Mr. Eccles Presents | “Do They Really Believe That?”


“Matt Dillahunty has been hosting The Atheist Experience, a live call-in show for more than 11 years.”

“Matt has challenged assumptions and opened minds and engaged in thousands of conversations over the years. Matt looks back and reflects on some of the difficulties he’s encountered and the lessons he’s learned.”

“Before discovering skepticism and humanism, Dillahunty spent 25 years as a Southern Baptist with ambitions of becoming a minister.”

“In this talk at CFI headquarters in Amherst, New York, on May 13th 2016, he discusses how we all have firmly held beliefs that we will discover to be false at some point in our lives, and how we can have meaningful conversations with people who hold beliefs different than our own.”

“Check out more of our roundtable reasonable talks: https://reasonabletalk.tv”

“Learn more about CFI: http://www.centerforinquiry.net”

Apostasy: Feelings of Loss & Liberation


For those of us among the newly deconverted, recognizing and accepting our unbeliefs can be painful at first. I found my own letting go of religion difficult, initially accompanied by a deep sense of loss, and I do not believe that I’m unique in this regard.

I think that for many of us without the benefit of secular intellectual and emotional support, there may be a residue of belief, or at least an initial sense of something ‘missing’ and a sense of being tossed about in a vast ocean no longer driven by meaning, purpose, or human centrality, much less our personal centrality.

No matter how it’s phrased, there’s a question that gets asked, “Without a god to help me, what do I do now?” More liberal theists describe hell, not in the crude, visceral, gut-wrenching horror of a fiery place of torture, but something more subtle, what I would think more frightening altogether; an eternal separation from the divine and those who walk with it, including all those whom they knew and loved in life — forever apart, forever isolated.

The ultimate solitary confinement.

To me, that sounds very much like what those of us who lose our religion go through initially. I envy those who were raised in secular families, who never had to experience the sense of emptiness when belief wanes and finally disappears altogether. Atheism in many ex-believers requires a certain tough-mindedness and committed integrity to sustain, and doesn’t always last, No True Scotsman arguments notwithstanding.

What made it disturbing was that I was simultaneously feeling as if relieved of a great weight, all while wondering what my still-devout relations would say if they knew.

I found myself saying, “Maybe I don’t really need anyone to watch me in wakefulness or sleep. Maybe I’m better off without a god, but let’s not tell too many people about it, not just yet. They don’t need to know.”

I’m personally ashamed of my lack of courage then, and I offer no excuse.

At the time, I had little in the way of a secular support network, or a broad reading of secular authors, indeed little acquaintance with atheism or skepticism even as they were then.

I felt adrift, alone, an atheist in a sea of potentially hostile theists, and for a time, I drifted from one religious or spiritual idea … reading up on them, though not practicing any, looking for a ‘new’ path that might possibly fit my needs, and little did I know that none of them would make the grade, none of them would prove suitable, none of them could in any way ‘fit.’

It was soon clear I had to look outside religious and spiritual traditions to find meaning, and it was afterward I discovered that the source I would discover lay outside parochial theological musings or New Age beliefs altogether, and within our species’ secular intellectual heritage — the arts, ethics, the sciences, history, philosophy, logic, rhetoric – things I had thought less of as a churchgoer, though I’ve always had a love of science as a child.

A powerful influence on me during the years of my waning faith was my exposure to secular writers, starting with Isaac Asimov’s SF and non-fiction books.

Without religion to impose purpose and meaning upon me, I was free to discover my own, indeed, I had no choice but to, since the religious ideas where no longer credible.

As a churchgoer, I passively allowed others to give me direction, but as an atheist and skeptic, I can find my own, and the seeming emptiness that religion once vacated has been replaced with the more robust heritage of and allegiance to my species as a whole, not the tribal bigotries of faith, doctrine, or dogma.

What I lost as a former theist has been recompensed many times over to something far better and richer by comparison, making a life of religion seem shallow, unsatisfactory and inauthentic to me now.

I don’t think I would have it any other way.

The Mythical “Psychology of the Skeptics”


It is nothing short of amazing how many proponents of extraordinary claims, usually without qualifications to know what they are talking about, but sometimes even those who should know better, try to expound on the “psychology of the skeptics™” and get their attempts at reading minds so completely and utterly wrong. Nothing short of amazing. And nothing better than chance odds of getting it right.

First, skeptics are a pretty diverse bunch personality-wise, without a common theme or reason for thinking or feeling a given way, so there is simply no such thing as a single universal generalization of “the” personality type applicable to skeptics. That can apply to anyone as well, skeptics, believers, agnostics, and proponents alike

Second, a little look through any up-to-date psychology textbook or journal – yes, even those written by “damned fundamentalist reactionary skeptics” – will reveal a wealth of data pertaining to the psychology of belief, from total incredulity to complete acceptance, without a need for a special psychological profile for skeptics. In most psychology studies on the causes and mechanisms of belief, skeptics are already entered into the equation–otherwise there would be nothing to compare with the sometimes uncritical acceptance of such claims.

Most attempts by proponents so far to “understand” skeptics involve the use of logical fallacies, usually ad hominems (interesting that they should be the ones to scream “ad hominem!” as much as they do, but given the liberal use of those as well, but I digress…), straw man arguments, well-poisoning, the hasty generalization (using small, non-randomized, and non-representative samples of skeptics and applying their motivations and personalities to all of them) and to support this generalization, the use of selective and often out-of-context quotations to validate their conclusion.

These sloppy, unprofessional and ad hoc attempts at psychoanalysis of critics of extraordinary claims are just rationalizations made by proponents to justify dislike of those who offend them or shock “delicate sensitivities.”

Provisional lack of belief and refusal to believe are not the same. This is no arcane mystery, just basic psychology 101. When a lack of belief is confused with a refusal to accept for any reason, and ten reasons that skeptics must be deeply afraid of the claims they examine for not accepting them without strong evidence, one must also argue that skeptics are deeply frightened of dragons, unicorns, faeries, chupacabras, and flying pigs, as well.

For the record, I’m fascinated, not frightened, by the paranormal, by pseudoscience, by grand conspiracy theories, by science denialism, like a moth to a flame, though I look at it with a more critical eye than I did when I believed. Ever want to find out why and how a skeptic thinks the way they do?

Just ask one. How hard can that be?

(Last Update: 2019/2/8, Text corrected)