Ken Jennings interviewed by “friendly atheist” Hemant Mehta

Be sure to check out this fabulous interview!

My favorite highlights:

Hemant: How do you reconcile your faith with your knowledge of science where there is contradiction between them?

Ken: This is an easier question for a Mormon than it is, perhaps, for an Evangelical: there’s no specific LDS doctrine on issues like evolution, so none of that has ever been problematic for me. Brigham Young taught the early Latter-day Saints that “Mormonism embraces all truth that is revealed and that is unrevealed, whether religious, political, scientific, or philosophical.” As a result, there’s an open-minded, questing, Enlightenment spirit to the Mormon pursuit of truth that I’ve always liked.

Science has been known to be wrong about scientific questions, but it certainly has a much better track record than organized religion does in deciding scientific questions, so I prefer to keep the two magisteria non-overlapping. I also don’t like it when the maple syrup from my pancakes gets on my sausage at breakfast.

My editorial comment: P.Z. may not believe in religion and science coexisting in the same head like that, but I think such an answer isn’t uncommon for Mormons.

Hemant: A lot of religious parents raise their children in “the family faith.” Most atheist parents (perhaps in response) prefer teaching kids how to think, not what to think. How are you raising your kids Dylan and Caitlin?

(Quick note: In this question, I meant to ask Ken what his thoughts were on the idea of teaching critical thinking instead of simply believe-it-because-we-said-so religion. In the process, I came off sounding rather douchebaggish. Ken rightly called me out on it with his answer.)

Ken: Wow, if there an emoticon for self-back-patting, you forgot to use it there. This question, with its imagined crazy religious brainwasher parent and its benevolent, tolerant atheist one, doesn’t strike me as very accurate. You’ll be shocked to hear that even religious people would like their kids to know how to think, and I’m sure a Hitchens-style atheist would be just as unhappy to see a child convert as any believer would be to have a child “fall away” from the faith.

My editorial comment: Zing! Why does this sound familiar? 😉

But in my own defense I’d like to link to my own response to Ken’s last sentence there:

If the kids take up a religion once they’re grown, whether we like it or not there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. Sure we could threaten to disown them, but that’s not really realistic. We have only two kids. We can’t go around disowning them willy-nilly over trivialities like what religions they choose for themselves. If we did, we’d pretty quickly find ourselves with no kids at all, and then who would we annoy during our golden years? Think about that.

I know I’m supposed to be just taking the atheists’ side here, but that would be too obvious… 😉

Ken: Atheists, you should be the ones taking the lead in ending the Mormon-bashing! After all, LDS doctrine may seem kooky to you guys, but at least you don’t think it’s heretical. You should be the first to realize that the founding LDS narrative — Joseph Smith, an angel, golden plates, etc. — isn’t any more or less sensible than the origins of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. It just doesn’t have a few millennia of distance to give it the patina of authority.

My editorial comment: I like to think I’m doing my part on that one, here and on my personal blog. It’s tricky though, because there’s a delicate balance of being sensitive to Christians, as well as the problem that a lot of times religious people are suspicious of friendly atheists’ motives (eg. are you trying to deconvert me?).

Ken also doesn’t favor Mitt Romney for Prez or Marie Osmond to win Dancing with the Stars! Check it out for the full story!


C. L. Hanson is the friendly Swiss-French-American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! Follow me on mastadon at or see "letters from a broad" for further adventures!!

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3 Responses

  1. Hellmut says:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with supporting a member of your own ethnic group for office. My Senator Barbara Mikulski poses for pictures with the Polish flag. My former Senator Paul Sarbanes did the same with the Greek flag and when Martin O’Malley ran for governor he used a green theme on his campaign materials to make sure that everyone knew he was the Irish candidate.

    If Mormons want to support Mitt Romney because he is Mormon, that’s a better reason to support him than some others that I can imagine.

    On the other hand, we need to be careful not to exclude non-Mormons in areas where we are dominating demographics. There’s a difference in using elections to gain recognition and keeping minority ethnic groups down.

  2. chanson says:

    I wouldn’t support someone for office just because I share ethnicity with him/her, especially if I didn’t agree with his/her policies. And Ken Jennings is apparently not even a Republican.

  3. chanson says:

    I wonder how Ken would have done on Bible Jeopardy. I’m guessing he would have gotten that one — it was pretty easy…

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