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An Interview with Dr. Christopher DiCarlo (Part Five)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/10/15


Dr. Christopher DiCarlo is an Author, Educator, and Philosopher of Science and Ethics. He discusses: Religulous; and foundational questions for naturalists and supernaturalists.

Keywords: author, Christopher DiCarlo, educator, philosopher.

An Interview with Dr. Christopher DiCarlo: Author, Educator, Philosopher of Science and Ethics (Part Five)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Do you remember that line from Bill Maher in Religulous when he’s interviewing ex-Mormons? Familial, basically it is social suicide, that reminds me of this narrative you are telling me.

Dr. Christopher DiCarlo: When I was in grade 6, we knew our teacher was gay. We knew he was gay. He was the poster boy for homosexuality but we were Catholic. So, we said, “No, he cannot be a fag, right? He married whatever her name is. Her Grade 1 teacher. He had kids. No, he’s not a fag.”

Turns out, he was gay. However, he was Catholic. It was the 1970s. He comes out. He gets excommunicated. To a Catholic, you cannot be buried in consecrated ground. You are forever in limbo. You are never getting into heaven with your family.

So, he stayed in the closet. He did what so many gay men of the time did: they lived a lie. He finally came out. His wife accepted it. His sons accepted it. Now, his community accepted it, but it took decades for people to realize this. His whole life was a lie because of a belief system.

To me, that is harm; therefore, it is wrong. Therefore, guys like me have a right to say, “No, I am going to speak out against it. I am going to try to be more compassionate to others who might be going through that same situation.” Ideally, in the perfect world, we do not want people to suffer needlessly.

We are all going to suffer. We have to suffer, but that seems so needless. Today, Muslim communities are even worse than what the Catholic community was like in the 70s. In Saudi Arabia, places like that, people get thrown off buildings, get stoned, get executed all the time.

Simply, through no fault of their own, for being homosexual, it is medieval. I have a right to speak up against it. It would be interesting for you to know that some of the work I am doing in critical thinking. I am meeting with people from Iran. He has to be smuggled into Iran.

I might be on a hit list [Laughing]. That I do not know about, but I do not think I can visit Iran like I did with Guatemala and what I will do with other countries. So, we are going to do it by Skype and by smuggling the information and allowing teachers to take over at an underground level.

Jacobsen: It is going to be hard because the kids can report back to parents or authorities.

DiCarlo: I know and then the teachers will be in trouble.

Jacobsen: But these are also individual choices to make.

DiCarlo: That is it. That level moves very slowly, creeps. However, we have to try it. You have a mission in life. Philosophers have missions in life. If they are not trying to make the world better in some ways, I mean that is audacious as hell, but if we do nothing than we are doing a disservice to our calling.

Which is the love of wisdom,  is the capacity to educate and to offer people more than what their particular code system is telling them is right and just. So, it is like an “emancipation,” for lack of a better word, to free up their minds to think in a more liberated way.

I understand this is extremely audacious of me to believe. That I am a liberator in that context, but whether I am pie in the sky misguided or not. That has become my calling and that is the type of thing I am finding myself to be most passionate about. That is what I am going to continue to do.

2. Jacobsen: How might hypothetical naturalist and supernaturalist respond to each of the 5 foundational questions of life? 

DiCarlo: We get of them sent to us. Publishers want us to use them in our courses. None of them would talk about the elephants in the room.

They all talk about, “We can think about this, here is a Venn diagram, here is a truth tablet, here is propositional logic, there is formal and informal logic and fallacies and what not.” of them have great stuff in them, but none of them dealt with the nuts and bolts of thinking. Which is: let’s look at the 5 most important questions that people try to answer that sum up the meaning of life.

Then we can look at the two major ways people try to answer them: naturally and supernaturally. I try to be fair in the book and treat both sides as fairly as possible and not tell you what side you should believe and put it out there for both of these sides.

In terms of the question, what can I know? The ancient skeptics, like Socrates, were so adept at identifying. To me, this is one of the most important distinctions that humankind has ever made. It is to be aware of the fact that you do not know absolute truth.

To me, this is probably the greatest understanding of our epistemic state that any human has been able to do at any time in the history of thought. By absolute truth, I mean knowing from a God’s eye view thing. So, the supernaturalists maintain that they are in possession of absolute truth.

So, it is not as though an Orthodox Jew, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, or whatever, get up in the morning and say, ” I could be very misguided in my views. I should question why I believe this stuff.”

No, I mean when you are a true believer, it follows that the information in your head is about how the universe is and that God answers very those other 4 questions and that gives you a certain feeling.

To me, the brain evolved in order to get you to do certain things in certain ways: largely to reproduce. However, along the way, your brain in eating and having sex releases certain chemicals that feel really good. Evolution has modified your brain over time to make you feel good by doing certain things.

What does that mean? That means that our brains get us high. Lots of things that we do get us high.

Watching a good movie, voting for the right candidate that we think will take this country to the next stage, watching the Raptors do as they did, or Milos Raonic doing so at Wimbledon, or swinging on a swing, or watching the birth of your child, these things get us high.

They are incredible experiences. Religious belief is the granddaddy of all highs. If you have got those big 5 answers supernaturally, things are going along and can get you through some rough times.

Not only is it going to feed you dopamine and serotonin and other types of neurotransmitters that make you feel wonderful; they are also going to produce endorphins for when you are stressed and will reduce your stress. So, the work that I did in Harvard looked at the neuropsychological factors of religious beliefs along this evolutionary model that I developed.

So, when you say, “What can I know?” To be consistent, a supernaturalist would say, “I know absolute truth. I am in possession of the information, which is absolutely true. That which cannot possibly be misguided or mistaken.”

When you are making a claim like that, man, it is not an easy thing to deal with that level of dogmatism. The number one question I get from students and people who interview me is: what do you do with a pig-headed person who is so dogmatic that they simply will not listen to reason? Do you give up on them?

I say, “Obviously, it depends not on the circumstances. Who is it? Do you want them to give up on it?” My mother was a Catholic until the day she died.

We would have conversations. She knew I was an atheist. She would hold a rose up and said, “What a beautiful thing God has made!” I would say, “Glorious accident mother, absolutely amazing.”

However, nothing more than that. A wonderful, genetic freak accident of nature. As she approached death, I called the dogs off, essentially. Because you have to exercise a level of diplomacy and critical thinking when answering those big 5.

I thought the greatest thing for my mother as she is approaching death is to think she is going to meet St. Peter at the pearly gates. She is going to see Jesus. All of her dogmatic beliefs will be proven right.

She will be up in Heaven looking down on me praying for me to come back to the fold. Even though, we had our disagreements; I would never raise the issue of God. I let her go to her grave believing that what she knew was absolutely true.

However, for others who are dogmatic, who wish to engage in conversation, how I do it is less, less in your face, “What an idiot you are for believing this stuff. Here is all the evidence. Why cannot you see it?”

I tend to be far more Socratic. So, initially, I will not necessarily agree with them, but feign ignorance as Socrates did and say, “This God that you believe in, sounds like a quite an amazing character.”

They respond, “He is, let me tell you more about him.” So know, you have put them at ease. Now, you have made them more comfortable and let them know you are open to listening to their side. So, then I say, “Tell me more. What else can this God do?”

Give them enough time, I will ask questions, which will much force them to think about things like “How do you reconcile omniscience with free will? How can they reconcile, if they are Christian, an all intelligent God with the capacity to see original sin?”

That is a no-brainer. That he didn’t see that. He had to make a part of himself flesh to die to himself to alleviate original sins from what he created, of what he should have known would be sin in the first place.

So, I get people to walk through the inconsistencies and contradictions, so that they see it. Instead of me hammering them like a Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, type of approach, I say to them, “I want to believe in this God, so convince me.”

It puts them at ease. It makes them talk; the more they talk, the more you throw in some questions that allow them to realize, “Oh, huh… I never thought of that.” Then you leave them for a while and let them mull all that over.

Dan Barker told me, “Chris if I had someone like you who showed me the inconsistencies and contradictions, I would have changed my views in a day.” I said “No, you would not have. You were hardcore Christian. It would have taken you weeks, months, and, maybe, years.”

You and I know: we talk to former theists who are now atheists. They tell us their story and sometimes – although, it is rare – there is that flash of epiphany. That secular epiphany, “How could I have been so stupid?”

To me, those are people who were along that path, already questioning things, to begin with. They were the ones who were already thinking, “What am I believing here?” So, they read The God Delusion or looked up Sam Harris online or read Dennett’s books or whatever.

But it is the ones who are hardcore dogmatic who are firmly entrenched, digging the heels; if you come at them in an adversarial way, they are only going to become more entrenched and dislike you all the more for it.

I am trying to teach people how to have intelligent, adult conversations and disagree and still get along. Because that is your neighbour, that is your kids’ teacher, that is a cop who pulled you over. We want to make sure people are treated fairly. So, when people say, “What can I know?”

The naturalist says, “I know that I do not know what absolute truth is.” So, that, immediately, puts me into a pragmatic level of lessening my epistemic requirements and saying, “What do I know about cause and effect relationships?” It comes under the rubric of the scientific method and the sciences. That is what I will say I know.

But that knowledge is perhaps limited to being pragmatic, useful, and beneficial. It may turn out to be absolutely true, what physicists are telling us about matter or energy and biologists about function and mechanisms, may, ultimately, turn out to be absolutely true.

But all my colleagues and I are not in that businesses. We are not here to worry about it. That is what the worry is about. We are all humans. Does it work? Does it cure cancer or put people on the moon?

Vaccines cause the recognition of certain types of pathogens and kill them before it gets a chance to kill our children. Pragmatic truth is really good. It has helped our species and many other species.

That is the difference between the natural and the supernatural claims to knowledge. Why am I here? The naturalist – I am here – one answer: luck. Luck that is why we are here.

If the world happened in any other ways and functioned differently, that comets, meteors, didn’t crash into the Earth at the right, specific time to wipe out the dinosaurs to give the mammals the shot that caused the line of descent from ground squirrels to simians to primates to the split divergence of orangutans from the rest of the great apes to us, then we are not having this conversation.

We are not here. Why are we all here? Luck: that is my explanation. Luck by way of natural forces. Supernatural? Depends on the particular flavour of the day. “By the divine grace of God. We are here because God wanted us to be here.”

What am I? A natural explanation, “I am a descendant of the African ape. Prior to, that more than likely, a reptilian, prior to that fish, prior to that much pond scum, blue-green algae.”

Jacobsen: [Laughing] I love that phrase.

DiCarlo: Prior to that, every atom inside of us was once inside of stars. Joni Mitchell was right; we are stardust, billion-year-old carbon. That is it! Nothing more special to us than that and why we are here is of lucky episodes.

Supernaturalists, whatever. “I am a physical being but I am also a spiritual being. I am often a dualist. That means there is some corporeal aspect to me that will survive bodily death and will maybe be recycled and maybe not recycled depending on the flavour.” That is the thing within us that does the choosing.

That is not somehow affected by the natural law and that is a tricky one to reconcile. However, none the less, this cosmic goo or this spiritual fog or whatever it is you want to call our essence and continues on after we die somehow in some other realm.

I have no evidence for that so I stay over on the natural side. Supernaturalists, they believe it for their various reasons and like I said, as long as that is not generating verb harm, you go ahead and you believe that to the cows come home.

I am not, but you go ahead. How should I behave? this is the field of ethics; most supernaturalists will have some divine command theories.

God has created us for a particular reason, wants us to behave a particular way and out of that emerges somehow a free choice. Out of your choices, you get the black checks or the red hearts from God who is watching your behaviour.

If you get enough red hearts over black checks, you get rewarded in some particular way. If you do not, it is not going to favour your protoplasmic goo after you have shuffled off the mortal coil. For a naturalist, we are on our own. We are in a big old cold universe. I am an ultimate nihilist. That means I have found no ultimate universal rules for behaviour, but I am a proximal ethicist. That means we have to come up with the rules. It seems like we have indicators that help us.

We try to avoid pain and suffering. We tend towards comfort and approval in certain areas. So, maybe, those connect as guides. Maybe what good and bad is coming from biology, and what is good and bad for an organism than can come from the bottom up rather than top-down, it will give us some capacity.

It will then make rules, which will favour our comfort and disfavour our discomfort. It will extend to another species as well. Because other mammals clearly can experience pain and pleasure; therefore, we owe them rights or must extend rights to them as well.

Nothing in the universe tells me in any way that I am more privileged than a squirrel. If you can show me that, please do. I am more conscious, maybe than a squirrel, but a squirrel is way better at other things, e.g., walking on a wire, than I am.

So, why do I get to value my life more than that of a squirrel? Or we can talk about hierarchies if you want but that would get into a criteria problem. What criteria now? Is that entirely arbitrary and favours ethnocentrism and anthropocentrism?

So, I, basically, want humans to get along as much as we possibly can so we can get as much as what we want, but that cannot be at the expense of other species and other humans. I am not saying this is easy to figure out.

This is what social and political theory is about, trying to make sure people have the lives that they want, but not at the cost of so many others. That means another species as well.

That goes right to the level: I am an omnivore; I enjoy eating meat as much as I enjoy eating plant products. However, I do not eat as much pork anymore because I drive into Toronto and see those huge trucks carrying pigs.

I know how intelligent they are. I see they are going to the slaughter. I would rather not see them die, so I am going to try to cut that out as much as I can. I am a little bothered that there has not been more attention paid to.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Author; Educator; Philosopher; Fellow, Society of Ontario Freethinkers; Board Advisor, Freethought TV; Advisory Fellow, Center for Inquiry Canada.

[2] Individual Publication Date: October 15, 2018:; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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