1440 Strong?

Jerry Coyne was recently bragging:

Exhibit 1 is what used to be called Dawkins’s “Converts Corner,” now called simply “Letters, Converts“. There are 120 pages of these, each page containing 12 letters. If you do the math, that’s 1440 people who wrote in, most testifying that Richard’s writings, especially The God Delusion, helped wean them from their childish superstitions.

Let’s do the math. I went to the Dawkin’s Promotion site and read the first 12 letters on the front page. I’ll assume that’s a fairly representative sample, which is probably a safe assumption. I’ll also assume that all letters are legitimate and not atheist trolls acting like they have been converted (this is NOT as safe assumption).

When I read the 12 letters on the front page, I found only 2 clear examples of conversion-because-of-Dawkins: a 13 year old who switched to atheism after reading ‘The Magic of Reality’ and someone, with previous issues with his religion, who switched after reading ‘The Blind Watchmaker.’ There were a few that were so poorly worded and ambiguous that you can’t tell when/how the conversion happened. There were a couple of agnostic-to-atheist conversions and finally, almost half had no conversion story to tell- they were just praise for Dawkins.

So, about 17% (2/12) were conversions from religious to atheist and another 17% were conversions from agnosticism to atheism. 0% mentioned The God Delusion as a book that helped wean them from their childish superstitions. There was one person who treats The God Delusion as if it was a Holy Book. Another person treated The God Delusion as if it was a devotional, clinging to it while others around her were criticizing her.

Anyway, it’s clear to me that even by unjustifiably assuming no atheist trolls at work, there simply are not 1440 letters from people claiming The God Delusion led them out of religion and into atheism. That’s just an over-inflated claim that is part of a sales pitch.

Of course, I could be wrong. I skimmed the letters and am writing this early in the morn. So feel free to check out those letters for yourself and tell us what you think of them.

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18 Responses to 1440 Strong?

  1. TFBW says:

    I’m not sure that the “Letters, Converts” page is a good source of anything except confirmation bias. After all, the submissions are moderated by the site’s Dawkins-admiring administrators.

    It would be interesting to know what Dawkins’ conversion rate is with The God Delusion, but I think it would be more interesting to know his conversion ratio. Not all his conversions are to atheism, you see: he also converts some people to Catholicism, for example.

    Sadly, I have no idea how to go about measuring that ratio. For all I know, he could be doing Christianity more good than harm.

  2. stcordova says:

    I know my encounters with NAs has driven me closer to God. Michael might have something to say about how NAs might have inspired his embracing of faith.

    That said, in an odd sort of way, those letters were heart warming. What I mean is it looked like a love fest over there at Dawkins website. If one forgot for the moment that the letters were actually an anti-faith declaration, it looked almost like people finally finding fellowship and community. It was if they all finally saw the light and were rejoicing over the truth. There was, for the first time at a GNU site, humility and an implicit admission of how much people need the sense of community and love. I would think they need to bond with each other because without God, all they have is each other.

  3. rdmiksa says:

    Funny thing was that for me, it was Dawkins’ The God Delusion that led me back to orthodox Christianity. At the time that I read it, I was, at best, a “Moral Deist / Spiritual Force” kind of guy, and then after reading Dawkins’ book I thought: “His arguments are so bad that there must be more to the other side.” And once I started exploring that other side in detail, I found out that I was right.

    Funny how providence works.

    Take care,

    RD Miksa
    http://www.idontgiveadamnapologetics.blogspot.com

  4. Kevin says:

    My first encounter with anti-theism was JT Eberhard, probably at least ten years ago. At that time his writings were mostly indistinguishable from Sam Harris. (Lately, he seems to have become less well-spoken, resorting more to petty insults and foul language, presumably for the additional shock value his extra-super-duper irreverence might cause.) It was his arguments that strengthened my belief in God, because almost none of the arguments held any weight. The most serious challenge to Christian belief I had ever encountered was so easily refuted – and I had never even encountered these arguments before – that there was literally no other possible outcome but a strengthened faith.

    Perhaps we all owe the New Atheists a little something.

  5. Dhay says:

    My eye was drawn to letter #1176, at the bottom of page 61 – the page number will increase as new letters trickle in – and two letter rows below the enigmatic, “Dear Professor Dawkins, I used to be an atheist but now I believe in evolution. Jim”

    Dear Professor Dawkins,
    When I was 16, I made the sudden realization that God doesn’t exist. It came out of nowhere. I was just thinking, and it happened. It wasn’t like I hadn’t thought about it before. I don’t know of any Theist who doesn’t doubt, and I had gone even further. I had been pretty sure that God didn’t exist but on this day, I KNEW that he wasn’t there. …
    [Writer’s capitalisation.]
    http://www.richarddawkins.net/letters/1176

    This sounds like an atheist version of the stories I occasionally hear of sudden conversion to Christian or other religious certainty, the type of experience that I am sure Michael “The Believing Brain” Shermer would insinuate must be merely due to a transitory brain seizure; and I am sure he should also say that her subsequent rational assent to atheism must be the mere rationalisation of beliefs reached in a non-rational way – Shermer’s ”smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons” applies to atheists, too.

    The letter raises questions for me: of whether atheistic-certainty sudden conversion experiences might be as common, or even more so, as their religious conversion mirror-image counterparts; of how many atheists there are, and what proportion of all atheists, who have their certainty rooted in a non-rational ‘I KNEW’ experience like this one; of how many atheists just KNEW, with unshakeable certainty, that there is no God, so that their subsequent rationalisations why are merely rationalisations why.

  6. Shizzle says:

    Is it just me or is Dawkins going to be an atheist god?

  7. Dhay says:

    Over at Jerry Coyne’s website, I spotted this in a ‘thank you’ e-mail that Coyne received:
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/exhibit-b-a-nice-email/

    “…After reading your [Why Evolution is True] book and making up my mind about the subject, I suddenly felt liberated and free.”

    “Suddenly”? Why include “suddenly”? Is this another example of an atheistic-certainty sudden conversion experience?

    Blessedly, this one was a positive experience: the letter-writer to Dawkins, quoted in my previous response, got horribly depressed.

  8. Kevin says:

    This is a subject I have brought up a few times with atheists. So many of them talk about how they are relieved to cast off religious beliefs, how it makes them free and happy and whatever. When they do this, I ask them how going from believing there is actual purpose in life, and that this life is not all there is to existence, to believing that existence is fleeting and intrinsically as worthless as the life of a grasshopper or the maggots I found in a rotting potato recently, is relieving and liberating and cheerful.

    When I ask this of anti-theists, I usually get some idiotic variation of “BECAUSE I SEE REALITY FOR WHAT IT IS HURR DURR” to which I respond that how can you become more happy going from believing you are right to…believing you are right? Do these atheists become close-minded and ideologically rigid in their thinking once they drop religion, to the point that they gain full certainty of their beliefs and do not feel the need to question them anymore? A nice, skeptical attitude.

    When I ask this of reasonable, rational atheists (which excludes all anti-theists, and yes I will happily use that generalization since I have yet to encounter one in my years of interacting with them), they usually tell me that they can stop worrying about an afterlife and focus on making this life as good as possible, and their friends and family give their life meaning (a few will admit that this meaning is only a matter of opinion). While the former is nice for those who are fortunate in this life, it would really suck for those who have perpetually difficult lives. And both of those responses are equally valid for religious people as well. I don’t know a single Christian who doesn’t want this life to be good, or who doesn’t think their friends and family are important.

    I literally see no upside to becoming an atheist.

  9. TFBW says:

    I have an explanation for you. Who knows — it might even be true in some cases.

    People who convert to Christianity are relieved because they lose the burden of their sin and guilt, thanks to God’s forgiveness.

    People who convert to atheism are relieved because they lose the burden of their sin and guilt, thanks to the fact they’re getting off scot-free due to the lack of a cosmic judge. The down side is the certain lack of a transcendent purpose to one’s life, and the long-term inevitability of annihilation, which is what causes some people to be depressed rather than relieved. But annihilation is better than punishment — particularly if you manage a painless death — and if your here-and-now circumstances are pleasant enough, you can focus on that and keep your attention off the underlying void of meaninglessness.

  10. Dena says:

    Kevin, I don’t believe people are necessarily looking for an “upside” when it comes to atheism though one could make arguments that it affords them more freedom than religion (particularly for people who came from strict religious backgrounds). The fact that life is terribly difficult for millions, if not billions of people on earth does not in any way make us believe more in an afterlife. Our lack of belief in the after life is however, a reason to try to do more good and help more people. We realize they only get one shot. We should try to make their lives better in the here and now.

  11. TFBW says:

    Our lack of belief in the after life is however, a reason to try to do more good and help more people.

    You could just as reasonably say, “in the long run, we are all equally dead, and it won’t make any difference whatsoever whether you had a good life or a bad one, so there’s no inherent reason to help anyone.” You may well choose to be an altruistic atheist, if it pleases you to do so, but the lack of belief you cite is no more a reason to help people than it is a reason to round them up and shoot them.

  12. Kevin says:

    Believing this life is all there is is an equally valid excuse for rampant selfishness, to try and maximize one’s own life before cashing out. The desire to help others in the here and now is not only equally true under theism, but under Christianity it’s a bit of an expectation. We may collectively suck at it, but still.

  13. Dhay says:

    One of the more colorful scientific de-conversion stories comes from Jerry Coyne, a professor of genetics and evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago. It happened in 1967 when Coyne, then 17, was listening for the first time to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album while lying on his parents’ couch in Alexandria, Va.

    Suddenly Coyne began to shake and sweat. For reasons he still doesn’t understand, it dawned on him at that moment that there was no God, and he wasn’t going anywhere when he died. His casual Judaism seemed to wash away as the album played on. The crisis lasted about 30 minutes, he says, and when it was over, he had left religion behind for good.
    http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/2139-the-new-theology
    Confimed by Coyne here:
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/how-ricky-gervais-became-an-atheist/

    This sounds like an atheist version of the stories I occasionally hear of sudden conversion to Christian or other religious certainty, the type of experience that I am sure Michael “The Believing Brain” Shermer would insinuate must be merely due to a transitory brain seizure; and I am sure Shermer should also say that Coyne’s subsequent rational assent to atheism must be the mere rationalisation of beliefs reached in a non-rational way – Shermer’s ”smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons” applies to New Atheist ‘Horsemen’, too.

    The account raises questions for me: of whether atheistic-certainty sudden conversion experiences might be as common, or even more so, as their religious conversion mirror-image counterparts; of how many New Atheists there are, and what proportion of all atheists, who have their certainty rooted in a non-rational ‘I KNEW’ experience like this one; of how many atheists just KNEW, with unshakeable certainty, that there is no God, so that their subsequent rationalisations why not are merely rationalisations of irrationality.

  14. Dhay says:

    If you look down to Comment #13, you will find that atheist Wosret recognised Jerry Coyne’s atheist sudden conversion story as fully equivalent to Francis Collins’ religious sudden conversion story:

    “This annoys me. I don’t like hearing such arbitrary and illogical “conversion” stories. No better than the guy from the human genome project and his frozen waterfall, in my opinion.”
    http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/2139-the-new-theology/comments?page=1#comment_107837

    Shermer’s “The Believing Brain” insinuates Collins’ conversion story indicates that his Christianity is irrational, caused by the compulsion of vividly experiencing a brain seizure; for some reason — double standards, perhaps — Shermer’s scepticism does not extend to Jerry Coyne’s atheist sudden conversion story: Collins is politely called a nutter — (as are many other people), but Coyne is not even mentioned.

  15. Dhay says:

    I see this is not the first time Jerry Coyne has crowed about the number of entries in Dawkins’ “Converts Corner”: he did so on April 3, 2012, in the same blog entry in which he defended Dawkins’ Reason Rally call to mock and ridicule Christians.

    ”But there’s no doubt, at any rate, that “strident” critiques of faith do make converts to both atheism and evolution. I keep pointing people to Dawkins’s “Converts corner,” in which people testify to a Dawkins-induced conversion, and accommodationists keep ignoring it, saying that it’s only anecdotal evidence. But there are 44 pages of conversion tales. In contrast, I haven’t seen a single anecdote in which an evolution-denier finally accepted evolution after an accommodationist convinced them that Jesus and Darwin were friends. Where is Kenneth Miller’s “Converts corner”? Whence Francis Collins’s “Converts corner.”? All these people produce is arguments rather than evidence, and then dismiss 44 pages of evidence as “anecodotes.” [sic] Pardon me if that’s not a good enough reason to abandon my critique of faith!”

    Looks very like a rant to me: Michael has questioned above how well-filled each page is with genuine Dawkins-induced conversion stories; if Coyne has never heard of an evolution-denier accepting evolution as a result of the urgings and arguments of Christians who do not deny evolution, then he doesn’t get out much; and Dawkins is a blatant self-publicist, proud of his fan club, whereas I rather doubt Miller and Collins are likely to think a “converts corner” a sensible thing to have.

    And I note that ”All these people produce is arguments rather than evidence, and then dismiss 44 pages of evidence as “anecdotes”” has an irrational sudden swerve in the meaning of “evidence”.

    Coyne has testified that his own conversion from (weak) faith to (alleged) rationality was induced by listening to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. – See http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/2139-the-new-theology. Very rational!

  16. Dhay says:

    ”There are a million stories about why people left their faith behind, and this is one.” says Jerry Coyne in his May 5, 2012 blog entry entitled, “A nonbeliever’s tale”.
    See http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/a-nonbelievers-tale/

    This particular one summarises as: mom sends young him and younger brother to Sunday school; the hungry younger brother is caught whispering to him that he sure would like one of those breaktime cookies; teacher over-punishes both brothers, including:

    Then when the break arrived, the lovely young zealot made a big to-do about giving all the other kids the cookies and Kool-Aid (“Oh, look, we seem to have some extra – who would like those?”), but made sure Bobby and I got none.

    Ridicule Christianity? That very day I realized any God or Jesus who would let some demented teacher torture two little boys deserved no respect—and I’ve been ridiculing Christianity ever since. Thanks, Bible School teacher!

    Ah, gut-revulsion at a teacher and all she stood for: a conversion story epitomising, not rationality, but a freak-out; and a continuing freak-out level of bitterness and an active hatred that has persisted for probably half a century.

    Here is someone who desperately needs Sam Harris’ meditation and loving-kindness classes. As does Coyne, who has blogged this rant.

  17. Dhay says:

    In his June 2, 2012 blog entry entitled, “Evolution acceptance still flatlined in America”, Jerry Coyne bewails that his own book, together with the writings of other New Atheists, have not changed that “only 15% adhere to evolution as we scientists know it”.

    (Of course, this figure more than triples, to 47%, if god-guided or theistic evolution — identical in practice to his mechanical-deterministic evolution — is added in; and that Coyne does not do so shows that he is bewailing, not that evolution is not more generally accepted — though there could certainly be much greater acceptance — but that his New Atheist materialist-determinist version of evolution and the New Atheist materialist-determinist ideas underlying it are being rejected.)

    That is, nothing much works…

    …Although there are of course converts to evolution produced by atheist writings (I got an email from one yesterday), they are way too few to be reflected in the statistics…

    So Coyne, quoted in Michael’s blog above, says there’s lots of converts, as evidenced by Dawkins’ “Converts Corner”, though he earlier said there’s “way too few” to show up statistically.

    Which should we run with, the anecdotes, or the statistical evidence.

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