that you have NO RECOLLECTION of anything, as you said in the podcast, then how can people who were completely knocked out (near death) have such lucid and powerful memories? They are very often in the same drug-induced commas that you were in at the dentist, yet they come back with detailed descriptions of the event, and memories that completely transform the way they see life in general. For those who have lost all belief in the afterlife, I would recommend studying this subject more seriously, and weighing the evidence against what the skeptics have said.

  52. Carson: We can still judge others. The question is whether we can be justified in judging others for their actions? This is not to say that we should not lock up people like Jared Lee Lougher to prevent him from shooting other people. But if somebody theoretically knows all the factors that impinge on our actions (such as an omniscient God who created the deterministic universe we operate in) then it seems ridiculous that God can also judge us for actions that were determined to happen – supposedly according to his own creation as the universe’s first cause. But humans, who do not know all the variables that effect action, need to remain humble about our ignorance, and not pretend to know what others COULD or SHOULD have done. I’ll leave it at that.

    Danko: your argument seems to boil down to the fact that since people have a recollection of a “near death” experience when they are under a drug induced state, and that this experience is meaningful to them, that it is therefore proof (or at least convincing evidence) of an afterlife. I am an anesthesiologist, and so I induce anesthesia on patients everyday. Dreaming is a common phenomenon during anesthesia (whether in a dentist chair or operating room table). Dreaming is not the same thing as dying, going to heaven, and returning. Nobody actually dies (defined as irreversible brain damage) during these “near death experiences.” Out of body experiences not only can be induced by drugs, but also by lack of oxygen, centrifuges (as used in pilot training), fasting, chanting, extreme physical stress, and powerful electromagnetic stimulation of our brain’s temporal lobes. Michael Persinger and Olaf Blanke have reported this type of reproducible out of body experiences in peer reviewed journals. In short, all near death experiences are anecdotal and none amount to testable, reliable, or firm scientific evidence.

  53. @ Martha

    I was going to just let your comment go but it really is one of the most annoying characterizations of my position I encounter, much more annoying than a born again saying I’m going to hell because your opinion is just so condescending (I’m not saying you are intending to be condescending though, I don’t think you are). It’s also ironic that you characterize us as creating a false dichotomy with the church by you yourself creating a false dichotomy of either nuanced or black and white thinkers.

    Your position is really nothing more than an ad hominem attack of my world view. Paint Tyson and myself as merely black and white thinkers and then you can dismiss our arguments. Never in the podcast does Tyson or myself state “it’s either ALL true or ALL false.” Very few things are all true or all false. The black and white paradigm of it’s either the one true church or a fraud is something the church itself creates and promotes incessantly. Because of this there is a simple question that every Mormon should ask themselves and it is: “Is the Mormon church what IT claims to be?” Not “is the Mormon church a net positive” or “does the Mormon church, despite its myriad problems, still possess some esoteric meaning or value.” If the Mormon church, in my estimation, is not what IT claims to be, then it has a problem and they lose credibility in my eyes of any moral authority or claims to transcendent knowledge. I now have to treat their claims of knowledge and truth with the same level of credibility as anything else in life. In other words, their special position no longer is granted by me.

    For me, it wasn’t an experience of black and white thinking throughout the process. It was a shock of going from one side; taking the church’s truth claims very seriously and seeing a black and white world, to having the scales come off my eyes and seeing the world is a messy place filled with infinite shades of gray. I then took the same skeptical eye I used to determine the church wasn’t what it claimed to be to all notions of religion and “spirituality.” In the end, what I found was the naturalistic explanations were the most satisfying and ultimately likely. This is hardly a black and white world view. I now don’t have all the answers and like Tyson said many times, that’s ok. And my position is one that is always subject to change pending further and better evidence. I would call that the opposite of “black and white” dogmatic thinking.

  54. Would it be possible for someone to put up a list of the books referenced by Tyson, Randy and Dan over the course of the podcast?

  55. Joshua: I agree with everything you said there. I completely agree that we need to remain humble about our ignorance of the variables behind people’s actions. I just don’t think that this line of thinking follows from determinism. I could believe in determinism and still make terrible assumptions about the intensions behind the actions of another human being. Determinism doesn’t say what the causes are, or that there is any less fault or blame to be assigned to people because their actions were determined. Fault and blame are emergent, abstract concepts as well. It’s not as if you can point to something and say, “that was determined, therefore we should reserve some judgement” because everything is determined, and there is no way you can distinguish or single out an action this way. If determinism means we should be humble when considering the motives behind an abused child’s actions, it also says we should be humble when considering the motives behind a genocidal dictator’s actions. Determinism gives no room for a relative change of perspective toward any two different actions. So I don’t believe it changes our outlook at all. I personally think there is cause to be more forgiving of people who do bad things with good intensions than of those who do bad things with bad intensions. I think that we should be less harsh towards those who don’t know any better than towards those that do know better. However, determinism makes no such differentiation, as it only states that both cases were fully determined at the lowest level.

  56. @ GRC: thanks for stopping by to judge.

    @ Carson N: I think we are mostly in agreement. I would just say our behavior is determined all the way up. It’s just that it appears that deterministic forces diminish on the way up. But this is the illusion. If not, then at what point does it become undetermined? Where does the ghost come into the machine? I think we, like Hume and Dennett, are both compatibilists. There’s some common ground for us. Combatibilism works in a totally determined world.

  57. Just a comment about the repeated question about your supposed “hasty” retreat from Mormonism to atheism (which I think most equate with believing in “nothing” and therefore horrible): It took me 48 years to finally leave Mormonism. However, the time between my decision to investigate and being mentally “out” was only a few days. But the process of leaving had begun long before. Between the increasing unhappiness with the endless, pointless, repetitious meetings, the increasing dissonance between church positions and reality, and increasing spouse dissatisfaction with time required away from the family due to callings, I think my mind was gradually getting ready for the carnage I was to find on the internet when I finally gave myself permission to “look.”

    Now that I’m out, I look at people like Tyson and Randy with some envy. They have most of their lives to get things right, whereas for me, there’s not so much time. I also have to help my kids, the oldest of whom lived and was indoctrinated (sorry!) for 15 years and now has been told everything’s up for grabs. It’s exciting but terrifying at the same time.

    For me, even though I was one of the most active, taking-it-serious TBM you could imagine for at least 40 or so of those years, when I was able to put all the information together at once, it fell apart LIKE A HOUSE OF CARDS. And as either Randy or Tyson said, it was as though the fog had lifted. Suddenly it all made sense. I looked at some other groups such as NOM and other Christian faiths, and my reaction was “Are you serious?” It seems that if you find out that a certain methodology or system doesn’t work, you try a new one rather than just rework the old flawed system.

    So, even though these biographical sketches make it seem like atheism/agnosticism/skepticism is just an overreaction to the shock of shaken faith, I don’t think that’s what it is.

  58. Jeff, here’s a partial list. I’ve divided them into three segments (nothing to do with the podcast, it’s just how I organized them from another source). message me on fb with an email address if you (or anyone else) need the hyperlinks.

    Segment 1

    1. Bart Ehrman –
    a. Ehrman vs. Liacona debate
    b. Ehrman vs. William Lane Craig (WLC)
    c. Lecture on Misquoting Jesus.
    2. Sam Harris
    a. Harris vs. Wolpe
    b. Harris et al. vs. Boteach, Taleb, D’Souza
    c. Harris Faith vs. Reason lecture
    3. Christopher Hitchens
    a. Hitch vs. Al Sharpton
    b. Hitch vs. Hitchens (brother)
    c. Hitchens vs. Doug Wilson
    4. AC Grayling & Co.
    a. Grayling et. al. vs. UK Episcopal apologists
    5. Misc. Online authors
    a. AntiCitizenX – Specifically the “Me vs. God” series
    b. ProfMTH – “Jesus was not the messiah” series.
    c. Thunderfoot – “Why do people laugh at Creationists” series.
    d. Qualia Soup
    e. Pat Condell
    f. AronRa

    1. Misquoting Jesus – Bart Ehrman
    2. End of Faith – Sam Harris
    3. Letter to a Christian Nation – Sam Harris
    4. God is not great – Christopher Hitchens
    5. The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
    6. Infadel – Ayaan Hirsi Ali
    1. More Online Debates/presentations (google or youtube them)
    a. Daniel Dennet
    b. John Loftus
    2. Websites
    a. Pharangulia
    b. Atheist Media Blog
    c. RDF
    d. Johnathan Montgomery
    3. Podcasts
    a. Point of Inquiry

    Segment 2

    Videos (google or you tube)
    1. Baloney detector – Michael Shermer
    2. Critical Thinking – Qualia Soup
    3. Psychology of belief – Anticitizen X (exmo too☺)
    1. Why people believe weird things – Michael Shermer
    2. Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman – Richard Feynman
    3. Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond
    4. Letting go of God – Julia Sweeney
    5. The greatest show on earth – Richard Dawkins
    6. Breaking the spell – Daniel Dennett
    4. Podcasts
    a. Skeptiod
    b. Science Friday (NPR)
    5. Websites
    a. Skeptic

    Segment 3

    Videos (google or you tube)
    1. The Moral Landscape – Sam Harris.
    2. Born to be good – Dacher Keltner
    3. Why Live – Qualia Soup
    4. The pleasure of finding things out – Richard Feynman
    5. Pale blue dot – Carl Sagan
    6. Randy Pauch’s last lecture
    1. The Moral Landscape – Sam Harris
    2. Born to be good – Dacher Keltner
    3. Meditations on Humanism – AC Grayling (Anything by Grayling is precious to me. He embodies and enunciates the best of humanism.)
    4. The critique of practical reason –Kant
    5. The Happiness Myth – Jennifer Micheal Hecht.
    6. On the improvement of understanding – Spinoza
    7. Raising Freethinkers – a practical guide for parenting beyond belief

    Misc (applicable to any segment), the all powerful, and not always knowing Mr. Deity

  59. I’m not going to put together such a comprehensive list but here’s some important books to me whether mentioned in the podcast or not:

    Science and Skepticism:

    Cosmos-Carl Sagan
    Demon Haunted World-Carl Sagan

    Cognition and errors within it:
    How We Know What Isn’t So-Gilovich
    Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)-Tavris
    Why People Believe Weird Things-Michael Shermer

    The God Delusion-Richard Dawkins
    God is not Great-Hitchens
    Evolution of God-Robert Wright
    Who Wrote the Bible-Richard Elliot Freedman
    Misquoting Jesus-Bart Ehrman

    The Blind Watchmaker-Richard Dawkins
    Thank God for Evolution-Michael Dowd

    Free Will/Determinism/Compatibilism:
    The Problem of the Soul-Owen Flanagan

  60. Randy,

    Relating to your first comment above, I just happened to find some interesting quotes while browsing the Mormon Scholars Testify site.

    “Brigham Young taught that “there is no such thing” as a miracle, and that “God is a scientific character, … he lives by science or strict law.” Apostle James E. Talmage, in his book The Articles of Faith, wrote that “Miracles are commonly regarded as occurrences in opposition to the laws of nature. Such a conception is plainly erroneous, for the laws of nature are inviolable.””

    Source: https://mormonscholarstestify.org/528/david-h-bailey

    You have to admire certain parts of Mormonism.

    Great interviews!

  61. The podcast is pretty interesting so far. Whether you agree with these guys or not it’s good to hear their views. That’s what Mormon Stories is about, right?

    I appreciate Dan talking with these guys although I get the feeling he’s almost trying to get them to change their views to something that he’s more comfortable with. Don’t know why exactly.

    I agree with Alan that the process of leaving can include years of being an active member and struggling with issues. The actual leaving itself may seem “hasty’ but often there is a long methodical process behind it.

    Lastly I agree with the thoughts about it being OK to not know the answers to many of the big questions in life. I have come to same place myself. When I heard it mentioned I thought of how in the LDS Church people talk about not needing to know everything in this life— and yet compared to the agnostic approach I take now, Mormonism says it ‘knows’ a lot more than I would ever feel comfortable saying. Funny how your views can change.

  62. @ Joshua Packard,

    Thanks for the comments regarding near death. I’m sure it’s possible that people can see a light at the end of a tunnel when the brain is low on oxygen. And it’s also possible that seeing dead relatives and your life flash before you is caused by certain parts of the brain that are still firing. These things have happened to pilots in G-force simulators, not because they were dead, but because of oxygen deficiency.
    But what I find utterly convincing about near death testimonials are the descriptions of what was happening during the operation (what the doctors were doing/saying, what people in the waiting room were talking about, how many firemen were cutting open the crashed automobile and what they were acting like, blind people seeing for the first time during the experience, and the overall impact of the experience). And there are plenty of doctors and nurses who will validate the testimonies of the survivors. Maybe having an outer body experience can be simulated with drugs, but I’m convinced it’s not the same quality or type of event.

  63. I worry that we might not always be using our newly-found critical thinking skills to challenge the arguments made by Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Erhman, etc. At least that’s the impression I get when listening to former-Mormon atheists speak. They tend to parrot whatever these authors say. It would be interesting to know whether they disagree with them on any major points, or if they have simply converted whole-heartedly to a new belief system. It seems that some exmormons cling to whatever philosophies are currently in vogue within the scientific community, as if the current trends represents the pinnacle of scientific thought (Bob Mccue being a prime example).Certainly science is the best path to pursue, but I find many of the arguments made by the “four horsemen” to be flawed, unscientific, self-refuting, shallow, and annoying. I have read the major works by today’s top atheists, including Hitchens, Dennett, and Harris. I also just finished Dawkin’s God Delusion and Erhman’s God’s Problem, both of which are highly overrated. What these scientists say about biology is amazing, but their theological rants often reveal their ignorance of religious experience in general(Erhman excepted) or their rebellion against a particularly juvenile religious mentality(Erhman included). And their science, in theory and practice, is often not testable or reliable. Consider that Dawkins only launched his career as an atheist spokesman after much of his scientific work didn’t actually work. Nowadays he prefers the role of theorist to practitioner, and this for a good reason. Magical thinking, black and white thinking, biased thinking, follower thinking, and simple-mindedness can follow people throughout their lives, even after losing their religion. Let’s use the same critical thinking to deconstruct the attitudes/philosophies of popular science that we used to deconstruct Mormonism.

    1. Your post is right out of the FARMS/FAIR handbook. It is more or less ad hominem attack followed by broad dismissive strokes that don’t provide any actual specifics. The great thing about people who approach life from the perspective of evidence is that we can be readily convinced that what we now think is wrong when better evidence or argument is brought forward. You might has well have said “the boys at BYU have already dealt with all of this.”

      Also, unless you are ready to tell is in what major and fundamental ways you diverge from the church’s teachings, your ridicule that someone else has adopted atheism whole hog is hypocritical at best.

      Let’s be honest, you haven’t read these books or you would be offering specific criticisms.

  64. AO,
    I think the four horseman can speak for themselves, they don’t need me to answer their on their behalf, but I can respond with two observations.
    1) I have seen Harris speak on two circumstances, on each, he begins his lecture begging people to challenge his ideas. I only ask for the same courtesy, which…
    2) In your ad hominem attack you did not present any.
    I accept the challenge to apply critical thinking and to follow the evidence where it leads, so what positions from our podcast do you take exception with?

  65. @ AO: I agree partially with what you say. I just (literally 5 minutes ago) posted a blog post about Dawkins’s book where I take some issue with him. In short, I disagree with some of his tactics because he can be a bit insulting to believers. I also disagree with his lack of nuancing between fundamentalists and liberal theists. Using insulting words drives believers away from his message (which I tend to agree with).

    But like Tyson said, using ad hominem attacks against atheists employs the same bad tactics Dawkins uses against believers. Saying we “parrot” the “four horsemen,” and that we don’t “use our newly found critical-thinking skills” since we “converted whole-heartedly to a new belief system” is a bit insulting to us (and also not true since it’s a gross oversimplification). Calling atheist books “rants” “ignorant” and “overrated” is not very helpful. I’m glad you at least read the books, but could you be a bit more constructive in your criticism, rather than just using inaccurate over generalizations?

  66. Wow. I didn’t think anyone would even read my comment, let alone respond to it. :)

    (Disclaimer to my responses: I still haven’t had a chance to listen to parts 3 & 4. But am doing so today. And I’m also looking forward to parts 5 & 6.)

    @Andrew: I think you’re leaping to conclusions about what I said. ;) (Sorry, throwing that backed at you seemed too clever. I couldn’t pass it up. It was said in jest.) I never said that science is advocating Eugenics. I said that I see things LIKE Eugenics as possible outcomes for relying on science to determine morality. Nor did I claim that God / religion was a more reliable or credible source for morality. The only thing I said is that I’m wary of relying on science to dictate morality.

    @rob: I agree. I think the point I was trying to make, and failed, is that we should maintain a healthy skepticism of all forms of inquiry and never dogmatically rely on one form, whether it be religion, philosophy, or science.

    @Hermes: Wow. I wish I were as articulate as you. Thank you for clarifying what I meant. You’re spot on and I agree with you completely. :)

  67. @Tyson Jacobsen: Don’t you just love TED? I think it’s one of the best things on the internet. Anyway, I’ve actually watched that particular speech before, but I gave it a re-watch so I could feel adequately informed in my response to you.

    I don’t disagree that scientific inquiry can add to our understanding of the human experience and thus inform morality. In the TED talk you posted above, Dr. Harris used examples of religious oppression and human objectification. The science of neurology and consciousness most definitely have important information to contribute to the discussion in those areas. There are several areas (if not all areas) of the human experience in which science has very helpful information to add. But, here is where I become wary. Scientists (and probably science in general, as well) has a vested interest in the topics they wish to define morally. And, just like any other person or organization who has a vested interest in what they’re “peddling,” we should be skeptical of their motives.

    For example, I am 100% opposed to embryonic stem cell research. (I’m 100% in favor of stem cell research in general, as long as embryonic stem cells are not involved. And, from what I’ve read, non-embryonic stem cell research as so far proven to be much more promising. But that’s a topic for a different day.) Scientists who are in favor of embryonic stem cell research would advocate for the idea that the “lives” of the embryos used in stem cell research is not as important as the lives of people suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc. They would say that we should not condemn people to suffer horrible diseases to protect masses of cells in petri dishes. They advocate this because they believe that there is a difference in, as Dr. Harris puts it, “human flourishing.” But those scientists have a vested interest in their standpoint. It’s “profitable” to them career-wise, intellectually / knowledge-wise, and monetarily, to take this viewpoint. But is it the most ethical viewpoint to have? Why should trust what scientists have to say about the value of the lives of embryos compared to the lives of those existing outside the petri dish (or womb)?

    The problem I see with relying on science for morality was actually well demonstrated by Dr. Harris saying:

    “Whenever we are talking about facts, certain opinions must be excluded. That is what it is to have a domain of expertise. That is what it is for knowledge to count. How have we convinced ourselves there is no such thing as moral expertise? Or moral talent? Or moral genius, even? How have we convinced ourselves that every opinion has to count?”

    In the example I gave above, should we only rely on the scientists? They have the domain of expertise on the matter. Should my opinion, as a lay person, be ignored because I don’t have a PhD in biology? If yes, then how do we ensure that the scientists are being objective and not slanting “morality” in relation to embryonic stem cell research to their favor?

    Obviously there is a middle ground. I’m not saying that in order for my opinion to count, we also must consider the opinions of every wackjob on the face of the planet. But neither do I think we should just hand over our existence to science and trust that it has our best interests at heart.

    Even before my own “crisis of faith,” I was a “consumer” of science. My undergraduate education is in science. I worked for the USDA doing plant disease research for almost 3 years. I’ve since left the scientific field. But, my spare time is partially devoted to scientific learning. 99% of my reading is on consciousness and behavior. (I’ve got to admit, I’m enamored of Evolutionary Psychology as of late.) Science has basically become my hobby and I love it. I also value it. I think it’s a wonderful thing and I don’t discount what it has to offer humanity. It’s already proven itself as a mode to VASTLY improve the quality of life for our species (and other species).

    However, in the things I read and the things I watch, I’m constantly brushing up against something that makes me nervous. That is: the devaluing human life because it doesn’t conform to scientific standards of “human flourishing.” It seems a little too easy to slip into areas that I find unethical. I worry that it will one day be considered moral and ethical to sterilize the handicapped. I worry that it will one day be moral and ethical to clone non-conscious human beings to create organ farms. But, those are slippery slope arguments. I, for one, don’t like slippery slope arguments. I try to stay with the point of an argument instead of using extreme examples that are unlikely to discredit an otherwise valid / reasonable view. So, I try to temper my worry about those things with belief in the basic decency of humanity and I try to remind myself that we have a pretty good track record of correcting our missteps. Eugenics is a perfect example. “We” no longer advocate for it as “we” did at the beginning of the 20th century. (Though, I do worry it will make a comeback. Ha. There goes my slippery slope again.)

    As a side note, another problem I see with lauding science is that in doing so, people forget that science is practiced by imperfect humans. So they often claim that science is pure of dogma and is open to criticism and self correction. I haven’t always found that to be the case. One of the main reasons I left research is that I couldn’t stand the attitudes and politics. In my experience, scientists are just as dogmatic and arrogant as anyone else on this planet. They hold onto their pet theories, try to use politics to shut up dissent, and refuse to admit when they are wrong. Just like religious folk. (There was actually a very interesting discussion about this on Nova. The episode involved a biology researcher who was lobbying for a change in naming for bird brain biology. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the episode since I saw it years ago, or I’d link it. But, this article also demonstrates the point: https://www.newsweek.com/2009/01/02/on-second-thought.html) Anyway, the arrogance, politics and dogmatic nature of scientists is not the fault of science. Nor is the arrogant, political and dogmatic nature of religious folks the fault of religion. It’s the fault of people. So, while science is practiced by humans, I’ll continue to be just as skeptical of it as I am of religion. And, since I don’t foresee aliens or cylons coming to earth to take up the practice of scientific inquiry, I imagine I’ll maintain this skepticism for the rest of my life. haha. ;-) I will say, though, that I agree with Hermes. It would appear that science does have a bit of a lead on religion when it comes to openness to criticism and change.

    Sorry for the long-winded response. I, too, enjoy debating this issue. :)

  68. @AO: Joshua and Tyson beat me to the punch but to suggest I read the four horsemen and lap it all up whole cloth is ridiculous. I think Dawkins calling raising kids Christian child abuse was silly. I take issue with Sam Harris’ inability to understand you can’t simply go to the Qur’an to paint a broad picture of Islam and I don’t think his approach will work. I think Hitchens’ support of the 2nd Gulf War is decidedly wrong.

    But what critics don’t understand is that, despite their flaws, the four horseman are raising some important and valid issues that many people have never even considered even if the four horsemen bring up arguments many highly educated people don’t find novel or nuanced enough. If they expended a painstaking effort to give philosophically airtight arguments and super nuanced characterizations, these books would be gathering dust buried in University libraries being read by nobody. Instead, they made these issues accessible to the general public and for the first time ever, atheist books are best sellers and we’re starting to see a crack in that annoying dike of deference to Christianity in America.

  69. Joe,
    I wanted to reply to your statement about spiritual witnesses. You said: “For me, I was 19 when I was challenged to test JS and the BoM. I ended up having several pretty profound (spiritual?) experience. And I had these experiences understanding the baggage. Then I had experiences (spiritual) on a mission that I still cannot explain.”

    As a teenager I remember attending a fireside where Elder Paul H. Dunn spoke about his experiences as a soldier during WWII and as a baseball player for the St Louis Cardinals. These same stories appeared in Dunn’s 50+ books and inspirational cassette tapes. While reading and listening to many of these I remember distinctly receiving several spiritual witnesses verifying that what he was saying was true. At least that is I interpreted it at the time. These were among the first spiritual witnesses I experienced as a youth. Elder Dunn’s stories elicited very strong emotions within me that set the standard for all subsequent “spiritual witnesses” that came later.

    In 1991 a story appeared in the Arizona Republic and Salt Lake Tribune listing BYU professor Lynn Packer’s research concerning Elder Dunn’s claims about his faith promoting experiences during WWII and as a professional baseball player. The BYU professor found that none of these stories were true. Dunn made them all up. When Dunn was confronted about them, he acknowledged to The Arizona Republic that these stories and others were untrue, but he defended the fabrications as necessary to illustrate his theological and moral points. He added that he was, “…simply putting history in little finer packages”. Shortly after this story broke Elder Dunn was put on emeritus status for “health reasons” and moved quietly into the background.

    When I learned about Dunn’s contrived stories about two years ago, all sorts of questions and thoughts flooded into my mind such as: How could I receive a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of a complete fabrication? Was I manufacturing my own epiphanies to satisfy my strong desires to fit into a social organization? Was I receiving a witness of the principal taught rather than the authenticity of the story? Are these “burning-in-the bosom” emotions based on one’s desire for something to be true, rather than actual truth?

    Sincere individuals in other religions claim to have experienced similar “feelings” about the truthfulness of their belief system just as I had with Mormonism. If individuals in other religions are receiving “witnesses” that verify the authenticity of their convictions; which conflict with and contradict each another, then spiritual witnesses are an unreliable method of establishing absolute truth. These “witnesses” happen millions of times a day all over the world in dozens of religions.

    I have a hard time concluding that only spiritual witnesses affirming LDS doctrine are true and all other “witnesses” are false. There are many examples in LDS history of leaders falsely claiming inspiration from God to justify their own biased opinions. These examples support the conclusion that Mormons are just as gullible and self-deluded as anyone else in the world. Utah has gained the reputation of being the network marketing capital of the world in part because of how easily Mormons are convinced to follow slick-talking hucksters. I am sure that many of these Mormons who involved themselves in network marketing schemes did so in part because of some “feeling” they got after taking the question to God.

    Throughout my life I have received the same kind of feelings/emotions/spiritual witnesses as those received with Elder Dunn’s stories. If I am unable to trust the “feelings” I received with Elder Dunn’s fabrications, then neither can I trust those same “feelings” I have received since then.

    What are these “feelings” we all describe and where do they come from? A blogger I ran across had this to say: “Many get these feelings when their sports team wins, a baby is born or watching a very emotional movie. In the movie Saving Private Ryan – as the WWII veteran falls to his knees at the grave of the man (Tom Hanks) who sacrificed his life to save Ryan’s, I got this warm, tingly feeling in my chest. It was a psychosomatic response to emotional stimuli and was not an affirmation that the movie was true.”

    In evaluating my feelings/emotions I cannot determine the difference between:
    1. My “feelings” while watching such movies as Saving Private Ryan and
    2. My “feelings” while listening to Elder Dunn’s fabrications and
    3. My “feelings” during numerous church gatherings and personal gospel study sessions.

    They are all virtually identical. My present conclusion is that all of the “burning bosoms” are emotion based and stem from meaningful situations based upon our experiences in life OR we just manufacture them ourselves (in our own minds) so that we can fit comfortably into a group. Tha t same blogger said: “This is why adherents to dozens of different religions can have their own “witnesses” to their beliefs. This is why even atheists can have “tingling” feelings. This is why some testify to obvious falsehoods. This is why some get “false positives.” This is why some can lie [Elder Dunn] and still produce the “spirit” in people’s minds.”

    I don’t believe God is so confusing and unreliable that He would use such a poor method to determine what is true and what isn’t. If this is the way God works then all religious confusion and conflict that exists in the world can be blamed on him. I cannot believe in a God like that.

    That same blogger again said: “I still believe that feelings and emotions can and do serve a purpose. My feelings play an important — even a critical — role, in the cognitive process. When I “don’t feel good” about something, a little thoughtful reflection will reveal those facts my conscious mind may not have picked up on. Feelings seem to be an unreliable method for God to communicate truth to man. However, feelings are a wonderful and somewhat complex tool that helps us sort through the barrage of life’s experiences we each encounter on a daily basis.”

    Another anonymous blog poster had this to say about spiritual witnesses/feelings: “I’ve noticed an interesting general trend in people who put a great deal of stock in their feelings. They spend less time and energy testing the accuracy of their beliefs. If something makes them uncomfortable with regard to the conclusions they have drawn from their feelings and spiritual experiences, they call it the spirit of confusion, of the devil, or contention (as though we came down here to get along at whatever cost).

    By compartmentalizing and labeling the information they receive, they feel more justified in ignoring any relevant facts or information that might challenge their feelings and experiences, or put them in a significantly different light. In other words, they are afraid. Any being that would prefer us NOT to exhaustively test
    everything we feel or see is not worth our time.”

    I recently read the following in Grant Palmer’s book, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”:
    “Is something true because I and others find it edifying? Hundreds of thousands of people believe in the truthfulness of their own religion, because of similar confirming experiences. As an example, many people, including myself, felt this confirming spirit when we heard the World War II stories of Utah Congressman Douglas R. Stringfellow. Stringfellow’s experiences were later revealed to be a complete hoax. I was about 14 years old when I heard him speak, and it was truly an inspiring experience. After Stringfellow concluded, I remember that the [Mormon] leader conducting the meeting said, “if you have never felt the Spirit before, it was here today in abundance.” He was right. I felt it strongly, as did many others. More recently, I felt the same spirit, along with many others, when hearing Paul H. Dunn, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, relate his religious experiences during World War II, and as a professional baseball player. Today his stories are known to be contrived.
    American psychologist William James in his classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, studied hundreds of people, including religious founders, who claimed to receive inspiration from the Spirit, from revelation, visions of angels, and from face-to-face appearances of God. He included Joseph Smith, Augustine, Bernard de Clairvaux, the Buddha, Fox, Huss, Loyola, Luther, Mohammed, and Wesley. He concluded that while their experiences and feelings were real to them, they could not be a valid source for determining truth because their claims were doctrinally incompatible. The many Christian denominations that claim God’s spirit have not succeeded in winning universal consent for even one theological insight about God beyond his existence and his love for humanity. Doctrinal contradictions appear not only between and within Christian denominations but also within the LDS church itself.
    Despite the church’s claim to exclusive receipt of the Holy Ghost as a gift, a 1985 Gallup poll reveals that over 40 percent of adults in America claim the same variety of spiritual feelings and experiences enjoyed by Latter-day Saints. The most common denominator is not religious affiliation, but the conviction that “religion is very important in their lives.” The evangelical position of identifying and verifying truth by emotional feelings, which the Book of Mormon advocates, is therefore not always dependable. Such a conclusion may lead some people to believe that these feelings are self manufactured and that there is no objective existence of something called the Holy Ghost. I assert that the Holy Ghost does exist, that it does speak to human beings. The spirit of love gives peace, comfort, and prompts, and enhances belief in God, but abundant evidence also demonstrates that it is an unreliable means of proving truth. Those who advocate the witness to the Holy Spirit as the foundation for determining the truthfulness of a given religious text need to honestly deal with these epistemological contradictions.” (Insiders View of Mormon Origins, Grant Palmer p. 130-133).

    I agree with many of Palmer’s conclusions. However, my path has led me in a different direction than his.
    Grant Palmer (and others) words have caused me to apply the same critical thinking skills (CTS) I use in everyday life to spiritual witnesses. CTS were in large part absent during my many years of LDS religious discussions and thought processes. When I began using CTS, with the facts above, on spiritual witnesses, they gradually lost their reliability. I say gradually because initially, cognitive dissonance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance and fear from being excluded from the group prevented me from seeing things from a different perspective.
    My situation reminds me of the story of the woman who inadvertently discovers evidence that her husband is cheating on her but ignores it because he is a “good” man and she cannot imagine him doing such a thing. Her behavior is largely driven by her belief that she has so much to lose if her marriage fails so she goes into denial. As the evidence mounts she is forced to eventually conclude that she has been lied to all these years and her husband cannot be trusted anymore.
    Eventually the evidence against the reliability of spiritual witnesses became overwhelming until I was forced to conclude that they cannot be trusted to confirm absolute truth. This conclusion begs a multitude of further questions. Does God reveal truth to us? If He does, is the truth revealed contingent on the person’s current beliefs? Is one man’s truth, anothers untruth? Can we really know anything for sure or do we verify our theories/beliefs only by actual evidence? Does the fact that people of all religions receive conflicting spiritually witnesses indicate there are many ways back to God or are these believers (including Mormons) misinterpreting their emotions as coming from God? Is there so much confusion regarding the truth claims of various religions, because God has not chosen to reveal His purpose in a way that is unambiguous?
    I don’t have the answers to any of these questions yet I am open to enlightenment and experience from anyone in any corner of the universe. The world makes a lot more sense now than it did while viewing in from within the Mormon “box” where I thought I was safe because I had all the answers. I am more at peace and much happier now than I have ever been. My moral values are just as high or higher than they have ever been. My wife and my children like me better now than when I was a true believing Mormon. Life is good!
    We all seem to interpret the world through the lenses of our beliefs. The more dogmatic our beliefs the more black and white we see the world. Dogmatism produces an “us” vs.” them” mentality. As I have shed my intolerant beliefs and judgmental attitude the world is no longer black or white but rich in color and diversity. It is a world I failed to see as a Mormon, however, I am deeply grateful for my LDS upbringing and the Mormon culture I am surrounded by.

  70. @S Allan:

    You made a huge assumption… or I wasn’t clear enough.

    I do not consider “emotional experiences” and “spiritual experiences” to be synonymous!

    I am a hard-core analytical thinker. I had done the regression tests… not just for Mormonism but also for Christianity and Religion (in general). An “emotional experience” wouldn’t have cut the mustard with me.

  71. @ Joe: How would you say that “spiritual” experiences are different from other emotional experiences? Is it just a different sort of emotion, or would you say that there is no emotion at all? I thought Allan brought up some good examples of experiences that blur the line between emotion and “spirit.” Also, how would you interpret fabricated spiritual experiences? When I say fabricated, I am referring to religious experiences caused by temporal lobe epilepsy, electromagnetic stimulation of the temporal lobe (same place where the seizure foci is found – google Michael Persinger’s God helmet studies), and drugs such as ketamine, or entheogen plants such as peyote or psilocybe mushrooms used in ancient religious ceremonies? If your experiences are different from those that can be manufactured (or as a result of a bogus Paul H. Dunn story) then how are they different? And finally, are your experiences special from the millions of other people who have contradictory spiritual experiences?

  72. I just finished part one. This is so, so great. I can’t believe how many times I wanted to shout hooray for Randy, as I completely identified with so many parts of his story. I’m excited to hear Tyson’s story. Thank you so much John for taking on this subject and thanks Dan for doing a great interview. I think atheism is very misunderstood by the general public. The more people that “come out” publicly, the easier it will be for others to come out publicly in the future, people like me. I could have cried tears of happiness during parts of Randy’s story. Thanks again.

  73. Joe,
    I apologize for making that assumption. If you have a method for determining the difference between an emotional and spiritual experience, I would love to hear your thoughts.

  74. I just finished the last installment of the podcast, and just wanted to thank Dan, Randy, Tyson, and Mormon Stories for the fantastic job they did. I thought everybody was respectful of each person’s respective ideas, and everybody had an opportunity to be heard. This can be a rarity in our world of apparently binary religious ideas. It is also something of a rarity when believers respect atheists enough to give them a voice and forum to explain what they think. The same can be said of atheists respecting the ideas of believers. Good job on both ends. I’m glad that a lot of common ground was found. I commend Mormon Stories for giving atheists the opportunity. It was helpful for me (on the atheist end), and I hope it was helpful for those on the believing end as well.

  75. @Joshua @Allen S

    When experiences includes physical, tangible elements, I would no longer consider it an “emotional experience”.

  76. Wow that was horrible. When I wrote that last sentence, I started out using the singular form. Then I changed the first part of the sentence to a plural form, but I didn’t fix the ending to a plural form.

    Yes, I am speaking about several physical, tangible, spiritual events.

  77. If I may jump in with my own comment.

    For me, “spiritual experiences” have never had anything to do with feelings or anything akin to emotions. My *special* spiritual experiences were only about “the still small voice” — an actual message of some specific import. The feelings or emotions (if there really were any) were neither necessary nor significant, but came as a residual effect (again, if there really were any attendant notable feelings or emotions) of the “the still small voice.” My spiritual experiences were about intelligence, information, enlightenment, which were distinctly from a source beyond myself, which comforted me or influenced me to think differently.
    Many adults in the LDS church have heard the term “warm fuzzies” with regard to receiving a so-called testimony of the truthfulness of the LDS church. Based upon my experiences, this is meaningless. How do you accurately qualify feelings and emotions as coming from God in direct communication? As for the “still small voice” it may be argued that the same question would also be valid, i.e., how can it be determined with any certainty that this communication was not generated by one’s own mind? The only answer I can give is that I am convinced that this “voice” that communicated with me on certain occasions was from an outside source. I can’t tell you how I know this, let alone even remotely hope to demonstrate proof for it. However, the issue is absolutely moot. The only additional comment I can make is that although I can *qualify* my conclusions as for my knowing, I can’t *quantify* my certainty. What I mean by this is that I am not 100 percent, “beyond a shadow of any doubt” certain that the communications that I received were from a divine, outside-of-myself source, but only that I am sure enough in so far as they constantly give me pause to reflect and consider any conclusions that I may want to arrive at to explain away these phenomena and attribute them to something that is not of a divine source. I still need to walk by faith.

    Might I conclude by stating that spiritual experiences are so personal, to argue either for or against them is moot and benefits or is of value to no one except the recipient. Just hearing someone ‘testify’ and relate *their* spiritual experience does nothing to bring me to salvation, except only serve as invitations to know for and of myself.

  78. Tyson and Randy-Wow!! Thank you so much for putting together such a comprehensive list of sources referenced in the podcast. You really outdid yourselves!

    Despite how extensive the podcast was, I still would love to have heard your thoughts about how we as atheist ex-mormons should move ahead and socialize amongst our mormon friends and family. Most atheists I know are unwilling to come out of the closet and I definitely go back and forth about what the “right” thing to do is. There is just so much prejudice, however, I often think if more of us were brave enough to come out, the rest would have a better chance of becoming educated about what we actually believe and who we really are.

    All I know is I have experienced living as two of the most misunderstood, prejudged and disliked groups in the U.S.: First, of living as a mormon outside of Utah. Second, of living as an atheist in Utah. Apparently I am glutton for punishment!

  79. “True Believer” here… Haven’t listened to the podcast yet. But have read most of comments and have had these conversations with friends and internally as well. I’ve indulged belief and unbelief in my life. Both have worked to diminish what many here identify as cognitive dissonance.

    Indulging and following after faith (in Christ, in a loving God, in the Book of Mormon, in the priesthood) has been more productive and rewarding for me personally. So much so that my “testimony” (and capacity for not knowing) is stronger than it has ever been and much more nuanced at the same time. Faith crises for me have been challenging, hard, but as of yet have led me to stronger “faith” and more openness and excitement about searching truth wherever it may lead.

    Hermes wrote something interesting on Jan. 8th that I agree with (though from a believing perspective).

    He wrote, “I suspect Heather’s problem with science, if examined closely, will end up being a problem with human institutions. There is no fundamental difference between science and religion: both provide tools for discovering and implementing information (i.e. decision-making).” I think the same could be said for many people who become disaffected from the LDS church or other organized religions – the problem is with institutions. Than of course it becomes the problem of belief in things that cannot be seen and acting on belief without evidence. Interesting that science itself (post-modernism specifically) has shed some interesting light on problems with evidence and empirical data as the dogmatic source of truth.

    Many posts here have characterized the believing Mormons position as one that does not closely resemble my own or that of many of the family members and friends that are family members that I associate with daily.

    Hermes goes on in what I thought was one of the most interesting posts here with this (this time I disagree):

    “This is the goal of science: a world-view that is (1) personal/individualized, (2) scalable, (3) voluntary, (4) open-ended/calibrated to account for information it does not yet possess. Unfortunately, the goal of religion is often the opposite: a world-view that is (1) institutional, (2) absolutist/all-or-nothing, (3) involuntary, (4) closed/calibrated to assert that all relevant information has already been discovered and correctly implemented.”

    Interesting to me because as a true believing Mormon I find my faith lining up on what he/she is claiming to be the goal of science. The goals of religion that he note seem to be what I would characterize (from my snug Mormon goggles) as “the world,” “philosophies of men,” “broken cisterns,” certainly not the goals of my religion (though these forces are in the institution). Call it mental gymnastics if you want but I think on both sides of this searching for truth coin we’re trying pretty hard to be comforted at our “right(eous)ness” and by the ignorance of the other.

    Another book that speaks from a non-apologist view (approaching objectivity) about mormon culture/history/art and the paradoxes that frame them is “People of Paradox” by Teryl Givens. I think believing and disaffected Mormons could get much to think about from this text.

  80. @Tyson per “Consider the following video…”


    Dude are you serious? Mormon Stories has always been a source of shared, intellectual thought. But you have pushed things over the edge. The fact that you continue to make assumptions that everyone who has ever had a testimony had to delude themselves into it either (1) believing an emotional feeling or (2) having a delusion… that thinking is unreal.

    Furthermore, if your personal testimony was originally predicated on either of these things… or if you based your testimony on your parents… then I truly feel sorry for you.

    I have really enjoyed the discussion up to this point. But one thing has become quite clear… Christ could appear in front of you. You could have an experience similar to Paul, Moses, the Apostles… but you would still take the attitude of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”. It must be something I ate.

    Now I am frustrated… I don’t even think I believe any of this crap. But your complete, belligerent dismissal of anything religious has me rather upset.

    Taking a step back, I am sorry that you got suckered into belief based upon something as stupid as an emotional feeling. Tough break dude.

    1. Joe,
      With respect to your paragraph #1, that appears to be a strawman of a claim, and I wonder, when you use the term “unreal” if you are seriously accusing a naturalist of being unreal?

      With respect to paragraphs 2 & 5, these are points that I hope must have been made in ignorance, because I cannot allow you to justify your beliefs at the expense of my integrity as you represent. If you listened to the podcast you would have heard the level of my belief, from being raised in a broken home, attending church without the encouragement of my family, graduating from seminary, DL, ZL, AP, and 3 time trainer as a missionary. I reactivated my inactive father, served in a bishopric, as an EQP, SS teacher, seminary teacher, scoutmaster, and a few rounds in primary and nursery. I canvassed my neighborhood at the church’s request to “defend marriage” AFTER I buried my homosexual brother and all while defending the faith in the wake of his suicide. I did not leave the church as a result of haste, chastisement, emotion, transgression, or ignorance. I didn’t “crawl over, under, or around” the truth claims of the church, I dealt with the issues with the full weight of the consequences head on. Personal integrity matters to me, being honest matters to me, a reputation matters in this world, and you are more than welcome to examine the facts of my life, I live it “out loud”. And if I am wrong, I have no qualms changing my position to be in line with the best evidence. No, there is no convenient excuse for my resignation, just the evidence in and of itself.

      With respect to paragraph #3. Thomas, the original apostle, was rewarded for his doubt by the personal appearance of the risen christ, perhaps you can answer why this level of evidence is unavailable to us today?

  81. @Tyson Jacobsen

    This video that you referred me to was so not apropos to my experiences. Perhaps the confusion is one of semantics. Perhaps it would be better to say, “Still, small message.” The “voice” is a voice only in so far as *it* bore a message, i.e., content that was quite remarkable. If indeed I had generated this (these) message(s) that would have been even more remarkable.

    Like I said, this issue is completely moot, notwithstanding that there are schizophrenics, trauma induced phenomena, etc. You don’t know what or how I experienced what I did, and to be quite frank, you don’t need to because it had nothing whatsoever to do with you, so why should you know. This may come across as an arrogant assertion, but it’s not meant to be. It just is what it is and “it ain’t no isser.” Again, as I mentioned previously, I still walk by faith notwithstanding certain metaphysical experiences for which I perceived (and still do) as having come from a Divine source.

    Might I also add, your perception of this matter may score high on your scale of reality, but it bears no resemblance to mine. In fact, your perception may very well not bear anything at all in regards to the real truth of this matter in the sense it would be like you saying (to quote someone), “There is a spoon, but I can’t use it because it has the curved side upward.”

    In any event, we can at least agree to disagree peaceably; that might be the most important ‘message’ of all in our ideologically fractured and polarized world.

    1. Paul,
      I think your point with respect to your individual experiences is valid. I did not experience them, nor do venture a specific explanation for them. I simply referenced a video where a citizen scientist has published possible explanations for similar circumstances. Where we diverge is 1) that I will look for a natural explanation for the experience, and 2) I cannot see how your experience is evidence for the truth claims of the LDS or any other religion. e.g. I may say that I have experience pure intelligence flow into my mind but that doesn’t mean Appolonius of Tyana was a miracle worker, as was recorded in antiquity.

  82. Where did DNA come from? Hint, It didn’t magically appear from a mud hole. There is a God and He created all things including you and me. Jesus Christ came to earth to suffer and die for your sins and mine because of His great love for us all. No religion or church can save you. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can save you. Romans 6:23 says,”For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Put your trust in Jesus Christ, not in man, religion, or a church. God uses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise.

  83. Hey Folks,

    I’m testing a new comment system for Mormon Stories. Bear with me…the old comments are still there…you just can’t see them.


  84. I haven’t read any other comments, hope this is not repetetive.

    I absolutely love Mormon Stories, and have listened to each podcast (most of them multiple times). I was excited for this one, but found it very hard to sit through. I understand Tysen and Randy are just trying to get their thoughts across, but the tone of this podcast felt to me very condescending, angry, and completely intolerant of those with a different view. I’m not here to be converted to other viewpoints, I’m here to understand them. But I was so put off by the tone that it was hard for me to hear past the tone to their actual beliefs (not talking about their apparent beliefs that non-atheists are morons, but their beliefs about God, or the lack thereof). I appreciated Dan calling them out on a few questions that they didn’t answer in lieu of prothelytizing. That said, I do appreciate these guys sharing their stories as best they can (can’t be easy to put it all out there!)

  85. I have not read all the comments, so sorry if this has been said. Is anyone else struck by the irony of saying to an atheist, from a faithful perspective, that they made this decision in haste after mere months (weeks, years, whatever)? Is that the approach the faithful take with investigators of the church? Sorry Brother Lopez, we cannot baptize you. We want you to really be sure this is the direction you want to go with your life before abandoning 40 plus years of Catholicism. Come back in a few months.

  86. I’m late to the scene here, but could anyone post all the books (and their respective authors) that they remembered hearing throughout the podcast?

    1. Jason, They’re here. Look for Tyson and Randy’s posts from about 5 days ago. Sorry we don’t have links to individual posts. I’m trying to figure out this new software. Thanks for stopping by!

  87. @Sandra: I assure you your comment was not repetitive because you are the first person, whether by email or through this message board, that said we came across on the podcast as “condescending, angry, and intolerant.” I have no idea why you perceived the podcast in that manner. Perhaps you are projecting because we reject and criticize your cherished beliefs? However, if you found us condescending, angry and intolerant and still listened to all 6+ hours of this podcast, I commend you for your stamina.

    @Joe: I concede that the video Tyson linked to was too snarky in its tone but is there a naturalistic alternative explanation of your cherished “spiritual experiences” that wouldn’t be insulting to you? I doubt it. Also, to make an ad hominem attack on our position by saying if Christ himself appeared to us we would deny it, is just silly. It implies that we, for some reason, don’t want there to be a god or afterlife and will deny even conclusive evidence of its existence because of some a priori blind prejudice (why would we NOT want to be immortal???). We simply take the stance that the naturalistic explanations of subjective religious experiences are more likely and satisfying to answering all the hard questions out there. “Atheist” literally means in Greek, “without belief in God” not “there absolutely is no god no matter what evidence comes to light.”

    @Matthew: Excellent point. I was trained to get people to be baptized within a 2 week period as the ideal. Ironic indeed.

    @Jerry: I was wondering if a born again Christian troll would show up to tell both the believing Mormons and the atheists they are going to hell. And thanks for going right to the top of the born again Christian playbook of logical fallacies to defend your position: argument from ignorance, argument from personal incredulity, and circular reasoning of the Bible being evidence of itself. Did I miss any? You guys are nothing if not consistent so you have that going for you…

  88. Loving all of this… Thanks to Randy, Tyson, Dan, and John for these great segments. (Not a huge deal – but the mic breathing can be a little distracting.)

  89. I appreciated the tenor of both Tyson’s and Randy’s responses to Dan’s (and listeners’) questions as well the discipline Dan exercised in his counter-responses.

    Late in the interviews Dan’s questions addressed the possibility of Tyson and Randy rejecting a supra-scientific epistemology that might reveal God’s existence. The word “scientism” never came up, but I sensed its suggestion – particularly when Dan hinted that naturalists appeal to authority in the same way theists do.

    I offer a few comments relating to this.

    1. Indeed, a person can attribute unwarranted authority, certainty, and finality to scientific facts and theories. However, that points to that person’s naive understanding of science and, more likely, his or her psychological need to get metaphysically settled. Indeed, what seems so remarkable about being human is that such a need produces such elaborate, diverse, and imaginative lines of metaphysical reasoning.

    2. All people need to base their beliefs on some degree on evidence-based reason. Joseph Smith may not have needed the gold plates to translate them, but his followers needed the plausibility their existence to exercise their faith. Indeed, most religions have some form of “gold plates” that invite people to use their reason to move them to an edge from which they feel good about stepping into to a metaphysical realm. This includes a naturalistic metaphysics.

    3. Point 2 leads toward questions that I think are more interesting to explore than the theist/atheist dichotomy. These questions include: (1) What factors determine the amount of evidence-based reasoning a person engages in before stepping off the evidentiary edge? (2) Is this even a conscious choice? (3) What is the ethical responsibility of a religious institution in terms of the empirical claims when a potential convert is making her way to this edge? (Note that full disclosure of information is the fundamental ethic of science), (4) What determines whether a person’s metaphysical step is of a religious or irreligious character? (5) Is option of NOT taking a metaphysical stance possible? And if so, is that the most justifiable?

    Some people reach their evidentiary edge on little more than a hunch. Others work the evidence very hard. I’ve noticed that the hard-working theists often move away from their orthodox roots. Which is to say that science informs their deeper view of reality. On the other hand, while the hard-working metaphysical naturalists quickly note how many religious explanations have gotten squeezed into ever-narrowing gaps, they may not recognize how many of their positions may be premature and overreaching.

    Gaps are funny things. Sophisticated theists will admit that God need not be the cause of tsunamis or the origin of species. And naturalists may be blind to how wide some existent scientific gaps are, such as between quantum mechanics and psychology. I think it is interesting to stop and think about gaps, how they make us feel, and what we do with those feelings.

    I think it is important to confront the best evidence – not so much because we’ll get to the final truth – but because our human life is affirmed by the striving for it. I think insights can come from both theistic and naturalistic metaphysical stances – and from holding back from both.

    Dan, Randy and Tyson – I think you moved in this direction with these podcasts. Thanks.

  90. @Randy

    You are kind of doing the same thing as Tyson now. “Cherished spiritual experiences…”? Come on!

    Okay. Maybe I am misreading Tyson and you. But I’m not doubting my instincts. And my instincts are saying there is a great deal of sarcasm/antagonism in your (and Tyson’s) wording.

    Perhaps not?

    Anyway, I do not dismiss naturalistic alternative explanations. But for several of my experiences, the naturalistic alternative explanations don’t provide increased clarity… nor do they provide a better explanation. Furthermore, I had many of these experiences as an agnostic (an agnostic that was pretty darn close to atheistic). I had done the regression tests and understood many of the problems with Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, etc. I was probably pretty close to where you are right now.

    But in this state, I had several “spiritual” experiences that were so profound that I can’t explain them using naturalistic means (at least not completely). Again, these were not “warm fuzzy” or “hallucinated” events. And there were tangible components to these events. The events were profound enough that I “converted” and served an LDS mission.

    That said, I see real problems with the LDS Church. The LDS Church continues to be on the wrong side of history (time and time again) when it comes to the important moralistic events of our day. Many believers are leaving because of intellectual dishonesty. The law of “common consent” appears to have gone by the wayside. The Sunday curriculum/services are boring as hell. And the LDS Church appears to make decisions based upon preservation, not inspiration.

    So what does a person do when their morality isn’t aligned with their faith?

    1. At the risk of sounding snarky…this is the 3rd time you have used “regression tests.” I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Regression is a statistical technique. What, exactly, were the data that you were testing quantitatively about God?

  91. I don’t know if this has anything to do with this podcast: But it would seem from the perspective of any non-believer in Mormonism, that people of African descent that are members of the LDS church, have more of a “reason” to leave the church and then to top it all off, become atheist. I mean here you have blacks that are in the church and are well aware of the church’s troubled history concerning blacks, yet believe in the church and of course in a God. Is it that beliefs have more to do with personality and how that correlates with personal experiences, than anything “intellectual?” If that question makes sense. Ah well. Interesting stuff. I can’t wait to graduate then I can write a book about being Black, female, and Mormon and it’s challenges. Yippie!

    1. Lori-Ann, the fact that some blacks, who have more reason to be offended than me about the priesthood ban, still stay in the church and maintain testimonies has about as much effect on my thinking as people that are just as informed and smarter than me but still maintain a testimony. I don’t base my thinking on how other people behave or process the same information. For me, truth is truth and I’m going to base my conclusions on the evidence. Is personality a part of it? No doubt. But it is only one factor in what I think is a very complicated discussion, why people believe.

      I think some great answers come in the books by Shermer and Gilovich cited above in my book list, but I”m sure people like Sandra, Joe, Paul, and Dan Wotherspoon would disagree and even take issue with these ideas. You’re right and as John Larsen from Mormon Expression likes to say, “That’s a ‘hole ‘nother podcast.”

      1. @Tyson @Randy

        Both of you are totally missing my point. My problem hasn’t necessarily been with your message. I have had a problem with your delivery. You two have come across as fairly abrasive… to the point of appearing arrogant and disrespectful. Perhaps this has been unintentional?

        Nonetheless, I appreciate your Mormon Story. Thank you for your responses. And let me apologize if you think I have treated you rudely or unfairly.

        Best wished to you and yours. And good luck in your personal journeys.

        1. Joe,
          I get your point, I’m just unapologetic if the evidence is offensive, I’m not sure how we can be otherwise (e.g. telling someone that ALS isn’t really going to kill them, doesn’t change the fact that ALS is a terminal disease, unless your an atheistic astrophysicist). I think both Randy and I were entirely respectful of individuals, but that doesn’t mean we owe every idea respect, and I don’t know anyone who actually lives their life in such a fashion. However, there are some fun responses to the criticism. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_2xGIwQfik

        2. Joe,
          I don’t know why you feel I have been arrogant, abrasive, and disrespectful. You didn’t say this until I referred to your experiences as cherished “spiritual experiences.” Is it the quotation marks that makes it arrogant? Is it simply the word “spiritual” or “cherished” you find abrasive? How, then, should I refer to these experiences that will be acceptable to you? Is it the books I referred to in my reply to Lori-Ann that makes me condescending?

          Honestly, I feel like I am at a library, speaking in hushed whispers, and suddenly the librarian shouts, “Hey loudmouth! Keep it down will you???”

          And Tyson has only posted a video that actually had some good stuff in it but was delivered in a snarky tone but he, himself, has not been arrogant, abrasive, and condescending in my estimation. We are both naturalists after having been true believers well into our adulthoods. We understand what it’s like to be on both sides and we try to be respectful to people on the other side (of which side many loved ones and people I revere currently reside) but that doesn’t mean we will offer deference to claims of the supernatural.

          I don’t know where you live but if ever you want to get together in person and enjoy a burger and a pint (or a diet coke if you don’t drink), we can talk and I’ll show you I’m not a jerk. You have my email address (at the beginning of the thread). Or, if you are going to the BoM musical opening weekend, Tyson and I will be there and we can get together and Tyson will pay for dinner. ;-)

        3. Joe,
          I don’t know why you feel I have been arrogant, abrasive, and disrespectful. You didn’t say this until I referred to your experiences as cherished “spiritual experiences.” Is it the quotation marks that makes it arrogant? Is it simply the word “spiritual” or “cherished” you find abrasive? How, then, should I refer to these experiences that will be acceptable to you? Is it the books I referred to in my reply to Lori-Ann that makes me condescending?

          Honestly, I feel like I am at a library, speaking in hushed whispers, and suddenly the librarian shouts, “Hey loudmouth! Keep it down will you???”

          And Tyson has only posted a video that actually had some good stuff in it but was delivered in a snarky tone but he, himself, has not been arrogant, abrasive, and condescending in my estimation. We are both naturalists after having been true believers well into our adulthoods. We understand what it’s like to be on both sides and we try to be respectful to people on the other side (of which side many loved ones and people I revere currently reside) but that doesn’t mean we will offer deference to claims of the supernatural.

          I don’t know where you live but if ever you want to get together in person and enjoy a burger and a pint (or a diet coke if you don’t drink), we can talk and I’ll show you I’m not a jerk. You have my email address (at the beginning of the thread). Or, if you are going to the BoM musical opening weekend, Tyson and I will be there and we can get together and Tyson will pay for dinner. ;-)

  92. To anyone here, I’m curious as to how you handle morality as an atheist. I understand that the notion of a God in the traditional systems may have plenty of moments where the morality seemed strange or even absolutely off (Bible stories such as Job, Abraham and Issac, Lot’s Wife, Noah’s Ark, Israelite’s taking the promised land, etc.) but I do think that the moralist argument for any sort of religion is fairly convincing. That is to say, that God institutes a moral law and failure to follow that moral law results in suffering. This helps the notion of hell as well because people in Hell are not being punished by God, but are not willing to follow the moral law and are thus separated from God. From reading atheist literature(I’ve read Dawkins. Sartre, Bertrand Russell, Ayn Rand and Nieztsche) there seems to be a lack of discussion on the issue of morality and the treatment of ethical dilemnas are usually used to point ethical inconsintency within the Christian canon and the historical Christian church and other religious systems. So what are people’s thoughts on morality? Is it a relativistic idea, where each situation deserves a different treatment from others? Is there a general morality for all humans that get’s tweaked to fit the situation? Is there a constant moral law despite there being no God and if so what are the consequences of breaking the moral law?

    1. Bryce, so can I summarize the morality of god as one who is interested in who wins a football game but not when little children are killed in car accidents, or hundreds of thousands swept away by a tsunami? This is the problem of theodicy, and since the time of the enlightenment, men have sought ways to define and defend higher, self defined, morals. I am surprised how you can cite enlightened philosophers and not credit work on the subject. It was Shaw who reiterated earlier minds when he said “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same”, Rawls suggested a veil of ignorance to “imagine that societal roles were completely re-fashioned and redistributed, and that from behind the veil of ignorance, one does not know what role they will be reassigned. Only then can one truly consider the morality of an issue.” Or Kant’s categorical imperative of “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”. In the podcast I personally draw heavily from Harris’ new book “The moral landscape” and have offered free copies to all who ask. Clearly, the issue of morality without god is a smokescreen, we evolved and share with our primate cousins, an inherent need for morality, and, I will argue, science is charting the best path towards a better morality.

      1. Carson. I haven’t listened to part 5, I’ll try to do that :) And Tyson, I enjoyed your comments and will definitely seek out Harris’ new book. And citing the philosophers was just to show that I had read thoughts on this matter other than religious ones and my initial reactions to them, especially Dawkins who seems at least in the God Delusion to answer this problem with pointing out Christian issues. I was rather shocked at his quick treatment of Thomas Aquinas’ 5 proofs. Additionally, I very well could have just read the works by these authors who do not address this specific issue and if you know of any works by them that does, let me know! For instance, I have read Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian but not his later works on defining morality separate from a religious backround. Thanks for your quick response by the way

  93. Also sorry for the lack of formatting in the previous post and thanks to John for letting Mormon Stories be a place where dialogue can be about traditional Mormonism to Christianity to atheism and everything in between. I also think it might be interesting if you could get an interview with Carolyn Tanner Irish, who was one of the first women bishop in the Episcopalian church, was part of the archdiocese in Utah and was raised Mormon. Just a thought!

  94. Ok I”ll admit it…I LOVED this series of interviews…does that mean I suffer from comfirmation bias? Anyway I would LOVE to have a list of books that Dan and Tyson would recommend. I have already read Sam Harris and Carl Sagan, but what else would you recommend reading.

  95. Thanks for the lengthy interview, Dan, of Tyson and Randy’s journey into atheism. As a TBM, RM, Atheist, and now Born-Again Christian, I found it deeply interesting and revealing.

    Some comments:

    There are evidences that Near Death Experiences are more than just brain chemistry or lack of oxygen. Betty J. Eadie’s “Embraced by the Light” documents her NDE where she saw things that she could not have seen had she not been out of her body. Other person’s NDE’s that I know of personally substantiate Betty’s claims. Not only did they die and return, but some were dead for hours with no brain activity.

    It is interesting to note that this is one of the longest Mormon Stories Podcast. Maybe it just seemed that way. Is that because Atheism from Mormonism is hard to explain, or because Dan decided to take Tyson and Randy down different areas affected by that transition? Paraphrasing the Queen in Hamlet, “Tyson and Randy doth protest too much, methinks”.

    Thinking, logic and reason are only a small amount of the “intelligence” of humans. When someone says that the Brain is the sole source of intelligence of humans who espouses science and logic as paramount, I wonder how much biology and physiology they have studied. There is a lot of intelligence in the structures of any part of the body and a lot of “data processing” in the eyes and ears of humans alone.

    The debate over free-will vs. determinism goes away without concept of sequential time and so has no meaning except in relationship to space-time as indicated in the Special Theory of Relativity. Perhaps there is no time in heaven. Also foreknowledge does not require determinism because of space-time compression.

    Randy and Tyson, you seemed a bit dogmatic when answering the question whether your beliefs could change. Just remember your journey is not over, guys, and keep the possibility open that it might not be over even after you die! ;-) May God bless you in your pursuit of truth.

    1. Wow Glen. So much to go after in this post I’m not sure where to begin. Maybe just one paragraph at a time. I won’t worry about being snarky since your post oozed with smug condescension. Does claiming to be a recovered atheist give you “street cred” amongst your born again buddies?

      Anyway, one thing that believers typically don’t understand is what really counts for evidence. You can prove anything, and I mean anything using anecdotal evidence. You display as the top evidence that NDE’s point to an afterlife a single anecdote turned into a book. Seriously? As a born again Christian how do you reconcile the fact that many who have NDE’s experience seeing Mohammed, Krishna, elves, giants, etc? Could it be possible that these NDE’s are merely a product of the brain since the brain can only draw from experience, therefore this leads to the fact that visitation from others ALWAYS manifests with a cultural familiarity? Ketamine is a drug that can reproduce all the tell tale signs of NDE’s. That doesn’t prove there is no afterlife, but it does render NDE’s as not very compelling evidence for one either. Also, regarding the patient recounting things that happened while they were being revived, is it not possible that the brain is actually processing information while in this state and then reconstructing a memory because that’s what our brains do?

      Let’s see, second paragraph, quoting Hamlet. This is typical. Just like another tired cliche, “there are no atheist in a foxhole.” Why is it that believers always question the sincerity of an atheist’s convictions? Is it a sign of insecurity? I have absolutely no doubt Glen that you really do believe what you claim. Why is it so hard to wrap your material brain around the fact that atheists also have convictions? And how, exactly, did we “protest too much” in that podcast? Examples please?

      Thinking, logic, and reason are only a small part of intelligence? For you maybe…

      And you smugly act like you are making some excellent point about data processing outside the brain by citing vision and hearing? Are you that clueless? You question other’s knowledge on biology and completely reveal your complete and utter ignorance. Guess where vision and hearing are actually processed into sight and sound? THE BRAIN. LMAO!!!!

      Next paragraph you dismiss determinism using a logical fallacy called special pleading. Google it.

      A born again Christian calling me dogmatic. Perfect ending. Thanks Glen. That was fun. I’m serious.

      1. It’s sorta funny to read Randy’s reply and understand that HE is accusing SOMEONE ELSE of “smug condescension.”  And to think that the fellow who goes on and on and on (for, what, nearly an hour?) about what a terrific Mormon he used to be accuses someone else, who mentions a past foray into atheism, as searching for street cred.  What part of “look in the mirror” did this guy miss?

        I’m listening to the podcast trying to understand something.  I’m not there yet, but maybe someone can offer some insight.  I think  it’s one thing to (as the song goes) lose your religion.  To put that another way, I think it’s one thing to move from one set of beliefs to another, to move from religion to atheism, or to go the other way.  These are what are called spiritual journeys.  But it’s something different to make a point of criticizing – as we can see, not just criticizing but doing so caustically, in personal terms, and without provocation – the former belief and those who hold them.

        My own feeling is that simple self-respect would lead one to be respectful toward a belief that one once held.  After all, if I used to believe “X,” I should not condemn all believers of “X” as cretinous dunces, lest someone figure out that the criticism applies equally to me!  I should rather think of someone who holds a belief I used to hold as every bit as thoughtful and reasonable as I am, despite the error in logic, judgment or reason to which  we were both subject until I discovered the mistake.

        But I see the nastiness here and I’ve read more than my fill of Tyson’s smug – well, strike “smug” – more than my fill of Tyson’s pretentious unpleasantness on other boards.  He claimed on the podcast to have an affinity for members of the LDS church, but I  think that’s obviously phony.  Affinity just doesn’t express itself that way.

        So it’s a bit of a puzzle.  I’m not sure if this is warranted, but I want to say that we see this kind of thing in ex-Mormons than ex-other things.  I mean, there is almost a subculture of these newly intellectually aggressive atheists, so perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree if I suggest there is something special or more severe about the subculture of ex-Mormons.  But I think  that this fellow McCraney (different podcast) is another, but non-atheist, example of the same phenomenon.  It seems to me that at bottom there is a hostility to, we might even say rebellion against, the rigors of Mormon practice (not so much belief as practice) which then expresses itself in the various forms of intellectual opposition.  In other words, it seems to me that there is a sense of anger, self-justification or both that needs to be expressed aggressively. 

        Both interviewees mentioned Prop 22/Prop 8, and Tyson made a point to refer to the suicide of his gay brother (while denying in his next breath that the suicide had anything to do with anything), so perhaps that was a trigger for them.

        1. Trytoseeitmyway, if that is your real name, did you even read this line at the BEGINNING of my response to Glen?  “I won’t worry about being snarky since your post oozed with smug condescension.”  Dude, I called my shot saying I was going to be snarky.  I relished being snarky because Glen’s post was filled with arrogant ignorance which is supremely annoying to me.  I responded with arrogance but not ignorance.  If you think the latter is inaccurate, show me how because I am fully willing to change my mind on something when faced with better arguments or evidence.  I believe people deserve respect but ideas do not.  They have to earn it.

          Do you have anything interesting to say about the arguments or do you just want to focus on how you think I am just an angry meanie that drones on and on and on about myself (I did spend about 40 minutes talking about my story but I don’t remember the part where I claimed, implied, or emphasized I was a “terrific Mormon”; only that I was a fully believing Mormon).  If it makes you feel better about your own views, whatever the hell they are, to paint me and Tyson and other ex-Mo atheists as merely angry at the church, as you were.

          1. Wow.  Sort of a delayed reaction.  But since I was commenting on an exchange of 11 months earlier (it says here), I guess it’s fair.

            The complaint as I understand it is that I was supposed to understand that an attitude of smug condescension was intended as a response to someone else, whom Randy accused of exhibiting that same attitude.  Frankly, that doesn’t invalidate my criticism at all, but in any event, here we see atheist morality at work.  My morality is entirely my own invention, the atheist proclaims, and that makes me my own sole judge.

            I realize that this is implied in your beliefs, Randy, but it is instructive to have the example.

            You want to know if I have anything interesting to say about the arguments.  It’s hard for me to answer that, since whether anything I say is of interest to others is of course for others to say.  I did mention the sense I have that at
            bottom there is a hostility to, we might even say rebellion against,
            the rigors of Mormon practice (not so much belief as practice) which
            then expresses itself in the various forms of intellectual opposition. 
            In other words, I said that that there seems to me that there is a sense of anger,
            self-justification or both that needs to be expressed aggressively. 

            That sense, by the way, is reinforced by your response to me today.

            Both you and Tyson mentioned Prop 22/Prop 8, and Tyson made a point to refer
            to the suicide of his gay brother (while curiously denying in his next breath that
            the suicide had anything to do with anything), so perhaps that was a
            trigger?  As I’ve listened to other podcasts (there is obviously an extensive amount of material here, and I doubt I’ve listened to more than a tiny fraction) that same issue seems to pop up fairly often.

            In the Jared Anderson podcast series, he suggested (I won’t even be able to paraphrase him, but this is somewhere in the ballpark) that the self-declared atheists are not always the brightest people, but they have a strong desire to SEEM to be the brightest people.  I think that this goes a long way toward explaining the aggressive style you exhibit.

          2. Yes, a delayed response because this message thread had been dead for months.  I hadn’t checked it for at least 6 months or longer but Glen had annoyed some friends of mine recently and it reminded me of this post so I came back to check it out and found your response.

            Anyway, you seem to think that your version of passive aggressive insults is somehow on the moral high ground above my more direct snarkiness.  That is typical of believing Mormons (I am assuming you are one but you keep everything, including your name, very guarded it seems) where you mistake manners for morality.  There are more important issues of morality than manners like bigotry against homosexuals in the name of god, for instance.  You take exception with my tone towards Glen but have, through passive aggression, essentially called my intelligence in question, referred to me basically as a verbose, insecure, narcissistic nihilist of sorts.

            And you can’t just invent stuff and pretend it’s real. There is no such thing as “atheist morality.”  Atheism has absolutely no moral implications whatsoever.  It simply is a very narrow definition dealing with only one issue, belief in a personal god.  Much work has been done on the topic of morality without god dating back to Aristotle, continuing through Hume, Kant, etc that would behoove you to read some on.  But I don’t know any atheists that subscribe to your straw man characterization of “I create my own morality and I’m the judge of my own morality.”  Applying critical thinking is the best judge of the merits of a moral action, not an appeal to authority.

            You also seem bent on focusing on the one making arguments and not the arguments themselves.  You are applying the typical go to method of believing Mormons where you want to paint the ex-Mo in such a light where you can dismiss their arguments without even dealing with them (just angry or bitter or in need of self-justification). In other words, you are applying an ad hominem argument.  The church is very skilled at creating this mentality for it cannot possibly be the church that’s wrong, right?

            And lastly, it’s funny you mention Jared.  He’s a friend of mine and last month we did a podcast with John Larsen on Mormon Expression on the Mormon god called God of the Lost Keys.  Check it out.  Hopefully, since you seem to like Jared, his voice will balance out my droning one.

          3. It’s difficult to have a conversation when you want to conduct it this way.  If you can’t find anything in what I wrote other than things that trigger a rant, well, there you go.  But I do like Jared, so please tell him hi.  You might ask him to contrast your respective styles for you; that would be an interesting response.  :-)

          4. You are such a hypocrite.  You claim foul then refer to my response as a “rant”.  You have dealt with nothing I’ve said.  Peace.

        2. Religion really is a pernicious meme.  Thank you for reminding me trytoseeitmyway.  There are only a few items of note to add to Randy’s comments below, his positions are articulated well, and I do wish you had the courage to address them.  I will, for my part, defend my positions in this and other posts which you have interpreted as ‘pretentious unpleasantness’.  If I may correct you, and you are amenable to ceding your mind to evidence and reason, I prefer to be characterized as intolerant.

          To borrow a phrase from a man I once considered wise “evil even calls itself good, and often gets away with it”  My dear tytoseeitmyway, your positions are empirically evil.  Obviously, I’m borrowing some language here for effect, since there is no evidence  for a supernatural evil, or good for that matter, but we both know what I mean when I use the word, for I know no better use of the word than describing the ideas of those who defend (to name but a few)…

          1) Child abuse
          2) Slavery
          3) Repression and subjugation of women
          4) Discrimination of people because of their race, gender, and sexual orientation.
          5) Deception and willful misrepresentation.

          Each of these ‘evils’ are empirical statements with numerous examples contained within your theology, and I am guilty of being intolerant of them.  I generally tend to be harsh to those who espouse them, but I like to avoid personal attacks, seeing as ideas are independent of individuals, however there is one character flaw I should like to point out which you should consider adopting.  Courage.  

          A final note.  I truly wish the suicide of my brother had an impact on me at the time and not over a decade later.  If I were a more rational and critical thinker I may have been quick enough to cast off the meme of religion even earlier, and had the courage to take a stand, and perhaps convince my brother the stupidity of the guilt and bad ideas that convinced him to end his life.  It’s a decision that haunts only my past, because I will not stand for it in my future, and neither should you.

          1. My theology?  You know what my theology is, do you?  Or are you just being smug and pretentious.

            But you prefer the term “intolerant,” you say.  Hmmm.  I think that they all fit.  At least, that’s the impression you left for me as I listened to the podcast.  It is possible that others had different impressions but that was mine anyway.

            My original comment expressed interest in the deliberate unpleasantness that you and Randy (among others) exhibit.  Your comments today don’t to anything to alter those perceptions – quite the opposite in fact.  You want me to have the “courage” to address Randy’s arguments, but I was just hoping that someone would have the courage or insight to address my questions.  Instead, the responses have just been abusive.  It’s interesting that you try to bait me into the discussion that YOU want to have … by accusing me of cowardice.  “Chicken,” the bully taunts.  “I dare ya, you chicken.” 

            Maybe we can get at my issue this way:  your reply says, “I truly wish the suicide of my brother had an impact on me at the time and not over a decade later.”  Now, let me be sure to say that anyone’s suicide, at any time for any reason, is a very sad thing, and I would want to be clear about my very sincere sympathy for you and your family despite the passage of time.  And I feel sure that the suicide DID have an impact on you at the time, even though your words here seem to say otherwise.  I realize that your choice of words was perhaps unfortunate and that the event truly did have an “impact” even though not the impact we’re now discussing, which was a loss of faith.  Even so, it seemed to me from the podcast (it has now been some time since I listened, so I need to disclaim even a moderate degree of accuracy now) that you do attribute your loss of faith to that event, at least in part, even if the reaction was delayed for over a decade.  And, here, you say that your decisions at the time haunt you.

            So my question is:  How did that work exactly?  Did something happen a decade later to trigger the latent hostility?  Or are you angry about something else, and just bringing up the suicide as an emotional weapon?  I DON’T assume it’s the latter, by the way, because that would reflect very poorly on you.  I’m prepared to believe instead that there was some kind of delayed reaction, and I’m curious about how that came to arise and how it influences your evident hostility to those who adhere to your former religion.

            All of this is in the context of my original questions which you or anyone are welcome to address.

  96. The primary reason why Mormons who become disaffected with the church do not maintain their Christian beliefs and affiliate with other Christian sects is the same reasons why the Mormon missionary program is so unsuccessful: generally speaking, people will not consciously abandon their religious or cultural heritage. Given a choice, they will walk away quietly. It takes a lot of time, energy, and fortitude to be a convert to a sect that requires you to adopt a new cultural paradigm and, by default, requires that you abandon your prior faith heritage. Since Mormonism is as much a lifestyle as it is a faith, the barrier to adopting another faith is even higher.

    One might take the view that the rate at which disaffected Mormons exit Christianity is evidence that Mormons are not truly Christian and I think that assertion has some validity. It is very common for Christians to move around between sects and denominations. Their beliefs in Christ are weighted more heavily than their social connections and the culture of their particular denomination. Mormons, on the other hand, are not wedded as much to Christ as they are to the cultural norms and lifestyle of being “Mormon”. Academically speaking, Mormons are Christian but the disaffected experience, although broader than faith itself, indicates that Mormons are or were more tightly bound to being Mormon than they are to being Christian.

    Mike Michaels
    former convert to Mormonism (20 years) and current atheist

  97. I finished the final episode yesterday, and just wanted to say “well done.” Overall I was impressed with the level of discourse and the patience exhibited on both sides. I suppose the only weakness might be the last hour, when I feel like Dan, IMO, got a little long-winded in his attempt to extract some kind of confession from Randy and Tyson about the possibilities of a spiritual realm. Any person who claims to believe in the scientific method should never make absolute predictions about what they will or will not believe in the future. As an atheist myself, I would be more than happy to be convinced by the evidence or experience of a “spiritual” extra-natural realm. But I believe the tool set that will be used to determine whether such realm exists will still be based in science – evidence, experiment, and rational examination.

    I think the comments that the guests were condescending and/or abrasive are unwarrented, but not surprising. It seemed to me that the guests were bending over backwards to couch their language in personal experience terms and avoid sweeping generalizations or condemnations. But it has been my experience when speaking with some believers that any attempt to point out the fundamental problems (as I see them) with religious thought receives a defensive reaction, I’ve been accused of arrogance and abrasiveness, too, no matter how hard you try. I suppose it is because religious belief is tightly bound with self identity, and any attempt to critique the issues is taken as a personal attack. Given that, I don’t know how one ever discusses these issues without coming across as abrasive to someone.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to do these interviews, guests and host!


  98. I finished the final episode yesterday, and just wanted to say “well done.” Overall I was impressed with the level of discourse and the patience exhibited on both sides. I suppose the only weakness might be the last hour, when I feel like Dan, IMO, got a little long-winded in his attempt to extract some kind of confession from Randy and Tyson about the possibilities of a spiritual realm. Any person who claims to believe in the scientific method should never make absolute predictions about what they will or will not believe in the future. As an atheist myself, I would be more than happy to be convinced by the evidence or experience of a “spiritual” extra-natural realm. But I believe the tool set that will be used to determine whether such realm exists will still be based in science – evidence, experiment, and rational examination.

    I think the comments that the guests were condescending and/or abrasive are unwarrented, but not surprising. It seemed to me that the guests were bending over backwards to couch their language in personal experience terms and avoid sweeping generalizations or condemnations. But it has been my experience when speaking with some believers that any attempt to point out the fundamental problems (as I see them) with religious thought receives a defensive reaction, I’ve been accused of arrogance and abrasiveness, too, no matter how hard you try. I suppose it is because religious belief is tightly bound with self identity, and any attempt to critique the issues is taken as a personal attack. Given that, I don’t know how one ever discusses these issues without coming across as abrasive to someone.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to do these interviews, guests and host!


  99. In episode #226, several references to evolution need updating. One assumption of organic evolution is that mutations are entirely random. They are not. Johnjoe McFadden’s book, Quantum Evolution, offers a good layman’s perspective on the notion of non-random mutations, and how nature might use them to rapidly shape the genome. https://amzn.to/idMJgH

    2010 has been a landmark year for a number of scientific advances showing that nature has engineered many biological systems right to the edge of the classical-quantum worlds. In late 2010, Google convened a workshop on Quantum Biology at their Mountain View headquarters, bringing together scientists from around the world to present their latest findings. A summary of the workshop is here, including 8 hours of recorded Google TechTalks. https://bit.ly/cTZRGX

    Given these advances, Penrose-Hameroff’s notion of quantum consciousness is still very much alive. Stuart Hameroff has done a good job of pulling together presenters from the Google workshop for a conference on consciousness, which will be held in Stockholm next May. Should be fun. https://consciousness.arizona.edu/

    Along these lines, Stuart Kauffman’s book, Reinventing the Sacred (https://amzn.to/efJHvd), offers a kinder, gentler approach to the Four Horsemen. Kauffman has also written a number of interesting blog entries on the NPR 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog, suggesting that he is open to whatever informed human spirituality may emerge from the new sciences. (https://n.pr/eWj0KL)

    1. Dave, I feel you overstated something in your post. You implied, first, that it was stated in the podcast that mutations are “entirely random.” I don’t believe it was stated quite that strongly. However, if you asked 100 evolutionary biologists of the world if genetic mutations are random, probably 95 or more would say “almost entirely random.” They are not completely random, but it is close. An example is that UV radiation selectively affects Thiamine stronger than the other nucleotides so that is not completely random, but almost. So to bring up McFadden’s book as if it represents the scientific consensus regarding the randomness of mutations is misleading. Therefore, saying our evolutionary info needs “updating” doesn’t quite hit the mark. It may not agree with your opinion, but “updating” is a little strong.

      Also, we did debate significantly in the podcast the notion of quantum consciousness as Dan is a fervent supporter of this hypothesis. However, it was edited out after much deliberation and much to Dan’s disappointment as this is the center of his philosophy and world view. I, for the record, am not compelled by this hypothesis but that’s a ‘hole ‘nother podcast. ;-)

  100. I was listening to the podcast, and heard the guests describe several times how life was so beautiful and meaningful on its own. They don’t need God or the supernatural, or hope in a more pleasant afterlife. That is all unprovable nonsense, and causes so much harm and distraction from the real problems, and mostly gets in the way of appreciating what we have in this life — which is so amazing!

    That delusion is exactly the point for the vast majority of people who traverse this mortal coil — escape from the nihilistic “reality.”

    So what do we say to the other 75% of the people on this planet who’s lives are brutal and short, highlighted with the occasional violent spasm of pointless war, and the constant search for a scrap of food or some momentary comfort? Your pathetic dreams of a beautiful afterlife are a delusion my friend. Sorry about that, so just focus on your wretch of a life and be done with it. God is dead, and you will join him in the blackness soon enough.

    Atheism totally rocks for those of us who “won the cosmic lottery,” the prize of living in the most affluent culture that has ever existed on the face of the earth. Our most pressing problem is trying desperately not to eat so much it kills us. For everyone else, there’s MasterCard, or a pointless existence and then the void.

    I am so glad we got smart enough and evolved to figure this out — silly religions!

    1. Geez Brian, tell us how you really feel.

      I was not aware that it was my job to cover the combined human experience for all 6 billion humans on the planet. I was asked to share my personal experience and journey. I gave an honest description of what it felt like to shuck religious belief and endeavor on a different journey of learning using science, philosophy, and literature instead of religious texts as my guide. For me, it was liberating and exhilarating. I did not mean to presume that it is the only way to think or even the best way to think for every single member of the planet.

      I understand there is way too many people on the earth that live miserable lives. I completely empathize with their need to look to a better afterlife to cope with the miseries and injustices of this life. I don’t hold that against them at all.

      But my point is this, we should strive to alleviate the suffering in the world. We, who have “won the cosmic lottery”, should use our privileged position to reach out to the unfortunate in the world and seek a more equitable situation for the human race. But, how is the best way for us lucky ones to achieve this goal? Religious dogma that teaches 3rd world people to fear hell if using a condom thereby spreading STDs and producing children that can’t be supported? Or the religious intolerance of gays in Uganda? Or the dogmatic theocracies oppressing women in the name of god?

      My assertion is that the best path to the goal of a more equitable situation for the human race is using humanistic values informed with scientific knowledge coupled with an empathetic view of the human condition.

      I realize that there are many religiously inspired entities out there doing good for the unfortunate of the world. I applaud their efforts, especially when their efforts aren’t conditional to accepting their preferred god which may come with some unnecessary baggage (ie; religious intolerance). However, I maintain that it is my OPINION that the best path going forward is through humanistic values.

      1. Sorry Randy, I apologize because I think I really came across too strong. I actually understand where you are coming from, and have the same criticism of dysfunctional religion. I put a little too much passion and “poetry” in my comment above.

        I was picturing a scenario like this: I find myself in some terrible place on the planet. A poor child, an orphan perhaps who steals food or searches garbage dumps approaches me and asks “Hey Mister, Is there really a God and a beautiful afterlife? Is that where my mother and father are?”

        What would I tell her?

        … really hard to think about that, for me at least. It’s all great intellectual fun, and I totally agree with jettisoning poor religious baggage from my life, but what would I tell someone like that? Yes. Absolutely! God loves you, life will be better, and your mother and father are waiting to embrace you when you are done here.

        1. No problem Brian. I understand what you are saying. It’s similar to how do atheists deal with losing a child. Man, it’s nicer to deal with that using Mormon theology but that simply doesn’t make it real just because it’s comforting. As someone who came closer to that than I ever, ever wish to come, I don’t know how I would have dealt with that. I may have been committed after that.

          So, people that use faith to deal with crappy lives that have been dealt to them, I totally am empathetic to that. That is one thing that I think people like Hitchens and Dawkins don’t really understand having had good lives with little religous influence.

          To be honest, the part of becoming atheist that was hardest to let go of was the notion of justice. I have a strong notion and sense for justice and to come to grips with the idea that Hitler won’t suffer for being responsible for tens of millions of deaths and associated suffering was so hard to accept. The wrath of God doesn’t await Fidel Castro or Saddam Hussein? That was hard to accept but again, an argument for God from adverse consequences is a logical fallacy no matter how it makes me feel.

          So, to respond to your hypothetical, would I disavow a suffering little girl of a notion of a better life to come, probably not.

  101. Wow, it was so cool to hear that there are other ex-mos that are nearly as obsessed as I am with the search for science and learning. Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens and Harris are my favorite reads. Thank you so much for sharing this great series.

  102. Randy and Tyson

    Thanks for the very interesting and enlightening podcast. Me I am exploring. Still LDS, certainly not TBM, more NOMish but open to ideas. I have been exploring the roots of Christianity and find many problems there as well. Tyson I have read lots of Ehrman.

    What I am interested in in your recommendation of one or two good books to start with on the ideas of Atheism. Dawkins, Hitchin or Harris? The God Delusion or something else? Where should I start?

  103. Randy, thanks. I see the lists. Tyson I picked up “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Harris in the book store and started thumbing through it and read a few pages and almost bought it. Looks interesting. I will start with that.

  104. Great podcast, definitely one of my all time favorites. I think Randy is the most like-minded person to me I’ve ever come into (virtual) contact with. In both the podcast and the discussion, his responses were verbatim what I was thinking almost every time. Craig Criddle has also been on my dream guest list for MSP for quite a while now.

    Randy, at one point I believe you mentioned you lived in Jacksonville. I recently moved to Jax and would love to meet up with anyone here who may have a similar background. When you have a spouse who is the relief society prez and you are an ex-mo, getting to know people you share anything in common with can be a challenge. :)

    If you know anyone here, forward them my email: mmartin400@yahoo.com.

  105. I just stumbled across this site and am pleased with what I have read and heard so far.

    I arrived at atheism when I reached the end of my LDS rope, got tired of hanging onto the Gordian knot I found there, and slashed it in half.

    I consider myself a “pure” atheist, by which I do not intend any moral valence (i.e., “the one and only true and living brand of atheism”), but simply that, as the word suggests, I lack a belief in the reality of god (in the same way I lack a belief that I am really Brad Pitt dreaming I am me).

    Thank you for publishing this, letting some of us know we are not alone.

  106. I just finished listening to all the segments. It was refreshing hearing your honesty about sensitive topics and difficult choices. Best of luck to you guys.

  107. Fantastic podcast. As an atheist, I felt very well represented by Tyson and Randy–thank you guys for being articulate and being willing to step out and educate others on non-religious life. I was also very impressed by Dan’s patience and willingness to listen and understand ideas that he didn’t necessarily agree with. Great job guys.

    While I have had many exhilarating, joyful, and beautiful moments and experiences in my life, I have never had any that suggest to me in any way that there is an unseen meaning, connection, or conscious deity in the universe. It is truly fascinating to me to hear intelligent, educated, and appropriately skeptical people (like Don) talk about spiritual experiences they have that are so profound and convincing that they trump science. I can hardly start to imagine what such an experience or feeling might be like. I would really like to come to a greater understanding and respect for such experiences, but it is difficult because when I ask people about them they often say that it can’t be put into words, or if they do attempt to convey it it just doesn’t come off as very convincing to me.

    For those of you who have had such experiences, can you recommend any reading or material that might help me understand them more? (I am starting by reading William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience”, which has been very insightful so far.)

  108. Well, these were very enjoyable podcasts. I admire Mr. Snyder and Mr. Jacobsen for their willingness to share their worldviews, their backgrounds, and where they find themselves now. The topics raised caused me to examine what I hold to be true and to look into some of the concepts that were discussed.

    I have heard atheists state that “Evolution is a fact” and “The Flood never happened,” but these sentences need to be clarified. Theists also believe that things change over time (evolution) and there is not only one interpretation of the Flood account within Judaism and Christianity. Also, Mr. Snyder and Mr. Jacobsen do not believe in Heaven and Hell, so I was wondering what their take is on the theory of the multiverse.

    From now, I will be spending some time studying more about Determinism because atheists seem to hold to different versions. Like the view of Determinism where we cannot possibly be aware of all the deterministic factors, which would make Determinism (from my understanding) unable to be falsified. Or there is Daniel Dennett’s Determinism, which seems so watered-down that I cannot see where he differs with how theists understand the world. Or the Determinism of Sam Harris and his Mad Scientist illustration, which does not reflect reality at all.

    Lastly, Robert Wright and his moral monkeys really do not explain the existence of morality in any way. At best, his assessment describes pre-programmed behaviors and, with a stretch, social mores, but these are not morality. Morality includes a person’s intent/motive and dictates what we are to do in the future, and Mr. Wright is not able to address these. Morality is not about doing what is right for you. Morality is about doing what is right.

    Thank you again for the time and effort put into these podcasts!!!!!

  109. Jessica damon-Pugsley

    I realize this was posted a few years ago but I’m just coming into this new faith journey world which is quite funny given my colorful history of going in and out of the Mormon church already. Anyway, I loved this series on atheism. The first arguments I’ve ever heard about this type of thinking. I’m excited to keep learning and developing my own ideas now that I’ve let go of Mormonism being the all truthful power it claims to be. Wish I could have dinner and a couple bottles of wine with these guys! So fascinating! Keep up this work it’s invaluable.

  110. Pingback: Atheism « life on the frogstar

  111. Thanks to all involved in producing this very informative podcast.
    Dan I love ur comparison to a flashlight or spotlight at the end!

  112. Robert Ingersoll–the great agnostic! I was recently introduced to him in Susan Jacoby’s book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. Exceptional read so far.

    Tyson, your voice sounds like Jeff Goldblum.

    Randy, maybe me and my husband will run in to you at one of the meet ups here in Phoenix–we live in the central corridor. I believe you said you went to Dental School in Florida? Stu, my husband went to med school at Nova Southeastern.

    In any case, I wish you all well in your personal journeys.

  113. Once you come to the realization of the finalisest of life, why even continue? And i am serious. I cant see making the leap from “there is nothing after this life” to having anything that is fulfilling. There is just no point in doing anything. All accomplishments are futile. Just be done with it.

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