Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A fool's last hurrah

This is the last we'll speak of Patrick. He tries to go down swinging with this infantile non-apology that he emailed us and, presumably, all of the people who sent him the emails he asked for on the program and yet somehow failed to give him the validation he so desperately craved.

I wish to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to all atheists for my actions in the past few days.
They were unwise and I have rectified everything with Ray Comfort. The bumper sticker is back for sale. We atheists will for all time, be taken as the evil people that the Christian ministers teach their congregations. That way they can be assured that when their congregations vote, not one of us will ever be elected so much as a dog catcher. And, everyone of you that wrote me, encouraging me to tuck my tail between my legs, and tell them that they are right, and their bumper sticker is the full and complete TRUTH.
I have kept my promise to not file the lawsuit. And all of you have opened your hearts to me, and behaved like total cowards. It's no wonder that the Christians think we all are so evil. All of you should be ashamed that you even think of yourselves as intelligent.

And I'm taking my ball and going home! Waah. Christ, what a weasel. Seriously, Pat, you ought to take lessons from some right-wing politicians, or, hell, even Nancy Pelosi, on how to do hypocritical blame-shifting and passive-aggressive lashing out skillfully. This kind of foot-stomping petulance wouldn't even qualify you to run for dog-catcher.

I sent him off with a spanking.

Sorry Patrick. But we stopped taking you seriously long ago, and this "apology" pretty much confirms all we need to know about you: that you're a childish and dishonest narcissist whose ego is way too invested in being the hero of your own movie. If you honestly think that what people were trying to tell you when they criticized you for threatening to sue Ray was that we all think the bumper sticker was true, then you're even more of an immature assclown than any of us thought, and your constant recourse to self-flattering bluster is some pitifully obvious overcompensation for the unwillingness to admit that maybe, just maybe, YOU could ever be wrong about something. And your failure to comprehend your own recent role in the damage the reputation of atheists has taken among believers also speaks to the depth of your obtuseness and lack of self-awareness. I'd tell you to grow up, but as you're already in your 60's it's far too late for that. You failed to launch a long time ago.

Heard back from the FCC yet?

And that's a wrap on Patrick. Next post: back to grown-ups and grown-up matters.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Breaking the Yomin Barrier

Okay, we're all familiar with the Yomin situation last month, and the coining of the phrase "pulling a Yomin," which has entered Internet parlance as a term referring to anyone who has an excessive, histrionic, emotional, and deeply hypocritical and dishonest overreaction to any perceived slight, particularly when that behavior incorporates playing the victim when one's problems can most truthfully be laid at one's own doorstep. Lately the term has been used liberally to refer to the actions of Patrick Greene, about which you all have been reading for the last couple of days. Well, today, Patrick has outdone himself and entered what can only be called Trans-Yomin Space, a new dimension, not of sight and sound, but dimness and chaos. Get a load of the latest "here is my revenge for the crime of disagreeing with me and failing to herald me as a champion of atheism" letter he's sent us.

I did some research on the FCC webpage, and called them. I have filed the following complaint with the FCC.

Matt Dillahunty, the host of the Atheist Experience program, read my e-mail to him, referring to him as an "asshole". I was speaking to him via telephone, when his program was live on Sunday July 27th. During the conversation between us, where we were disagreeing on a subject, he referred to me as an "asshole" live on the program.
I don't know if this is acceptable language for the middle of the afternoon, when children could be viewing. You can view this program at this website, the top one, #563

I can only laugh at this. This is how far this loser has sunk in his need to validate his sense of victimhood and avenge the horrible crime of being disagreed with. Any time anyone says something that pisses him off, he wants to find a way, however specious and feeble, to sic the law or the courts on them. Stupid comes in many colors. I think Patrick has found the Stupid Rainbow Connection. The morons, the dreamers, and he.

By the way, public access cable is not governed by the FCC. Oh well.

I make nice with Ray Comfort

No surprise, Ray Comfort offered a jeering post about Patrick's threat of a lawsuit on his blog. That's the biggest problem with taking this kind of ill-conceived action, and it's completely predictable. It gives the opponent completely justified moral high ground from which to criticize you, when before he was just slinging a fairly juvenile insult.

So I wrote my own comment there, pointing out that Patrick does not represent all atheists, and that in fact we dedicated a fair bit of show time to criticizing him over the weekend. Ray didn't let the comment go unedited: I tried to supply a link to the video and audio broadcasts, and he says he doesn't allow any links from commenters. Meh? I think that's a silly policy, but I read the rules now and it wasn't just me. In any case, Ray was kind enough to personally post the comment himself, sans the links. So if nothing else, I know he's read it.

If you want a score count, I estimated that the total number of emails sent concurrently to Patrick and us, as of this morning, is pretty close to 50. I've stopped reading them all carefully, so it's possible that I've missed something. However, my back-of-the-envelope calculations show that somewhere around, um, oh, call it 100% of the emailers agree with us. Patrick's response seems to be that they are all now self-admitted fools, and that since all the atheists in the world have not emailed him, everyone who didn't explicitly say he's wrong must secretly be on his side.

Face, meet desk. Ow!

Hmmm... it looks like Ray just made a special post to highlight my comment, and also claims that Patrick wishes to withdraw his suit based on these emails. I notice that Ray is aggressively avoiding a link back, even cutting out the name of the show. Typical. Now I feel better, because I can't handle having sympathetic feelings toward Ray for too long. ;)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Yesterday's show

This one was a corker, so I thought I'd get it up here right away. Above and beyond the whole exchange with Patrick, there's "Eve," aka Microbiologychick, who punks Matt with some of the funniest Poe-ing you're going to hear all week.

Oh, by the way. Apparently the latest backwash of Patrick's foolishness is this: Living Waters has announced, I am informed, that they're no longer going to be selling the bumper sticker that got Patrick all riled up. Now they'll be giving it away for free!

Bravo, Patrick. You fucktard.

Addendum by Russell/Kazim:

To hear "Eve" call in, fast forward to about 54:00 in the video.

Patrick wants your opinion

Patrick Greene called in to the show on Sunday. The episode is now posted on Google and you're free to listen to Patrick make his case (with interruptions and clarifications from your rather perturbed host).

While we're all aware that public opinion is irrelevant to truth, he'd like to hear from you. If you think he's done the right thing, let him know. If you think he's made a huge mistake that makes the rest of us look bad, let him know. If you aren't sure, let him know.

Evidently, he's just not getting enough email. So, here's his e-mail address:

peewee_91762 [at]

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Today on the show: Foolish atheism

In principle, we think that the biggest enemies of extremist Christians should be moderate Christians. Too often, when we bring up examples of Christianity Gone Wild, like Reverend Fred Phelps and Jerry Falwell's claim that secularism caused 9/11, the response is "Oh, forget those people, they don't represent most Christians."

That's not good enough. Who's out there denouncing those people? We are. In order to avoid getting a bad name, the Christians who find they are not represented by Phelps and Falwell should be the first ones to publicly criticize those very prominent figures.

But we don't want to be hypocrites of course, which is why today's show will focus on atheists with some very weird ideas that we don't agree with at all. Maybe they're not as prominent as their Christian counterparts, but they're out there, and they give atheists a bad name. Here are some of the examples we'll be using, as time allows:

  • There is, of course, the recent spate of messages from Patrick Greene about his anti-free speech lawsuit, which in some way inspired today's topic.
  • Raelians, who say they're atheists... it's just that the Bible was inspired by aliens, not gods.
  • Communists. Yeah yeah, we hear it all the time, Stalin was an atheist, Russia was a godless state, we're better than they are precisely because "we" believe in God over here, and they don't.
  • Objectivists. This one may be a little controversial with the listeners, but there is a pretty good case to be made that Ayn Rand had a little bit of a cult of personality going on, and even encouraged it. Worshipping people is bad. As PZ Myers recently said so eloquently, nothing is sacred.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Patrick Greene checks in

Patrick Greene, the San Antonio atheist who got all up in Ray Comfort's shit about a stupid bumper sticker, has sent an email to us once again. (He also left a comment here, which I rejected, because it contained his phone number. After the Yomin incident, in which both his and Matt D.'s phone numbers appeared in comments, I have a new policy of no phone numbers on the site at all, even if people wish to post their own. It's too easy a thing people can abuse, whether through the placing of inappropriate calls, or the wild accusations and blame-assignment of same.)

Patrick's letter is as follows:

I read your web site and wish equal time on your show.
I want to tell people the truth about the Walmart experience.
And I want to tell everyone about the bumper sticker thing.
By the way, so far Kirk Cameron hasn't gotten back with me yet.
If I was really screwing up, they would never have taken the sticker off the site.
I have taken all I am going to take from Christians. My wife and I have taken their crap for 30 years.
Call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX any day from noon to 5:00p.m.
Patrick Greene
And you have my written permission to use my full name and e-mail address on everythingyou write about me.
I am not in the closet about anything.

Well, that's great you're willing to stand up for yourself, Patrick, though I suspect that Matt will not be terribly sympathetic to your "equal time" request, you having called him "such an asshole" and all. Seems to me you're just an attention-seeker, quick to fly off the handle not only at any perceived slight to your atheism, but also to anyone who fails to validate your sense of victimhood and join the drill team cheering your fight for justice. And if you really believe that, as you said, "if I was really screwing up, they would never have taken the sticker off the site," you're as naive as you are reactionary. Ray Comfort is already making fun of you, and most absurdly of all, he did so simply by repeating the same insipid creationist non-arguments that he's been using all these years to impress the uneducated. All he had to do was quote you sounding pissed off, which you did, then he simply replied with the stupidest arguments in his arsenal in a calm tone. And he comes out of it looking like a million bucks. Good job, Pat old boy. When you lose the high ground to a clown like Coke Can Man, you're in bad shape.

As for the "crap" you've been put through for so very long by Christians, good grief, what are you talking about? Sounds to me like you're nursing a persecution complex the size of the Alamodome, though I confess I wasn't around all those decades Christians were making your life miserable, denying you jobs and killing your dog and peeing on your shrubs and flicking boogers at your car or whatever it was they were doing.

You'd think you would have, at some point, figured out that the majority of the populace in this country were religious, that that fact was unlikely to change in the near future, that some of those religious people will be normal and easygoing to get along with and that some will be offensive and stupid, and simply chosen to live your life accordingly. What horrible history of injustices have you suffered at their hands for so long, that the camel's back was finally broken by the straw of Comfort and Cameron's dopey bumper sticker? "That's enough, goddamn it! I'm suing!"

Dude, we all find it infuriating, the things Christians get up to in this country. Undermining science education, denying fundamental rights to gays and lesbians, covering it up whenever their priests rape children, filling school boards with unqualified ideologues to promote their superstitions as facts to impressionable students, distributing propaganda movies calling scientists Nazis, what have you. What we do about it is try to come up with some positive pushback, through the efforts of such groups as Texas Citizens for Science and the NCSE, through outreach to other atheists via our media efforts, through getting people active at the polls (the stupidity of Ellen "Don't Vote" Johnson notwithstanding.)

There's a thing about picking your battles wisely. Making a spectacle of yourself over the imagined injustice of a bumper sticker doesn't qualify under the "wise" category. "Petty," "childish," "shallow" and "over-sensitive"? Yeah, those, sure, all day long. Let me repeat this: you gave Ray Comfort, of all people, an opportunity to make himself look good. If that doesn't spell E-P-I-C F-A-I-L, nothing does.

Seriously, man, you're pulling a Yomin big time.

But if you really want to come on the show and undergo the dubious pleasure of being dressed down to your face by Matt Dillahunty...well, as I said, scheduling the guests is no longer my duty on the show. Though I suspect, if you did come on, it would be an experience you'd not forget in a hurry, and would probably become one of the show's most popular downloads ever.

PS: Right before I posted this, Patrick replied to my reply to his original email, with examples of all the horrible injustice he's endured at the hands of Christians. Seriously, I don't know how the man has survived.

Try being denied an apartment because we are atheists.

So find a better apartment complex. There has to be more than one in your town. And why would your atheism need to come up while apartment hunting at all?

Try being given death threats because we are atheists.

I used to host the TV show, fer cripessake. I probably got 20 death threats for your every one.

Try being denied payment for a taxi trip, because I am an atheist.

Hardly compares to the rack or the stake, but I probably would find that annoying. So were you the cab driver in question here? Again, why would your atheism have come up? How many cabbies get ripped off every year by ride jumpers for reasons having nothing to do with religion?

Those are only the beginning.

Remember that scene in Reservoir Dogs with Steve Buscemi and the World's Smallest Violin?

Addendum, Sunday: Patrick says he'll call the show today, and sent us a lengthy letter explaining why he was turned down for an apartment (which, to hear his description, is one incident 20 years ago), and assuring us that he is shocked — SHOCKED! — that other atheists would dare criticize him! Which, obviously, means that we are ashamed to be atheists and afraid to defend ourselves. Which should be plain as day to anyone who's watched the TV show and read this blog, right?

He also added:

My lawsuit was going to be based on the fact that they [Comfort and Cameron] were taking an opinion [on the bumper stickers], and making it a fact to all believers.
Dumbshits believe that.

Yes, Patrick, you're absolutely right.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Want to see something really scary?

Microbiologychick went to Jesus Camp.

It's not precisely the same kind of Jesus Camp that was on display in the movie (which we saw in 2006); this one was for teens and young adults instead of really little kids. As a result, they needed to use somewhat more devious cultish tactics like sleep deprivation and repetitive chanting to keep all the sinful teens mindful of the fact that abstinence pledges are a really great and productive idea.

Also this:

Stories of dubious authenticity were told as gospel. One of my favorites was about a dumb, redneck type of Christian boy who has to deal with an evil smart atheist evolutionist boy at school. The boy faithfully brings his bible to school every day and leaves it on the corner of his desk in class. Atheist boy begins to pick it up and read it, making fun of it at first. Eventually atheist boy gets saved and becomes a Christian.

Yeah, I love Christian meta-stories. They're not the stories of Christianity, they're stories about the stories of Christianity. Because, you know, the actual stories are often not enough to convince people to believe in God, so people have to invent new stories that describe a time when the stories were effective.

It's like some Jack Chick tracts, where you actually see cartoons within the tracts wherein the characters are shown giving Jack Chick tracts to other characters, and then the characters in the story convert. You know, just to prove that it's not a waste of time to hand these tracts out in the first place. It's the ultimate in fictional wish fulfillment.

I imagine that the characters inside the tracts in the tracts are also carrying more tracts, and so on ad infinitum. I guess if we include enough recursive repetitions in the story, we hope that it will eventually break through to the top level and enter the real world. And if you repeat this stuff to teenagers often enough about how OTHER people were convinced, then they won't see any further need to wonder how they can know that the Bible stories are actually true. Thankfully, in some cases this tactic fails.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An irrational atheist

Today a gentleman whose privacy I'll respect by not revealing his name sent an email to the TV show address with the subject line "Victory for atheists." I'm afraid it's anything but. Indeed, it's a textbook example of how to fumble the ball.

The fellow in question had sent an irate letter to the Laurel and Hardy apologetics team of Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, complaining about an insulting anti-atheist bumper sticker they were selling online. Boasting to us that his letter had persuaded them to remove the offending sticker from their site, he went on to quote himself in full, and he doesn't start off badly.

Your Item #500 Atheist Day bumper sticker is a very un-Christian insult to all atheists. Just because your Bible states something, does not mandate that you use this information to insult atheists like me.

I am not a fool, and I want you to change the wording of your sticker. The average driver can easily read the words:


But the words of Psalm 14:1, which are below these words, cannot be easily seen by any motorist.

Then, as the letter progresses, you can see his emotions starting to run away with him.

My life as an American Atheist has been unalterably changed by your bumper sticker. I would never be elected to any political position in our country, because your bumper sticker has poisoned most believers minds.

I demand that you use your own savior's command to Love your neighbor as yourself, and change your bumper sticker to read something like this:


Well, the inability of atheists to make much headway in American politics, despite the Constitution's ban on a religious test (a ban that is openly violated by the constitutions of a number of individual states, like Texas), is rooted in a religious bigotry against unbelievers that was in play long before Frick and Frack decided to sell a stupid bumper sticker online. But then our writer starts to run right off the rails...

I understand that the U.S. Constitution guarantees you freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. However, that does not give you unlimited license to publicly insult those who do not share your beliefs.

Uh...well, yeah, dude. It does.

Free speech is exactly that. Insults are not illegal. There are actionably libelous and slanderous remarks that one can make that are not Constitutionally protected. But merely lobbing an insult at somebody doesn't qualify. And there is no Constitutional protection against having your feelings hurt. Here, our writer is simply making as big a fool of himself as the Catholics who have been throwing a colossal group shitfit these past several days over PZ Myers' mocking of the Eucharist cracker.

Regrettably, our writer, figuring "in for a penny, in for a pound," wraps everything up with an Oscar-worthy exercise in shark-jumping.

If, by August 23, 2008 your bumper sticker has not been changed on your web site, I will file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, in San Antonio, and have a restraining order issued to order you to change your sticker.

Insert sound of screeching tires, a loud crash, followed by a sustained explosion.

Hmm, what does this kind of pissy, bully-boy rhetoric remind me of? Certainly it's nothing I'd attach the word "rational" to, and indeed, no offense to our writer here (though I can't imagine I'll avoid it), while Psalm 14:1 does not apply to atheists or atheism as a philosophy, it applies like hell to his behavior here.

It's one thing to sue or threaten to sue if you have actually been harmed, or if an actionable offense has been made. But threatening legal action simply as a means of stifling the speech of someone who simply holds a view different to your own, and who has only made remarks that have bruised your feelings, is reprehensible behavior, full stop. And if you were dumb enough actually to file such a suit, expect not only an immediate dismissal but quite possibly a Rule 11(b) ass-reaming on top of it.

As Matt has pointed out to this fellow, not only has he moronically validated the bigotry Cameron and Comfort hold against atheists by being such a reactionary hothead over something as banal as a bumper sticker, but, if they did indeed remove the sticker from their site in response to his email, then this is simply something that we can fully expect them to use, in their next blog posts and podcasts and whatever else they do, to paint themselves as the calm, reasonable ones, the charitable, kind Christians who out of the goodness of their hearts will honor this poor unsaved person's feelings, despite his hostile and bullying tone, which is, of course, just the way you are when you're godless and lost. In other words, this dumbass has just handed the two most dishonest and inept apologists in all of pop-Christianity a three-pointer.

So let this be a lesson to atheists everywhere. We're human, and certainly can't expect to be entirely rational and unemotional when things affect us as humans, and cause us to feel a level of hurt. But unlike PZ's Catholic mob, we ought to have a perspective they lack. Nothing here that was "holy" or inviolable to atheists was damaged by this bumper sticker. And I cannot for the life of me think how this writer can prove he's suffered any kind of harm because of its mere existence. As rational beings, we must know that we live in a world of many differing and often hostile views, none moreso than those between religious believers and skeptics. Some people we'll have civil disagreements with, others will be more heated and emotional. But we all have a right to expression, and to use bullying threats to silence someone's opposing views while claiming bogus "harm" is something no rationalist can or should countenance.

If our writer thought he'd find a sympathetic ear and support when he emailed us to boast of his "victory," I'm afraid he got a rude surprise, one which I'll happily make ruder by exposing his foolishness here as an epic fail for which he should feel duly embarrassed. I expect this kind of thing from extremist religious ideologues. I expect better from atheists, as we should always be guided by reason, even when we're a little bit cranky that day. Atheists who go four-alarm-irrational will find themselves thoroughly hosed if we hear about it.

Addendum: The original writer has finally been reduced simply to calling Matt "such an asshole" in response to Matt's explanations as to why he did the wrong thing. That says all that needs to be said about the guy's character, I do believe. I wonder if he'll threaten to sue next?

You can't make this stuff up!

Latest nugget of 40-carat irony from the irrational world (emphasis added):

A woman accidentally stabbed herself in the foot with a 3-foot-long sword while performing a Wiccan good luck ritual at a cemetery in central Indiana.

Better luck next time...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Apology Apologetics

We’re sorry that the Pope just doesn’t know what a proper apology looks like. An apology is a request for forgiveness for harm done. However, a proper apology requires that the person apologizing admit to the harm he has caused and display an understanding of the impact on the victim. A proper apology requires a demonstration of learning to show that the perpetrator has changed his ways and will avoid making the same mistake in the future. A proper apology means taking responsibility for one’s own actions. Such an apology is a sign of moral maturity and growth as a human being. The Pope’s July 19thapology” to victims of the Catholic church’s pedophilic predilections simply doesn’t measure up. We’re sorry that anyone thinks the Pope has offered a valid apology.

The Pope did not bother to address the victims of the Church’s crime. Instead, he issued his pretend apology to an audience of bishops and seminarians. He certainly didn’t admit his own wrong doing. Ratzinger actively perpetuated a long-standing policy of official secrecy of sex abuse claims by clergy and issued an order for clergy to obstruct justice in sex abuse claims. We’re talking tens of thousands of victims over more than forty years. Simply put, the Catholic Church is a racket.

His attempted apology, said in part, “Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice.” He certainly didn’t want to draw any attention to his own role in this sordid affair or that of the Catholic hierarchy. Remember that in 2005, he requested diplomatic immunity in the US for his crimes to evade a lawsuit where these facts would be front-page news for weeks. That would be bad for business. Besides running a pedophile ring, he is the head of the pretend nation called the Vatican. We’re sorry that the Pope has no intention of taking responsibility for his actions. We’re also sorry that the Pope, presumably the very best that Christianity has to offer, doesn’t even meet remedial standards of moral behavior.

We’re sorry that the Pope’s edicts put the Catholic hierarchy in the US in a conflict of interest. Were they to follow the Pope’s order and actively impede criminal investigations, lie, blame others, and claim church-state separation to avoid taking responsibility for their actions? Or would they do the right thing, follow US law, and side with the victims in bringing the criminals to justice? We all know the answer: “screw the victims.” Let us count the ways. We’re sorry that the Catholic hierarchy is all too happy to sell out children to save their own sanctimonious butts. We’re sorry that anyone looks to the Catholic church for moral advice.

We’re sorry that the media will dutifully print the latest moral ramblings of a cad in a funny hat, but they give a free pass to a foreign head of state who is actively controlling his Bishops here in the US. These stooges are systematically violating our laws with impunity. In this age of “the war on terror,” you would think that someone would give a shit about some actual harm done to Americans on US soil by foreign interests. We’re sorry that the media aids and abets such blatant contempt for our country, our citizens, and our laws by simply ignoring it.

We’re sorry that the Catholic laity still amply funds the Catholic church despite their systematic abuse of children. We’re sorry they don’t get to watch the real-life kiddie porn they’ve funded with their tithes. We’re sorry that so many people are happy to sell out children for magic crackers and make-believe trips to see Jeezus after you die, somewhere over the rainbow. We’re sorry that the rest of Christianity is so enthralled with the concept of “religious tolerance” that they’re happy to overlook the problems of their Catholic brethren, so that the Catholics will do the same when they perpetrate their own immoral acts. We’re sorry that Christians are largely ignorant of the long history of crimes of their religion.

We’re sorry the Bible says nothing negative about pedophilia. Children are disposable property in the Bible, owned by their father. We’re sorry that believers worship a god who is either too powerless to help children or who gets off watching the show. We’re sorry that believers think that because they worship such a god, they have done their part to make the world a better place. We’re sorry it never occurs to them that maybe their god doesn’t exist, they should stop being dupes, and maybe stop the harm.

We’re not sorry for the secular courts and twelve-member juries of ordinary people who have done more to clean up this sorry mess than God and all of Christendom with its empty claims of moral authority and power.

There is a little lesson in there somewhere.

What's the Difference?

When I first recognized I was an atheist, I hadn’t read any atheist literature. I studied and came to my own conclusions about god after being brought up as a fundamentalist (and for many years accepting the Bible as the inerrant word of god). After a few years as an atheist, visiting atheist forums and debating and dialoging with atheists and theists alike, I stumbled upon ACA in my community. I had already begun drawing Atheist Eve--a character who reflected my own perspective of what I saw as problems in my own past “logic” and who also voiced my assessment of current Christian doctrines and trends.

I was so ignorant of the atheist community and what it offered that I recall a discussion on the ACA list where someone quoted Richard Dawkins. I replied, “Who is Richard Dawkins? And why should I care what he says?” Interestingly, while I’m not proud of my ignorance, I am happy with my response. Here’s why:

As a Christian, I was always reading the Bible, attending Bible studies and reading commentaries that reinforced my fundamentalist beliefs about doctrine and interpretation. I wanted to be thoroughly informed about what I “believed” (although I have a lot of trouble calling something I have to learn and constantly reinforce _my_ “belief”).

With atheism, it didn’t work that way. I observed and studied all I could about the nature of existence around me, and concluded that god appeared to be a metaphor.

While I can’t claim that no one might read Dawkins and change their mind with regard to religious beliefs, I can claim that I never was “swayed” by Satan in the form of any atheist writer. No silky smooth sophistry confused me into atheism. No angry incident with my church or a preacher made me hate god. No rebellion against the Christian lifestyle or rules and regulations made Christianity impossible for me. No desire to sin with abandon drove my motives. (In fact, later, when I began to adopt a more Buddhist perspective, I was far more morally restricted than I ever had been as a Christian. Personal sacrifice has never been an impediment for me. I’m simply not a highly materialistic person). The truth is, believe it or don’t, I just put my mind to the task of considering the question and studied relevant data as much as I could, and I determined god is a metaphor.

What made me happy about my own ignorance, though, is that there is something to be said for being able to respond to apologetic criticisms that I’m being blindly led astray by the intellectual prowess of such as Dawkins, by pointing out that it can hardly be a valid criticism while it is aimed at someone who has never read any atheist author’s views on religion, and who doesn’t know who Dawkins is. So, even after discovering Dawkins, I never read more than one article. I didn’t want to “learn” arguments from him. I didn’t want to be accused of adopting the beliefs of others and simply labeling them as “my own,” in the same way I had done in my religious years. There is no atheist leader. There is nothing in atheism to follow. And if I disagree with Dawkins, it’s OK to say, “So what if Dawkins says it? I don’t agree.”

When is the last time a fundamentalist posted, “So what if the Bible says it? I don’t agree.”

That’s the difference. And it’s a biggie. And so, if there could ever be a positive result to ignorance, hopefully it was illustrated in my reply on the atheist list those years ago.

But Dawkins is a man, and the Bible, well, that’s god, isn’t it? That’s why you won’t hear that from a fundamentalist. That’s what I would have said as a fundamentalist in response to my own point above. After taking a course of Josh McDowell’s materials with my preacher at about 15 years old, I would have insisted it was inarguable. The Bible was the inerrant word of god. My church said it. My family said it. My school never disputed it. My community held to it. Everyone knew the Bible was the word of god. Everyone knew that if there was a god, then Christianity was the option. And none of us ever bothered to confirm any of our assumptions.

Now, after many years of avoiding reading books about atheists and atheism, I feel I’ve proven my point—mainly to myself, but perhaps to some others—that atheism is my fully informed choice and “my” belief based on “my” conclusions. I have not accepted the claim of atheism from someone else. I’ve given theists their opportunity. I’ve looked at the world and universe around me, and after crunching the data, god is a metaphor.

In celebrating my release from the feeling of obligation that I need to respond to those who would accuse me of succumbing to Satanic atheist dogma that presumably corrupted my brain, I now have begun reading atheist literature. I read some Bertrand Russell, some George Smith, some Dawkins, and now I’m reading Ehrman. I enjoy some of it. I enjoy some of it somewhat less. I find some of it hard to read. I find some of it easy to read. I agree with some of it. I disagree with some of it. But I am able to evaluate all of it and make up my own mind whether or not I deem it as valid based on what I know of the world around me and how it operates.

The Erhman book I’m reading currently reminded me very much of my own experiences with religion in my past. And I decided to write some notes about that to someone, and I’m going to share a portion of that correspondence (somewhat paraphrased) here for anyone who likes that sort of thing:

“…At 15, I still would not commit to Christianity, because I was too unsure if there was a god or not. Finally, a preacher invited me to attend a series based on the materials of Josh McDowell, who puts forward the inerrancy of scripture via historical ‘evidence.’

“I was so swayed by McDowell (back then there was no Internet, and local libraries in small towns weren't overflowing with controversial books that questioned mainstream ideas). It wasn't until college that I even met anyone who questioned whether or not the foundation of my beliefs (the Bible--and even the existence of god) was something I should probably think more about. [Because truth was important to me, I took their advice.]

“Outside of my normal course load and my part-time job, I made time to spend in the evenings at the university library, looking up religious history--especially regarding the production of the Bible. What I finally determined (much to my dismay) was that the criticisms of my fellow students (many of whom were taking history themselves) were well-founded. In the end, as a layman, sitting many nights at a table with my books all spread out, I was able to piece together the information--that is today put forward in the book ‘Misquoting Jesus’--from many different sources--some religious, some secular (none, however, which were atheistic or anti-religious). Once I recognized that the history of the Bible--even as presented by honest, god-fearing Christians promoting Christian doctrine--indicated a group of texts one should take with a heaping pile of grains of salt--my mind was finally freed to pursue honest truth.

“Thanks to books like Erhman’s and the Internet, there is today a place for fundamentalist youth (or even the aged) to go and find this information in a simpler fashion…for a layman, this information isn't really old hat, nor is it easy to necessarily even find and put together. But it is becoming more common and available, and that's because of the work of people like Erhman. At the time I was a teen, Josh McDowell's claims could stand completely unchallenged by schools, churches, and communities in America. There was no independent, unbiased source to go to, to see if what McDowell claimed was verifiable. Erhman is part of a structure that is slowly growing and finally making sure that all sides of the fundamentalist story are available to the public.

“Freedom of choice surely needs to be respected, but what is the difference between an uninformed choice and no choice at all? By keeping people ignorant, freedom of choice is clearly impeded. Books like Erhman’s open up real choice to people who might not otherwise realize they even have options. This is upsetting to some people…But they need to ask themselves what ‘truth’ should have to fear from facts. If my version of truth cannot withstand the full brunt of complete disclosure of facts, my version of truth requires re-examination…”

I’m not sure what else to say about it. I no longer have any dogma or doctrine that requires defense against reality or facts or data. I can accept whatever I observe and see how it fits into the rest of the facts and data. If it doesn’t fit, I can re-evaluate the whole enchilada if I have to. Nothing need be too sacred to examine. No question need remain unanswered merely because it’s a taboo of the highest order to even ask it. I have no stake in any “belief” any longer. It can now be purely about truth alone. I have nothing of value that requires me to reject data. In fact, I doubt I would today be capable of valuing anything that would require such a thing from me. I have no bias I’m aware of that causes me to deny what can be observed or to distort its meaning so that it force-fits within my preconceived framework of reality. But as a Christian, I could not have honestly claimed that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Let's make Donald Wildmon's nightmare come true!

Via Brayton, I come across this awesome piece over at OneNewsNow, the "news" site of the fundamentalist hate group American "Family" Association. You know, the same people who had that hilarious editorial gaffe recently involving an Olympic track star.

Wildmon has his knickers in a twist over the upcoming Proposition 8 vote this November in California, in which the haters hope to make gay marriage illegal until, presumably, the end of time. If the Christians lose, Wildmon warns, well, down that slippery slope we fall!

"If the homosexuals are able to defeat the marriage amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, then the culture war is over and we've lost — and gradually, secularism will replace Christianity as the foundation of our society," he adds.

The vote in California, Wildmon explains, will affect the entire nation. "California is a big dam, holding back the flood — and if you take down the dam in California, it's going to flood 49 other states," he illustrates. "It will destroy marriage as it has been known for thousands of years, and with that the cultural decline that normally would follow."

You know, the homophobes constantly rail about how recognizing gay marriage will somehow destroy their own, sanctified straight marriages, but they never explain how. That they take this approach to the argument seems to say voluminous volumes about the insecurity they feel about their own personal situations in marriage. If any situation, including someone else's marriage, could possibly threaten your own marriage, then your marriage is already a failure, and it's everything to do with you, gang. How a bunch of folks absolutely none of these terrified, insecure Christians will ever meet personally could threaten them, simply by deciding to commit to one another in marriage while happening to be the same gender, is simply absurd to contemplate. Unless you contemplate it in the context of fundie fear, not reality.

As for secularism replacing Christianity in America, well, three cheers for that and it's about time! Naturally, the Wildmons of the world will see nothing but the downfall of civilization in such an occurrence. But again, reality paints a different picture. Sure, a nation in which people enjoy happiness based on concepts like personal freedoms rather than the phantom "happiness" of religion's pie in the sky promises, which merely mask a host of debilitating fears and neuroses, would certainly be hell on Earth to the AFA and their sheep. Read the comments attached to the OneNewsNow article to shake your head over the whirlpool of insecurities and phobias these poor people flounder in.

Ahoy, Californians! Get out there and give Prop. 8 a sound defeat this fall. Because I really really want to read Wildmon's editorial the following day!

Addendum: Well, clearly it's true that traditional marriage is always a paradise of connubial bliss where nothing ever goes wring and which never leads to a cultural decline of any kind. Or maybe, where the husband in this case is concerned, teh gayz made him do it after all...

A fashion statement

There are days when I feel like this. We should get a photo of PZ wearing one, and forward it to Bill Donahue.


Wednesday science-y goodness in Austin

CFI-Austin, along with Texas Citizens for Science and the UT Section of Integrative Biology, is sponsoring a trio of talks this evening to be held at UT's Burdine Hall, room 108. I think I had some classes there back in the day. The general theme is "Science Education in Texas," which, as you may well know, is under a cloud due to the ideological machinations of the arch-conservative State Board of Education and its young-earth-creationist dentist chairman, Dan McLeroy.

Admission is free and it all starts at 6:30. The speakers include the TCS's own Steve Schafersman, on "How Will Texas Oppose Aggressive, Organized Creationism in Texas?"; Ed Brayton, author of the blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, on the religious roots of ID (there's also a Dispatches blog meetup for Ed at Stubb's BBQ Thursday night at 7); and Josh Rosenau, NCSE staffer and author of the blog Thoughts from Kansas, on the evolution of the creationist movement.

I'm going to do my level best to attend. Hope lots of you can too. If you see me there, wave.

Addendum: Well, bummer, you won't see me there. If any of our readers do attend, please post a report in the comments.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chuck Colson responds (response #1)

Chuck Colson has posted a response to my critique of his book at the Zondervan blog. I haven't read the whole thing in depth yet, but he seems to be polite and respectful, and take at least some of my points seriously. On cursory reading, he appears to have focused on my analysis of his prison group, with an impromptu lecture on how scientific studies are supposed to be done. This should be interesting.

Everyone is welcome to read the entry and comment right here, but I will repeat my request that you remain equally respectful and refrain from trash-talk. I'll take your comments into consideration when I get around to my own reply. It looks like Chuck is not done yet, so I may not write another response until after he's finished his reaction to me.

Thanks, Chuck and Mike, for getting back to me.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hey, kids, guns! And Jesus! Find your faith!

Allow me to preface this by saying that I am not against gun ownership. But this sends a rather peculiar message, don't you think?

An Oklahoma church canceled a controversial gun giveaway for teenagers at a weekend youth conference.

Windsor Hills Baptist had planned to give away a semiautomatic assault rifle until one of the event's organizers was unable to attend.

The church’s youth pastor, Bob Ross, said it’s a way of trying to encourage young people to attend the event. The church expected hundreds of teenagers from as far away as Canada.

Wha? Gee, what about iPods or XBox360's? Or do you not want kids playing those evil violent video games or listening to that godless rock 'n roll or hip-hop? Yeah, an assault rifle is much better. It's not like a teenager is likely to misuse that.

“I don’t want people thinking ‘My goodness, we’re putting a weapon in the hand of somebody that doesn’t respect it who are then going to go out and kill,'” said Ross. “That’s not at all what we’re trying to do.”

Perish the thought. It never crossed my mind.

Ross said the conference isn’t all about guns, but rather about teens finding faith.

Okay then, I feel better already! You know, when the Muslims give kids deadly weaponry at a religious function, I think they call it terrorism and it's the kind of thing that makes the sphincters of priviliged white Oklahoman Christian conservatives completely lose their structural integrity. Well, maybe they're just taking precautions for when Obama's elected and he throws a huge party for all his Islamofascist friends on the White House lawn. Must be it.

I suppose if this weren't all happening in the state that gave us the psychotic Sally Kern, it wouldn't have such a shudder factor. I'd say, "Could be worse, could be Texas," but I have a feeling this might be an old Texas tradition...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Winner, "Most Awesome Thing Ever" Award, 2008

Don't know many details, except that it's an art installation somewhere in France, done by two fellows, *filthyluker and Pedro Estrellas. Either that, or it's the new digs for PZ Myers' Evil Atheist World Domination Headquarters.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wiseman's TAM6 spoon-bending video

Richard Wiseman has posted the video of the spoon-bending stunt he performed at TAM6, with the assistance of 800 attendees in the crowd. It's funny to watch it again, but nothing like being part of seeing it done live. For one thing, the video is fairly shaky, and the shots from different angles of the crowd don't fully communicate that, yes, in fact, there are 800 people in that room, all doing a more-or-less synchronized spoon-bending trick with 800 pre-stressed spoons. (That's a detail that's already being commented upon over at YouTube. A lot of folks think the spoons would have to have been pre-cut, when in fact they were all simply pre-stressed, repeatedly bent until just ready to snap.)

So, while I don't think the whole gag really plays on video as well as it could, it's fun to watch. And for all you skeptics out there who've been unable to make TAM before, maybe it will prompt you to make a special effort to get there next year and join in the fun.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

New blogs by atheist women

Within the last few days we've been emailed by two different atheist women who have just started their own blogs. The first was Kafir Girl, an ex-Muslim in originally from Pakistan, who has decided to read the Koran cover-to-cover and blog the entire experience. I don't know how far she'll get, but her first post is filled to the brim with humor, sarcasm, and profanity. Should be fun.

The second was Microbiologychick, a self-described southern atheist college girl from Tennessee, studying... um... Russian Literature? No wait, I deduce that it's Microbiology. Together with her friend Philosophychick (who is obviously studying Kinematic Engineering) she has started a blog called Atheist Girls.

I'm a fan of atheist women -- the movement needs more diversity, and the ubiquitous Possum Momma has been a long term source of enjoyment for me. Not to mention my wife, who rarely blogs about atheism but sure takes good pictures.

Anyway, I've added both new blogs to my favorites section on Google Reader for now. Go say hi if you're so inclined.

Correction: As she pointed out in the comments, Kafir Girl has not lived in Pakistan since she was 6; hence the fix to the first paragraph.

Say, where is that Chuck Colson guy, anyway?

I'm really not one to trash talk most of the time -- I'll leave that to Martin ;) -- or keep score. But I have to observe that it has been a bit over a month since I posted a message to Chuck Colson, and almost three weeks since my last correspondence with Mike, who wrote: "They have seen your post, so it is hopefully just a matter of scheduling time for Chuck to reply to it."

I don't want to keep pestering Mike, it's certainly not his fault. It's not that there's any big hurry, I'm just wondering if he still intends to respond. I'm keeping an eye on the Zondervan blog on my feed reader, just in case anything pops up and I don't hear about it. So far, no comment.

I sure hope this means that Chuck felt he had to devote a lot of time and attention so he could appropriately address the reply that I worked so hard on. If that's what it means, then I'll be flattered. Certainly I would never stoop to suggesting that he decided that this whole "talking to atheist bloggers" thing was a bad idea to begin with, or that he'd rather sweep my post under the rug than publicize it.

Update, 7/10: Mike writes that

We’re getting close to having a response from Chuck. I just received an email from his assistant today that he has responded and I should have something soon from him. Once I do I’ll get it posted on the Zondervan blog. I’ll email you again once I get it posted on the Zondervan blog, just so you know it’s up. Thanks much.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Aggressive Atheist Extremists

Maybe you’ve seen the PhillyCOR billboard recently? Floaty clouds on a blue sky, with the text “Don’t believe in god?” on top, and “You are not alone,” on the bottom. It’s an invitation to disenfranchised atheists to get in touch with local humanist, atheist, free-thought or secular organizations in their areas. And it’s as inoffensive a message as I’ve ever seen from any atheist group. No attack on religion. No invitation to anyone to reconsider their beliefs. Just a note to those who already don’t believe, who think they’re on their own, to encourage them and let them know there are like-minded people “out there” who would like to get to know them and offer them camaraderie and community involvement. PhillyCOR actually even works alongside religious organizations to support charitable endeavors.

So, here again we have the age-old question: Is there any way—at all—that an atheist can express his opinion that won’t be considered an attack on or offense to believers?

The answer, PhillyCOR has now made clear, is “no.”

In an interview with Fox News, Family Research Council’s own Peter Sprigg had this to say about the board:

“This billboard in Philadelphia seems to represent a trend—a new assertiveness, even aggressiveness on the part of atheists.”

You heard right. Putting up a billboard to let like-minded people know you exist—people who often think they are utterly alone—is “aggressive.” The billboard represents—is part of—a trend of “aggressiveness.” Am I to assume that Sprigg has never seen a Christian billboard before? He should come to Austin, where he would be able to see several in a five mile stretch in any direction. And they don’t just appeal to other Christians—they appeal to everyone to come to church, accept Jesus, believe in god, convert to Christianity. Would Sprigg label Christians as a “hyper aggressive” group, then? I’m guessing not—but to be consistent, he actually would have to. If atheists today are “aggressive,” I can’t see how Sprigg doesn’t consider Christians to be hovering over the edge of “dangerous.”

Further, this man who claims atheists are being “aggressive” has the following to add:

“Atheists are very vigorous in promoting the separation of church and state, but with the extreme way that they interpret that concept, you would basically eliminate every mention of god from the public square, and that would amount to the establishment of atheism.”

First of all, it’s not about eliminating the mention of anything from any “public square.” People in the public square, speaking as private citizens, can say whatever they like. It’s people and institutions that are in any way representatives of government that cannot, and should not, promote any religious perspective—including the existence or nonexistence of any god or gods. That’s a little different, and perhaps a subtlety that is lost on people like Sprigg—although, if I am to speak frankly, I don’t believe it’s lost on him at all. I believe it to be an intentional misrepresentation—a strawman—intended to rile religious masses, because Sprigg knows that an accurate representation would not be nearly as compelling and effective in attaining that goal.

Free advice: When someone misrepresents their case, always, always, always ask “why?”

And while I am on misrepresentations, another interesting fact that Sprigg seems to conveniently have misplaced, is that one of the most active entities promoting separation of church and state is a group headed by the Reverend Barry Lynn, who often speaks on behalf of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Since Sprigg’s group is so very interested in separation issues, I can’t imagine he is unaware of this. And yet, he promotes separation as an “atheist vs. theist” issue, in order to launch an unfounded attack on atheists and rally undeserved support to his own agenda to use the government, openly and unapologetically, to promote a worldview that just happens to align with conservative Christian religious ideologies.

Asking Sprigg to not use our government as a vehicle to push his religion onto others is somehow an “establishment of atheism.” I have pointed out before, but perhaps not at this blog, that asking that the government remove “under god” is in no way the equivalent of asking them to add “without a god” to the Pledge. Ensuring everyone, theists and atheists alike, is free from government sanctioned, promoted, or imposed religious ideology allows everyone, theists and atheists alike, the freedom to exercise their religion, or no religion, as they wish, by putting all religious ideologies on the same playing field—a field that is, and ever should be, found exclusively in the court of private practice.

The level of projection Sprigg employs is at least as bad as anything I have seen from any theist so far. He effortlessly scales the heights of hypocrisy as he accuses others of stepping out of line who are not, while he is guilty of absolutely all that he accuses. Ironically, even if atheists were guilty of all he accuses, they would be doing no more or less than their Sprigg-encouraged Christian counterparts, in so far as pushing their agenda via government and posting and promoting their ideology as far and wide as possible. So, how could Sprigg possibly criticize, even if atheists were guilty, without showing himself up as a raging hypocrite?

The real issue here is that Sprigg wants Christianity to enjoy special privilege and treatment from society, as well as from the government, without being able to actually explain why special status is merited. I would never advocate promoting atheism using the government. And yet, if I did, any criticism from Sprigg could be nothing less than stunning, as I’d be doing no more than he and his organization and religion are doing already (and have been doing for quite a long time).

It’s actually competition Sprigg fears—not competition from others asking government to endorse their religious views, too, but the competition that would exist if his own religious view was no longer allowed to use the government as a prop—if it had to exist, horror of horrors, on the same level upon which all other religious views and ideas are now safely relegated—far beneath his own. It isn’t that he thinks it’s wrong to empower and utilize the government to promote religious views at all. His actions illustrate that he very much supports using government to promote religious views and policies. They also illustrate, in no uncertain terms, that his real beef is that he wants his particular brand of religion to be the only one that gets to do it.

"Wanted": In which I take a dumb summer action flick entirely too seriously

I saw "Wanted" over the weekend, and it was more or less what I was expecting: dumb action movie, neato "Matrix"-like special effects, pretentious effort to hammer home some kind of deep pop-philosophical message. Unfortunately, since this is a relatively new movie, I'm frustrated by my desire to talk about the things that bugged me about it. So here I am, blogging it.

So, this post is going to spoil the movie, a lot. If you haven't seen it yet, and have the intention to, I would strongly recommend that you just stop reading this post, bookmark it, and come back here to discuss when you are finished.

Ready? Spoilers ahead, stop reading now.

Morgan Freeman leads an elite group of super-assassins called "The Fraternity," which has been operating for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. Members of the frat are periodically ordered to go kill somebody they never heard of. Most of them have several natural abilities which, for all practical purposes, are magical superpowers. They can slow down time, shoot bullets in such a way as to curve around obstacles, and there are magic hot tubs in the headquarters which can heal all wounds, bruises, and breaks within a matter of hours. And of course, they have the almighty power of Angelina Jolie's Hotness, which is undoubtedly one of the deadliest forces on the planet.

It is eventually revealed that there is a loom, or a series of looms, which have a mystical hotline to some sort of entity which tells them who to kill. A persistent TCP/IP connection to the gods, if you will, forming a cloth-based internet. The looms weave bits of cloth which, due to imperfection in the threads, contain coded messages in binary form that identify the next target. (We can only assume that the frat has been aware of ASCII for hundreds of years.)

Nobody knows how the powers that be pick the targets; but we are given to understand that they have impeccable judgment about who will soon deserve to die. Angelina Jolie (a.k.a. "Fox") explains that when she was a kid, a frat assassin failed to kill a target, and that target brutally murdered her father. So trust the loom.

The twist, though... hang on a second...

ONE MORE SPOILER WARNING: If the above description has not already turned you away from the movie, I'm really about to totally reveal major plot details!

The twist is that Morgan Freeman is corrupt and so is the organization. They stopped listening to the loom years ago, and now Freeman picks his own targets to suit profit and convenience motives. Devious! So in the end, the message is "don't blindly trust authority" -- which I approve of.

BUT, even as the plot exposes Morgan Freeman as untrustworthy, it still implies that the magic loom is always right to the end.

Now come on, this is a pretty transparent religious allegory. The loom is the Bible. Morgan Freeman is a fallible priest who reads the Bible and hides the truth from others. You can't trust human religion, but you sure can trust the messages you hear direct from God. Okay, the analogy is flimsy, and maybe it's not specifically the Christian religion that is being vindicated. But you know what I'm talking about; lots of people say "I don't follow organized religion because it's just man-made. But do believe in God and have a personal relationship" yadda yadda yadda.

Now here's what I want to know. We'll take it for granted that we can't trust Morgan Freeman, because he's a shifty old bastard anyway. (Although he did play God explicitly, twice.) But even knowing that, what on earth is our justification for trusting the loom? Just because it was right on at least one occasion?

Nobody in the brotherhood seems to know much or care about who the looms are connected to, or the mechanism by which the connection remains secure. What's to stop Satan, or perhaps Loki, from setting up his own spoofed IP address that leads to a server that he controls? How do we know that the man behind the loom isn't evil or capricious, or that he doesn't just possess a wacky sense of humor?

Certainly, like Yahweh, there's no indication that the God Of The Loom is periodically dropping by to explain himself to each member. So while you can argue that our hero was wrong to trust Morgan Freeman, you can't really argue that he could have interpreted the message and been confident in the answer. In fact, the only reason he believes the loom is trustworthy at all, is because Fox (Jolie) tells him so by anecdote. Would that be enough evidence for YOU to start killing strangers?

Suppose it's Loki. Loki isn't evil, he's just sort of "chaotic neutral." No reason he can't tell the truth sometimes and lie sometimes, just to maximize his amusement.

Or suppose it's Faust. This characterization of the devil surely wouldn't hesitate to pull the wool over the eyes of Fox, leveraging the tragedy of her father's death to make her believe that it was somehow the fault of not killing enough people. Surely it's right in character for him to say: "Look here. You want to avenge your father? You can have damn near omnipotent powers. Slow down time... kill people more or less with your mind... instant regeneration. All you have to do is sign right here."

And that, in a nutshell, is a basic problem with believing anything based on faith. It's not just fallible human translation that's the problem. Even if you're The Real God Of The Loom, and think some people need killin', why on earth would you choose to communicate through a medium that is so abstruse, and obviously begging to be abused? And if you're a mortal being ordered to kill somebody by a friggin' loom, what level of extraordinary proof should you require before you actually accept that you're being asked to do a good thing?

This is the Euthyphro dilemma writ large. You say you're good because you're doing what a god wants? Well, how do you know that the god is good?

A few other random observations in closing:

Those magical hot tubs are awesome. They can apparently bring people back from the brink of death most of the time. (Though, mysteriously, some guy dies dramatically right next to a hot tub and nobody thinks to dump him in there.) I think that if the goal of the Frat is to save the world, they would do a LOT more good by simply releasing the hot tub formula to the world and letting everybody benefit from it. I'm just saying, that seems a little more efficient than picking off bad guys one victim at a time. But no... we have to save it for newbies in training who need to recover because people in our organization like to intentionally beat the stuffing out of them.

Final point, memo to self: If 3 million dollars ever mysteriously appears in my bank account, the very first thing I'm going to do is set up a different account, that no one knows about, in a place with an excellent reputation for security, and transfer all the money out immediately. When somebody can put money in your account, they can also take it back. Duh.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


From the odious Billy Graham:

Jesse Helms, my friend and long-time senator from my home state of North Carolina, was a man of consistent conviction to conservative ideals and courage to faithfully serve God and country based on principle, not popularity or politics.

In the tradition of Presidents Jefferson, Adams and Monroe -- who also passed on July 4th -- it is fitting that such a patriot who fought for free markets and free people would die on Independence Day. As we celebrate the birth of our nation, I thank God for the blessings we enjoy, which Senator Helms worked so hard to preserve...

From a comment following Graham's disgraceful encomium: "Jesse Helms fought for FREE PEOPLE??? (emphasis mine) Would those be the white people who wanted to be FREE of having to associate with black people?" Uh huh. Seems fitting that a homophobic, racist piece of shit should be eulogized so fulsomely by an anti-Semitic piece of shit, eh?

Whoops, there goes our Cuss Rating.

Friday, July 04, 2008

What will it take?

Christians often ask atheists the above question. What kind of evidence would it take to convince us of God's existence? I'd like to turn the question back to them. What would it take to convince them that maybe God is just a product of their imaginations and wishful thinking?

Allow me to preface this with an unambiguous statement. People dying is never funny (well, okay — except for Pauly Shore), and posts like this are not meant as a "ha ha!" to believers in any way. But there's a disconnect here that I'd really like explained to me.

Short version: Busload of evangelical Christians is swept off a bridge in San Salvador by a swollen river, at least 30 die. Was God looking out for those people? Did he sit back and let them die for a reason? How do believers square this kind of thing with the Problem of Evil? Really, I'd like to know how Christians process an event like this in such a way as to continue to permit themselves their beliefs in a loving heavenly father. Do these kinds of events — tragically affecting those whom you'd think God would be most inclined to protect — ever bring Christians a moment's pause? Or is that all it is: a pause, before the rationalizations kick in? Or is there a convincing argument to be made in defense of God here? Doesn't it seem like these kinds of situations would present God with exactly the opportunity for miraculous intervention that would silence the atheists of the world immediately with direct empirical evidence of his loving grace?

Just how silly are they over at

Young-earthers are just about the most reality-challenged folks around. But over at the site — you know, the one with the silly poll that got spiked recently by Pharyngulites, hopefully teaching the RTC team a thing or two about what and what not to do on the intarweebs — they have just about the silliest set of reasons why people should "not accept millions of years," but rather, presumably, 6000 years, as the proper age of the Earth. "Wow!" you must be thinking, "you mean they have actual evidence the Earth is young?" W-e-lll, no, not exactly. What they have is simply a list of indignant assertions that accepting an old Earth contradicts Biblical myths, and thus must be rejected out of hand. Here's a sample:

The Bible clearly teaches that God created in six literal 24 hour days a few thousand years ago.

The Hebrew word for day in Genesis 1 is yom. In the vast majority of its uses in the Old Testament it means a literal day and where it doesn’t the context makes this clear.

Similarly, the context of Genesis 1 clearly shows that the days of creation were literal days. First, yom is defined the first time it is used in the Bible in its two literal senses: the light portion of the light/dark cycle and the whole light/dark cycle (Gen 1:4-5). Second, yom is used with “evening” and “morning”. Third, yom is modified with a number: one day, second day, third day, etc., which everywhere else in the Old Testament indicates literal days. Fourth, yom is defined literally in Genesis 1:14 in relation to the heavenly bodies.

You see the unimpeachable brilliance of their scientific methodology here: if the Bible says it, it's true, full stop. Boy, and here we all were thinking that knowledge about how the world works took a lot of hard work and study. You know, decades of research, learning, field work, experimentation, trial and error, cataloguing your findings, revising them, publishing them, have them peer reviewed, going back to the drawing board when it's been shown some of your findings are wrong and need further study.

Nope! Don't have to do none o' that! As the intrepid Dr. Terry Mortenson reveals over at, all you have to do is check what's written in a book of Bronze Age myths and legends, and voila, all you ever need to learn about anything is right there, and unquestionably true!

"But what about all that doggone pesky evidence we have that the earth is, in fact, billions of years old?" you ask? Never fear. It's denialism to the rescue. Mortenson writes:

The idea of millions of years did not come from the scientific facts.

It was developed by deistic and atheistic geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century. These men used anti-biblical philosophical and religious assumptions to interpret the geological observations in a way that plainly contradicted the Biblical account of creation, the Flood and the age of the earth. The “deep time” idea flows out of naturalistic assumptions, not scientific observations.

Radiometric dating methods do not prove millions of years.

Radiometric dating was not developed until the early 20th century, by which time the whole world had already accepted the millions of years. In recent years creationists in the “RATE project” have done experimental, theoretical and field research to uncover … evidence and to show that decay rates were orders of magnitude faster in the past, which shrinks the millions of years date to thousands of years, confirming the Bible.

Mortenson's bio tells us he has a Ph.D. in the "history of geology" from Coventry University in England. I'd very much like to know what Mortenson has published professionally. That he has retreated to the AiG stable indicates that his academic or scientific career has not been especially impressive, at least in terms of achievements as a working geologist. Mortenson's achievements as an evangelical are not in dispute, as Googling him reveals nothing but page after page of creationist, Christian, and conservative sites, and nothing from any mainstream scientific source to show that the man has done anything in the way of field work at all. And the only papers Mortenson seems to write have titles like "Boundaries on Creation and Noah’s Flood: Early 19th century scriptural geologists," and are presented exclusively at religious seminars and similar forums.

Given Mortenson's lack of post-collegiate work in his field (he went to get a doctorate in "divinity," so it seems clear he's been focusing on that), it's still kind of surprising he would collapse into a life of anti-science so completely. But what's funny about the things he says regarding radiometric dating above is what immediately precedes it. He launches into a deliriously silly conspiracy theory, naming no names and citing no sources, that the notion of "deep time" was in fact concocted by "deistic and atheistic geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century" (!) with an agenda to discredit the Bible. All their scientific work was just in aid of promoting a predetermined agenda.

Can you say, "Project much?" It's a common character flaw of creos that they project all their own least commendable traits onto those of us they hate. But this takes the cake. Who is this sinister cabal of Regency-era atheists and deists? Why would deists and atheists work together anyway? And how did it come to be that they gained such control over the geological sciences? Maybe Mortenson learned all this while getting his doctorate in the history of geology, and his dissertation is a blistering exposé of these people. But we certainly can't know from reading this little article, and frankly, I have no interest in donating to AiG to get Mortenson's full "brochure" promising further details. (Another blow against peer review! Brochures! The vanity press of the evangelical anti-science movement!)

We know, on the other hand, that YEC's and other creationist "scientists" do all their work in the interests of furthering a predetermined ideology and shoring up preconceived dogmas. And if we didn't know it before, we would now. Because the Wedge Document tells us so, and this little article of Mortenson's tells us so. If it contradicts the Bible, throw it out. It's wrong. Mortenson's scientific "objectivity" could not be clearer, could it?

The RATE project itself was one of those desperate creationist "research" projects whose participants had decided in advance what results they would collect and accept. Far from debunking the validity of radiometric dating techniques, its methods were deeply flawed — not the least because, as J.G. Meert has pointed out, none of the project's members had any expertise in experimental geochronology, nor had they published anything involving radiometric dating in the mainstream scientific literature. (Oh yes, but there's that horrible Big Science cabal with their secret decoder rings and handshakes who expel these noble Christian scientists from their august pages. I forgot. Thanks, Ben.) ICR's Grand Canyon Project has been taken apart on TalkOrigins, as well.

"Science" that is done to validate an ideology, whether extreme examples like Adolf and the boys looking for "racial purity" through eugenics, or merely pathetic examples like creationists hoping against hope for a 6000-year-old Earth (which they seem to think is the only kind their omnipotent God is capable of), always crumbles into chaos and confusion. Shoehorning the supernatural into the natural never explains anything, and always muddies the waters. Lately, we've had another creationist troll pop up here flogging the usual foolish notion that any "gap" in scientific knowledge is necessarily filled only by his God. But what's at the heart of this isn't science, let alone the spirit of curiosity and passion that leads to scientific inquiry and the knowledge gained thereby. It's merely the insecurity of the religious mind, seeking, in Isaac Asimov's words, "a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold." The idea that the universe might not be all about us is still deeply, existentially terrifying to most people.

But trying to cloak that insecurity in pseudoscience to validate it does no one any good. Better to admit — as so few fundamentalists can — that maybe you're wrong, an attitude indispensible to any real scientific mind. And from that point, to see where the evidence actually leads you, which can often be in surprising and fulfilling directions.

There's a gag from an old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode that I'm reminded of here. In one dreadful movie, there's a white-coated scientist working late in his lab, and one of the 'bots riffs, "Wow, what a day! I invented Gaines Burgers and I didn't even mean to!" Silly as that is, it does sum up what happens in real science, as opposed to the dogma-bound pseudoscience of the YEC's. Often unexpected results lead you down entirely new and undreamt-of paths of inquiry. How tragically sad that there are those out there who think themselves scientists, may even have a shiny Ph.D. saying they've got the training for it...and who choose to throw all that away in favor of hiding behind the skirts of religion's insecurities, and the lies that must be told continually to keep the rents in those skirts patched.

Hmm, maybe Kazim is right...

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Now, I don't take credit for all of these, but I wonder just how far we've gone beyond the bounds of civility here. Maybe I should just try to be a lot fucking nicer.

Hey, that wasn't so hard!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Poor babies! They just can't win...

While Chris Comer is busy taking on the creos in court, back here on the intarweebs, some dippy YEC website with the delightful name of made the silly mistake of posting an open poll asking if creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools. The sheep were toeing the party line pretty reliably, if in very small numbers, until the day the poll came to the attention of the ever-playful PZ. RTC's webmasters must have noticed the drastic spike in their usual traffic due to the Pharyngula Effect. And once they saw that the poll results were rather heavily skewed towards "No" (8,209 to 148, exactly), they decided to take it down. (Though the results are still up.) Awwww. And what's this I usually hear about evilushunists "expelling" anyone who challenges their "dogma"?

Go get 'em, Chris!

Chris Comer has sued the Texas Education Agency and its commissioner Robert Scott in federal court, on the grounds that the agency's idiotic "neutrality" policy as regards "intelligent design" is unconstitutional and that her firing was thus illegal.

The policy was in force even though the federal courts have ruled that teaching creationism as science in public schools is illegal under U.S. Constitution’s provision preventing government establishment or endorsement of religious beliefs.

“The agency’s ‘neutrality’ policy has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion, and thus violates the Establishment Clause,” the lawsuit said.

Ms. Comer also said in her complaint that she was fired without due process after serving as the state science director for nearly 10 years.

Remember, all Comer did was forward an email announcing the CFI-sponsored lecture Barbara Forrest gave in Austin last November. For this, she was — what's the word? oh, right — expelled.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Fundie homophobes provide your daily dose of comedy

In case you hadn't caught this: Donald Wildmon's anti-gay hate group the American "Family" Association has its very own "news" site, OneNewsNow, which may or may not be as thoroughly bugnutty as WorldNetDaily, that repository of pure, unbridled right-wing parallel-universe lunacy. I can't be bothered to read it regularly enough to make comparisons.

But ridicule made the rounds of the blogosphere yesterday when it became known that OneNewsNow apparently has some sort of built-in find-replace feature that automatically turns any mention of the word "gay" into "homosexual." Why they consider this necessary or desirable is best known to themselves. But it resulted in an amusing editorial faux pas when the site posted an article about Olympic track and field star Tyson Gay. Gay's name was changed to — you guessed it — "Tyson Homosexual," with the article bearing the following howler for a headline: Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic trials

The laughs kept coming with such priceless bits as:

On Saturday, Homosexual misjudged the finish in his opening heat and had to scramble to finish fourth, then in his quarterfinal a couple of hours later, ran 9.77 to break the American record that had stood since 1999...

Homosexual didn't get off to a particularly strong start in the first semifinal, but by the halfway mark he had established a comfortable lead.

And my favorite...

Asked how he felt, Homosexual said: "A little fatigued."

Go, girl! While OneNewsNow has since corrected the mistakes, Google has cached the original page for your entertainment.