Tuesday, August 28, 2007

D. James Kennedy hangs it up

D. James Kennedy, famed theocratic evangelist and pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, has announced his retirement, having failed to recover sufficiently from the cardiac arrest he suffered last December to resume his preaching. Kennedy is one of the most influential, respected and powerful evangelicals in America, which should scare the shit out of you when you realize just what a dishonest, anti-intellectual weasel he really is.

Some years ago, I started reading Kennedy's book Skeptics Answered, and posted the first part of my fisking of it to the ACA website. It's still there, and reading it today, I don't think I did a half-bad job, even if I never got around to completing it. Considering the poor quality of what I did read and critique, I'm not confident it would have gotten better anyway. Still, you can check it out if you like.

With Falwell mercifully gone, Kennedy and Graham ailing, and Robertson and Dobson hanging on, the old guard of septuagenarian evangelical superstars are on the way out. But sadly, their bad ideas have calcified in the public conscience. They leave behind an America thoroughly seeped in superstitious twaddle, distrustful and deceived about science, and ill-equipped for critical thinking and unable to judge new ideas, other than by how threatening they are to Christian dogma. It will take a lot of work to undo the damage, and I fear it won't come soon enough for America to be surpassed in science, technology, and human rights by much of the rest of the world.

Update: 9/5: Kennedy discovered there was no Heaven today.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Jesus thinks you suck too, dude

Scumsucking dogkiller Michael Vick gave the usual on-camera "apology" today for his nefarious affiliation and support of interstate dogfighting, which involved directly participating in the killing of several dogs by drowning, electrocution, and strangling.

Anyone wanna guess what he said once he was sure cameras and mics were rolling?


Ah, okay, I'll tell you.

"Through this situation I've found Jesus," he added. He vowed to redeem himself, saying, "I have to."

Huh. Typical. Religion to the rescue again!

Sad thing is, that little quote will mollify a lot of people.

Ugarit and the Bible

On a few past episodes we looked at some of the gods mentioned in the Old Testament. Among them, Asherah, Nehushtan, Ba’al, Yahweh, and El.

Many people are familiar with the texts found at Qumran, commonly known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the 1940s. But fewer people have heard of the Ugarit findings, which began to be unearthed in the late 1920s. Both discoveries greatly increased our knowledge and understanding of Biblical texts and also of the history surrounding the evolution of Judaism and Christianity.

The Dead Sea Scrolls impacted both the Old and New Testament interpretations, while the findings at Ugarit impacted only the Old Testament. These texts and architectural inscriptions predate the Hebrew settlement at Canaan, but interestingly, they mention some of the same gods that appear in the Hebrew religious writings, produced after the Hebrew contact with the Ugarit region. The most significant god mentioned is El. In one temple inscription he is said to be the father of Ba’al. In other mentions, he is even the father of Yaweh.

In the Old Testament, Ba’al is associated with the Canaanites. And he is described as the focus of their religious worship in those stories—while El is described as being another name for Yahweh, the Hebrew patron god. In reality, however, based on the discoveries at Ugarit (the land called Canaan in the Bible), El is clearly the father of the gods in much the same way that Zeus is the head of the gods on Olympus in Greek mythology. And Yaweh is not another name for El, but a separate deity. Like Zeus, El headed a pantheon. He was not only the father of mankind, but the leader of the Ugarit gods. His pantheon, in Ugarit, is called the Elohim (literally, the plural of El).

Using the book of Genesis as an example, the best scholarly estimates date it back to somewhere between 950 and 500 BC. It appears that the writings were composed in two styles, one style preferring to refer to god as El and the other using YHWH (or Yahweh). Eventually these texts came together into the form we have today, sometime around 450 BC. Just to give some perspective, the best documented time in the Ugarit history was between 1450 and 1200 BC.

According to many modern apologists, El is simply another name for god, or even a generic word for “god” used by the Hebrews; and Elohim is simply another form of El. However, Bible translators do translate Elohim as plural in some instances and do translate El to be a proper noun in some instances. Some apologists defend a wholly singular usage of Elohim by pointing to the inconsistency with which Elohim is used with singular verb forms; however, this does not rule out the very real (and likely) potential that as monotheism evolved out of polytheism, the Hebrew texts were adjusted to correct for this problem (as we discussed the evolution of the book of Genesis in the above paragraph). However, it does seem oddly coincidental—and difficult to overlook—that the Hebrews had significant contact with Canaan and then, some years afterward, wrote out a Hebrew religious mythology using a name for god that parallels the Ugarit mythology’s chief deity. It is also odd that Elohim appears in Ugarit texts as a clearly plural form of El, and then later in a sometimes confused singular/plural fashion in the Hebrew texts.

The important question becomes, then: Is there any reason beyond the contact with Canaan to view the Hebrew deity as being synonymous with the Canaanite god El? The answer is “yes.” There are parallels between the two gods. For example, if we look at more of the attributes of El in the Ugarit texts, we find that El had a consort, Asherah (who was also, occasionally, recorded as the consort to Yahweh). This would appear to distance the Hebrew El from the Ugarit El then, if there is no mention of the Hebrews combining El with Asherah. However, there is mention in the Hebrew texts that illustrates that Asherah was connected with El in the minds of the Hebrews as well as in their worship. Twice in Jeremiah (chapter 7 and chapter 44), she is referred to as the Queen of Heaven, and it is clearly indicated that the Hebrews were worshipping her in those instances. Also, in 2 Kings 18, it is noted that her objects of worship (the Asherah poles) were removed from the “high places” of worship to El/Yahweh.

There is no doubt that as the Hebrews moved from polytheism, into henotheism, and ultimately into monotheism, that they adjusted their religious practices accordingly. It is not surprising that the worship of Asherah was ultimately condemned, discouraged, and forbidden. But what can’t be ignored is the fact that the Hebrews did acknowledge Asherah. They did worship her. And they did associate her with El by placing her symbols in the same temples of worship. If Hebrews did not adopt the older Ugarit El, with which they were surely familiar, then it is very odd that Asherah also appears in their religious texts and worship.

I would never underestimate the apologist’s ability to find a perspective that can reinterpret this data to make it less problematic. However, the clear and simply explanation is this: The Hebrews interacted with Ugarit, adopted their pantheon, and their religion evolved, as all religions do through time, to become a uniquely Hebrew monotheism.

Further Reading:
[General information about Ugarit]

[Describes similarities and parallels between Biblical texts and Ugarit texts]

[Describes the production of Genesis]

[Presents an apologetic case for the singular form of Elohim]

[Another apologetic case for the singular form of Elohim]

[Identifies Asherah as El’s consort]

[Information about Asherah]

[Asherah as the Queen of Heaven]

Friday, August 24, 2007

The messy world of free speech

From Florida comes this report of a Christian evangelist who's had his TV show yanked off a local station because he can't resist talking smack about Islam.

Earlier this month, officials from the Council on American Islamic Relations wrote a letter to the TV station's owners asking for an investigation of the show it broadcasts, "Live Prayer with Bill Keller."

In a May 2 broadcast, the televangelist said Islam was a "1,400-year-old lie from the pits of hell" and called the Prophet Mohammed a "murdering pedophile." He also called the Koran a "book of fables and a book of lies."

Well, I for one utterly agree with the last statement, though I would add that Keller's Bible also qualifies. I'd have to reserve judgment on the second statement and would agree with the first half of the first statement, too. Someone else who I'm sure would largely agree with Keller would be atheist bestseller Sam Harris, who's written that Islam is nothing less than the "enemy of civilization". It's sweet when we can all see eye to eye on something, isn't it?

So, were local Muslims understandably offended? Sure they were. Should they have been allowed to protest the show, even to the point of having it taken off the air? Yes again. But did Keller have a Constitutionally protected right to voice his opinions of Islam, however offensive they were? Why, we're back to yes. Welcome to the conflicted and messy world of free speech.

There are actually many layers to a situation such as this. One valid criticism one might make of Keller is that while he has a Constitutional right to spew invective about a competing religion, he does not (nor does anyone else) have a Constitutional right to a TV show, and members of any community as well as a television station itself have every right to drop something that they find appalling. Readers will note a similarity here to the recent firing of celebrity radio clod Don Imus for making racist wisecracks. It's a tossup as to which situation is more offensive: Imus made a joke, though an egregiously juvenile and thoughtless one, while Keller was really being deliberately confrontational and insulting.

Should Imus have been fired? I'd have to waffle and say definitely maybe (a long suspension would have served fine; after all, the man's been offending people on the air for 30 years now, so it's not as if he hasn't got a rep). Imus's bad joke served no purpose but to insult a group of people who'd done nothing to deserve it (quite the opposite, in fact), and was in fact not an insult over anything they'd done at all, but over who they were and the color of their skin. There wasn't, nor could there have been, any valid programming context to justify its utterance.

Should Keller have been similarly canned, though? I don't think so. In this case, there's no bones made about who the man is and what kind of program he's got. The station which carried him had to have known he was an evangelical Christian, and thus he'd be spouting barbarian opinions on any number of subjects. And since when should anyone be taken aback that a program promoting one religion would, every now and again, knock the competition?

When people express strong opinions, someone will be offended. Period. The Atheist Experience offends a lot of Christians simply by existing at all. Dawkins criticizes faith and is labeled a bully and an "atheist fundamentalist" and a thought-cop and a bigot, though everything I've read of his is delivered in a tone that, while certainly confrontational and blunt, never merely seeks to insult people on a personal level. Christians, on their TV networks, say personally insulting things about atheists, liberals, homosexuals, and basically anyone who isn't in their club with such reliability that you can practically set your watch by the frequency of Pat Robertson's latest idiotic remark.

In a culture that supports free speech, offensive statements should be allowed, but expressly so they can be aired and then subject to criticism and debate. This is why I think the bad guys in this scenario here are neither Keller nor the Islamic group who got his show pulled, but the TV station itself, for not allowing the Islamic group a chance to counter Keller's remarks. We all cringe with disgust when filth like Fred Phelps or the KKK announce they're coming to town. But the value there is that when they do come, hundreds of people whose minds are not poisoned by religious bigotry and ignorance find themselves rallying together in counter-protest.

So I say yeah, Keller should be allowed to have a show if he can find a station that'll take him on. And the Islamic citizens whom he offends should be able to rebut him publicly and encourage viewers not to watch his show and boycott his sponsors. And there should also be a nice, family atheist show on Florida TV as well, pointing out that both these folks are full of shit and offering rationalism as a better alternative to both. If anything in this modern world is aggressively Darwinian, it's the marketplace of ideas. Let the bad ideas have free rein, if only so that better ideas can be aired to challenge and ultimately conquer them.

Okay, having said all that, I will anticipate and respond to a criticism I can already see some of our Christian readers making. Isn't it hypocritical of me, they might say, as an atheist, for you to support free speech and the exchange of ideas when it comes to something like religious broadcasting, but not when it comes to giving equal time to intelligent design alongside evolution in science classrooms?

In short, no. Religious television shows and similar entertainment venues are forums in which people express opinions, even when they're deluded people who think their opinions are facts. Science classrooms are different, because they are educational (not entertainment) venues in which facts, and not opinions, are to be discussed. If certain facts in science are controversial, then that itself is a fact and is free to be taught there. The reason right now for opposition to ID in classrooms is that the side promoting it hasn't shored up sufficient facts for their challenge to evolution to be accepted as legit. If the ID camp devoted a fraction of the attention they devote to media dog-and-pony-shows and indignant press releases to actual scientific research programs, then they wouldn't be currently denied the respect of academia that they seem to feel is their birthright. There's no appropriate comparison between censoring opinions in the media and refusing to teach students things that aren't supported by facts in our schools.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tim Todd's truthiness tosh targets teens

Okay, maybe that's not great alliteration. Oh well. It's early.

The most recent effluvia from the Americhristian Fascist Association is plugging evangelist Tim Todd's The Truth for Youth comic-book Bible for teens, which Tim is offering to send a free copy of to any teen willing to give it to an "unsaved" classmate. Todd is, as you may have guessed, one of those extra-sleazy evangelical ambulance chasers who latched onto school-related tragedies like Columbine to promote his ministry. In the breathless words of the AFA email,

"The Truth for Youth" consists of the entire New Testament in the God's Word version, along with powerful full color comics that are packed with "absolute truths" regarding issues young people are faced with, such as: Evolution, Sexual Purity, Homosexuality, Abortion, Pornography, Drugs, Drunkenness, Peer Pressure, School Violence and Secular Rock Music. God's wonderful plan of salvation is incorporated into each of the stories.

Ironically appropriate that they place the words "absolute truths" into quotation marks, since, whenever Christians start prattling on about "absolute truths" about whatever evil secular subject is obsessing them, they're almost certainly about to start lying out their flabby butts. The evolution material will be nothing but the usual idiotic creationist canards that have been lying in ruins for ages; the homosexuality material will be plain old hate; the stuff about "secular rock music" will fall on deaf ears.

In any case, it's amusing that they think trying to go the Jack Chick route will be an effective tool to minister to teens, but the sad thing is it could well be. What I'd like to see is the NCSE or the Dawkins Foundation assemble a Basics of Evolution or The God Delusion for Youth, to make available to high school students for free as well. The best way to combat the propaganda of Christian "truth" is, of course, with true truth — you know, that which is supported by such tiresome things as scientific research, reason and evidence. Not that which is backed by just another narcisstic, money-grubbing fundagelical who believes he's the appointed ambassador of the magic invisible universe-creating space pixie. For every copy of The Truth for Youth foisted on a poor unsuspecting student who ought to be learning facts instead, they could offer sensible, even witty counter-arguments to reveal Todd's brainless misinformation for the self-serving, deceptive religious hucksterism it is. Heck, as a former comics industry professional of nine years' experience, I'd even volunteer my time!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Well, the right wingers are going to have a load of fun with this...

Hillary Clinton has just been endorsed by an ex-madam and a porn queen.

I say let the wingers have their fun. They have so little else to smile about these days. (And I'm not so hot for Hillary myself.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Liveblogging from the studio

Check it out. The access station has wireless coverage in the studio, and I have a new laptop for school. And here we are.

Weird coincidence today -- Don's on the show, and both Tracy and I independently decided to show up to spectate. This is the biggest collection of current "talent" that we've ever had in here, to my recollection.

Bonus: if any caller says something that needs to be verified today, I can Google it!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Honoring an atheist in a foxhole

One of religionists' most egregious lies is that there are no atheists in foxholes. Tell this to the multitudes of unbelievers who are proud veterans of our armed forces. One of these, I learned today, passed away on August 9 at the ripe old age of 90. Hans Kasten was a genuine American hero, enduring unimaginable hardship at the hands of the Nazis in WWII. From the AA profile:

With his fluent knowledge of German, Hans Kasten was selected as a "chief man of confidence," the Hauptvertrauensmann, to interpret the instructions to prisoner and do what he can on their behalf.

Kasten also became the focus of rage by his Nazi captors, in part because of his full German name, Johann Carl Frederick. He was considered "worse than a Jew," a "traitor to the German race."

Not to politicize this, but this sounds to me disturbingly reminiscent of the way right-wingers in this country have been quick to yell "Traitor!" at anyone who dares to question the policies of the Bush regime — er, administration.

One of his first orders from the SS overseers was to identify and sort out Americans who were or "looked" Jewish. Kasten refused. The German camp commander then ordered an assembly where all "Jews" were told to step forward. None of the POWs moved. Several accounts, including one written by Littell reveal what happened next:

"A German officer stood on a platform, with the guards all around us, their guns at the ready," recalled Littell. "I can still hear these words from that infuriated officer: 'Alle Juden, ein Schritt vorfwarts!' ('All Jews, one step forward!') In view of Hans's earlier instructions, nobody moved. Obviously, this was of his doing. So angered was the officer that he leaped off his platform, grabbed a gun from a guard, swung it like a baseball bat and slammed Hans across the chest. Hans flew backward and hit the ground, gasping. For a moment he couldn't get back his breath...That's when we found ourselves in the boxcars to further hell..."

That's heroism. No gods required.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Proof that we are not a Christian nation

Ladies and gentlemen, may I please direct your attention to the public attention that Pastor Wiley Drake has received for his call to imprecatory prayer against Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Pastor Drake has urged his followers to call down the wrath of God on the AU leadership, as modeled in such Bible passages as Psalms 109, 55, 58, 68, 69, and 83. Let's take a quick look at a few passages from these chapters:
"Let his days be few; and let another take his office."
"Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell."
" Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O LORD."

Now let's consider a thought experiment. Suppose that prayer really worked. If Pastor Drake's call to mass prayer were effective, then presumably within a short time, Reverend Barry Lynn and his supporters would be dead, their teeth broken, their children vagabonds, etc., etc. And all as a direct result of a specific action taken by this clown.

What we have here is premeditation with an intent to aid in violence and/or murder. Drake doesn't intend to get his hands dirty by killing Barry Lynn himself, but he is invoking a prayer which he believes will indirectly lead to Lynn's death. Well, that's not cool in US law, and if people did believe in prayer, I imagine some of them would want Drake tried and locked up immediately.

But prayer doesn't work. And everybody knows that damn well. Drake's followers might be incited to commit violence against Barry Lynn -- we sure hope not -- but God never will. His prayer means nothing.

And so the justice system doesn't need to give this a second thought, because Drake's words are just covered as freedom of speech. They don't have a prayer of actually achieving any physical results.

Although, of course, I'm sure that he'll be only too happy to accept credit if Lynn should happen to meet with some kind of accident or illness at any time for the rest of his natural life.

Episode #512: Intolerance

I have gotten some requests for show notes on occasion. In response, I’m going to begin posting summary notes to the blog, so that when requests for notes come in, I can just point them here. Thanks, Martin.

The word “tolerance” has two very distinct meanings that can, but do not always, overlap. One is to respect others or their actions and beliefs. The other is to merely allow others to act and express their beliefs—regardless of whether or not I, personally, respect them, their beliefs or actions.

It is unreasonable to expect that no one will disagree with my opinions or ideas. In fact, there are many ideas that are so widely disrespected that they are almost universally disdained. The ideas expressed by Hitler or NAMBLA not only lack widespread acceptance; they are openly disparaged by the general population; and the actions they promote are legally prohibited. So, in either sense of the word, they are not “tolerated.” The ideas they espouse are not generally respected; and the actions they endorse are not allowed. No society exercises absolute tolerance by either definition. And expecting any belief, value or idea to be universally respected is simply unrealistic.

The goal in the United States—and I realize it’s not always achieved—is to allow the individual the right to believe and act freely insofar as his/her actions do not compromise the rights of fellow citizens. We value, in this country, the right of Freedom of Speech—aka Freedom of Expression. We all have the right to express our ideas and opinions to the extent we don’t violate someone else’s rights. Freedom of Speech can violate someone else’s rights when, for example, I seriously threaten to harm or kill someone for exercising a legal action or expressing an idea or opinion.

My right to say what’s on my mind is limited when it forcibly stops others from exercising legal actions or expressing ideas and opinions. In the public forum, I can disagree, disparage, ridicule, challenge, even insult; but I cannot try to silence the free expression of others. I must tolerate (allow) all expressions, in the sense that I must respect—not the expression itself, or even the person expressing it—but the right of other person to express. And that freedom extends to responses as well. In the real world, no idea, opinion or belief is universally respected or accepted. If I don’t want my ideas challenged, then I should carefully consider whether or not I want to express them in a public forum; because the public has a right to respond, and I need to respect that right, even if I disrespect the content of the responses I might receive.

In the show, I referenced the following:

-Karen Powers

“I always like to point out to my many atheist friends that I have never tried to convert them or ridicule their beliefs, but have been on the receiving ends of dozens of rants against my belief system...something that feels a lot like the person is trying to "convert" me to their way of life (atheism) all the while accusing religious people of being intolerant.”

Here Karen equates attempts to convert with intolerance. First of all, an attempt at conversion does not impede Karen’s right to believe or act. No matter how badly someone wants Karen to do X or believe X, simply talking to her about X cannot force her to do either. She is correct, though, that it can show a level of disrespect for the beliefs she holds currently when someone tries to change her mind. Atheists understand this from dealing with apologists; just as Karen understands this from her atheist friends. But I’m free to respond that I disagree with them, as is Karen, and also to express why I disagree, as is Karen. I’m also free to not listen to them if I so choose, as is Karen. No harm, no foul.

Karen’s post was not the only one addressed, but it was representative of what is found when you look up “atheist intolerance” on the Internet. The main complaint is that atheists don’t publicly respect theists or theism. But, again, that’s the case with any belief—none are universally respected. I’m unsure, though, why that’s a problem. No one requires my stamp of approval in order to do or believe whatever they want. If I express that what someone else does or believes is silly or stupid, it has no impact whatsoever on their right or ability to continue to do or believe it. There is, in fact, no reason whatsoever for anyone to care what anyone else thinks about what they do or believe—if the assessment extends no further than a mere personal opinion.

Fortunately, with regard to atheists, most of the people I know in the community really don’t care what Christians “believe,” despite the fact we get weekly letters asking us why it bothers us so much that other people believe in god. It actually doesn’t bother most atheists that theists believe in god. What tends to bother atheists is when any particular religious group tries to impose it’s beliefs upon the rest of the population—either via legislation or via other means of policing public policy (legal or otherwise). When theists try to dictate my behavior so that it is in line with their theistic doctrines, this imposes on my individual rights and freedoms—granted to me by the Constitution. Constitutionally, I have as much right to choose my beliefs and actions as any other citizen in this country.

The show included numerous readings from theists who felt that atheists should not exercise their Freedom of Speech. Perhaps the best example was the transcript of a Paula Zahn Now! show:


In this episode, real venom was aimed at atheists and atheism. I don’t mind people aiming venom. Again, so long as they let others live their lives, I don’t care what they think or how vehemently they think it or express it. But a line is crossed when they begin telling others to “shut up.” Attempting to demand that others stop expressing ideas, opinions, and beliefs—is the beginning of intolerance. Criticize ideas however you like—but don’t tell others they need to stop exercising their Constitutional right of Freedom of Speech. Each of us has as much right to express our ideas as anyone else has to criticize them. I’m happy to dialogue—but “shut up” isn’t a dialogue. It’s an expressed wish to monologue publicly, without public challenge or response. And that’s the way to shut down public debate—which is simply hypocritical, cowardly and not in the best interest of maintaining a free and open society.

One particularly interesting statement made on the program was when Karen Hunter said, “Don't impose upon my right to want to have prayer in schools, to want to say the pledge of allegiance…”

First of all, nobody can impose on anyone else’s right to “want” something. But as far as her right to actually have it—nobody has imposed on that, either. Anyone is legally allowed to pray and say the Pledge of Allegiance in any nondisruptive way, and I have yet to meet any atheist who opposes this. However, theists are not Constitutionally allowed to impose prayers upon nonadherents, and they are out of line to add narrow religious statements into a pledge that is intended to be used by the entire nation. This imposes a pledge to monotheism/religion upon all citizens who would like to also be able to say the Pledge to their nation. There is no reason the Pledge should not be accessible to all citizens equally. It should not apply only to those citizens who adhere to the idea of a monotheistic deity. Again, Karen’s right to express her beliefs should end where the right of others to express themselves begins. According to Karen, it’s perfectly acceptable for me to have to choose between pledging loyalty to her religious beliefs and pledging loyalty to my country. But if no mention of god was contained in the Pledge, there would be no imposition to either theistic or atheistic Americans. That’s the difference. The insertion of the monotheistic god into the Pledge was a move in the 1950s that continues to alienate some very patriotic citizens in the U.S. to this day. And it is logical that a national Pledge should as much as possible unite, and not divide the citizenry.

I ended with a reading of several articles, all published in the last month, that gave examples of Christians being intolerant by attempting to disallow others to exercise legal actions or express beliefs. Examples included death threats to J.K. Rowling, threats of harm to a library for a summer program that included workshops on astrology, a bomb planted at a women’s clinic, a man who murdered another man because his victim was gay, attempted book bannings at a school library by one mother, an attempted ban on Sunday liquor sales, and a disruptive protest during a Hindu prayer before the U.S. Senate. There were more articles, but we didn't have time to address them all.

While I acknowledged on the show that this behavior is not representative of the vast majority of Christians; it is fair to ask why, when this sort of religious thought-control and behavior-control intolerance is covered in the U.S. media, it appears to be almost exclusively attempted by Christian adherents? And why, if that is the case, are atheists the ones consistently labeled as “intolerant”—most often merely for legally exercising their Freedom of Speech by criticizing ideas with which they disagree?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I love Christian "love"!

This is frickin' awesome! There's a service online at christiannewswire.com where they allow any faith-head lunatic to post a press release. Only on a site such as this would something this hilarious be printed with a straight face. This is from some frootloop named Pastor Wiley Drake, and while it sounds exactly like the sort of thing you'd see over at Landover Baptist's peerless parody site, this is one case where I believe reality is funnier than parody.

In light of the recent attack from the enemies of God I ask the children of God to go into action with Imprecatory Prayer. Especially against Americans United for Separation of Church and State. I made an attempt to go to them via Matt 18:15 but they refused to talk to me. Specifically target Joe Conn or Jeremy Learing. They are those who lead the attack. (You can see their press release attack at www.au.org )

Boy! This "imprecatory prayer" stuff sounds pretty hardcore. Certainly it put me in mind of that classic hymn of righteousness, "The Hand of the Almighty" by John R. Butler. (Ain't heard it? Get ye some salvation, sinner!)

Anyway, I decided I'd better look the term up. After all, if "imprecatory prayer" is at least as effective as "intercessory prayer," then it seems like the AU has...well...nothing at all to worry about. But as Pascal's Wager reminds us, why take chances, eh?

So the first Google result I got for the term was this demented page, which reveals Christian love in all its glory.

What is a Christian to do when the government protects criminals and criminal activity such as the abortion clinic? What is a Pastor to do when the government, or the news media, or well funded liberal hate groups persecute and bad mouth him because of his doctrine? What is a Christian to do when he can not go to the courts, police, and government for justice? What if the courts, police and government are the criminals. The answer is imprecatory prayer.

Poor Christians, persecuted everywhere you turn! I mean, I had no idea you guys weren't allowed to go to the police or to the courts any more! When was that law passed? And how was it passed by all of our Christian senators and congressmen, and not vetoed by our Christian president? Oh well. No use worrying about that now, Christians! What will you do? What will you do? Well, apart from making damn sure you buy American Express Traveler's Checks, you go right to the head office.

Imprecatory prayer is a last resort appeal to God for justice. The so called 'curses' are simply the just penalty called for in the scriptures for the alleged crime. Imprecatory prayer is an appeal to the court of divine justice (1) for protection and (2) the appropriate punishment for the criminals.

Imprecatory prayer is most often used when the criminals are the rich and powerful or corrupt men in government. The prayer asks God to solve the problem and bring the criminal to repentance, or to judgment.

You know, maybe it's just me, but it sounds like "imprecatory prayer" is just for pussies who can't work up the chutzpah to strap on a suicide bomb. (Then again, I suppose we don't see "imprecatory prayer" practiced more often than we do because all of the rich and powerful and corrupt men in government at the moment are conservative Christians.) But as we are soon warned, if not performed with the proper gravitas, "imprecatory prayer" can backfire something nasty. After all, this is an all-powerful deity we're talking about here, and as Brother John Butler reminds us, he can really f*ck you up!

Here are a few words from a sermon by Pastor Pete Peters as he was commenting on pages 216 and 217 of Paradise Restored by Rev. David Chilton.

"You be careful with imprecatory prayer. Because if your life is not right. It can have a boomerang effect. You see, as you judge, so shall you be judged. Think about that. Does that make sense? I say that because, the other day somebody pointed out to me that a woman has been praying for me to die in an airplane crash. She is a Christian woman. She wants me dead. Well, now, I was thinking about that, you know, If I was her son I would not want to get into an airplane. You see what I am saying? You got to be careful how you use that power. With imprecatory prayer, if we don't mature as Christians, it is like putting a loaded 45, `hammer-back, cocked and the safety off, into the hands of a five-year old. Does that make sense?"

Well, hell no, it doesn't make sense, you cross-eyed inbred psychopath! You'd have to be completely non compos mentis to believe there's some all-powerful invisible magical man in the sky who loves us, and who made us in his image, but who will not only f*ck us up if we don't love him back to his satisfaction, he can also be prayed to for some divine f*ckin-up action if Christians feel they're just too put upon by this invisible man's so-called enemies. Furthermore, if this invisible man is really omnithis and omnithat and omnieverythingelse, then you'd think he'd already know who his enemies were, and would be about f*ckin' em up all on his own, without needing the "imprecatory prayer" of his paranoid sheep to point out to him that he had enemies needing some f*ckin up in the first place!

Ah, Christianity. Institutionalized madness.

Anyway, thought I better check out the AU site to see what brought on Pastor Wiley's histrionics.

Yesterday, Americans United asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., for a potential violation of federal tax law barring electioneering by non-profit groups. Dr. Wiley S. Drake, pastor of the church, issued a press release on church letterhead endorsing Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and subsequently offered the endorsement on a church-affiliated radio show.

Respondeth Barry Lynn: "Calling for curses on us might distract Drake’s supporters, but it won’t help him with the IRS." Heh heh. Yeah, Kent Hovind found that out the hard way.

This stuff just gets funnier and funnier! Everybody thinks I have it in for Christians. But I swear, on a day like this, with this kind of thing going on, I hold them dear to my heart.

Now, if I can only figure out who these "well-funded liberal hate groups" are. Project much?

So much hate. So much fear. So many lies.

One of the stupider arguments from Ray Comfort, an already pitifully stupid evangelist as it is, is the "have you ever lied?" argument, which Comfort fancies is a slamdunk takedown of non-Christians and their imagined lack of moral fiber. The deep, deep irony of this is that no one lies like a fundamentalist Christian. Lying is so pervasive amongst their ranks that one can imagine the altar call involves taking a solemn oath never to tell the truth for the rest of their lives when they can help it. (The innate contradictory nature of that act would be one that a fundamentalist could in all likelihood dismiss with ease.)

Donald Wildmon's dispicable American Family Association is among the fundie flock's most reprehensible organs of dishonesty. A rabid anti-gay hate group, they are equally infamous for linking their website to another organization, the pretentiously-named Family Research Institute — a loathsome rabble that has been openly classified a hate group by watchdogs the Southern Poverty Law Center for calling for the extermination of gays — as well as using the F.R.I.'s pseudoscientific "research" to bolster their own homophobic position. The AFA are such pathological liars about, well, everything that even Snopes.com has had to run interference on their disinformation (here and here).

The latest eeek-teh-gayz liefest to erupt from the AFA sewer is an "Action Alert" regarding the refusal of a Dallas church to hold a funeral for a Desert Storm vet once they discovered that the deceased was gay. The church made a national disgrace of itself by likening homosexuality to murder, and further cemented the reputation of fundamentalists as simple-minded Neanderthals who preferred hanging on to their divisive, hate-feuled ideology even if it meant pissing on the bereavement of a family.

Naturally, the AFA is right there with the attempted save. To them, it's the church being persecuted for refusing to push — all together now! — "the homosexual agenda"!

There is a battle taking place in Dallas. It is a battle trying to force a church to lower their Scriptural standards to meet homosexual demands.

When High Point Church refused to allow their building to be used in a memorial service celebrating homosexuality, the homosexuals became very upset and started a campaign of harassment and public ridicule aimed at High Point.

If those pushing the homosexual agenda get their "hate crimes" bill passed into law, this is only a sample of what churches, pastors and Christians can expect.

Now, one actual look at the article reveals this:

An Arlington church volunteered to host a funeral Thursday, then reneged on the invitation when it became clear the dead man's homosexuality would be identified in the service...

But the photos that the family selected alerted church officials that there might be a problem with the service, Mr. Simons said.

"Some of those photos had very strong homosexual images of kissing and hugging," he said. "My ministry associates were taken aback."

Gee, you're kind of left with impression there that the family wanted a whole barebackin' photospread laid out along the altar, complete with anal creampie. I suspect that the "strong homosexual images of kissing and hugging" actually consisted of the deceased with a boyfriend, arms around each other, and maybe sharing a smooch in exactly the same way a man and wife/girlfriend might. In the deranged, paranoiac world of the AFA, the family's desire to have photos of their loved one in his service is perversely morphed into "homosexual demands." Thus do Christian lies spread, from a warped, hate-crazed worldview.

Having just observed the funeral of my best friend's mother, and seen firsthand how Christians exploit such opportunities to hold just another sales-pitch sermon (I've talked to my friend since I blogged about that, and she's told me not only was she disgusted by the whole thing as well, her mom would have been pissed to boot), I can see the church's problem. And frankly, I'm not sympathetic. The church was going to want to use the funeral of this brave vet to push their Christian message, and to have photos of a happy, contented, and loving gay man on the altar brazenly defying their agitprop that gays are loathsome miserable sinners, they'd be in a conundrum. Good. Churches deserve to find themselves in conundrums 24/7. Let the light of reality and reason shine on their lies day and night, until the human race as a whole understands what religion really is, a repellent, mindless practice of faith-based ignorance and fear, and throws it over the side once and for all.

As for the survivors of the late Cecil Sinclair, they have my sympathy and support, plus my assurance — though I'm sure they don't need it — that they're entitled to feel nothing towards Cecil but love and pride, despite the efforts by "loving Christians" to tell them he was a piece of shit who didn't even deserve a memorial.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Atheist Experience #500-501 double feature

Okay, we're still running — cripes — three months behind on posting the TV shows. But so what? They're always entertaining no matter when you watch 'em.

I see that audio is still an issue with the fine vintage-'80s technology available at Austin Access. It's pretty hard to hear anyone in #500. Things are a little better in #501. Sorry. Hopefully the enjoyable content will compensate for technical imperfections.

Episode #500, 5/13/07: Consciousness: The way-cooler-than-you Tracie talks about our current understanding of the consciousness and that our selves are completely in our brain.

Episode #501, 5/20/07: Creationism Evolves: Russell talks about how creationism has evolved into intelligent design.

A late summer makeover

Got bored, thought I'd change up the look. A little easier and more pleasant to read, I think.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A grotesque memorial

My best friend's mother died last Monday, and the memorial service was today. During the past week it's been a pleasure for me to be there for her, just being supportive, and driving her the 40 minutes from Austin (a couple of times actually) to Seguin to be with her family.

My friend isn't Christian, nor is she atheist. She's kind of in that waffly in-between area, but it doesn't come between us. (Indeed, she asks me lots of questions and agrees with most of my criticisms of religion.) But her uncle is a Baptist minister, and the memorial service was held at his church. It was probably the first time I've walked into a church in about ten years, and I couldn't avoid a little of the feeling of being a sheep among wolves. But mainly I could chuckle at that, as I was, once again, just there to support my friend. I don't think anybody noticed or cared that I was the only guy remaining seated during prayers.

Apart from a nicely-assembled slideshow at the beginning, and my friend's own eulogy, I was surprised to find myself as appalled and offended by the memorial service as I was. I expected, of course, a formal eulogy, some songs, prayers, and that sort of thing. You know, the funerary routine; touching, sweet, and above all, respectful. But the pastor also saw fit to offer what amounted to a standard-issue church sermon. This had the effect — which I'm sure only I noticed, since I wasn't viewing the whole thing through the veil of faith — of disrespecting my friend's mother on a couple of levels, not the least of which was that the whole affair suddenly stopped being about her and started being about God. When a quartet sang "Amazing Grace," and the pastor followed it up with an obligatory, "Praise God!" I wanted to blurt out, "Oh, silly me. I thought we were here to praise Carol."

Part of the reason I find Christianity so vile is that, no matter in what context it decides to inject itself — a funeral, a tragic accident, even just a bunch of right-wing families at a high school football game in the deep south — it ultimately boils down to spiritual used-car salesmanship, hawking the invisible space daddy and his catalogue of false hope to the punters. Never mind all the cracks and seams we've Bondoed over.

The stupidest part of the sermon came when the pastor veered into a misology theme. We were reminded that while all the most brilliant scientists and philosophers in the world have been pretty doggone smart guys, figuring out a bunch of useful stuff, ultimately all their knowledge hasn't worked out what we were told is the most important issue, which is, according to the pastor, what happens to us when we die. I thought that issue was pretty well worked out: our bodies organically decompose. But of course, the pastor was talking about "souls," I suppose, and so we were cheerfully reminded that Christianity did provide that answer that has eluded the great minds of our time. And what's best is that you don't have to be some brilliant intellectual giant to understand it! The Bible makes it simple!

How handy is that? Yes, keep it simple, above all. I mean, most people can't figure out how to set the clocks on their video players, so doesn't it make sense that the answers to life's most penetrating questions ought to be even simpler than that? Just take all of those profound conundrums about the nature of life and the universe to which scientists and philosophers have dedicated their entire lives over the past several millennia, and boil it down to "Goddidit!" See? Simple!

Okay, this is all just boilerplate Christian anti-intellectual silliness. But when you realize that people by the millions are getting slammed with this moronic message every Sunday — "Hey, education is okay and all, but it hasn't got the real answers, and you'll get those today, and the best thing is they're as easy as pickin' your nose while sittin' down!" — then is it any wonder that we live in a country where something as retarded as the Creation "Museum" can actually be built? When religion hands ignorant people a bunch of wish fulfillment fantasies and then tells them they're smarter than "brilliant scientists and philosophers," it's an act as essentially cruel as the drug dealer giving a third-grader the "first one's free, kid" spiel.

But the worst part of this sermon is that my friend's mother was a schoolteacher, working with learning-disabled children, and was deeply dedicated to her vocation, even spending her own money on teaching materials when whatever school she was at was too cheap (or, to be fair, underfunded perhaps) to provide. And here's this jerk giving a sermon that completely devalues education, thereby devaluing my friend's mother's life, and pronouncing that old delusion, "faith," as infinitely preferable and more valuable than knowledge.

I'm pleased I was able to be there for my friend in her time of mourning. But it saddens me that all I got out of the service was a bleak reminder of why religion is such poison. What should have been a tribute to her mom's life turned into another gross sales pitch for Christianity, and a stomach-turning exercise in misology that demeaned the legacy of the woman it should have honored.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

And I thought I was the world's most stubborn procrastinator!

Megablogger and science fiction writer John Scalzi demonstrates once again that he will think of anything, and I do mean anything, to avoid having to meet a writing deadline. Here's an impromptu home movie (in ToyVision!) mocking Ken Ham's belief, enshrined in his moronic Creation "Museum", that dinosaurs co-existed with people and that the fearsome T. Rex was actually a placid coconut-eater until that dadburn "fall of man" thing that fucked it all up. The video is silly as hell and a total waste of time. But then, so is the "museum," so Scalzi's essentially mocking Ham at Ham's own level.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dan McLeroy's true designer colors

Those of us who have been in the front lines of the fight to keep fundamentalism from poisoning science education in Texas have long known Dan McLeroy, recently appointed by our Ken-doll governor Rick Perry to head the Texas State Board of Education, has been a Christian Right tool. (And only in a state where the governor is himself a Christian Right tool could an uneducated — in science, that is — person be appointed to head the Board of Education!)

Now, with a hat tip to the Texas Observer blog, McLeroy's real agenda is right out in the open for everyone else to see. It must be humiliating for the ID movement, every time they try to repeat their nonsense that ID really-honesty-truly-no-really-we-swear has nothing to do with promoting religion, to have a creationist then come out and proudly proclaim that yes ma'am, it shore is! Humiliating for them — hilarious for us.

The Observer has unearthed (now this is journalism, people!) a recording of McLeroy addressing a sermon to his church, Grace Bible Church in College Station, on the subject of ID and evolution. The real battle, evidently, is against liberalism and naturalism. McLeroy sees ID as this glorious "big tent" that brings together religious pseudoscience of all stripes to unite against evil liberal naturalistic...uh...all that stuff. I can imagine the flacks at the Discovery Institute groaning over this one:

"Why is Intelligent Design the big tent? Because we’re all lined up against the fact that naturalism, that nature is all there is. Whether you’re a progressive creationist, recent creationist, young earth, old earth, it’s all in the tent of Intelligent Design.”

I especially love this passage from the Observer article.

McLeroy counsels fellow travelers to publicly battle evolution on the merits. “We must know our subject — facts and evidence are crucial,” he said in his sermon. But he acknowledges that this strategy has proven an utter failure.

Well, duh. 'Cos ya know, before you can present facts and evidence, you gotta have some!

No need to think for yourself

I just finished watching this video, which shows the responses of anti-choice demonstrators in Libertyville, Illinois when asked what sort of punishment women should receive if they had an abortion after abortions became illegal. Go watch it...I'll wait...

The responses speak for themselves.

I don't want to get into the specifics about abortion (though I'll proudly admit to being pro-choice) because it's not an atheist issue. Atheists can be pro or anti-choice. I do believe, though, that it is (often) a church-state separation issue, fueled by emotion and irrationality.

My purpose in posting this video is to point out the sort of mindless sheep that are produced by religious thinking.

(I know, I know...you're not all mindless sheep, so don't get your panties in a twist about my generalization. If you're not like the folks in the video, I'm not talking about you.)

Dogma, in all of its disguises, is evil. Magical thinking poisons the mind. Religion, as a combination of the two, renders its victims unable to deal with reality, incapable of questioning their beliefs and completely unconcerned about the consequences of their actions. They're unable to follow any logical argument that might, in any way, jeopardize their beliefs.

The people in this video aren't rabid fundamentalists. They're not calling for the death penalty (though one of them allowed for that possibility). They don't fit in with the true hatemongers who call for homosexuals to be put to death like some politicians have done... and some countries. They sincerely believe they're doing the right thing — protecting innocent little babies — and none of them have given a moment's thought to anything else. They believe that they're doing god's work and that they cannot be mistaken; which makes them just as dangerous and delusional as the truly hateful. To quote William S. Burroughs:

"No one does more harm than those who feel bad about doing it."

I'm still amazed that anyone could avoid the simple concept that there's no point in making something illegal if you don't have a punishment for breaking the law... but that's not the big question, the big question is this:

Why were they able quickly and easily to proclaim that abortion is the murder of a human being and yet they couldn't quickly and easily agree to the punishment proscribed for murder?

The answer is simple. Even these sheep recognize a difference — they're just unable to act on that recognition because their brains have been poisoned by religion. They neither need nor recognize rational arguments. Somewhere, deep in the compartmentalized recesses of their minds, protected by gross rationalizations, shielded by emotional pleading, they know that their beliefs don't make any sense.

Now, if they could only be convinced to give a damn.

New rule: Integrity and honesty required

As fundamentalists seem to love the way online anonymity enables juvenile trolling, we have yet another new rule here. No anonymous comments. This will immediately separate the (honest) men from the (dishonest) boys, the latter of whom will promptly whine and snivel over how this proves we're too chicken to allow dissenting views to appear here, all we want is an echo chamber where we preach to the atheist choir, and so on, waah waah waah, I want my invisible space daddy!

Anyone who makes this claim can, of course, be immediately shuffled into the "loser" file and discarded. As always, Christians are allowed to comment here, they are allowed to disagree with us, tell us how wrong and misguided we are not to believe in the Lord, and so on. Only one thing has changed: Christian commenters are now required to demonstrate integrity and the courage of their convictions by attaching a name to their posts. Either you're here to engage us honestly in stimulating debate, in which case you should have nothing to fear by identifying yourself, or you're a mindless troll in a state of arrested development. If the former, consider yourself welcome, and we look forward to discussing the arguments you care to bring in support of your beliefs.

Those of you who don't like the fact that the comments are moderated should realize that it is only the disgraceful behavior of your righteous brothers in Christ that has led to it. Look, it would be very easy to leave the comments entirely unmoderated, and allow your fellow fundamentalists to run amok with one abusive, offensive post after another. It is almost guaranteed this would happen, and happen with such frequency that they'd do all the discrediting of Christians for us, and we've rarely if ever have to put up a new post of our own. But as admin, I'd really prefer this blog were a civilized place. Which means the bad guys among you need their leashes jerked. Really, by moderating comments and requiring names on them, I'm doing believers a huge favor, as now every Christian commenter here will be a person with a modicum of character, at the very least. You won't have the worst among you making all the rest of you look bad.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

If you're going to try a Socratic dialogue, make sure you know what you're doing

Anontroll is up to his usual tricks in this comment thread. His latest attempt to refute me takes the form of one of the most creative straw man arguments I've seen here: a faux Socratic dialogue which amounts to the usual dishonest Christian apologist's stunt of "I will simply tell my opponent what his position is by putting words in his mouth, which will let me flatter myself that I have defeated him." Too bad it doesn't work in the real world.

Update: Anon has admitted something I suspected (after all, the spelling and grammar were all better than usual), that he didn't write this dialogue, but ganked it from here and just plugged our names in (or rather my name, since he still lacks the courage of his convictions to use his own). I have emailed CARM to appraise them of my refutation of their dialogue.

Allow me to construct a dialogue now that actually reflects the way our conversation has gone up to this point. Rather than making up bullshit lines in the interests of pumping myself up (you know, like anon), my exchange will consist solely of things actually said by anon and myself. Among other inaccuracies that my version will correct is that anonymous started this exchange.

I think you will find the reality of the dialogue is a little bit different than anon's fanciful reconstruction of it. Among other things, you will notice that anon is now attempting to portray his position as being that he's got gobs of proof, but no matter what proof he offers, I will not accept it. It's the old "skeptics are closed-minded" dodge. In reality, his actual position on proof is that he has no burden of proof in the first place. So yeah, it's easy for Christians to manufacture these little dialogues when they're only too happy to lie about both the atheist's position as well as their own.

Finally, I will, at the end, repost his original dialogue, but insert the things I would actually say rather than what he thinks I'd say. I'm sorry I'm not able to be as stupid and compliant as I'd have to be to make anon's script work for him. As many religionists have learned to their dismay, reality doesn't often conform to your pious, self-flattering fantasies.

So here we go.

Anon: Let me ask this: Why are you depending on man to help your salvation... Remember if you go to man to show you God you will be disappointed forever. Hope this helps you find God, if any of you are truly searching for him.

Martin: You have failed to understand one very rudimentary point: we don't believe your God exists. We do not think there is adequate evidence to support claims of your God's existence. ...I am willing to be persuaded...by evidence.

Anon: Says who? You? you claim fallacy but who said I have to prove anything to you at all? IN a debate maybe but not real life.

Martin: Then do not be surprised if, from here on out, I decline to take seriously anything you say. Not only that, but why should anybody believe anything you say or consider you a trustworthy person in any way, shape or form?

Anon: If I tell you that you may go to hell for your stubbornness and resistance to His authority and you say prove it in defiance (I will try my best at first) in the end I will just say nope. It truly is up to God to reveal himself to you.

Martin: Again, you are essentially throwing any vestige of credibility you could ever have on any subject out the window.... You turn up here, make claims about your God, and collapse like a cake in the oven upon my very first request for evidence, all on the preposterous basis that you think you can waltz through life never having to account for anything you say. You have no conviction, no sincerity, no honesty, no integrity. You want to tell us we're wrong for being unbelievers, but you not only fail but flatly decline to give us reasons to think you're right. ...Here's the deal, anon. Nobody is obligated to believe as you do. I never cease to be amazed by the inability of Christians like yourself to grasp this very basic point.

Anon: Just not believing or what anyone says about God doesn't work as an excuse and besides all of creation itself is the "ID" of God.... Then you go off in an angry rage about my credibility and such but here was what I was getting at. You are in denial... Take care Martin I still love you enough to tell you your wrong there is God even if He will not allow scientific evidence. But if you want evidence of God's footprint there is all sorts of that.

Martin: More unsubstantiated claims from a guy who says he doesn't have to substantiate his claims. Why should I take this seriously? Either present evidence that your God exists, and that all creation is its "ID," or I will continue to refrain from believing you with complete justification. Once more with feeling: If you want me to believe your claims, you must back them up with evidence. I am under no obligation to believe what you say just because you say it.

Anon: No matter what you believe God is responsible for the outcome, be it repentance or hardening. I pray in your case it is repentance.

And so on... You know, anon just doesn't seem as level-headed, sensible and brilliant when you read extracts from the actual dialogue we've been having, as opposed to the alternate-reality dialogue he's just made up, does he?

Now, here is my rewrite of the fake dialogue. Note that at no time do I alter any of anon's own dialogue that he attributes to himself. I do not have to distort or (as he's done to me here) completely invent statements for him in order to refute him. Though I guess it can be argued that, since the whole thing was a cutpaste from CARM, anon's already faking his own lines anyway.

Martin: I do not believe in the existence of God. However, I am willing to be persuaded by evidence. Surely, as a devout Christian, you could come up with evidence I would find compelling.

Anon: I do not think I can do that, because of your presuppositions.

Martin: What presuppositions are these? All I have claimed is that I don't believe in your God, for the very excellent reason that there is insufficient evidence to convince me. What's more, I know a thing or two about the history of civilization, and I know that there have been thousands of gods worshiped by thousands of religions over the centuries, in addition to the fact that your own religion, Christianity, borrowed many of its legends (like the global flood) and core beliefs (like the notion of a savior born of a virgin and then sacrificed and resurrected) directly from some of these other religions. So, placing your religion in the context of human history further gives me no reason to suppose its supernatural claims are any more valid than any other. Yes, I strive to be open-minded, but I admit things don't look good for Christianity at this point.

Anon: See? There you go. You just confirmed what I was stating.

Martin: Anon, I cannot help it if you are bothered by the fact that I am willing to state plainly my opinion that your beliefs are irrational and intellectually insupportable. I can understand how that might offend you, but your feelings and my own are irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is: I do not believe in the existence of a deity, and you do. You may be right and I may be wrong. But as the maxim states, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I never said you would have an easy time of it, but I repeat it is not impossible for you to convince me I am wrong.

Anon: Your presupposition is that there is no God; therefore, no matter what I might present to you to show His existence, you must interpret it in a manner consistent with your presupposition: namely, that there is no God.

Martin: Don't be ridiculous. Whyever would I do this? You could also say that I have a presupposition that there are no fire-breathing dragons. But if you showed me a real-live fire-breathing dragon, why would I "interpret it in a manner consistent with your presupposition," that there are no fire-breathing dragons. You are basically trying to claim that I am lying to you when I say I would be persuaded by evidence, and that I am the sort of person who would deny the evidence of my own eyes. But I have not given you any indication I would do this, and you are simply trying to prejudice the discussion in your favor by claiming that I would. All you're doing here is a little rhetorical stunt that allows you to avoid meeting your burden of proof for your God claims by stating that the atheist would reject any evidence out of hand no matter what you did. You hope people will not notice you're doing this, and will instead think you're being the reasonable one here and I am not, by virtue of some little rhetorical sleight of hand on your part that presumably makes your burden of proof vanish in a puff of smoke. This kind of thing may fly on a fundie forum, but I think the folks here are a little sharper than you think.

Anon: If I were to have a video tape of God coming down from heaven, you'd say it was a special effect. If I had a thousand eye-witnesses saying they saw Him, you'd say it was mass-hysteria. If I had Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament, you'd say they were forged, dated incorrectly, or not real prophecies. So, I cannot prove anything to you since your presupposition won't allow it. It is limited.

Martin: Actually, if those three examples are representative of the evidence you would be inclined to give me, then I'm afraid what is limited is your evidence. Setting aside what you have said to me in an earlier exchange, that your God does not allow scientific evidence of his existence in the first place (though you gave no reason for this), then if these examples are the best you've got, you're right: I would not be impressed. I would have to consider the option that video footage of God could be special effects, because I know what can be done with special effects these days. I would have to consider mass hysteria in the case of thousands of people who claim to be eyewitnesses, because I know that, especially where religious beliefs are concerned, mass hysteria is a very easy thing to make happen. Jim Jones got 900 followers to drink cyanide. Intense religious belief is not the sort of thing that attracts the most well-educated and rational people in a given culture to begin with, and religious services, especially these huge revivals in third-world countries that attract hundreds of thousands of people, are really big on whipping people up into an emotional frenzy in which all higher thinking functions are basically disconnected like a bad hard drive. Finally, you're right, I would not take prophecy-fulfillment claims all that seriously, for more or less exactly the reasons you said. Indeed, I would list prophecies as a prime example of that which you accuse me of: seeing the world through a set of rigid presuppositions. Interpreting current events in such a way as to seem to fit ancient prophecies is something of a cottage industry in religion. Guys like Hal Lindsay have made a career of it. In his book The Late, Great Planet Earth, Lindsay argued that Biblical prophecy predicted the USSR would invade Israel. His book became one of the biggest selling titles of the 1970's. Of course, he got everything wrong, but he's still out there working the prophecy angle.

Are you really saying that these three examples of evidences for God's existence are all you've got? Or are they simply the best you've got? If either, then I don't think you have a good case. And this isn't due to any "presuppositions" on my part "limiting" my understanding. It's simply due to the poor quality of your evidence. No scientist would expect to get a paper through the peer review process on such feeble evidentiary support, so why be surprised when I say that no, video footage, thousands of hysterics, or ancient prophecies easily shoehorned into current events don't impress me much. This is an omnipotent being whose existence you're arguing for! You truly cannot do better than this? And what about your earlier exhortation not to rely on man, but go to God directly? If that's the case, what's wrong with giving me my own "road to Damascus" experience. Saul of Tarsus was not merely a non-believer, he was an active persecutor of Christians. If he can have an incontrovertible conversion event given to him by God directly, why not a little guy like me, who's never persecuted a soul, and has only said, "I don't believe"?

Anon: Don't you see? If I DID have incontrovertible proof, your presupposition would force you to interpret the facts consistently with your presupposition and you would not be able to see the proof.

Martin: Again, this is just pure nonsense. You're just projecting the inflexible, dogmatic irrationalism of a religious fundamentalist onto me. If you and I were talking, and I stated a belief that there were no apples within 200 miles from me at this exact moment, and you pulled an apple out of your pocket, I would not, as you insist, shut my eyes and start singing "Mary had a little lamb" in a very loud voice. What I would say is, "Well, fancy that, an apple. Guess I was wrong." Your insistence that I simply won't accept any evidence you give me is, as stated before, just a dishonest rhetorical dodge to help you weasel out of your burden of proof. But you give the game away with this one little phrase: "-- providing that there were factual proofs of His existence." This would seem to indicate that, deep down inside where you might actually have trace amounts of honesty that your faith hasn't rooted out and gunned down, you know that you in fact have no "factual proofs" to support your God claims. You think that accusing the atheist of intractible closed-mindedness will be enough to divert people's attention away from this fact. But I think you'll be disappointed.

Anon: Then, I must ask you, what kind of evidence would you accept that would prove God's existence? I must see what your presuppositions are and work either with them or against them.

Martin: And I've told you, a "road to Damascus" experience would do fine. I'll give you another. If your God is all-powerful, he could make me omniscient. That would certainly eliminate all doubt. But he needn't go that far. Again, he's your God. If he's all knowing and all seeing and almighty and all powerful, I'm sure he can think of something sufficient to blow away the doubt of a mere, fallible mortal like me.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The long term consequences of religious misology

For those of you who haven't kept up with the comments to the previous post, we have a new Christian troll (this one anonymous) who's boldly carrying on the tradition of lunatic unreason championed by the great Dan Marvin. His argument basically boils down to, "God exists because I say he does, and I have don't have any burden of proof to meet. If you don't believe me, it's your problem." Tracie and I have been taking him on, she with her usual firm but diplomatic calmness, and me with my usual two-fisted combination of ridicule and icy rebuttal. Another commenter, Lui, has been prompted, after wading through anon's absurdities, to cry out in despair: "What is this, an episode of Transformers? Do you have ANY idea how stupid [one of anon's moronic arguments] sounds?"

He really and truly doesn't, Lui. He has not been properly trained in critical thinking, and doesn't understand the difference between knowledge and belief. Like most fundamentalists (and here and on the TV show I've seen this pattern over and over), all of his opinions are shaped by faulty assumptions.

Because he has been raised to believe in the truth of the Bible unquestioningly, he thinks everyone else is obligated to do so in the same way. He cannot comprehend that anyone could legitimately be skeptical of claims made in a holy book compiled nearly 2000 years ago, and which is the product of a primitive, pre-scientific, unenlightened and extremely cruel culture. This is why his only response to skeptics asking for proof is, "I don't have to show you proof, you just have to believe what I say." He considers evidence — something any educated person understands is all just a normal part of the process of how we learn about the world we live in — to be an improper and inappropriate demand when it pertains to his religious faith. This is the special pleading fallacy in a nutshell.

Sure, it's fun to pound on guys like anon, but I've found it's also sadly true that it is profoundly difficult, if not impossible, to get them to understand how powerfully deluded they are, and to accept the educational challenge to overcome it. If anything, that this kind of deeply irrational religious thought is so widespread in our world today is a grim testimony to the failure of our educational system.

Only in a society where anti-intellectualism and ignorance has taken such a firm hold could clowns like Ray Comfort and Ken Ham be taken the least bit seriously by anyone capable of thought. Where but in a society that has openly rejected reality in favor of fantasy could $27 million be raised for a folly as stupefying as the Creation "Museum"? Fundamentalism, and its militant misology (a favorite word of mine — look it up), is likely to have a profoundly damaging impact on our culture in the coming years. I've been convinced for a long time America is on the decline towards turning into an intellectual third world country, with Christianity boldly leading the race to the bottom. Guys like Dan Marvin and anonymous merely cement that worry. Unless something is done to improve education and minimize the damage done by faith-based ignorance and institutionalized irrationalism, then very soon we will be as dependent upon other nations for our science, our medicine, everything to do with having a decent quality of life, as we currently are on the Middle East for our oil.