Monday, April 30, 2007


From the Department of Stating the Obvious, this headline: "Debaters question if hip-hop hates women".

That's almost as pointless a "debate" as "Debaters question if sun rises in east," or "Debaters question if organisms evolve"!

No news, still, about would-be clinic bomber

We're still having to wait a bit longer for anything tangible to be reported on the motives and desires of would-be Austin abortion clinic bomber Paul Ross Evans.

In the meantime, the Statesman has done one of those filler stories to whet the public appetite for information that actually contains no information, beyond the boilerplate interviews with people who knew him back in his hometown, who are, naturally, shocked by Ross's arrest and describe him — as most crazies tend to be described — as "pleasant and polite."

Fascinating how some of the worst crimes we see are committed by people who were just nice, quiet, ordinary guys who never seemed like they'd hurt a fly. You never hear them described thus: "Yeah, I always knew that son of a bitch was headed for trouble. The day he burned my house down and shot me in the stomach six times, I just had a feeling he'd get himself in serious trouble one day!"

So, nothing to see here, folks, except for this ironic and amusing comment from a Lufkin police sergeant: "We don't really have extremist groups here. This is the heart of the Bible belt." Ah yes, right you are.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

We are hosting Carnival of the Godless on 5/13

Carnival of the Godless #66 will be hosted right here on May 13, and submissions have already started coming in. Atheist bloggers make your submissions here.

For those not in the know, blog carnivals are ways in which similarly themed blogs connect with and promote one another's existence through collecting a "best of" list of posts, which all appear at one specific host blog for each "issue" of the carnival published. The hosts change out each time.

Isn't it high time we had one of these in America?

From the news desk comes this remarkable story about 300,000 Turks rallying in that country in favor of secularism, in opposition to Islamist elements in the government who want to undo all the work of Ataturk and drag Turkey kicking and screaming back into medievalism. Three hundred thousand! About the only thing you can get Americans to do in those numbers are watch American Idol, or attend a megachurch.

Turkey is a borderline case. Its government is ostensibly secular, and yet radicalized religion is becoming more and more prominent. Turkey ranks as the only country to score lower than America when it comes to acceptance of evolution. Not long ago there was the disgraceful news that three employees of a Christian publishing company had been tied up and murdered by Islamists who didn't want them in the neighborhood. My gift for stating the obvious reminds me that people killing other people over differences in belief in an imaginary being is not a recipe for a healthy society.

The citizens of Turkey are getting fed up, and are fighting back. In the words of one brave woman, "We don't want a covered woman in Ataturk's presidential palace. We want civilized, modern people there." It's a quote she'd doubtless be imprisoned or killed for if the country's Islamist Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul ascends to the presidency. And unlike guys like Donald Wildmon or James Dobson in this country, the Turks seem to have twigged to the fact that democracy has much stronger ties to secularist societies than theocratic ones.

A rally for secularism. The very notion brings a tear to the eye. Isn't it high time we had one here? I know a few years back, American Atheists sponsored the surprisingly successful Godless Americans March on Washington, which a contingent of folks from the ACA attended. But while a PAC grew out of that, there really ought to be another follow-up public event, doncha think? With Bush's poll numbers down around 28, and the rest of the nation slowly waking up to the folly of the war, the corruption of the administration's most avowedly "moral" members, the demise of the Intelligent Design movement in Dover, and other changes happening in America's political landscape, a second GAMOW ought to really take off in the way the first one never dreamed of.

Church of the Obnoxious Cretins

Hit tip to Susan on the ACA list: Here's an amusing story about an Ohio church that has brought its neighborhood together — in a flurry of noise complaints. Apparently they utilize a sound system cranked so loud that the windows in nearby houses rattle every Sunday morning. The reaction of the church to the notion that they're disturbing the peace? Why, it's the usual Christian dual-whine of "We're being persecuted/Rules don't apply to us!" Sayeth the Rev. Troy Sowell, "I'm not going to tell this congregation, 'You're being too loud.'" No, dude. It's your sound system that's too loud. But that's okay. If you don't want to tell your congregation there's a problem, I'm sure the police will be happy to every time they write you up a citation. When most of what's going into your collection plates is being sucked away by fines, maybe then you'll get the message.

What creeps me out most, though, is the name of this church. "Christ the Warrior King"? And here I thought he was the Prince of Peace. The way religion fetishises war language, and just the very idea of war itself, is especially disturbing in light of the fact that every once in a while a member of the flock is entirely too happy to follow through on the concept, whether by crashing airplanes into buildings, or by simply leaving unexploded homemade bombs outside women's clinics, some of which do explode.

So I'd say the noise isn't the worst of it. It's the usual barrage of sick brainwashing that's going on inside, and the amplification is only making a blight on the community more apparent.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bomb suspect popped, but who is he?

Austin police have arrested an ex-con named Paul Ross Evans for leaving the explosive device outside the women's clinic. As a person, he seems to be a bit of a cipher. No one's been able to determine if he belongs to, or has ties to, any of the well-known, violence-advocating anti-abortion groups (like Operation Rescue). His prior convictions, for which he was paroled in 2003, were for burglary and armed robbery. Clearly, this is a bad dude, and I really don't like that our system allows them to be paroled so easily. If you're convicted of violent crimes, as his were, you should at leave have to serve half to two-thirds of your prison time, instead of one year, before you get let back out on the streets to wreak more havoc.

What impressed me most in the article were the investigative techniques used to nail Evans, involving tracing the purchase of the materials found at the crime scene. Note to redneck would-be terrorists: don't buy all your shit at the same Wal-Mart the day before undertaking your courageous, lonely mission against the forces of darkness. And if you pay with a debit card instead of cash, you're a tool who frankly deserves to be Darwinized right out of the gene pool for sheer idiocy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Religion is the answer (they're selling)

Did you ever notice that whatever the problem, religion is plugged as the answer? Case in point: last week's Virginia Tech shootings. A student goes haywire and kills a bunch of people--not good. Religious leaders then get asked by the faithful, “Where was God during all of this?” It seems like a reasonable question to ask of someone who believes in an omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent god.

Atheists would answer it simply that God is a figment of people's imagination. Such things more often cause killings than prevent them. For example, 9/11, Andrea Yates, stem cell research bans, Branch Davidians, Jim Jones, Inquisition, Gott Mit Uns, Heaven's Gate, etc., etc., etc. In this particular case, figments of your imagination are irrelevant to the reality of the shooter, so it’s obvious that your God can’t intervene. Next question?

Religious leaders know that if you're asking such questions, you’re thinking. And if you’re thinking, you're not blindly believing, which is bad for their business. So religious leaders shut down the line of questioning and instead promote their magic cure-all elixir: religion.

For James Kennedy, the answer to “where was God?”, is “He was hanging on the cross. (Just passing time flapping away, apparently.) “The cross is God’s ultimate solution to sorrow and suffering.” Pay attention grieving Virginia Tech students: you are vile wretches that deserve to be tortured for all eternity for your lack of faith. Kennedy will gladly sell you the cure, though, the smilin’ bleedin’ Jesus for the bargain price of a tithe. Ah, that Christian love is in the springtime air.

Ken Ham, the Answers in Genesis creationist used-religion salesman, used the tragedy to point out that if you think the answer to the tragedy has anything to do with sin, you damn well better believe in that 6-day creation he’s been flogging. The Bible is literally true, don’t you know. To translate his point, if you don’t believe in that 6-day creation crap, why should you believe anything about the concept of sin. Atheists would certainly agree with this line of reasoning. Perhaps this is why his posting was removed from the AiG web site. (Oh, and by the way, he says, isn’t it great that creationism was launched at Virginia Tech by a civil engineering instructor? Let's pour a little embarrassment into the wound.)

For gall, Franklin Graham is hard to beat. Out of the goodness of his heart, he’s ready to send hundreds of “grief counselors” trained to convert to Christianity those who are emotionally vulnerable, “as we have done in many situations since 9/11 in New York City.” He’s even got some VT students on his web site helping to promote his extreme generosity with strings attached. I wonder if those “grief counselors” think that converting people to Christianity helps their chances of going to heaven. Franklin Graham also runs one of the groups distributing federal faith-based AIDS relief in Africa where they can get their “good news” across because their victims know that they need the provided medicine to live. Charity, indeed.

Does religion have anything to offer in the VT shooting? No. Does religion have anything to offer in any situation? No. These people are plugging religion because they make money from it. It’s all just self-serving promotion at the expense of others, just as Martin predicted last week.

4 billion years of evolution beats $1 billion in abstinence-only sex ed

Big surprise! Abstinence-only sex ed doesn't work.

Big surprise! It's a huge waste of money.

Big surprise! 4 billion years of evolution in making every living thing on this plant successful because of our collective ability to procreate beats out religiously motivated wishful thinking. Who could have possibly known? (Certainly not anyone who thinks that Jesus solves all your problems.)

Big surprise! It was all just a way for the religious right to get money from its shills in the government. Sadly, this blatant and obvious corruption at the expense of our youth will likely never be punished. I, for one, would like my tax money back on this one.

We've been saying this stuff all along, but nobody listens to us atheists. We're immoral.

Yet another lie of the Christian Right shot down by science

This one has to do with the common claim of the anti-abortion crowd that abortion adds to a woman's breast cancer risk. It doesn't. At all. Full stop.

If there are ethical and medical objections to make to the practice of abortion, then by all means, those ought to be argued and assessed on their merits. But it's clear that the anti-abortion movement has always been about religious ideology first, with scientific facts a distant second. And they've been perfectly happy to tell women pernicious lies about their health risks in order to further inculcate them with fear and guilt over what is already a sad and difficult decision.

I've always said that proper sex education is the key to reducing unwanted pregnancies and, by extension, abortion. Education, of course, must deal in information and not disinformation. Why isn't it surprising that religious extremists who are all too willing to attack others for their "moral relativism" are perfectly happy to engage in such themselves, if doing so helps to further a particular social agenda?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hovind loses appeal; wife will now be charged

Okay, I know this news is a couple of days old. But I'm hoping its repeated posting here is enough to convince the small army of Hovindites who've descended upon this comment thread that the game is over, the jig is up, your boy is toast, and any further attempts to defend Kent by trotting out innuendos about government conspiracies or wondering whether the jail tapes are legal (they're still up on YouTube; they are) isn't going to change reality any more than Hovind's "Dinosaur Adventure Land" dog park and its chintzy displays changed the reality that Earth is 4.5 billion years old and all its living things are descendents of a common ancestor. Go watch the video about the martial arts "qi" master again, getting pwned by someone who seems to be a thoroughly run-of-the-mill black belt. When fantasy meets reality, it's like a squirrel on the highway meeting a semi.

I do feel sorry for Jo, though.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Words of comfort

As Pharyngula recently noted, Dinesh D'Souza has written a characteristically appalling opinion piece on the absence of atheists providing comfort to the bereaved Virginia students:

"The atheist writer Richard Dawkins has observed that according to the findings of modern science, the universe has all the properties of a system that is utterly devoid of meaning. The main characteristic of the universe is pitiless indifference. Dawkins further argues that we human beings are simply agglomerations of molecules, assembled into functional units over millennia of natural selection, and as for the soul--well, that's an illusion!"

Over at Daily Kos, an atheist professor at Virginia Tech has written a beautiful and moving response:

"We atheists do not believe in gods, or angels, or demons, or souls that endure, or a meeting place after all is said and done where more can be said and done and the point of it all revealed. We don't believe in the possibility of redemption after our lives, but the necessity of compassion in our lives. We believe in people, in their joys and pains, in their good ideas and their wit and wisdom. We believe in human rights and dignity, and we know what it is for those to be trampled on by brutes and vandals. We may believe that the universe is pitilessly indifferent but we know that friends and strangers alike most certainly are not. We despise atrocity, not because a god tells us that it is wrong, but because if not massacre then nothing could be wrong."


"You can find us next week in the bloodied classrooms of a violated campus, trying to piece our thoughts and lives and studies back together.

With or without a belief in a god, with or without your asinine bigotry, we will make progress, we will breathe life back into our university, I will succeed in explaining this or that point, slowly, eventually, in a ham-handed way, at risk of tears half-way through, my students will come to feel comfortable again in a classroom with no windows or escape route, and hell yes we will prevail.

You see Mr D'Souza, I am an atheist professor at Virginia Tech and a man of great faith. Not faith in your god. Faith in my people."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Where you find religion, you find killing

Lost amidst the media coverage of the VT shooter is this grim report from Turkey about an attack on a Christian publishing house, in which three people were tied up and had their throats cut. While Turkey is "officially" secular, it is only "secular" in that it is not an overt Islamist theocracy; sociopolitically, it may as well be. Ultra-right-wing nationalism is rampant, and these killings were carried out by just such a group of Islamist extremists.

So here we have another case of people dying because of differences in belief about a nonexistent invisible man in the sky. And that's it. It is sobering and disgraceful that in the 21st century, people still kill other people because of what they believe about their god. If the human race does not grow up sooner rather than later, reject these ancient superstitions, and embrace reason and reality, civilization as we know it will not make it. Deal with this: THERE. IS. NO. GOD. Full stop. So put down your guns and your knives and your bombs and learn to live with each other.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Right-wing Fighting Keyboardists and their manly power fantasies

In the race to the bottom to see who can be the worst douchebag to comment self-servingly on the tragedy at Virginia Tech, I present the National Review's John Derbyshire, who seems to think that, had he been present at the campus when the shooter went on his rampage, he wouldn't have been one of those emasculated pussies running for their lives or diving under desks. No ma'am! He would have leapt into action, somersaulting over desks, dodging bullets in mid-air like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, and taken the fucking gook out with a solid one-two punch, after which he would have been hailed as the hero of the day, carried around on everyone's shoulders, and every sorority girl, Hooters waitress and cheerleader for 100 miles around would have been lining up to ball him.

Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake—one of them reportedly a .22.

At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. [Yeah, right, like everyone present would have known exactly what kind of gun he was firing and how many rounds it held.] Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren't very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can't hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. [Yeah, well, he did kill 31 people, you shit.] And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren't bad. [Yeah, well, he did kill 31 people!]

Yes, yes, I know it's easy to say these things: but didn't the heroes of Flight 93 teach us anything? As the cliche goes—and like most cliches. It's true—none of us knows what he'd do in a dire situation like that. [But you're fine with judging them as cowards anyway.] I hope, however, that if I thought I was going to die anyway, I'd at least take a run at the guy.

Yeah, you hope, asshole. While you're at it, just hope you're never in the situation those students you mock were in, and that no one further insults their families and survivors as you have done by blaming them for their own senseless deaths.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Scum of the earth Fred Phelps and gang to harangue VT funerals

Thru Americablog to Towleroad: Un-motherfucking-believable.

Am I being Coulter-ish in wishing the VT gunman could have descended upon Westboro Baptist Church instead?

Reality vs. fantasy: a visual metaphor

Via PZ, a YouTube clip of a martial arts "master" who seems to have watched too many Shaw Brothers wire-fu movies from the seventies, and who thinks he can vanquish all comers by the use of his "qi". In the video on Pharyngula, you can see him goofily flapping his arms in the general direction of a host of "opponents" who are all several feet away, obligingly falling down, or pretending to convulse as if their bodies are taking vicious blows.

Then, said "master" decides to prove his skills in the real world by taking on a practitioner of regular old-fashioned martial arts...and gets pwned in most humiliating fashion. Go to Pharyngula to see the whole video with the ridiculous wannabe-Jedi playfighting, followed by the real thing. The clip below is of the "master"'s sad defeat, from a better, clearer angle. (Don't watch it if the sight of a poor idiot taking a few kicks to the face might upset you. Good grief, I studied tae-kwon-do when in college in Houston, and even today I could block better than this guy. But then, I would know to block rather than just relying on my magical force field.)

The whole ludicrous farce is, as PZ has also pointed out, a grim metaphor for the dire consequences of rejecting reality in favor of irrational fantasy. As people in the US continue to turn their backs on science and empirical truth, so shall we find our collective asses handed to us when other countries who don't disdain things like evolution, global warming, or any other ideologically incorrect science, race ahead of us intellectually, economically, and in overall quality of life for their citizens.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Worst. Monday. Ever.

By now I'm sure a lot of you have heard about the lunatic armed rampage at Virginia Tech that has, as of this writing, claimed at least 31 lives.

What will be nearly as hideous as these crimes is the fact that in the coming days, numerous groups — a number of which I imagine will belong to the Christian Right — are sure to co-opt this tragedy as they did Columbine for their own political gain, exploiting all this pain and suffering to propel more bombastic propaganda into the media that this is why we need the Bible and the Ten Commandments and forced prayer in schools and in the government, etc., etc.

Of course, I suppose I could be accused of exploiting the event to point to it as yet another piece of ironclad, irrefutable proof of the nonexistence of God. Difference is, I'd be right. But who's right or wrong here will be no consolation to the families of the victims. Our condolensces go out to them all.

Update — tol'jaso!: Wingnut Coulter-wannabe Debbie Schlussel is first out of the gate with a Muslim terrorist conspiracy theory, based solely on the fact that the shooter was identified as "Asian" in some news reports. Nothing like a little right-wing racial profiling to heal a shattered community in a time of tragedy, eh?

Yet another update: Now Bush seems to be thinking a visit to VT would be the ideal photo op to boost his flagging approval ratings. Never mind that what happened today is a mild day in Baghdad. Thanks but no thanks, chimpy.

The updates keep comin': Well well well, Debbie. Turns out our shooter was a South Korean who'd been in the country since 1992 and who's been described, as so many unhinged lunatics seem to be, as a "loner". There goes your Muslim conspiracy theory. I just don't know how to contain my surprise.

The shooter apparently left behind a note railing against "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans." Meanwhile, deceitful charlatan Ken Ham, the creationist fool responsible for that momument to ignorance in Kentucky, has wasted no time blaming "naturalism" and "atheism".

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Another tragedy brings out religious smarm

Here's a story about the sinking of a cruise ship off the coast of Greece, in which almost all passengers and crew survived, and here's the obligatory dumbass comment by some of said survivors:

The couple says prayer is the reason why only two out of 1,600 people were reported missing.

Guess those two were off having gay sex somewhere.

No comment on why God didn't prevent the wreck in the first place.

Friday, April 13, 2007

$176 million a year not enough to stamp out f*cking

Here's one that'll knock you over with a feather. A study commissioned by Congress has shown that abstinence-only sex education programs, on which our government currently spends $176 million of our tax dollars annually, have quite literally no effect at all on teens' sexual behavior.

The only thing defenders of the programs can say in their defense — apart from what they're currently saying, which is that the failure of the abstinence message is that is just isn't being repeated enough, which reminds me of the hilarious line from Black Adder Goes Forth: "By doing exactly what we've done the last 18 times, the Germans will be caught totally off guard!" — is that this new study also shows no effect on contraceptive use either. (It had been one assumption of abstinence-program critics that kids who fall off the wagon would be less informed and less likely to use condoms.)

Naturally, anyone who's been paying attention will know exactly why abstinence programs don't work. They're all part of the Religious Right's war on science. They have nothing to do with facts about sexual behavior, STD's, or any other factor that can be supported with evidence. They're about foisting Christian "morality" on students without regard to reproducible results. They're about theocratic social engineering, not education. Their proponents are the same folks who deny evolution, global warming, and increasingly, other ideologically touchy subjects like the Holocaust.

Way back during the Reagan administration, Austin's Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Ben Sergeant did a brilliant panel. A school principal is shown informing a teacher, "All right, we've removed everything that could possibly offend any religious group! So, Mrs. Smith, get in there and teach!" And the teacher is standing, gagged, in a classroom stripped of pictures, textbooks, maps, pencils, even desks. It was on point then and distressingly so 20 years later.

This is another of the evils of politicized religion. Rather than contribute anything meaningful to learning, these are people who want to play politics with our children's educations — and, increasingly, their lives.

More on blog civility and dealing with trolls

It so happens that there's currently an active debate on blog trolling and how to deal with it.

The current discussion was motivated by the proposal of a blogger "code of conduct" in order to manage the virulent antagonism that often goes on in blog comment threads, when, from the anonymity of a keyboard, people are free to dehumanize those with whom they disagree and give vent to the most egregious forms of hatefulness their little minds can muster. This proposal, involving such quaint and silly concepts as "seals of approval," like you might find on a can of beans, is just a teensy bit on the absurd side and has led to criticisms from such prominent bloggers as John Scalzi and Kos.

Scalzi makes the most sound points: that, for one, there really is no such thing as the "blogosphere" as any kind of enforceable entity. When we refer to the "blogosphere," we are referring in the abstract to the social phenomenon of blogging itself. To say that there's any kind of uniform "code of conduct" that one can apply, let alone enforce, to what is essentially people setting down their thoughts on whatever subjects interest them is naive and foolish. And as for hateful and trollish commenters, there are many options available to blog owners: you can ban, you can disemvowel (as PZ Myers does), or you can moderate as I have chosen to do. As Scalzi notes:

...the reason that we're now at a point where some self-appointed guardians of the discourse have decided it's necessary to tell the rest of us slobs how to talk to each other is that people apparently forgot they have the right on their own sites to tell obnoxious dickheads to shut the hell up. Honestly, I don't know what to say to that, other than I'm sorry that other people's muddled-headed conception of what "free speech" is has allowed obnoxious dickheads to run free in blogs, and allowed busybodies to wring their hands in the New York Times about how mean the blogosphere is. It's idiotic.

What the blog world needs is not a universal "Code of Conduct"; what it needs is for people to remind themselves that deleting comments from obnoxious dickheads is a good thing. It's simple: if someone's an obnoxious dickhead, then pop! goes their comment. You don't even have to explain why, although it is always fun to do so. The commenter will either learn to abide by your rules, or they will go away. Either way, your problem is solved. You don't need community policing or a code of conduct to make it happen. You just do it.

You'd think this would be simple, but at times, there are folks who are unprepared for just how extreme trolls can get. One incident cited as a motivator for the "code of conduct" idea had to do with death threats received by blogger Kathy Sierra, some of which included distressing Photoshopped images of her. Certainly this behavior is alarming to someone who's never seen it before, and who would be understandably bewildered and horrified that such sick responses could be made to the mere expression of an opinion. But Kos made the following point:

Look, if you blog, and blog about controversial shit, you'll get idiotic emails. Most of the time, said "death threats" don't even exist — evidenced by the fact that the crying bloggers and journalists always fail to produce said "death threats".... For my part, I've gotten my fair share of such vile emails. Some of them have threatened my children. One or two actually crossed the line into "death threat" territory. But so what? It's not as if those cowards will actually act on their threats.... Email makes it easy for stupid people to send stupid emails to public figures. If they can't handle a little heat in their email inbox, then really, they should try another line of work. Because no "blogger code of conduct" will scare away psycho losers with access to email.

Kos's response might seem too glib, but I think he has a point. There are people out there in the world who are emotionally and intellectually incapable of dealing with the fact that some folks have opinions which differ from their own. The more strident and dogmatic their views (hello, religion), the less able they are to handle differing opinions maturely and rationally. They fly into rages. Unable to form a counter-argument and take down the other person with clear facts, they go berserk, sometimes making death threats.

However, as Michael Newdow (who's had more than his share of death threats) stated when he was here in Austin as guest of the ACA, these threats can most often be dismissed as idiots simply venting because they haven't got the tools between their ears to do anything other. When I was hosting the AE TV show we got at least two overt death threats over the phone I can remember, and several more threats of a lesser nature (mere beatings, those). And while we were always common-sensibly cautious, we didn't take them seriously. These were simply fools venting like the fools they were.

Which is why I think PZ has overreacted in criticizing Kos for the above statements.

Is Kos really so tone-deaf that he doesn't realize he has just sided with people who threatened to slit Sierra's throat and rape her corpse?

...This is not the time to act snotty and superior towards the target of online hate; I know that we get inured to the petty, vicious stupidity of some of the worst of the web (yes, I get death threats too, and some of them are nastily explicit), but what the kind of ugliness directed at Sierra ought to do is wake us up out of that take-it-for-granted attitude and get us motivated to shine more light on the cockroaches. It is not appropriate to encourage the roaches by acting as if the problem is Kathy Sierra's too-fragile hide — it isn't. We all ought to be outraged when some no-name faux-macho cretin writes to us and tells us to shut up or he'll shoot us in the head. There is the problem, the eliminationist assholes who thrive under the encouragement of AM talk radio, admire the posturing bullies like Limbaugh and Coulter and Savage, and think homicidal sexual fantasies are manly.

Well, for one thing, I don't think that Kos was blaming the victim. He was simply pointing out a fact: state controversial opinions in public, and expect to take some abuse from assholes. If you haven't got skin thick enough for it, then perhaps you ought to choose a different hobby than the public expression of controversial views. In other words...heat, kitchen, all that.

PZ may be right in saying that you encourage asshole trolls by letting them know their vile behavior can shut you up. But PZ should also know trolls seek the outrage he advocates. This is the thing about trolls: in their minds, they win no matter how you respond. If you ignore them, they call you cowardly. If you ban them, they call you cowardly. If you get angry with them and slam them back twice as hard, they laugh to know they ruined your day and got under your skin. If you try to engage them respectfully, they just amp up their reprehensible behavior until you do decide you've had enough and get angry, at which point they declare victory. Remember, it's never about the equitable exchanging of views with trolls. It's just about their stroking their little egos the only way they know how, through hurting and attacking others. It's the behavior of people who never matured past playground scuffles at recess in 5th grade.

So Scalzi's advice is the best. Remember that your blog is your blog and you get to make the rules, just as you get to set rules for guests visiting your home and are entirely within your rights to throw them out if they break the furniture or shit on the rug. For idiots who want to whine that moderating or banning offensive commenters constitutes some kind of free speech violation, all I can say is "pull your head out." Their free speech is never at risk, because no one's stopping them from starting their own blogs.

Confront us, challenge us, debate with us, critique us, disagree with us all you like. I'm happy to have you here. Once you descend to the level of playground bullying and emotionally unhinged raving, you're gone. And I'm not sweating it.

Dawkins wins Author of the Year at the British Book Awards

Not sure how new or old this is, but not only am I delighted to see such a prominent atheist writer receive this kind of accolade, I'm doubly impressed that over in England they actually have book awards shows that appear to be televised just like the Golden Globes! Here in the middlebrow U.S. of A., if it ain't goofy teenagers trying to win a bad-singing contest, or C-list celebrities doing ballroom dancing, it ain't gettin' on television. As an avid reader, I feel very much apart from the American mainstream, I can tell you.

Anyway, congrats to the good professor! No, The God Delusion isn't quite the best atheism book ever published. But it certainly is the most accessible, giving readers who've never been exposed to the views of nonbelief a decent "Atheism 101" overview. And its prominence as a major worldwide bestseller means that Dawkins' goal of "consciousness raising" was a roaring success. Now I'm ready for the next wave of atheist books to flood the bestseller lists in its wake.

Comment moderation enabled

It's a shame, but I've had to activate comment moderation. This does not mean that if you are a theist who wants to disagree with us, even vehemently, your comment will not be allowed. This is simply a measure I've had to undertake due to a lot of reprehensible and dishonest (but par for the course from people like this) trolling behavior from a couple of commenters, one of whom I'm sure you all know by name. Yes'm, ol' Dan Marvin proved himself a lying little scum as usual, gleefully reneging on his own promise not to post here anymore. Dan belongs to that particularly unctuous and dispicable breed of religionist who does not feel rules of decency and honesty apply to him, and that being a man of your word is, shall we say, overrated. As Blogger does not make banning an easy thing to do (and banning by IP is an iffy process anyway, as it's easy to get around in so many ways), moderation is the only way to keep the worst of the worst out.

Civil and decently behaved believers are more than welcome to post here, and post criticisms of us. Free expression is a thing all freethinkers respect. But so is integrity and maturity, neither of which have been on display from the likes of Dan or Emanuel. As Tracie has pointed out, Emanuel has nothing to offer but insults. He doesn't even attempt to make arguments for a god; he just wants to shit on atheists. And by his own admission, whenever he takes his wild, undisciplined swings at nonbelievers in general (and guys like Richard Dawkins in particular), he's really just settling scores with an abusive uncle, whose alleged violent and alcoholic impulses Emanuel thinks can be projected upon all atheists. Tracie said it best: there's really no conversation to be had when one side is trying to discuss theology and the other is undertaking a kind of self-induced primal scream therapy to deal with personal emotional issues.

(Though I have a lot of skepticism over Emanuel's account of this. For one thing, he claimed this uncle owned "a library of over 2500 atheist books," and frankly, I don't even think there are 20% of that quantity of books about atheism by atheists in existence. And most of those would be in the Prometheus Books catalog.)

Emanuel clearly has some severe mental imbalances to work out. But that is the purview of psychiatry, which is not what we do here. Criticism of religion, and intelligent debate over same, is what we do here. If anyone in the theist camp feels they can last a few rounds, then be welcome. Go ahead, tell us we're full of shit all you like. Just have thoughtful arguments to present when you do it. The pooflingers can stay in the primate cage in the zoo, until they evolve.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Creationists admit it: "We refuse to learn!"

The clod-hoppers at Answers in Genesis have demonstrated the depth of their stupidity in a recent post that is being discussed at the Internet Infidels message boards. Red State Rabble has also done a concise takedown of the following young-earther display of "Look ma, no brains!"

Have you ever noticed that evolutionists are so sure that they have the answers to how everything began and that the Bible has to be wrong—yet every time a new discovery is made, it’s the evolutionists who have to change their theories! The only true thing about their evolutionary theories is that whatever they believe to be truth today, seems to change tomorrow!

But God’s Word NEVER changes. It’s NOT subject to modification every couple of years when a new discovery is made about the universe. If you really want to have the absolute, unchanging account of everything, go to the book of Genesis.

For Chrissakes, you creationist cretins, which is it? Are "Darwinists" dogmatists, as you often whine, or are they waffly mind-changers, as you now imply? It seems that whatever attack you're mounting against science today seems to change tomorrow!

What the godtard brigade doesn't realize is that science's quality of adapting to new discoveries and new evidence is its greatest strength. Conversely, mindless Biblical dogma is etched in stone no matter what new discoveries come to light. And these fools are boasting about their intellectual inflexibility, strident dogma, and stubborn ineducability as if that makes their way of doing things better! Look at what they write — it's all there. Their beliefs are "NOT (all caps, wow!) subject to modification"! Evidence has no place for them! Full stop. So the next time to hear a young-earther talking about some bullshit "evidence" they have that the earth is only a week and a half old last Tuesday, or whatever tripe they're spouting, you can catch them out simply by saying, "Evidence? But you've admitted you don't use that. So were you lying then or lying now?"

Plus, if one is a young earther, and one wants to apply one's attitude about how facts are determined consistently, one must live a hopelessly confused life in which belief and reality are constantly frought with conflict. If a friend or relative says they've bought a new car, and they wish to drive it over and show you, and you form a belief in your mind that this car is going to be a Porsche, and it turns out to be a Hyundai, you are not allowed to deviate from your belief that it is a Porsche even after you have seen it's a Hyundai and ridden in it! Belief before empirical reality at all times!

Of course, I doubt most young-earthers apply their belief practices in that way. But that means they're applying them inconsistently, and adhering to don't-think-ever! dogmatism only to those subjects like evolution that they feel threaten their cherished myths. In short, just more evidence they're the least intellectually honest people alive.

To modify a hilariously vulgar line from a sci-fi novel I just read, my dick can fart better than these people can think.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Special Easter counter-programming: AE #492/493 double feature

Atheist Experience #492, 3/18/07: Deconversion. Everyone's favorite commenter Tracie talks about the common path that Christians take when they become atheists.

Atheist Experience #493, 3/25/07: Pascal's Wager. Don Baker takes on the "Believe or else!" pseudo-argument, commonly given by Christians.

In which your typical YEC is shown to be a first-grade dropout

Thought you'd get a kick out of this comment to the post from about six weeks back, in which Kent Hovind's jail phone tapes were presented. In keeping with the spirit of my "On Meanness" post, feel free to abuse this mental midget with impunity!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Blog against theocracy: Which religion?

This is my impromptu contribution to the blogswarm that is going on this Easter weekend. I'm obviously not doing this every day, since I missed posting yesterday, but I'm writing something today and perhaps tomorrow as well. I'd encourage my fellow AE posters to chime in with other posts, if they're so inclined.

Austin is a city full of living contradictions. We Austinites live in a city that is probably the most laid back, religiously liberal locale in a very, very southern Bible belt state. Or as I sometimes describe it, "An island of blue in a sea of red." On this island there live many people who have migrated from other states, so that I often go for several days without hearing a single Texas accent. On the other hand, there are plenty of "true Texans," and there are quite a few people who still manage to live their lives inside a religious bubble. You can hear these people call in regularly to the TV show, perplexed about what in the world and atheist is, or why we would dare to risk eternal hellfire by not believing something that they feel is obviously true. Many of these people they aggressively defend their right not to have to leave that bubble.

Earlier this week, I was listening to a local radio show as they talked about a recent news story, in which a Muslim was invited to say a prayer in the Texas Senate. Many people were calling the show, predictably seething with outrage that the Muslim would dare to defile their upcoming sacred weekend by saying the word "Allah" in a public building. There was a woman on the show, who is not a regular, but she was the sole voice calling for tolerance of religious diversity. She was also getting berated. The callers asked, without a trace of irony, how it's fair for this Muslim to come in our state buildings and pray to "Allah" when THEY (the callers) don't believe in Allah.

That is, of course, exactly what atheists think about Christian prayers. I'm not going to bother making a case here that there shouldn't be any prayers in public places (although I feel that's important). I just want to point out -- yet again -- the rank hypocrisy of insisting that Christian prayers be allowed in public places while getting bent out of shape that any other prayers are also allowed. When called on it, they'll repeat the Christian nation myth.

The fact that most people in America are Christian does not make this a Christian nation, any more than the fact that most people in America are white makes this a white nation. As the founding fathers wrote, and the supreme court has confirmed over and over again, the intent of our laws is to create a religion-neutral government. Islam has exactly the same right to our public forums as Christianity does. Either both belong, or neither does.

As atheists, we've begrudgingly gotten used to sucking it up most of the time when yet another effort to Christianize the government goes through, such as a giant "In God We Trust" sign gracing the lieutenant governor's podium. We complain about it, of course, and work to bring about change, but often those things do not change and there is a certain psychological requirement to deal with it and move on. That's why the enormous fuss about letting Muslims take up Senate time really doesn't register with me as a serious issue. It's not because I want Muslims to take over the government, obviously; it's because it seems to be in the same category as things that go on already. "Oh well, Christians were wasting our time last week and this week it's Muslims."

In another sense, however, the general topic of religious ceremony in government is a very serious issue. The issue is simply highlighted by this Muslim prayer. Usually when anyone complains about government observation of religion, they are accused of persecuting Christians by preventing them from freely exercising their own religion. Listen, for example, to this pitiful whine by talk show host Glenn Beck, who complains that it's really HARD to be a Christian because it's so unpopular to be part of an 85% majority. It's also apparently hard to be human, he says.

But as we can see, the same Christians who insist on their right to express themselves are not willing to afford the same "right" to Muslims, and that's the point where they fall back on declaring that only Christian prayers have a place at the table.

That's an example of theocracy. It's a minor one. It's not anywhere near the outrageousness of sharia law, and nobody should claim it is. But there are groups in the US that seek to install a religious government that is every bit as oppressive as fundamentalist Islamic societies. Christianity may not be unpopular but Dominionism is. However, fundamentalist Islam is also unpopular, but they still manage to take over small countries. So it's important not to underestimate the threat. If American fundamentalists have failed to install a theocracy here, it is because they are tempered by post-enlightenment culture and not for lack of trying.

That's why it's important not to be intimidated and distracted by claims that keeping religion out of government is somehow oppressive and an imposition on people's rights. People who want to put religion in government are either making this claim disingenuously, or they simply haven't thought it through. Anyone who has a problem with bringing up "Allah" in the Senate should have a problem with religious pandering in general. It shouldn't be solely the domain of atheists to point out that you can't make an exception for your own favorite religion... unless you somehow figure out a way to prove that your religion is true.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

On meanness

This post is longer and a lot looser than most of mine — which tend to be long and loose anyway — but I've just been thinking through a lot of stuff and so it's time to set some of it down.

In the wake of the deep sigh of relief all of us have taken over the long-overdue departure of Dan Marvin, I've gotten all introspective and have considered the charge that atheists often are faced with: that we're just plain mean sonsabitches who are all too quick to respond to believers with anger, invective and name calling.

Take the whole history with Dan over the past few months. I called him stupid, uneducated, hypocritical, dishonest, and a lying little turd. I probably called him a few less pleasant things too. Other people in the comments called him even worse. It cannot feel good to hear yourself being called these things. It can only being demeaning and hurtful. From the anonymity of the keyboard, it's easy to forget that the person you're attacking is a human being with feelings.

What kind of guy do I think Dan Marvin is in person? I imagine he's a devoted and loving husband and father, a hard-working man who devotes 100% of himself to providing for his family and being a good citizen in his community. I can also tell from his writings that he really believes what he says he believes, even if, as was shown here by such fine commenters as Stephen and Tracie, he doesn't fully understand, or think through all of the implications of, what he claims to believe. I think he came here because he's genuinely possessed of a belief that there's a place called hell where we're all going to go to be tortured forever because we don't believe as he does. I think his beliefs are so thoroughly branded into his map of the world that no matter how much we tried to explain, "Look, here's why we don't believe what you do, and here's what we need to see from you if you think we should," his responses went along the lines of "But...but...don't you understand, you're going to hell!" There's just a fundamental difference in the way people like him and people like us process information in our minds, and that leads, particularly in extreme cases like Dan's, to an insurmountable communication gap.

So, yeah. On the one hand, I'm willing to admit that that kind of communication gap can lead to atheists losing our temper with what we see as pure stupidity.

But as I said way back when, believers who find atheists brusque and insulting need — however hard it may be for them — to try walking in our shoes.

Truth to tell, when I called Dan a particular nasty name, it was because he'd done something to earn it. Dan's own comments speak to his behavior well enough. If he cut-and-pasted some moronic creationist canards, I called him an idiot, because that's the sort of thing only an idiot would do. When he projected his own behavior onto us, I'd call him a hypocrite. When he tried to refute us by making bizarre straw men out of our arguments, I'd hit him again. And again. Now, that's just me. Life is not always meant to be easy, and some lessons need to be learned the hard way. There's a time when the gloves have to come off. There's a place for the Simon Cowell approach to criticism. And I'm okay with giving it. Some commenters here got even angrier with Dan. Others like Tracie were nearly heroic, in the patient way she calmly knocked down everything Dan threw at her, without the slightest hint that even one of her feathers had been ruffled.

It helps to know when being a two-fisted atheist is the right approach, and when it's not. When I started my four-year run on the AE TV show, I was first cohost to the redoubtable Jeff Dee. Jeff is brilliant at arguing on his feet, and almost always went for the jugular. Oftimes this was needed. The flipside was that it could, on occasion, backfire. For years, we had a creationist troll named Steve (some of you remember him, I'm sure) who'd call every week with whatever bit of YEC bullshit he'd dredged up. From the fake Paluxy riverbed "man tracks" on down, there was no argument so lame and discredited he wouldn't call with it. He was also a deeply dishonest scumbag who wouldn't address our rebuttals. He engaged in the kind of drive-by, hit-and-run pseudo-arguing in which, every time we'd refute his latest claim, he'd just call the next week and, without even acknowledging that we'd addressed his points, simply go off on a new round of drivel as if the previous week's conversation had never occurred.

But one thing became clear to me very quickly. Not only was Steve stupid, disingenuous, and ill-educated; he wasn't even serious. At first, yes, it was evident he really thought he could take us on with his arguments. But soon it was obvious he'd changed his tack, and he was calling every week because he knew how easy it was to make Jeff lose his temper. Many Christians realize they can't actually take down an atheist on the facts, and so they resort to emotional manipulation. Get the atheist angry, and they can claim a phony moral "victory." The argument is, at this point, no longer about what is or isn't true. It's about a "humble" Christian trying to witness to a poor unsaved soul, and getting hate and anger in reply. Instant martyr; just add water.

After Jeff left the show and I shifted my plump cheeks into the host's chair, Steve kept calling...for a bit. Then he just quit. Because I'd pegged him. I knew his schtick. I would just reply to his claims, without getting pissed off. I guess I wasn't as much fun.

Still, "pissed off" is something I get at times, all on my own. And I know other atheists sympathize. There really is no understating the level of frustration that is felt when one lives without religion in a religion-addicted world. Atheists, generally speaking, are just normal folks trying to get by and do the best they can like anyone else. Our only difference is that we have dispensed with the need for irrational beliefs in the supernatural, which we think most people maintain simply because the culture in which they were raised requires it as a behavioral norm. This view, I think, is borne out by recent findings that while most Americans profess religious belief, few actually know anything about what they claim to believe.

Thus many Americans profess belief simply because everyone else does, and not to do so would mean you're weird. On the flip side of that extreme are the Dan Marvins of the faith, who denounce those people as "false converts" while at the same time offering nothing but smoke and mirrors and nonsense in defense of their own, presumably "truer" belief.

In the midst of all this swirling supernaturalist confusion is the atheist, attempting to live a rational, humanist existence among millions of people who literally seem to be living in another world. And because we don't buy into the God delusion, we're vilified by people who know nothing of us, of atheism, or even of their own theism, and who think of themselves as paragons of virtue.

So to anyone who thinks atheists are mean people, I say, have you listened to Michael Newdow's answering machine tapes? (He's made them available, and even recorded a funny song around some of them.) Have you read the death threats and hate mail that Sam Harris gets? Have you read the vile diatribes by the Baptist minister on Possummomma's blog? How is someone like her supposed to live a normal, peaceful life when some lunatic, self-anointed "man of God" takes to stalking her children to save their souls? Atheists are "angry," you say? What parent, atheist or not, wouldn't get angry about that?

So while I think it behooves atheists to always do our best to choose the high ground of reason over the low road of irrational emotionalism, we are only human after all. Anger is an entirely justified response to being on the receiving end of prejudice and stupidity, especially when it is perpetrated by ignorant hypocrites who are convinced they're on the side of righteousness. Before you tell me that atheists are mean people full of anger and hate, consider what brings it on, and that many believers are in need of some serious adjustments to their own moral compasses.

In which we breathlessly await Dan Marvin's "scientific proof of God without any verses and such"!

That genius Dan Marvin just keeps getting better and better. He has now thrown down the gauntlet. He says he's finally got it, the "straight science" to prove God's existence irrefutably once and for all. Here's his brave boast. Behold!

Let’s start with a clean slate and a new blog to present a case for a creator. I challenge all of you against my evidence. Do you accept this challenge? I will prove my position in a whole radical new way do you accept my challenge?

Why yes, Dan, we do. Bring it. We will evaluate your "radical" "evidence" on its merits and on its merits alone. I will ignore the fact that in the past you have said that belief in God requires a "faith" that runs "contrary to human logic," which contradicts the position you are taking now. I will even refrain from calling you names this time. By now your foolishness is sufficiently well-established that it no longer merits comment. No point in belaboring the obvious.

Dan is so confident he's got the goods that his conditions are that if we cannot refute his "radical" "evidence" we will have to reounce our atheism and cancel the Atheist Experience television show. As I am not a member of the show's crew any more, I am not in a position to agree to those terms. But I will say, as I always have done, that if I had proof positive of the existence of a deity — at least of the same caliber that I have for the existence of anything else I know to exist — that I will cease to be an atheist.

Dan has also said that if he loses this challenge, he will go away and never come back. Given Dan's well-documented history of dishonesty and inability to understand, let alone accept, past refutations of his claims, I suspect he will not be honest and admit he's been pwned this time either. But no matter. I control the horizontal and vertical here, so I intend to hold Dan to his admittedly worthless word. When he presents his evidence, and if it is refuted (see how generous I'm being), I will expect him to stay true to his word and go away. If he refuses to do so, I will ban him.

I know in the past, I have said I don't do banning. But this is an unusual case. Dan has been a nuisance here for nearly two months. He hasn't won a single point or presented a single fact in all that time, and yet every time he comes back, he does so with renewed vigor and wholly undeserved confidence. There's a pathology here that it would take a mental health professional to evaluate most accurately. My options are easier.

While I won't be sorry to see Dan go, I admit his idiocy has been a major source of entertainment here, and a good traffic booster as well. (Who doesn't like to rubberneck a major wreck on the highway?) But he's now well past his sell-by date and is starting to stink up the place. Most of his latest, blustery comments — in which he flatters himself for doing things he's never done, like offer good arguments...oh, excuse me, "augments" — are clearly written for an audience composed of Dan Marvin, who seems to find playground bravado impressive. We don't. We prefer facts. If you've got 'em, let us have 'em, Dan. If you don't, one way or another, you will be gone.

Addendum: So Dan's response is that his challenge was an April Fool's joke. Makes an entirely Dan Marvinish kind of sense that he posted it on April 3rd, then.

I have tremendous faith that God will deliver some of you from these lies that are being pushed here at this blog and I hope I showed some of you the animosity and anger with some of these people that goes along with not having God in your life.

Uh, actually, Dan, our animosity and anger came from having to deal with your pathological lying, immaturity, refusal to take responsibility for yourself, and lack of integrity. That you still are thinking this way shows your personal moral compass is beyond repair.

So long, Dan. I'd tell you not to waste your time reading what the ID crowd is claiming about the bacterial flagellum and "irreducible complexity," but there's no point, I know.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Atheist Experience #491: "World Wellness Weekend"

Ashley Perrien reports on his visit to the "World Wellness Weekend" Conference, a new-age affair held in Austin, featuring such spiritual hucksters and windbags as Deepak Chopra and that bozo who wrote The Secret.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A convoluted April Fool's joke

I'm not really sure who perpetrated this, but bear with me, this may be a wee bit complicated.

The various folks at and have recently had great fun debunking a character at the Discovery Institute named Michael Egnor. (From Pharyngula: Example 1, Example 2.) Egnor claims to be both a neurosurgeon and an evolution skeptic, and he holds some truly laughable creationists views.

Today, both Panda's Thumb and Pharyngula are reporting that the Discovery Institute revealed, through their site, that Michael Egnor is an elaborate hoax. Egnor is not real, they say, he is a construct to see how "gullible" these "Darwinists" are and bait them into silly ad hominems. And boy, did it ever work!

Only one problem. I noticed, and apparently so did several other commenters, that the link above actually goes to evolutionnews.NET, not And furthermore if you try to get to the main page of, as I did, you can't -- there's a 404 error.

Cleverly, though, all the links on the .net page redirect to the appropriate areas of, so to the careless reader, it appears that they are all part of the same site. Also cleverly, the header was stolen from the .org site and so were the stylesheets, so it looks nearly identical.

The thing that tipped me off was that I went to the main site to look at what else was posted before and after the alleged "April Fool's" post, and found that the post itself was not there. There was, however, a NEW post by Michael Egnor, which begins: "I am a devout Catholic..." I thought: "Hmmm, that's odd that they would try to keep up the pretense after they just revealed that it was a joke..."

So, dear readers, the joke's on YOU. As crazy as Michael Egnor sounds, he's the genuine article. Assuming that PZ himself is in on it, sorry for ruining your joke, but I figure people will read your site before ours. :)