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AGNOSTICISM – COPPING OUT?

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Posted by Derren Brown June 29, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Nigel Warburton will be on the Richard Bacon show on Radio 5 live, Tues 30th June from midnight, talking on the subject of agnosticism and whether it’s a cop-out. I recently posted a flyer for his talk with the group Dialogue with Islam about whether we need religion. I have heard from a source that there was ‘a symptomatic moment… when the Humanist association organizer without irony asked the Muslims to the pub to carry on the conversation.’

A while ago I was interviewed by Jon Ronson, and since then have met him a few times at a friend’s barbeques. A fascinating and funny man to talk to. Last night I watched his ‘Revelations’ documentary on the Alpha Course, which exists to turn agnostics into Christians. It was on C4, and is well worth a watch if you can find some way of doing so. He followed eight agnostics attending the course, who, through the clever structure of the course days, had Jesus gently and relentlessly sold to them. It became increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Certain things struck me in particular:

1 – Each of the attendees was clearly unhappy. Hence, one imagines, their attending such a course. The relentless and structured selling of any solution to unhappiness in that sort of environment would clearly be effective. Any message could have been offered. In fact, the 1 in 8 success rate the Alpha Course apparently boasts would seem rather low, compared to other life-changing happiness secrets (bogus or otherwise) which could have been proffered instead. Having attended several courses, religious or otherwise in my time, I can testify how quickly one falls in line with thinking, and starts to think and speak as a devotee, enjoying the bonding of the group. It’s a pointer to perhaps how ultimately mundane and misguided the message was at this course that not more attendees were ‘spoken to’. Loads of unhappy people ready to accept God, and the perfect environment to find him: you’d imagine a least as much enthusiasm and ‘conversion’ as from an NLP course, surely?

2. I can’t reconcile in my mind the person of Jesus, whoever he was in history, and the modern need to have a course as manipulative as this one. It’s a shame that God seems to need salesmen, and a structure as ultimately cynical and carefully thought-through as the Alpha Course to connect with people. There were parallels with a time-share ‘talk’ that I once went to, and echoes of plenty of brain-washing techniques from history. What a shame that people, especially unhappy ones, need to be broken down in such a familiar way. The Christians involved I’m sure, don’t see it as remotely cynical, just preparing a ground for God to do his best work. But if they don’t also stop and honestly wonder if they’ve been recruited into a persuasion exercise, then they’re doing themselves an injustice. I spoke to an ex-pastor recently from a Charistmatic church who left his calling out of disgust at the manipulative techniques he knew he was employing, and expected to employ, with his congregation. The placing of the music, the manipulative nature of the music itself, the timing of the emotional pleas, the whipping up of the crowd hysteria, the pushing over of people to suggest they’d been ‘slain in the Spirit’, the transparent nonsense of getting everyone to talk in tongues and the arbitrariness of so-called ‘interpretations; the heightening of suggestibility: he had the honesty to realise that nothing separated him from a stage hypnotist or a revivalist showman. He still privately believes, but is disgusted at the manipulative techniques that are used. At the time, it’s hard for him to say if he was being ‘cynical’ or not. Probably not – he was just letting God do his work and providing a rousing experience for his congregation. It took a moment of brave honesty to see what was going on.

3. There was an interesting exchange between a questioning attendee and one of the Christians designated to gently persuade them during the small group meetings. The Christian said that God had spoken to him on a bus. He had been asked to carry out an assignment which he felt was probably too much for him, and God has spoken to him, ‘as a voice inside his head’, to say ‘you can’t do it’. The question was asked – a perfectly sensible one – how did he know it came from God, as opposed to from himself? The question was treated as patronising and offensive, by the very people placed there to answer sensible questions. It was brilliantly symptomatic of the problem: that rational discussion has no place at the table. Just believe it because it’s true. End of story.

Fascinating stuff.

COMMENTS
June 29, 2009 at 12:47 pm

I became involved with my local CofE church a few years ago when I was going through a bad time. I attended the Alpha course, and after the second meeting I left and never returned to the church. What a load of nonsense! And what a hard sell! I agree entirely with everything you’ve said. Each to their own and all that, but if you were happy with your life would you be tempted to go to church? Why seek for something that doesn’t exist? Thanks Derren. X


June 29, 2009 at 12:53 pm
Lafayette says:

Always struck by the “self selection” aspect of your instant conversion stunt. I imagine Alpha has the same thing going on. There’s a book called Snapping which has some excellent information about speaking in tongues, on the pressure that exists to do it, and the way in which the behaviour is learnt.

What pains me is when rational discourse flies out of the window. I watched Religulous recently and was struck by how much more interesting the film is when people talk about their faith open mindedly than resort to black and white “because the Bible tells me so” ungrounded certainty. The two people Bill Maher speaks to at the Vatican were phenomenal, and the only two that actually make a reasonable case for religion, not by selling the good book, but by, in a sense, being living examples of rational believers.

I don’t think true agnosticism is a cop-out. I think it can be used to describe the lazy faithful, though. To me honest agnosticism is the “probably” in the atheist bus campaign. We’re not going to establish the existence or otherwise of a deity. If we accept that, then how can we fall in with any faith in particular?


June 29, 2009 at 12:58 pm
Jimtheevo says:

Regards to part 2; I don’t know who else has read the flea ‘dawkins brown and god’ (or something along those lines) but there is a part in it which mentions the use of music as a persuasion tool and the author quite spectardedly (a retarded and spectacularly) concludes that the manipulation is fine as its God’s music and God made the brain to be taken in by it… forgetting to mention that if that is indeed the case God made a blunder by allowing other more sinister folks to abuse this ‘back door’ in to the mind. I do think it took a leap (oh bravery and humility) for the minister to come to terms with the use of such tools and techniques. So Bravo from all of us I’m sure.


June 29, 2009 at 1:04 pm
flapjack says:

For anyone who needs the link to the documentary in question, which I missed yesterday, I was just catching up on line myself at this url…
http://www.channel4.com/programmes/revelations/4od#2926795


June 29, 2009 at 1:06 pm
Gaz says:

“This is an ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPH of hell” Love it. Many years ago I attended a ‘co-counselling’ course which, in a nutshell, recommends you listen to people and don’t offer advice, and allow people to ‘bleed’ their emotions. ie, bawl their eyes out, without intervention. This applied to newborn babies and small children. When I questioned this – expecting an intelligent(ish) response) – I got “well, it’s a sure-fire way for the spirit of god to work it’s magic” – When I then questioned this, the ‘leader’ backed down, insisting that god had, after all, nothing to do with it, and her ‘co-leader’ ‘gave her the space’ to ‘bleed’ her emotions. Yes, in other words, she spouted bullshit, then bawled her eyes out. And we fucking paid them for this 🙁


June 29, 2009 at 1:08 pm
Gaz says:

And, of course, the music part isn’t a mystery. It’s one of the main reasons Steven Spielberg is so successful. Everyone cries at ET. Very few people know why. Very clever manipulation, but, I’d argue, for the forces of good.


June 29, 2009 at 1:12 pm
Siobhan says:

Watching this programme last night i did feel a little uncomfortable… it made me think of when we were in school and the teachers warned us about cults and how they attract new members, the idea of ‘love-bombing’ always stuck in my mind and this seemed to be a factor on the Alpha course,

I really felt for the attendees who were clearly looking for something to believe in for amny reasons, but (certainly in this form) religion is no less damaging a crutch then alcohol or drugs would be…


June 29, 2009 at 1:13 pm
Andrew says:

The program Derren has mentioned is called ‘Revelations: How To Find God’ and is on Channel 4 Thursday 02 July at 4:25am – 5:20am (This of course depends upon how you view the way that day/time is defined, especially in tv listing magazines) It’s the early hours of Friday morning in my world :¬)


June 29, 2009 at 1:20 pm
Ms G says:

Fascinating .. not sure if I myself would see it like that …. annoying … that described my feeling more … that you would want to shout … get them at the shoulders and get them back to earth … a slap in the face if necessary. But hey …. some victims are not always victims .. they choose that path fully aware … they prefer to be in that state … normal life just did not suit them (( know a few of those ).

It’s more a hot item in the UK I think. But I’m sure stuff like that is going on here as well .. although I have never heard of it … I myself always say .. no thank you in the same manner as when they want to sell you a book or newspaper subscription on the street. Most of those are not very stubborn .. young students and such … not really caring if they will sell something …

And now and then (2 in 5 years) some people from the salvation army stop by my house. First time I saw this stunning man (serious .. no clue what he does in the army .. the need to save him .. that’s more what I felt afterwards … poor guy … ), with a child, walking up my property …
They did have something weird about them. I think it was not something he has been long in yet. anyhow .. within a few seconds he was walking the other direction again. I was busy in the garden and I did not want to waste his time either (even if I had wasted his time).

Selling techniques … fragile states …

If I’m freeling fragile (hardly happens as I work my ass out of that area all the time) .. then those type of techniques wont work on me .. my bases is very stubborn .. did not accept parents either in a way … but someone who is a bit more open down there … yes, I can imagine why those can be fragile at times.

I’m getting more upset about other things, but that are other topics.


June 29, 2009 at 1:23 pm
Blake says:

Never having been able to understand the way that people believe without evidence and in the face of logical contradictions, I’ve never had any kind of religious belief and never felt the need for any. Religion has always been, to me, about manipulation and fear.
But I somehow have this naive assumption that people tend to think the way that I do, despite often being proved wrong. My approach is that every new person I meet, I assume them to be a rational thinker until they prove otherwise. But I’ve always been intrigued by the alpha course and considered checking it out first hand. Though I’m concerned I might find it quite depressing.
As for whether agnosticism is a cop-out… I think it’s a more complicated issue than that. Being an atheist and an agnostic are not mutually exclusive, in my opinion, and I also think that there’s nothing intellectually dishonest in calling yourself either. Agnosticism is about lack of certain knowledge, whereas atheism is about lack of belief. Like Dawkins says in The God Delusion, when he refers to his seven point scale, we cannot say with absolute certainty that there is no god… but it makes just as much sense to be agnostic about the tooth fairy as it does about god.
Personally I refer to myself as an atheist rather than an agnostic, but only because “agnostic” sounds misleading, given the common misunderstanding of the words meaning.


June 29, 2009 at 1:28 pm
Ms G says:

Agnosticism .. weird … that you can not know stuff about God or the inner life .. I mean .. Ofcourse you can know stuff about those things .. whether they are true that’s another thing .. but who gets to decide that huh?
My knowing of stuff does not have to be someone else’s true ofcourse, and vice versa. Knowing is a very personal thing.

Yes, I looked it up (agnosticism) and this dictionary here (it might have been printed around the same time as the bible .. that old it looks) … and now I know why I never hear about agnosticism here anymore … it just does not make sense. It says .. shut up, all of you, your mum and dad did do some stuff in bed … and that’s all there is to it. You die in a while. Birth .. death … birth death … etc etc .. what more is there to know. I’m getting so sick of this mumbo jambo crap … that’s what agnostics say in a way. Apart from their own mumbo jumbo ofcourse.

Or did the meaning of the word change over the years .. I’m not one of those .. that’s for sure. Maybe they could take it out of the dictionary … it’s not really a word, it’s a group of people who have a way of thinking, see towards thinks. Opponents of other groups. Not very original thinkers therefor (they came in later).


June 29, 2009 at 1:39 pm
shirley says:

thanks for this. so interesting. is there a place where i can read more from this ex-pastor guy? i was an evangelical christian for many years and led alpha groups etc. i was completely sincere in my belief that god spoke to me etc. and i know others were too. i have often wondered in retrospect if we were using (eg) cold reading techniques without really realising it and were spurred on by our little successes. good intentions and the road to hell (or whereever) etc. 🙂


June 29, 2009 at 1:48 pm
m says:

Much as I hate this stuff, I kind of think that if you truly believe in god and that people you love – and lots of other people you have the power to persuade – will go to hell if they don’t buy it, then it’s pretty honest behaviour to do everything you can do to convert them. In a way, these people are being more honest than the quiet christians who want heaven all to themselves. However, it’s clearly pretty sinister behaviour, so they’re in a no-win…


June 29, 2009 at 1:48 pm
Kate says:

“The Christian said that God had spoken to him on a bus.”

Presumably not one with the Humanist advert on the side.


June 29, 2009 at 1:49 pm
Ross says:

The persuasive techniques that I found rather interesting included the use of the film ‘Passion of the Christ’ – whereby they had the course attendees watch it. The violence and pain depicted in this film inevitably induce feelings of sympathy towards the character of Jesus, in the much the same way that charity adverts (eg. child abuse, animal cruelty) do. This sympathetic reaction is then likely used as a way to inch you closer to converting. The second tactic involved a woman speaker quoting the sale statisitcs for the Bible during a cerain time period. To me this strategy uses the scientifically supported persuasive principle of ‘concensus’ or social proof (see the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini).

Thus, it seems a very cleverly layered course


June 29, 2009 at 1:51 pm
Oli says:

Ms G, thats not what Agnosticism is. You are thinking of ATHEISM. Agnosticism is where you believe in some kind of god, higher being, or power but that definition doesn’t nessesarily fit into the definitions of any one religion. Atheism is a total lack of belief in a system of religion – so you are born, you live, you die, end of.


June 29, 2009 at 1:58 pm
Pete says:

I propose that we are all spiritually agnostic at some level (on a shortened, Kinsey-esque scale of certainty with the 0 and 6 missing), so we should want to keep our minds open and our illusions private. Even the most pious or nihilistic people have doubts.

Even the discipline of science, which is apparently the greatest tool for discerning physical reality, is “agnostic”: being ever uncertain enough of the most confirmed theories to be ready to discard them bravely, in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Yet, despite this uncertainty, we live our lives based on the concepts that we feel safer (or gnostic) in incorporating into our individual beliefs; that fire burns or that water is wet.

By the way, did you know that rust is fire? Very slow fire. I hope that someone who read this will start to look at rust a little differently, and in doing so prove my point: that we are all agnostic about, and ignorant of, a great many more things than we “know” with confidence.


June 29, 2009 at 2:31 pm
Rafael Madeira says:

This layout needs more color and contrast. It’s very elegant but looks like the skin of a dead person, and it’s very unflattering for Derren’s picture at the top.

Derren’s content is top notch as usual.


June 29, 2009 at 2:40 pm
sarah says:

Is it not contradictory to criticise the Alpha Course for being cynical and manipulative as well as deriding it for it’s low ‘success’ rate?


June 29, 2009 at 2:54 pm
li says:

“a moment of brave honesty”
fascinating indeed.


June 29, 2009 at 2:54 pm
jameshogg says:

*Sigh* You know what I really can’t be bothered going through all this YET again and saying how misguided it is…

It’s more or less down to people’s confusion of what is evidence and what is circular logic. You teach somebody clear distinctions between them and they will be less likely to believe. That’s the bottom line.


June 29, 2009 at 3:00 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

Sarah: no. Just because they are bad at it doesn’t mean it’s ok for them to try.
Lafayette: never mind the self-selection bit of that stunt, what about the point where everyone sees this stranger do something really confusing and messed up to someone, then after that decides as a group that it’s a great idea to follow his instructions? Seriously.


June 29, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Religion is the only thing I am morally opposed to.

If there is a god, then whatever it is, the universe is made of it. I’ve never felt the need to ask my liver cells whether they believe in me, and they’d be no less essential to me if I found out that none of them does.


June 29, 2009 at 3:10 pm
Gewitternacht says:

I attended an alpha course at a small church in the outskirts of Bristol in 1996. There were fewer than 10 participants, all of whom except for me were devout Christians. I was already an Atheist at the time, but I went in order to gain a wider range of English vocabulary and because I enjoyed critical discussions of the bible with a view to its historical context, which is what I expected to find there.

I found no critical debate, but I didn’t find a hard sale either. I stayed to the end of the course for two reasons:
1) The excellent food. (The choice of food at ‘home’ for a vegetarian Au pair in a carnivorous family was limited to put it mildly.)
2) The lovely old ladies at the course, who were genuinely very sweet and provided a lot of good laughs.

I remained an Atheist.


June 29, 2009 at 3:23 pm
Lafayette says:

SGC – I’ve yet to see the documentary – catching the 2nd July repeat. My self-selection comment was based on querying why an agnostic would sign up for Alpha.


June 29, 2009 at 3:29 pm
AJIrving says:

I was always under the impression that Atheism is the non-belief in a god, gods or in fact any supernatural entities. Deism is the belief in a god but not necessarily of any specific religious grouping, and this can cover beliefs in any form of ‘higher power’ or source of divine intervention. The founding fathers of USA are generally refered to as deists as although they did not subscribe to a specific faith, there was belief in some sort of creater albeit one who no longer interfered in human matters (there is some debate as to whether or not they would have fallen into the agnosticism/atheism camp if they were around today).

Agnosticism is the position that the existence of a god is unknowable and unprovable so an agnostic is some who neither believes in a god/gods nor has a lack of belief in the same. It’s sort of the middle ground better faith and atheism and from a purely logical, and scientific position is the best rational position to take; science concerns itself with the pursuit of knowledge in the natural rather than the supernatural world. As the central tenets of pretty much all religions ask for faith from the believer rather than providing actual measurable proof and as science is reliant on the opposite, the existence of the divine is unprovable using scientific methods (arguements for divinity can be dis-proven using the scientific method but this does not disprove the divinity, just the attempt at evidence).

I think this all makes sense.


June 29, 2009 at 3:34 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

Lafayette: I haven’t seen it either. I was talking about the instant conversion stunt you brought up.


June 29, 2009 at 3:44 pm
JoJo says:

One of my favourite lines from the brilliant film Dogma goes something like ‘its better to have ideas than beliefs, you can change an idea but there are people willing to die over a belief.’ I would think of myself as an agnostic and I personally don’t think I am coping out of anything. I like evidence and real answers to questions and so I do not totally rule out spiritism because it cannot be 100% disproven but then again I am not really part of it either.

However what is highlighted here is that some people view agnostics as people ‘waiting’ to be converted. I do not want to be converted by a course and I am not looking to seek out a religion. I am perfectly happy in life to observe and question instead of follow and take note.


June 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm
Simon says:

I have always mused over the idea that everyone is agnostic whether they admit it or not, as an agnostic is someone who doesn’t know if there is a god or not. Since nobody can know if there is a god (almost by definition) then everyone must be agnostic. It’s not a cop out it’s just a logical certainty!


June 29, 2009 at 4:00 pm
roz says:

oh yeah, “snapping” is an excellent book–especially the eye-opening contribution by marjoe gortner!


June 29, 2009 at 4:02 pm
Lady Claire says:

It’s fascinating reading this and everyone’s comments. Very interesting.

LC x


June 29, 2009 at 4:10 pm
Siobhan says:

@ Simon… hmmm, I think your logic is a bit skewed…


June 29, 2009 at 4:27 pm
cl says:

Oli needs to check the definition of ‘agnosticism’.

I loved the narrator’s summary of the pamphlet titled “Why Does God Allow Suffering?” (“No-one really knows”). That one’s the dealbreaker for me when it comes to worshipping; as for believing – I’m an agostic rather than an atheist because I wouldn’t put it past the universe to have been created by an unhinged, sadistic megalomaniac Predator type.

I’m with m re. the logic of faith – I used to go out with a Christian guy but in the end I couldn’t stand the fact that someone who claimed to love me was quite at peace with the idea that I was going to Hell and never tried to convert me!


June 29, 2009 at 4:30 pm
tash says:

oh that’s strange my mum went on the alpha course as the next step up from confirmation followed by house group. She really enjoyed it. I suppose it depends how into it you are though.


June 29, 2009 at 5:06 pm
flapjack says:

OK, speaking as an atheist this is the bit which always confuses me… what’s the lowdown on “speaking in tongues”. Those 80 people in that US congregation featured on the documentary all having fits and speaking in an ‘unlearned language’ is the part which I have trouble with. I’ve witnessed this once, but only one on one, and I couldn’t tell if he was speaking an unknown language or simply spouting gibberish. How would you verify that?
Atheists put it down to mass hysteria, theists would always argue “it’s the voice of the angels” or somesuch. Neither explanation satisfies me entirely.
I’ve never witnessed that kind of spontaneous mass hysteria outside of a group pot-smoking session at art college campuses, and I’m not a big believer in angels. Can anyone here shine any further light on any credible scientific or psychological explaination behind it?


June 29, 2009 at 5:42 pm
Mr Woolf says:

I don’t really want to make a drawn out post here… but know it’ll head that way (sorry to all of you… but then you don’t have to read it do you 😉 ).

Since a fairly young age, I have had my own type of ‘faith’. I would not class it as a religion as such… it’s more just a belief system, it’s individual to myself (as in: I don’t go to meetings, don’t try to get others to follow it and I was not ‘forced’ (introduced) into it etc).

Although I doubt my beliefs are unique at all, it’s not the type of thing that’s anywhere near mainstream enough for it to be heard about and I’ve never heard of it being forced onto anyone.

I would fully agree (because it’s evident) that most mainstream religions do indeed prey upon the vunerable and needy, people who have been through experiences that leave them desperately seeking the answers that no-one can realistically prove beyond all doubt.
However, because these people ‘need’ this reassurance, combined with the techniques used to pull people into these groups… many inevitably succumb to these groups because of their need.

I believe that most people have it in themselve’s to find their own reassurance and their own ‘faith/belief system’. Which can be enough to pull them through the times that require it (but for that, you’ll need a little faith/belief in yourself).

I also agree with Jojo: The film Dogma, for all it’s comic crazyness, actually has a very good underlying message: It’s basically having ‘faith’ that matters. It’s not about the minute details and all the wonderfull ‘stories’ and harsh rules that religion’s proclaim ‘This is right, the other’s are wrong! (so basically they’ll all burn)’.
It’s about having that belief/faith in something, regardless of what that really is.
It’s that which will help you through the times you need it to, give you strength and help you carry on.

As for the ‘rules’ etc… Well if you don’t really know which is the right and wrong way to behave, generally and towards others… exactly which planet/nebular are you from?
Earth?
Oh… then what the bloody hell is wrong with you!?

I’ve had (what I would say are) some very harsh times… I wont go into details because I’ve not long got rid of that damn violinist. But needless to say, what I ‘believe’ has actually given me what I needed to carry on (so far anyway).

Yes, I could have quite easily gone looking for answers/guidance with one of the mainstream groups, but I didn’t.

Anyone could choose to join the mainstream… it’s your free choice, well it should be. The thing is, when these groups employ such underhanded tactics, how can you ever really be sure that it is your free will/choice to do so?

Free will to choose is your right, not your privilege. If you give that away, you really cease to be a unique individual and you become a ‘manufactured product’…. bleh!… Your choice!

Bugger! (statement not request)
My post is massive (I have never got to say that before… I should be so lucky 😉 ) and is quite possibly a load of nonsensical poop.

Hmm… I’ll hit submit anyway and let god (AKA the moderator) decide whether to allow it or not.

Peace People!

(P.S. 1 in 8 conversion rate on the alpha course!?! Maybe like all the best programs… they should work on a beta version) 😉


June 29, 2009 at 6:38 pm
B. Dylan says:

How come Derren gets all the time so many comments? I wonder … what if he posts a blanc topic … I’m sure the number of comments would go up even more than before. Or a simple fart ..
I know, that there were a few others that got a lot of comments as well, but Derren … jackpot every time. My my.


June 29, 2009 at 6:57 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

If he manages to post a fart on a blog you better believe I’m going to comment on that. That takes skill.


June 29, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Agnosticism is the less arrogant form of atheism, rather than simply assume all the information you have received throughout your life is either true or false. Some of the information you are told is wrong, science has had a filter of what is popularly believed for as long as man has existed. Telling someone that evolution as told by Charles Darwin is absolutely true is like a 16th century scholar teaching children that the earth is flat.

We as a species have to accept that we don’t know everything, we can’t explain everything with fancy theories, we need hard evidence of those theories to be able to hold itself up not exclude evidence because it doesn’t tie in with conventional theory.


June 29, 2009 at 7:26 pm
B. Dylan says:

maybe he already did SGC … you might have missed it ..

hm, synonymous … I’m not sure if I agree with that completely, but I see your point. I’m nothing in this area, not atheist, not agnosticist, nothing. I prefer not to be labeled in this area. It’s not my focus in life so to speak, to determine myself in terms like these. After all .. who are we ..


June 29, 2009 at 7:37 pm
SarahJ says:

@AJIrving – your definitions of atheism, deism and agnosticism are the same as the ones I’d always used and given those definitions, it seems agnosticism is the rational response.
But think about this, we cannot prove or disprove that the universe exists within a giant duck. However, we wouldn’t believe that we live inside a giant duck because it is ridiculous and there is no evidence to suggest that we do. Therefore, agnosticism would seem an irrational response in this case. But there is no evidence to suggest the existence of a supreme being/creator that has any interest in what we do or don’t do. It does not make any rational sense but nonetheless we cannot prove or disprove in much the same way as we cannot prove or disprove the giant duck. So, I think I’d be happier with agnosticism if it meant uncertainty regarding the existence of a superior intelligence.
I should point out that the giant duck argument is borrowed from a friend who used to use it to wind up a Christian friend of ours who got very cross every time the giant duck was mentioned. Ah, how we laughed 😉

@Mr Woolf – But do we have free will? Good luck with that answer 😉


June 29, 2009 at 7:59 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

B. Dylan: no way I’d miss it, do you have any idea how often I F5 this blog just to read the fricking comments, never mind the actual posts? Ha.


June 29, 2009 at 8:51 pm
KatM says:

“rational discussion has no place at the table”. That says it all for me and is the reason I am always very wary of any religious organisation. Those people I have encountered that are involved in running Alpha Courses have always had that gleam of religious zeal in their eyes – it says to me: RUN VERY FAST IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.

Now off to investigate this gravatar thing………


June 29, 2009 at 8:59 pm
ReliegiousMarie says:

Agnost or Atheist…i´m not ruling anything out But am hyper critical to rules and religion, as up till now they´ve only proven to be pretty worthless to me and if Religion kind of asks you to just-accept and shut up without question, well,…thank God for Free will…Best to have your own temple in your heart and live in Peace.

What i do know, is that besides the fact that (lol @B Dylan and @SGC) Derren may have possibly been posting a magic ## on here…I however, have repeatedly been trying to Post my panties on the Blog (talk about having faith), …´dear moderator: where´s the FAQ-section on the how to´s and why so´s?´


June 29, 2009 at 9:05 pm
Claire says:

Re: speaking in tongues-

I’m an atheist, former Catholic and former Charismatic Evangelical as well…they got me when I was 16 and in a bad place mentally, no Alpha courses required!

For a while I accepted things like speaking in tongues as a kind of evidence that God existed. Glossolalia (tongues) is an interesting though totally pointless thing as far as I can tell, one minute I couldn’t do it, next minute (when the holy spirit allegedly intervened) I could.

If you try speaking in gibberish on purpose, it’s actually quite difficult, and I’m not sure what little trigger in your brain is switched to allow you to do it, but I can still do it now. It makes for a party trick- although quite a dull one- and you’d be surprised how many people get freaked out by it.

I’ve never done the “fitting” style floor writhing though. And when my pastor tried to slay me in the spirit I deliberately fell onto the floor to avoid embarrassment…although I was a bit disappointed that despite wanting to randomly collapse like everyone else did, I couldn’t.


June 29, 2009 at 9:13 pm
Mr Woolf says:

SarahJ:
Perhaps not when in any contact with DB 😉 but generally I believe we do yes.
It’s obviously able to be manipulated and it also depends on what your will is. If you choose to follow what others have chosen to follow, then maybe you’ve just had someone else’s will imposed upon you.
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When you consider government control etc. it would appear that we don’t have total free will. Our minds are probably the key to it all.
So ultimately it could all just depend on how ‘free’ your mind is.
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If you read my whole post… have a very happy smiley 😀 and thanks.
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BTW: I haven’t slept in at least two days, so forgive me if this makes bugger all sense 😛
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Peace people.


June 29, 2009 at 10:16 pm
Charlieee says:

I watched this programme because for one reason or another, I find the themes of evangelicalism and conversion really interesting, yet slightly startling as an athiest.
Going back to what Derren quoted about one of the Alpha mentors saying he had heard God speak to him on the bus, I find it really difficult how people can actually believe it is God speaking to them and not their own conscious. I know if I am doing something and thinking about what a certain persons responce to that might be, sometimes the voice of that person can be heard clearly inside my head (probably through memory) and yet I know it is not them. Is that the same feeling people get if they think God speaks to them, but without knowing it is their own consciousness?


June 30, 2009 at 12:07 am

If you really want to question everything you thought you didn’t know then this might not be the most revealing “Documentary” you never watched http://krishnatube.com/video/269/The-Mysterious-Origins-of-Man


June 30, 2009 at 12:07 am
Catharine says:

Last month I was in a situation of meeting a lot of new people over a couple of weeks, getting pretty intimate pretty quickly, and funny thing: I noticed that when I mentioned to people that I was an atheist, many of them tried to argue me down to agnostic…. Hm.


June 30, 2009 at 9:46 am

I wasn’t surprised by the programme but it was very sickly sweet and downright creepy. The Alpha Course seems to employ just about every trick in the book. The emotional manipulation of the attendees just made me feel sick. I really wonder how honest and open the course designers are about the techniques that are used.

The moment when the cars roared off was very funny. God is clearly not as omnipresent as he’s meant out to be. I’m sure the pastor would probably have said it was the Devil playing his little tricks again. 🙂

I think by the end, I was wanting to know more about the people in the church running the course. Obviously their belief encourages them to “spread the gospel” but what drives them to do this on a personal level? The chance to earn some brownie points with God?

1 convert out of 8 is not a great statistic.


June 30, 2009 at 9:58 am
B Dylan says:

SGC: F5 … I see … but still … symbolic farts from the brain … don’t we do it all now and then? I’m not 100% sure ofcourse, but even Derren will not be free from this now and then. Ofcourse he will have to control himself here a bit more than any of us .. but still … he is, after all, I suspect, of human nature …….

A real fart … that would be something for the future I suppose .. when the internet does have scent features as well … not looking forward to that I must say ..

F5 is a bit old fashioned but as it is all we have to keep up with everything around here … A chat corner would be a nice addition ..


June 30, 2009 at 10:24 am
Emma Rose says:

This sort of thing makes me really angry!
My boyfriend got me to watch the God channel and it was a very similar thing. We noticed so many brainwashing techniques and sneaky tricks they were pulling. He found it funny but it was made me mad!


June 30, 2009 at 10:53 am
flapjack says:

Thanks for the insight Claire – though I’m still no closer to a why here. Surely most folks would simply be too embarrassed and self concious to spout spontaneous gobbledigook at the drop of a hat, so something must have compelled you to do it. Did you actually comprehend the gist of what you were saying or was it simply mindless gibberish to you too? Was it something in the communion wine or the air conditioning? Or was the desire to fit in so great that you simply did it without thinking?
I’ve never seen it in any other context but evangelical churches and their flocks, so there’s definately something going on, but whether it’s group dynamics, the power of suggestion, genuine divine intervention [skeptical] or being doped up to the eyeballs without knowing, I’m still shaky on the details.


July 1, 2009 at 7:46 am
Andrea says:

I got round to watching this last night. Having walked past Alpha Course posters for many years it was fascinating and eye-opening to see what the course entails. The posters would have you believe it’s a meeting of people to discuss philosophical ideas. I’m still baffled as to why Christianity is allowed to employ these tactics in yet is excluded from accusations of brain-washing and cult-like recruitment tactics.

I cannot even agree with the course member, who at the end, said he had warmed to these people due to their selfless pursuit to help others (or something like that) I find their agenda sinister and disingenuous.


July 1, 2009 at 11:06 am
Ian says:

“The question was treated as patronising and offensive, by the very people placed there to answer sensible questions. It was brilliantly symptomatic of the problem: that rational discussion has no place at the table. Just believe it because it’s true. End of story.”

This is where Derren goes all vague. He accuses others of being irrational despite offering no reasonable evidence of it. He then feels that it is sensible to assume that the answer he didn’t like would have been given by all Christians everywhere, and is thus “symptomatic of the problem”. No doubt many reasonable answers were given to questions, but no matter how many he would never call the Christians a shining example of reason.

You are all only nodding because he is saying what you want to hear.


July 1, 2009 at 11:49 am
Siobhan says:

@Ian, I wonder, did you watch the programme?

The exchange in question related to an apparent message from God given on a bus, the question that was asked was entirely rational and the response was disproportionally emotional – this reaction may not have been mirrored by ALL christians, but that does not make the reation in itself any less symptomatic of a larger issue, don’t ask questions that we don’t want to have to think about too much, so we can keep on nodding and choosing to hear (or think about) nothing at all.


July 5, 2009 at 2:25 pm
PaulJ says:

@Claire:

“And when my pastor tried to slay me in the spirit I deliberately fell onto the floor to avoid embarrassment…although I was a bit disappointed that despite wanting to randomly collapse like everyone else did, I couldn’t.”

I wonder how many of those present this also applied to. I’d guess there’d be quite a bit of consensual pretending…