Moving On...
Pascal's Wager & the Agnostic's Lemma

I Like Your Shoes

Change_your_shoes It’s Atheists versus Theists in a battle to out respect the other side in this Only a Game minigame! Next week, it’ll be back to the usual activities, although an outbreak of unexpected philosophy is always a risk. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this prime slice of nonsense!

Disclaimer: This game is for entertainment purposes only, and should not be used to establish the outcome of any struggle, real or imagined, between atheists and theists!

How to Play

  1. Players decide whether they are declaring for the Theists or the Atheists. They then post a comment stating their allegiance as ‘Theist’ or ‘Atheist’ to make it clear whether they are joining ‘Team God’ or ‘Team Chance’. (I will referee). If you identify a religion, feel free to mention it.
  2. The play of the game is about naming living people with opposite metaphysical beliefs whom you respect. You don’t have to respect them for their metaphysics – you can respect them for any reason at all. For instance, you might respect an actor’s talent, an artist’s creativity or a humanitarian’s compassion. Players may name any number of people with opposite metaphysics whom they respect – but the people named must be famous (that is, other players must have a chance of knowing who they are) and they must be alive. I will rule on any ambiguous cases regarding fame, life or metaphysical stance.
  3. Players may also veto submissions by people on their same team! For instance, if someone playing for the Atheists names a famous Sikh athlete and another person playing on the same team doesn’t like said athlete, they may veto them. This effectively costs their team a point, so use your veto power with caution!
  4. Scoring:
  • When Theist players name an atheist they respect, they score 1 point.
  • When Atheist players name a theist they respect, they score 1 point.
  1. The game will end one morning this week chosen in advance by me, but kept secret to prevent last minute ballot stuffing. The winning team will be whichever has named more people with opposite metaphysics whom they respect.

And remember, this is just for fun!


If you are an agnostic, you can still play. However, you must pick whether to play for the Theists or the Atheists – simply identify yourself accordingly e.g. ‘Agnostic, playing for the Atheists’. As an agnostic, you cannot veto but instead you have a special power: once per game, you can change sides and join the other team. Simply declare: “I’m converting!” and state your new team. This makes it easier for an agnostic to win, but the true moral victory is to win with the team you begin with. Or is it…? You’ll have to make up your own mind. 

Additional Rulings

  • For the purposes of this game, Buddhists count as atheists.

Final Score

Theists 11, Atheists 5

Atheists respected by theists: Bertrand Russell (died 1970), Douglas Adams (died 2001) , Jean Luc Godard, Noam Chomsky, John Carmack, Les Kaye, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (died 1966), Tenzin Gyatso (the fourteenth Dalai Lama), Joss Whedon, Iain Banks, Richard Dawkins (!), James Randi, Penn Jillette, Terry Pratchett

Theists respected by atheists: Canon Roger Royle, Hans Küng, Robert Runcie (died 2000), Richard Holloway, Rowan Williams, Rupert Sheldrake.

Concluding Remarks

This minigame is now concluded. It seems that while the atheists were very quick to stand up and be counted, they couldn't actually find theists they respected, while the Theist team dug deep and came up with a good crowd of atheists that they held in high regard. I was shocked that no-one on the Atheist team named anyone Jewish - there are so many respected entertainers of  Jewish faith I felt sure someone would be mentioned...

Thanks to everyone for taking part! And congratulations to the Theists - worthy winners, and clearly better at respecting people with different beliefs than Team Chance - at least in this particular match! :) However, since every agnostic joined the Atheist team, it seems that the Theists have something of a PR problem. Both sides clearly have things they could work on.

Comments to this post are now closed, but you can comment on the game in the Future of Metaphysics bookend post, if you like.


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I am an atheist. I respect:

- Chris Bateman for his tolerance (I argue that Chris counts as famous according to the definition above);

- Canon Roger Royle (radio and occasional television Christian presenter in the UK) for his ability to communicate largely Christian points to a largely uncaring audience in a charming, non-confrontational and effective way.

Agnostic, declaring atheist.

I'am an atheist.
I respect theologician Hans Küng and his gentle faith.

I am a theist. I respect Bertrand Russell for his rigor.

What about Buddhists? They're non-theist, right? Can I name them?


I am a theist.

As a question of the rules, why must the people we respect be living?

For instance, I respect Douglas Adams who, in life, was a self-declared "Radical Atheist". I respect him for his creativity, his humour, his respect and devotion to life (human and animal) on this planet, and his love of technology.

If he doesn't count, then I'll do my best to find someone else. Cheers.

Scoring for the first day... Remember, the people you name have to be living and famous, as well as having opposite metaphysics. That's the small print. :)

- Chris Bateman: could be seen as an attempt to bribe the referee. Flattering, but no point. :)
- Canon Roger Royle - 1 point for Atheists
- Hans Küng - 1 point for Atheists
- Bertrand Russell - died in 1970. No point (but a bold choice!)
- Douglas Adams - died in 2001. No point (but you knew that).

Latest score: 2-0 to the Atheists.

Some answers to questions:

Q. Why must the people we respect be living?
A. I felt it would be too much an advantage for the Atheists if they could name dead people as they would then have centuries of Theists to choose from. Unfortunately, what I didn't consider was that all the good atheists (apart from the ones that come to this blog, of course) appear to be dead. :(

What I'll do is record anyone who has passed away in the list of names and they'll come into play in the event of a tie.

Q. Do Buddhists count as points for the Theist team?
A. Making a determination of theist or atheist for a Buddhist can be a highly technical question that depends upon the specifics of the individual's school. I'm tempted to say that "Buddhists are Wild" (which is a great sentence in its own right!) but my ruling is we will count Buddhists as atheists for the purposes of this game.

Good luck everyone!

Declaring for Atheists...

Wanted to go for last but one Archbish of Caterbury, Lord Runcie... Thought he was ace, stuck between two vehemently opposed sides (despite both being christian) he steered the CofE/Anglican Church towards accepting women as priests. Also, although being practically forced to agree officially to the CofE's feelings about gay priests, he still ordained a few people he knew to be gay.

If the phrase "liberal Catholic" can actually mean anything, then there is some hope for that faith.

But he's dead (2000 - cancer). So.... ermmm... Another tie-break point I guess.

If there weren't rules on fame, I'd love to nominate Baldeev - the Sikh gentleman (and he *is* a gentleman) who runs the car park I use. Devoutly and unshakeably faithful and quite willing to discuss theology (and twit me for being a non-believer) with me and my wife without preaching, and willing to bless and accept blessings from my wife without regard to the difference in faith. May there be many more like him in the world!

Agnostic, declaring for atheists. I nominate Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh, for his generous and tolerant spirit. See his comments about the Church's homophobia in 'Doubts and Loves' for an example. Also for the manner of his belief - as one whose faith inhabits the borderlands of Christianity - arguably the most authentically Christian territory.

But is he famous enough for this game? He has written a number of books, and these days he presents arts programmes on BBC Scotland.

Hey, how about a theists vs atheists Big Brother? Who would you put in the house?


I respect the current Archibishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, (a) for his marvelous beard, (b) for his mellifluous voice, and (c) for his deep and thoughtful commitment to a position of dithering on the two main moral issues facing the world today - viz., whether being gay is Ok and whether women should be allowed to hold leadership positions.

(I do mean it, by the way. He is a rare gem in presenting intellectually respectable arguments for conservatism and organisational unity, far exceeding the poor efforts of most we've-always-done-it-like-this, don't-rock-the-boat types. I do still find it maddening, though.)

look at these atheists running the game! :)

declaring Theist (orthodox Roman Catholic-oh no!)

I highly respect Jean Luc Godard, famed French film director/auteur, for his stunning contributions to his medium. Granted, it seems like every film school student/film critic goes through their "Godard rules" phase, but that's for good reason. The man's work injects so much vitality into film, truly inspirational. While his politics and metaphysics are decidedly Marxist, his frame of reference has certainly produced some excellent art.

I also very much respect Noam Chomsky for his rigorous and highly engaging intellectual work. He's one of the few voices--on any end of the political spectrum--that articulates his views with clarity and composure.

And for a final example in gaming, I respect John Carmack--while some of his influences on game design may be iffy, there is no denying the man's enormous talent for programming. Much of my adolescence was spent playing games built on the backbone of his engines, and for that I have enormous respect for the man. Even if he'll soon build a rocket for himself and return to the mothership.

Agnostic. Declaring atheist.

I respect Roger Penrose [as my most well-read living member of the set of great 20th century physicists]. Despite his vast understanding of the nature and origins of the universe, in all its starkly mechanistic glory, he still has enough faith to feature his God in a white-bearded cameo in his best book.

To [very loosely] paraphrase: "and God did stick a pin in the potentiality phase space, with a precision of one in 10^10^123, and thus did arise our universe, with its capacity to support us".

Oops, I missed the "living" stipulation earlier on, but I'm glad I asked the "Buddhist" question

Les Kaye - Author of "Zen at Work". I've generally been disappointed in "spirituality at work" books, but not this one. Not sure that he counts as famous, though.

D.T.Suzuki, then.

What an idiot. I named a dead person - again.

The Dalai Lama, then, for reaching out ecumenically while recognizing the problems with reconciling different religions

And now a valid entry:

I respect Joss Whedon for his creativity, his work in supporting feminism and strong female role models, and his sense of humour. Browncoats forever!

Hey, you've finally bought me out of the woodwork. Long time lurker, etc. Hi everyone. Probably a good time to say how much I've loved reading this blog over the last year or so. Yes, I said *long* time lurker! ;^)

Declaring for theist.

Since Duncan's bet me to Joss Whedon, I'll have to nominate novelist Iain Banks, famous for his galaxy-spanning Culture novels. He tends to portray characters (and indeed, whole societies) as a gleefully anarchistic, godless bunch without falling into the trap of boring old nihilism.

Characters belonging to the Culture tend to pity those with faith, and I get the unfortunate impression that this is the view of Banks himself also. However, I'm far too impressed with his wonderful writing and the scope of his vision to hold him in anything but very high regard.

Disclaimer: I'm still working through the body of his work (both the 'literary' novels and the middle-initialled sci-fi stuff), so I'm not able to comment on his work as a whole yet.

Looking at, I see a few more potential nominations, but maybe I'll save them for a later post.

On a side note, can we talk about that site? I came across too, since initially I had a bit of trouble thinking of atheists. Not for lack of atheists that I respect, but because I tend not to dwell on other peoples' metaphysics.
Anyhow, I thought that seemed like an odd site. I tend to perceive much of the celebritydom/pop culture of America as pretty nontheistic in general, so it seems kind of redundant to keep a list of just how many famous people don't believe in God.
But I suspect it's one of those things... depending on which side you take, the other side always seems to be so pervasive. American culture seems rather secular to me, but I have no doubt that it seems gripped by raging fundamentalist Christianity to atheists.
I take it as a matter of course that most people I meet are probably atheist/agnostic... but does that just say more about the social circles I travel in, and less about society as a whole?
What do you guys think? The grass is always, uh, metaphysically opponent on the other side of the fence?

Scoring for the second day... and the Theists have finally found their feet!

- Robert Runcie - as stated, he died in 2000. No point, alas.
- Richard Holloway - 1 point for the Atheists.
- Rowan William - 1 point for the Atheists.
- Jean Luc Godard - 1 point for the Theists.
- Noam Chomsky - I had to check, but the venerable Chomsky is still with us at the grand old age of 78 - 1 point for the Theists.
- John Carmack - 1 point for the Theists.
- Roger Penrose - I am unable to confirm Penrose's metaphysics, and a cameo by God in one of his book is insufficient evidence to rule out the possibility that he is agnostic. Further supporting evidence of his theism would be needed. No point, I'm afraid.
- Les Kaye - Authors of mass market paperbacks qualify for the lower echelons of fame. 1 point for the Theists.
- Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki - sadly, he died in 1966 (as you realised shortly after commenting!) No point.
- Tenzin Gyatso (the fourteenth Dalai Lama) - 1 point for the Theists
- Joss Whedon - 1 point for the Theists
- Iain Banks - I'll just note that he once suggested that science was a sufficient replacement for religion which I found shockingly naive, but he's certainly atheist - 1 point for the Theists.

Latest score: 7-4 to the Theists. The match is hotting up!


Jack: I agree with you that one's own metaphysics skew the apparent tone of the United States culture. (Although there are certainly more Christians than atheists in the population, among celebrities this is not necessarily so).

To a theist, the atheist bias in the sciences and (to a lesser extent) the conventional media makes it seem like a very secular culture. And as this minigame is demonstrating, most agnostics are more comfortable "siding" with the atheists than the theists for various reasons. Conversely, to an atheist the Bible Belt, and the prominent presence of some hardline Christian factions gives the reverse impression.

It's all the more reason for us to find ways to stop fighting about metaphysics, and start working towards making a better world. But it's not easy as there are fanatics on both sides of the religious cold war.

Anyway, the game goes on!

Playing for theists, I respect Richard Dawkins, for I have actually enjoyed his "Unweaving the Rainbow" and his idea of taking a poetic look over science in a 'good way'.

I was planning to rat on my side, metaphysical turncoat that I am. But the theists seem to be doing very well without me, thank you.

Does Tibetan Buddhism count as atheist? Bit unclear to me with their plethora of Bodhisattvas. Also, in Japan and also I think in Tibet, Buddhism didn't reject the local gods as unreal, but taught that they were also caught in the cycle of re-birth. The gods needed the Budhha's teaching as much as humans. This isn't clearly isn't western theism, but it's not exactly atheism either.

I tell you, on the subject of Japan (since I'm currently in the country), there is no end of fascination resulting from visiting a friend of friend's house--a traditional Japanese household in northern Japan.
The Japanese friend-of-a-friend showed me the large, gold-enameled Buddhist shrine in the house, replete with photos placed in it of lost loved ones... and then, scarcely a foot below the ceiling, shelved above the Buddhist shrine is the Shinto shrine, like a vestigial religious apparatus or some sort of symbiote. Talk about hedging your metaphysical bets! Of course for monotheists the idea of this sort of dual shrine is unthinkable, but the Japanese find it perfectly natural. Really interesting stuff (like the rest of Japan).

Wow... is a really handy site for the Theist side.

I respect James Randi for his dedication to enlightening the masses to the trickery that many "supernaturalists" spew. He also has a great sense of humour, and a real desire to see people think about things critically, and for themselves.

I also respect Penn Jillette for his humour, his dedication to clearing out the Bull Shit (hence the TV show), his work in and love of magic (that is, illusion), and through that, revealing how things work, even when they seem impossible.

And finally (for now -- is there a limit to this?), I respect Terry Pratchett for his words, his insights, his exquisite turns of phrase, and the Discworld.

Scoring for the third day (the game will finish this weekend at some point...), and it seems after a rocky start the Theists now dominate the playing field. Come on Atheists - have you given up already? ;)

- Richard Dawkins - A bold move! ;) - 1 point for the Theists
- James Randi - 1 point for the Theists
- Penn Jillette - 1 point for the Theists
- Terry Pratchett - one of the more famous Christian atheists... - 1 point for the Theists

Some notes:

chico: I really liked 'Climbing Mount Improbable'; Dawkins has a model of evolution very clearly demarked in his mind and expresses himself well. If only he could stay on topic. :)

Theo: We've opted to count all Buddhists as Atheists for the purpose of the game. I appreciate this is a simplification, but it saves lengthy debate over the individual schools. :) The Atheist team has plenty of ways to score - they've missed out on at least one obvious 'source' of theists that I can think of. ;)

Jack: the exclusion of other beliefs is peculiar to the big three monotheistic religions. Most other religions are open to co-existence. You can see it very clearly with Hinduism, which incorporates other religious views into its own framework almost effortlessly. It's a touch sad that the effect of monotheistic religions in some of the Eastern countries has driven tolerant practices to a more defensive stance.

Man, this makes me want to say something inflammatory like; tsk, those theists always looking for *something* to tell them what to think ( ;-)

But, obviously I'd never do anything like that... And, c'mon Chris, don't encourage the atheists to just look for a 'source' for thiests we like. That smacks of the exact opposite of atheist dogma! (teeheee) :-)

Well, as we've got a theist vote for James Randi, how about an atheist vote for Rupert Sheldrake? For his commitment to empirical investigation of the so-called paranormal, and putting up with so much abuse for even looking for evidence. I don't think his Anglicanism has anything to do with his scientific work, but he is a theist.

Hey - I was trying to provide a backhanded suggestion to help your team out! :) In case you didn't notice, the Theists are *way* in the lead now. By 'source' I didn't mean a website, I meant a group of theists that had been overlooked, and that could be a rich vein of people that atheists probably already respect.

But I guess the theists just want to win more than the atheists. :D

Or maybe the atheists just have no teamwork! >:}

Heheh, I knew you were trying to help... But, you know, that makes it look like we (atheists, yes, that's right, I'm talking for all of them ;-), *need* or *want* help versus theists...

As far as I (and, therefore, obviously all atheists ;-) am concerned, there's only one group here who feel the need to prove something and win...

Atheists win by default, see? :-D It's not that we have no teamwork, just no need to work as a team per se. I think you might (dis)agree that this is a metaphysical point, which requires less and less explanation (certainly by me).

This all just goes to prove how theists need to Win, and atheists already know there's nothing worth winning (that hasn't already been won - hey, I'm alive, and therefore don't believe it gets any better than this).

I *really* am not trying to annoy anyone, so if this is annoying you, remember, forgiveness and love, forgiveness and love...

*backing slowly away, making no sudden moves, and promising to not continue this mini-slightly-off-topic-thread any further*

I've never really bothered to delve into the specific beliefs of people who I recognize, read, and ultimately, respect. A few of them I guess are quite obvious, but others not so much.

It's an interesting exercise for me to recognize and examine who I respect and what they believe. Ultimately what they believe penetrates their work, which I then internalize. How they think, in many subtle ways, shapes how I think. It either has to be rejected by my metaphysics or accepted on some level and fitted into my worldview (or placed in an out-of-the-way corner for later consideration).

It is interesting to see how often, and how much, I align with the thinking and sometimes even the beliefs and opinions of those with opposing views.

Final scoring! Yes, today is the last day.

Quick final side comment from me; Neil said:

"...atheists already know there's nothing worth winning"

This is a game to see who is best at respecting people with opposing metaphysics, so if we want to make an analogue with the real world I believe there is plenty worth winning. If the atheists as a whole share your view, that the only aspect of religion of importance is having the metaphysics that are "really True", and that "atheists have already won", it goes part way to explaining why we have so much tension between different metaphysical positions. But really, you're just making excuses because you backed the losing team. >:) Take care, old friend!

And now the final points...

- Rupert Sheldrake: Glad to hear Rupert mentioned. 1 point for the Atheists.

And that's it, everyone - final score 11-5 to the Theists. Victory to Team God! Comments to this minigame post will now be closed, but feel free to use the Future of Metaphysics comments for post-game discussion.

Thanks for playing everyone!

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