We’re going to continue our look at Joe Rogan’s opinions about Christianity in this post. Rogan’s primary strategy is mockery and bluster when it comes to talking about Christianity. He rarely makes any argument for his aggressively asserted beliefs about it. In the previous post I wrote about Rogan’s heavy anti-Catholic polemic (calling the Catholic church a “cult of kid f***ers”). For now, we’ll take a look at Rogan’s conversation with Gavin McInnes about his conversion and we’ll deal with Rogan’s thoughts more specifically about the metaphysical claims of Christianity.
Here we go:
“You realized there is a God? How did you realize this?”
“Well, first of all I think religion should be a little more private. Like, my wife – I don’t know what her religion is.
“Well, it’s very convenient when people want to talk about religion [inaudible] and say religion should be private, because then they don’t have to defend ridiculous ideas, ‘cause religion is a ridiculous idea, an ancient, ridiculous idea that makes no sense whatsoever.
Gavin and Joe then start talking about Gavin’s wife’s religion ( which is native American). Gavin uses this as a segue to his contention that no other religion, besides Christianity, is on the “chopping block” and is constantly being criticized. Rogan responds:
“Because there’s a book. You said it yourself, you don’t even know what they believe in, because they don’t have it written down.
“The Torah doesn’t get this kind of interrogation. The Koran doesn’t get this kind of interrogation.
“The Torah’s not filled with things that you would say are magic. What is magic in the Torah?”
Rogan goes on to claim that “mainstream Jerusalem scholars” believe that Moses was on drugs. He was taking psychedelic drugs and that’s why he had religious experiences.
Rogan confronts Gavin again about why he joined the Catholic Church. Gavin recounts a religious experience he had when confronted with how wonderfully his baby’s body was put together. Rogan responds:
“That’s convenient thinking…It seems like a guy who calls out bullsh*t all the time but then just buys into that. Like, It’s not about evolution. It’s not about random mutation –
“Evolution is God.
“Well, when you say God though, do you mean like a guy who created everything, a specific individual?”[i]
Let’s do some basic fact-checking first. Yes, there are a lot of miracle claims in the Torah, because the Torah is often understood to mean the first five books of the Old Testament ( which includes Genesis and Exodus, where there are a lot of miracle claims). “Mainstream Jerusalem scholars” do not believe that Moses did what he did because he was high on psychedelic drugs. From I could find, only a single Israeli scholar, a professor of psychology called Benny Shannon, has put forward this hypothesis. His main evidence seems to be that there are plants with psychedelic properties in the region where the events of the Torah are thought to occur, and that Moses’s experiences is suggestive of a psychedelic drug. The mere fact that there are similarities between religious experiences and experiences while on psychedelic drugs clearly does not mean that someone who has a religious experience is on drugs. Shannon thinks that “encountering the Divine” is one line of evidence that Moses was on drugs. But this is circular, because it presumes that people cannot encounter the divine or cannot have such an experience without psychedelic drugs. But they clearly do all the time. There are many people who have religious experiences, who have religious visions, and who are not taking drugs. And the fact that there are psychedelic plants in the region doesn’t mean that people smoked it, and even if there were people who smoked it, that doesn’t mean that Moses smoked it. So, in order for this hypothesis to go through, you have to rely on a web of very tenuous claims. It is also worth noting that Shannon himself calls this a “speculative hypothesis.” Rogan seems to like theories which link Biblical miracles with psychedelics. In his conversation with Michael Shermer, he talks about a similar theory about early Christianity.
One thing to note is that Gavin himself is not a Christian apologist and it doesn’t look like he has really looked into arguments for God’s existence. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but this conversation would have gone easier for him if he had known a few arguments. It seems to me that Gavin converted more through a religious experience and through intuition. Rogan doesn’t want to accept this sort of talk because he wants an argument. Once again, I don’t think there is anything wrong with converting for those reasons. Religious experience is not a bad reason to convert to Christianity. Take a look at William Alston’s work, Perceiving God, for a defense of the idea that religious experience is a rational justification for belief. Also take a look at my article on the argument from religious experience.
Moreoever, atheists and critics of traditional Christianity like Rogan always insist on hard rationalism – that all our decisions must be clearly motivated by concrete evidence. It is true that this is good policy for most of our decisions, but it is irrational to say that everything we believe or do must be motivated by reason, because this statement is self-refuting. Your belief in hard rationalism cannot itself be justified through reason without circularity, because that would require using rationality to justify rationality, which is irrational. There are many decisions we make which don’t necessarily have good rational justification – such as our decision to trust certain loved ones even in the face of evidence against them. This may be good to do even if it is not rational.
So if you look at this conversation, at least one clear New Atheist talking point comes into focus. This is the idea that all miracle claims are ridiculous and not worthy of any attention. This becomes clear again when Rogan refers to the “ridiculous mythologies” that are propounded by the Catholic Church. He does the same thing when the subject of religion comes up in his first talk with Milo Yiannopoulos.[ii] He constantly refers to miracles in the Bible, like Jesus turning water into wine, and he mocks the idea of the resurrection with reference to “Jewish zombies”. Much of this is pure assertion. Rogan doesn’t defend his statements with actual arguments when he calls Gavin’s beliefs ridiculous, even as he complains that Gavin or other religious people can’t defend their own beliefs. Rogan doesn’t give any argument for supposing that miracle claims are automatically ridiculous. Since he gives no argument, it is difficult to respond, but I will look at some stock contentions about why miracles might be thought to be inherently implausible. There is no a priori reason why miracles should be irrational. If God exists, there is nothing strange about the fact that God might sometimes specially intervene in the world. If God does not exist and nature is all there is, then clearly miracles are logically impossible. So it depends on the metaphysical beliefs you bring to the table. Since Rogan later states that he isn’t opposed to the idea of God, there is no reason why he should be so certain that miracles are ridiculous.
You might say that miracles have a low prior probability, because they almost never or never happen. In general, natural laws obtain. So to say that something has a natural explanation has a high prior probability, but to say that it was a miracle has a low prior probability. But there are many events we believe, specifically historical events, which have a low prior probability. For example, take the first space flight, the first moon landing, or the 9/11 attacks. All of these events have a very low prior probability in the sense that they rarely happen or have never before happened. Islamist terror attacks on New York City I believe had never happened before then ( or if they did, they happened only once or twice before and on a smaller scale). There was no space flight before the first space flight, which means that it had a very low prior probability. But we believe these events based merely on media reports. This also refutes the claim that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This principle is selectively applied to supernatural claims or miracle claims. Non-supernatural extraordinary events ( non-supernatural events that have a low prior probability) are not held to the same standard. You believe the first space flight, the 9/11 terror attacks, the first moon landing, and several other similar events based on very “ordinary” evidence – media reports. Also, there are many sophisticated philosophical studies of miracles by world-class philosophers, which come to the conclusion that there is nothing inherently implausible about miracles. This includes Richard Swinburne’s The Concept of a Miracle, David Basinger’s Miracles, and Craig Keener’s two-volume work on the miracles of the New Testament. This also includes agnostic philosopher John Earman’s work, Hume’s Abject Failure.