Saturday, June 27, 2009

Your email smile for the day

Okay, now, before you all dogpile this poor chap, be mindful of the fact he's from Brazil, so his wonky grammar and syntax are a result of ESL and not, you know, cretinous idiocy. (Though we have on occasion heard from American creationists who've sounded almost like this.) So, just enjoy the delightfully delirious content on this scorching (at least here in Austin) summer day. I particularly like the part about God being an "intelligence officer." From Heaven With Love, it's Agent Double-0-Jeezus!

God exists yes! Believe in the existence of God is not an act of faith, but a rational act,. and is a rational act soon have everything to do with reality.

And as if proving the existence of God then?

It's simple! For the argumentative logic of reason!

The existing universe is very orderly functional complexity.
Every order requires an intelligence officer, intelligence officer and this we call God.
The more complex is the order of something or a functional system. greater the need for a intelligence active in this system or something functional. What out absolutely the possibility of evolution by means of processes which is self blind itself.

Also worth remembering that God is unique in its existence. atheists want to deny this truth may sound mean. That is not true because there may be several intelligence officers behind this order. and if there is. If then you have several gods! and AI?

It is simple to answer!

The universe as a whole is unreachable by our reason and knowledge, precisely because we do only part of this universe, and we are only part, only know part of it and not all. But the one who created it, he knows so complete as a whole, and since this all relates to the infinite, can only be attributed to the creator of this whole, characteristic of omnipotence. And you can not have two distinct omnipotence in the same existence, because either would be, and you can not have two different truths in the same existence. Once it is concluded that there is only one God who is equal CREATOR omnipotent.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ahead of the curve in England, I see

So two-thirds of teenagers in the UK don't like religion and don't believe in God. That's a good thing.

What would be nice is if these kids would follow up this natural doubt with actual studies, both into science and religion, to see why the verifiable methods of science can be reliably trusted and the unsupported fables of sheep farmers thousands of years ago can be just as reliably relegated to the category of "Quaint Historical Curiosities."

There is always the likelihood that some of this is just teen rebellion, going through a phase, what have you. But when you consider how religion has lost favor among the British public in general, it could very well indicate a healthy trend towards greater secularism on a society-wide scale. And it's a valuable rejoinder to the accommodationists and religion-defenders who lazily shrug and insist that we just can't get rid of religion, or expect it to go away, because, you know, deep down, everyone needs it.

Jonathan Park and the Mind Pathetically Misled: a rant

This is the kind of bilge guys like Don McLeroy and Ken Mercer would like to see taught in science classes here in Texas, and no mistake. One loses count of the scientifically illiterate creationist poltroons who have claimed to have disproved Darwin over the years, only to faceplant into a briar patch of epic fail. But that hasn't daunted the intrepid folks at San Antonio's Vision Forum Ministries, who have created a 12-episode radio series called Jonathan Park and the Journey Never Taken, spreading, one presumes, the usual McDonald's menu of tepid, reheated anti-science lies. Let's see how they do in their "disproofs"...

“While Darwinism’s impact remains far-reaching, its clutch on the culture is beginning to slip,” concluded [Vision Forum Ministries president Doug] Phillips. “Programs like Jonathan Park illustrate the growing number of people who reject the notion that the world came to be through random chance and chaos, recognizing instead that the creation speaks forth of a Creator.”

Annnnd...FAIL! Let's count the errors, shall we? First, Darwin's theory is not a theory regarding how the "world came to be," and second, nowhere does any model of evolution supported by science make the claim that it is a process of "random chance and chaos". So, wow, right there in an introductory web post, Phillips reveals his utter ignorance of the science he claims his stupid little program disproves. One can only imagine how bad the actual shows are.

Such a sad, dark little life of ignorance fundamentalism requires you to lead. I recently read Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle, and it has to be the ultimate in travel writing. Imagine if Darwin had had his own blog during the seminal travels of his life, and you'll get an idea of what's it's like. And if it reveals one thing more clearly than anything else, it's that Charles Darwin possessed a sense of wonder and sheer unbridled awe about the beauty and majesty of life and the world we live in immeasurably greater than any felt by the pitiful creationists at Vision Forum Ministries — or any other creationist institution dedicated to the desperate clinging to the skirts of Bronze Age mythology instead of the real wonders that science and knowledge reveal to us.

They're gearing this crap towards children, in the hopes their natural wonder about the world and hunger for learning will be stifled before it has a chance to form. And all in the interests of maintaining ancient beliefs and the ministries that sell them. This is why we fight. Minds are at stake. Somewhere in the world is a student who will go on to cure AIDS, extend human life expectancy, and solve other ills that befall us, and that student will have to understand evolution. Creationists fear this, and want this destroyed at all costs. Religion doesn't care what destruction it leaves in its wake, as long as it comes out on top in the end.

Addendum: It didn't take long for Pat Roy, writer of the radio show in question, to turn up in the comments to defend his efforts. Game of Pat to show up and comment. I'm replying here as Blogger limits the character length of comments, and my rebuttal goes on at length.

Pat writes, after quoting some writing of Erasmus' Darwin's:

Notice how [Erasmus] mentions the formation of the earth from chaos. And we can show that Charles accepted most of his father’s [sic] ideas. Do these statements specifically address biological evolution? No. And that may be your point. However, I believe Mr. Phillip’s statements were referring to the theory of “evolution” as many do -- from Big Bang to complex humans – which we see very clearly in Erasmus’ quote (and many others). So you are wrong on your post, many evolutionists do attempt to explain the formation of the world from chaos.

"Many" — at least among scientists and the scientifically literate — do not in fact conflate such cosmological theories as the Big Bang with biological evolution, and if your radio show says they do, it is lying. It is the case that scientists who accept evolution also tend to accept such theories as the Big Bang, but to say that they refer to every field of study regarding origins under the all-purpose umbrella of "evolution" is deceptive. It's precisely the kind of little deception that creationists engage in as a matter of course; the idea being that many little deceptions add to a student's mistrust of the reliability of science and the scientific method, until, crack, the proverbial camel's back proverbially breaks.

Can you in fact name these "many evolutionists" who "attempt to explain the formation of the world from chaos"? (Apart from Chuck D.'s grandad, that is? Science has progressed on the question somewhat since his day, you understand.) Because, from the studying I've done, scientists explain the formation of the world as following from known laws of physics. That an accretion disc of dust and nebular materials condensed around a young hot star and formed our solar system using such tried-and-true methods as gravity, and electrostatic and centrifugal forces. Sure, prior to all this going on, the original solar nebula may have been a somewhat chaotic glob of matter. But we wouldn't have gotten a solar system out of it had physics not taken a role. That's not simple chaos, and no respectable scientist would describe it so.

So, I'm sorry, your response so far does not leave me with much confidence in your presenting accurate science to your young audience.

Next, Doug Phillips and a team from Vision Forum have just returned from an amazing trip to from the Galapagos. I read the men’s’ accounts on their own voyage to these islands. They too, were filled with the awe and diversity of the animals there. They were inspired by the wonder, beauty, and sense of wonder at the islands. As a matter of fact, the VF team marveled at the incredible design of each animal – appreciating the very ingenuity that went into each one -- whereas Charles Darwin attributed the beauty to non-intelligent processes. To say Darwin could appreciate the beauty and purpose more than a creationist isn’t based on anything other than an emotional response!

Phillips and his team went to the Galapagos and returned with more awe of their God. Darwin found awe in nature, without needing any recourse to the supernatural. This is the distinction I meant. Darwin went to the Galapagos and found himself learning new things and formulating original ideas. Your boys went there pretending to be open-minded admirers of science, all the while simply looking to shore up beliefs they already held.

The "design" evident in the animals of the Galapagos, and the whole world, results from an understood process: that of evolution by natural selection, sometimes called descent with modification. That this process is not "intelligent," not teleological, does not invalidate it. Indeed, there are many problems that begin to crop up in our understanding of biology, and of all the sciences, the minute one tries to shoehorn a magical, all-powerful God into the equation. One is now obliged to explain how and why this God has created things the way he did. One is obliged to reconcile very clear instances of bad "design" — in human beings, for instance, our spines curve in such a way as to risk very bad back problems late in life, our knees bend the wrong way for maximal locomotion, and a woman's birth canal is not large enough to admit a baby's head without severe agony and possibly life-threatening consequences for the mother — on the part of this supposedly all-knowing and all-powerful creator. Tellingly, the only way creationists and religionists can reconcile these problems is through recourse to myths that, by their very nature, cannot be examined or confirmed: women's birth pains are explained as a consequnce of Eve's "fall," for instance.

To put it politely, this isn't science. Nor is wandering around the Galapagos going, "Wow, look at that tortoise, isn't God a great designer!"

As far as stifling children… I can say that I have had email after email from children (for many years) that have gotten excited about science and discovering the world around them as a direct result of the production. As a matter of fact, we end each episode with the tag-line, “This is our Father’s world. God created it. We can explore it. Now live the adventure.” Does that sound like we’re “stifling” children, or encouraging them to explore?

It sounds like you're stifling them without understanding how you're doing it. Real science, real learning, is done by withholding conclusions about your findings until you've seen where the evidence leads. Based on your comments here, it sounds like your entire presentation in these shows follows the creationist playbook: Present kids with nature; offer the false choice between "unintelligent, chaotic processes" and "intelligent design"; cast the choice in terms of a "Duh!" moment (after all, who could believe that all this amazing design in nature could possibly be the result of random chance?!!?1!); and voila — teh God!

Do you truly, accurately present the evidence for evolution in your series? Do you allow pro-evolution scientists who also happen to be Christians — Kenneth Miller, Francisco Alaya, among others — to make guest appearances on the show to explain what the evidence actually tells us? I don't for an instant believe you do. And that's not an emotional response. It's rooted in a long history of dealing with creationists and their dishonesty. What actual, scientifically falsifiable evidence do you present to support the claims "This is our Father’s world. God created it" (in the way science education provides falsifiable evidence for evolution, I mean)? Or are you just telling kids this? If the latter, then, once more with feeling: That isn't science, Pat, it's simply religion looking for intellectual cred by donning a lab coat.

I don't doubt you've gotten praiseworthy emails from kids, Pat. But that doesn't confirm the content of what you teach is true, only that kids with no prior knowledge of science and no way to verify or disconfirm what you taught them enjoyed the experience. I will admit, in fairness, that you may inadvertently have done some of these kids some good. Some of them may well have gone on to study science as they got further along in their educations. And then they'd have discovered that the actual evidence doesn't quite support what you taught them. Then, some of them may thank you again — if for a very different reason.

Here is the biggest problem with your statement: most of the founding fathers of science were creationists. So to say that creation stifles scientific discovery is just untrue -- as proven by history.

Well of course, Pat! Science is about discovery, and developing new theories to supplant old ones when the evidence calls for it. Are you really trying to offer me "Scientists long before Darwin believed in creation" as if it were an argument that validated creation? I mean, you could just as easily say that, because most early doctors were Galenists who believed in the four "humors," this in no way stifles medical discovery.

Of course early scientists were creationists, because, until Darwin, no one had established a theory of evolution with a solid body of evidence behind it. Early scientists can hardly be expected to have held an idea that did not yet exist, let alone have a strong, evidence-backed theory behind it.

When medicine began to be informed by such things as the germ theory of disease, archaic notions like the humors were discarded as no longer useful or factual. If any doctors today still held to Galenism and the humors, they wouldn't be good doctors. By the same token, evolution has been confirmed by such a vast body of evidence, and continues to be confirmed by new discoveries all the time. To hang onto an old idea that denies evolution, despite the evidence, is not good science. Creationists who reject evolution in this day and age are like doctors who are still Galenists, holding onto an outmoded idea and bizarrely defending it by pointing out that this is how people long ago thought!

So, thanks for the friendly response. But I'm afraid I've found nothing in it to think your program is going to be any less rubbish than all the other creationist efforts I've encountered. And if you think my critique was a little on the harsh side, I'd advise you to strap on the Kevlar once actual biologists hear what you're filling impressionable little minds with.

Year One: Not Quite What I Expected

Alert: Spoilers are included in this article.

I have been working at my job pretty close to nonstop for several weeks and needed a break and some levity. I sometimes enjoy mindless humor and was interested in seeing either Land of the Lost or Year One. Since nobody I know is interested in seeing Year One, I decided that if I was going to see a film alone, that would be the one to see. So, I went to the local Alamo Drafthouse where someone else could cook dinner for a change and I could have a drink and watch something that required no thought. (I feel compelled to mention I parked right next to Matt D's car, but I had no paper with me and was unable to leave a note. I didn't ever see Matt, but just to say, "Hey Matt! I saw your car last night!")

While I can't say Year One actually prompted too much thought, and it was about what I expected from Jack Black and Harold Ramis, it was not what I expected overall. I thought it was going to be a confused film about an ancient man in the ancient world with a thin plot about whatever. What it was, was a statement about religion and belief (or more to the point, unbelief and the reasons for unbelief). Since I had not the slightest clue I would be writing about this film, I made no notes. Any quotes I offer are purely paraphrases to the best of my memory. And most likely I'll have to visit IMDb to get the characters' names.

The theme of the film was very reminiscent of Life of Brian: A man, confused as being god's messenger, stumbles through a series of loosely written Bible tales, crossing paths with Old Testament legends and giving them a bit of a reinterpretation from an outsider's perspective.

In the film, the main character Zed is a tribe member in a group of hunter gatherers who live in an unspecified forest region. He is no hunter. He is no gatherer. But he is charming and funny and sometimes lucky (but mostly unlucky with a lucky twist). He has a way of making lemonade from life's lemons. His friend, Oh, may represent "Oh" in the "Eureka" sense. Of the two "Oh" is the one most likely to see the reality of what is actually happening or likely to happen; but what he can't predict are the random twists of fate that consistently turn Zed's harebrained plans into successes, even while things appear to get worse and worse for them.

Zed gets tired of the status quo and decides to shake things up. He can't be the best "male" in this society where brawn and physical prowess are that standards of quality, but he can be the smartest guy--just not with his current level of intellect. So, Zed decides to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. In the film, the tree is not about good and evil, but simply knowledge. Certainly the fruit looks magical enough, eerily florescent golden apple-like somethings. And Zed eats it despite the warnings of his friend, Oh, that it's "forbidden." Oh can't answer Zed's questions about why the fruit is forbidden--it's simply forbidden. And you don't eat forbidden things. That's not good enough for Zed. Clue number one that there were going be to some things examined: Someone was immediately challenging the idea that "forbidding" things without any understanding of why, is not justified.

Zed believes the fruit endows him with super-knowledge, but in reality there is nothing to demonstrate he is any more intelligent than he was before he ate it. He asks Oh to test him and he pretty well fails in the capacity to wisely answer any question Oh throws at him. "Where does the sun go at night?" Zed replies with "Pass. Next question."

Zed is found out and meets with the village shaman who tries to explain "forbidden," unsuccessfully, as well. But in the end Zed is banished and Oh ends up going with him. Oh explains there is little point in walking anywhere, because they'll only end up at the edge of the world--it's "general knowledge." When they come to the edge of a large canyon where they can see far out over the horizon, Oh realizes Zed was right to question the assumption about the world's edge.

They first meet Caine and Abel, which is somewhat uneventful except that it is the guys' first time seeing a "farmer" and someone who works in animal husbandry--forms of subsistence unfamiliar to them. And this is part of the film as well: As Zed travels, he begins to learn that there are many different views on topics thought to be "general knowledge." Caine is a bit bi-polar and ends up killing Abel and "inviting" Zed and Oh to dinner with the family--including Adam and Lilith, a lesbian--who represents yet another new view Zed has never encountered.

Caine takes Zed and Oh away, explaining that when Abel is found, they will be suspected as the killers, since they are "two drifters." They get their first ride on a cart and see, for the first time, a wheel. Caine is struck in the head by lightening, which leaves his famous "mark." But rather than be disappointed, Caine is excited: "Wow! What are the odds of that?! It didn't leave a mark, did it?"

Later Zed and Oh encounter "slavery" when they are sold by Caine as slaves. They run into some of the old villagers who have been taken as slaves as well, and Zed explains he has been chosen by god--referring to god as "He." One of the women from the village asks "Why do you assume god is a 'he'?" to which Zed gives Oh a condescending "do-you-believe-this-chick?" eye roll and says, "What do you even say to that!"

Zed, in a cage-cart traveling to the home of his new masters, asserts "Nobody can own a human being--except, I guess, for the guy who bought us." This brings up the question of moral rights versus the reality of a situation and reminded me of the scene in Life of Brian where one of the men rallies for the "right" of men to bear children.

The slave train is raided by Romans, and Zed and Oh escape and run up a sand dune. Later they decide to try to find the slaves, who are on their way to Sodom, and free them, since some of them were from their old tribe. They lose the caravan, and wander the desert, where Abraham comes into the story. It isn't hard to make Abraham look like a nut job without deviating all that much from the actual Bible stories. We first meet him as he's building a sacrificial pyre with son, Isaac. "Where is the sheep, dad?" Abraham replies, "The Lord will provide."

As Abraham begins to bind Isaac's wrists, Isaac says in a nervous voice, "What is this, dad? Is this some kind of magic trick?" When Abraham picks him up to put him atop the woodpile, Isaac begins to panic and says, "Is this about me not cleaning my tent last Thursday?! Because I'm really sorry!" Abraham insists god has commanded him to kill Isaac, to which Isaac rightly replies, "If god told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that?!"

The irony here is that we so often see the foolishness of what Isaac asserts--"would you jump off a bridge if so-and-so told you to?" But we, as a Christian culture, think nothing of idolizing a historic figure who would do far worse. Isaac's example of jumping off a bridge is nothing compared to what Abraham is about to do. Obviously Abraham is mad, and, since he would murder his own son, it's a safe bet he also would jump off a bridge for god.

Abraham raises a large knife and says some sacrificin' words, and just then we hear "STOP!" It's Zed and Oh. "What are you doing? Are you going to kill that kid?!"

Abraham looks embarrassed, half-heartedly tries to hide the knife, and says, "No. This is my son. We were just playing a game. It's called burney-burney, knifey knifey." Then he plucks up more courage and asserts god told him to sacrifice the boy, asking Zed, "Do you speak for the Lord?" To which Zed lights up and answers sincerely that he has been chosen by god, and that yes, he does speak for the Lord. Abraham accepts Zed's claim and praises god for sending a messenger to stay his hand and save Isaac. He invites them to dinner where he regales them with stories of the wicked twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and warns them that god has promised to destroy the cities. They are cities where people eat, drink, engage in all manner of debauchery, and where the streets are filled with whores. "Which city has the most whores?" Zed asks, "Uh, just so we know which one to avoid the most."

After a good feast and a lot of wine drinking, Abraham takes Zed and Oh and Isaac to a ridge where he announces that "all this land" has been given to him by god. Zed and Oh are impressed, but the cynical Isaac adds, as an aside to the strangers, "Yeah, but god forgot to tell anybody else about it--so, we're constantly having to fight somebody over it."

Abraham then announces that as a pact with god, he plans to circumcise all the males in his group, starting with himself, Isaac, Zed and Oh. "Circumcise? What is that?" Abraham describes what he intends, to which Zed and Oh are rightly appalled. But Zed, always rolling with the punches, says, "You know, Abe. We all had a lot to eat and drink tonight. And I'm sure this circumcision thing seems like a really cool idea to you right now. But why don't we sleep on it? In the morning, you know, we can always cut it off then, if you still think that's what you want to do..."

Zed and Oh escape, but hear poor Isaac screaming as they run off over the desert hills. Later Isaac catches up to them and leads them to Sodom if they promise to buy him drinks when they get there. Isaac explains that he and his buddies are always sneaking off to Sodom, loosely portrayed as an ancient Las Vegas, for a good time. Isaac abandons them at the gates and they are immediately arrested for disturbing the peace and find themselves facing a scary punishment at the hands of a particularly large, intimidating, and sadistic guard whom they continually encounter throughout the film.

They are saved by Caine, who has become a member of the Sodom guard and identifies them as his "brothers." They also become members of the guard. And one day, Zed fails to kneel when the procession of a beautiful princess passes. She notices this and admires it. Her step-father is the king of Sodom. Sodom is suffering from a drought that the high priest, advisor, and king are all concerned with. And in order to end the drought they are sacrificing virgins left and right, a "waste of perfectly good virgins!" according to Zed and Oh. Zed and Oh try to understand the sacrifice, and they ask about it. "So, it hasn't rained in a long time. And you need it to rain. So, you're burning women who have never had sex to death? How does that work, exactly?" To this, one bystander complains, "Look, I'm just here to enjoy the sacrifice with my family."

In Sodom there is a temple with a "Holy of Holies," which, in the Bible is actually part of the Hebrew temple. But like the temple in the Bible, anyone who enters the Holy of Holies will die. Zed's first introduction to the room is when the princess explains that she knew when he did not kneel that he was a man chosen by god who could enter the temple, without dying, and plead for an end to the drought--and that god will certainly hear him. Oh's first encounter is from the high priest who tells him that anyone, but the high priest, will die upon entering the room.

Oh: "Wow, so, you kinda hafta wonder whether the guys who finished building it died then, right? I mean, did they get like a grace-period second to get out of there or did they just die instantly as soon as they laid the last brick?"

The priest in perfect apologetic style answers, as though he knows, that "There was a four-second grace period."

Oh: "So, does it just kill people or does it kill animals as well? Like, if a fly gets in, would it just drop dead on the floor the second it enters?"

The priest confirms that it kills even animals.

Oh: "So, there are just dead bugs all over the floor in there?"

No, the priest explains, because they are "vaporized." They are vaporized, apparently by a "deadly vapory vapor thing that turns them to vapor."

It reminded me so much of my discussions with many theists.

Young Oh ends up in the temple hiding from the oppressive and gay high priest. Zed ends up in there at the prompting of the princess who feeds into his belief that he is special and chosen, and who promises to help free his friends if he will help her end the drought.

Zed takes it very seriously. Finally, the moment for which he was chosen has arrived--to meet and speak to god. He did not die upon entering the room. Clearly, he is the chosen one. Until he sees Oh hiding behind a pillar. Zed reasons that Oh is not dead because he is a friend of the chosen one. Oh, alternately, suggests he is alive because, perhaps there is actually "nothing" in the temple. And a serious, and loud, argument ensues.

They are caught and sentenced to be stoned to death. But Zed saves them when it dawns on him to ask the king, who is present at the stoning, a clever question: "Why didn't I die in the Holy of Holies? Because I'm the chosen one!" He manages to whip up the crowd so that the king is advised not to kill Zed and Oh, but they are sentenced to hard labor instead--which is portrayed unmistakeably as a scene right out of the classic film, Ten Commandments. Oh stomps mud in a pit, ala Charlton Heston, with another man who explains he's not a slave, but a "volunteer." This was reminiscent of the apologetic that slavery was so much nicer back in the day. Yes, I'm sure people were falling all over themselves to sign up!

Volunteer: "The mud is really great for your skin. Look how great my skin is. Ask me why I have such great skin. Go on, ask me."

Oh (in a tired, uninterested voice): "Why do you have such great skin?"

Volunteer: "The mud!"

Oh: "Yeah. I knew you were going to say that."

The volunteer then stretches and adds, "Man, gotta love bein' outside!"

The king then decides to sacrifice the princess and her two handmaids (fellow villagers of Zed's and Oh's), and Zed tries to save them. In a series of mishaps, he brings down a huge scaffolding, and Oh sees his opportunity, "A sign! It's a sign!" In the mayhem that follows, eventually none of the women is thrust into the fire (a firey bull's head), but the high priest ends up falling in covered in oil. A huge fireball results. The crowd is stunned and there is a moment of shock that Zed takes advantage of: "How about that by the high priest?! What a sacrifice he just made! Let's hear it for the high priest!" And he begins to clap. I couldn't help but be reminded of the idea of "sacrifice" and what it meant to be a high priest in days of yore when your "sacrifice" consisted of someone else's life! But tossing yourself into the fire? Now that would be a real sacrifice.

I can't promise everyone would like this movie. If you can't stomach Jack Black, don't even try. I can't claim it's deep or offers anything you probably haven't already considered. But I do think it offers a second look at some events that seem too familiar to too many. Christians who idolize Abraham for trying to kill his son should take note of what they might think, or have thought, if they had encountered this act as Zed did. Would they intervene or let this take place? "Well, I mean, if god said 'do it,' I guess, go for it...?"

I have a feeling the film won't play long. But there is nothing visual about it that won't translate perfectly well to small screen. You won't lose anything by waiting for DVD release if you think you might like it. And, if you're up for a lighthearted view of religious history, you might find it entertaining.

Monday, June 22, 2009

TFN beginning SBOE candidate training

I'm not exactly sure what such training entails, but anything that helps worthy candidates — as opposed to fanatical religious right ideologues — get elected to the Texas State Board of Education is all right by me. The "militant Darwinists," to borrow Terri Leo's immortal phrase, running the Texas Freedom Network will be doing said training at St. Edwards University here in Austin on July 22. Interested parties can go here for registration information, as well as here to remind yourselves that, just because Don "Stand Up to the Experts and Fail!" McLeroy is no longer SBOE chair, it doesn't mean the work of those who support quality education free from extremist lunacy is done.

Flood of Zeitgeist emails

Dear readers, would somebody please figure out why there's been a recent surge in emails about the movie Zeitgeist? We've had four in the past week. Is it going through some new PR effort right now?

To be absolutely clear: everyone on the show thinks Zeitgeist is pretty much crap. You can read this unofficial position statement for more details. It's bad history, bad skepticism, and especially bad movie making.

A sampling of recent emails:

Tim from the Netherlands, 6/15:

I recently saw your videos on YouTube and I completely agree with you. I never considered myself an atheist in the past but i was never religious in the past. Although now that I think about I think I could be an atheist. Well the main point of the email is the tell you about "The Zeitgeist Movement". You may have heard about it, you may not. I just want to bring more awareness.

Claudio in Brazil, 6/18:

I wish u guys talk about the movie Zeitgeist, is a great documentary about the world society.

If you like it like me let me know when u gonna talk about it please

Jake, 6/22:

Anyways, I just finished watching the religious portion of Zeitgeist - The Movie and I think it is something everyone should see. I searched YouTube and I could not locate anything about the subject matter being discussed on AE. If I'm incorrect, please forgive me for conducting such a shoddy cursory check. However, if the material is something you haven't covered in depth, will you address the Horus/Jesus connection, to the extent the movie does? As always, I'll be watching!

Cory in Illinois, 6/23:

Have you heard of the movie Zeitgeist? It was created by a man named Peter Joseph, and is an amazing documentary about the institutions of this world and how they are designed and created simply for public control, the religious institution being one of them. You should really watch these. The main reason that I took to them so quickly is because he backs every single claim with solid, indisputable evidence. The first movie aims to reveal the truth to the people. The second movie is to show how we as a species can fix our global social system and improve our lives greatly.

Seriously, guys, WTF? Zeitgeist sucks. Are we being too subtle for you?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More about AETV: the Guerilla Edition

We've now gotten literally dozens of emails saying, in effect, the same thing about the first of the summer shows recorded* at Matt's:

  1. Loved the show (and everyone's taken to using the "guerilla TV" appellation);
  2. the sound was better;
  3. the Skype calls sounded a million times better than the studio calls;
  4. keep using Skype forever!

We couldn't agree more on the audio quality. In fact, that is one of the things that floored me especially about last Sunday's show. However, please note that the reason Matt and I sounded as good as we did was that we were using the Non-Prophets mikes, and holding them right to our chins. That invariably leads to very good voice pickup, but constantly holding your mike isn't the easiest way to do a 90-minute TV show, and besides, I felt like any moment we'd be expected to burst into freestyle rap, and neither of us had ballcaps to wear backwards.

Regarding Skype: indeed, the sound quality there was marvelous, but there are advantages and disadvantages there as well. For one thing, there's no way (at least, not one we were able to employ last Sunday) to screen and queue multiple calls at once, like we do in the studio. This was what necessitated the procedure of requiring viewers to IM us first, so we could call them back instead. Again, worked okay for one show, but I'm not sure it'd be the sort of setup we'd like to have each week.

Remember that the Access studios are undergoing a million dollars worth of renovation all summer. Hopefully, one of the things that gets a massive tech upgrade will be the phone system, allowing greater clarity in the studio. In other words, we need to do a wait-and-see before committing one way or the other to the permanent use of Skype.

Now, let's see how well things go with the show tomorrow, and what other areas of techie improvement we can undertake. I really think it's incredible we can do a global, live television show right from a residence! (I still cannot, even at my most whimsical, bring myself to call Matt's bachelor pad "Dillahunty International Studios," though I guess that's what it's becoming, and to be fair, I've worked in messier studios.) This would have been inconceivable even five years ago, and it really goes to show how the Internets have democratized the media.

* I had to stop myself because I began to type "taped" where I wrote "recorded." Nobody "tapes" anything any more. The times, change they do. My bones, they creak so.

What Is an Atheist?

Someone contacted the list with the following claims:

Assertion 1: An agnostic is someone who is neither a theist (someone who believes a god exists) nor an atheist (someone who does not believe a god exists OR someone who denies a god exists).

While I agree with this, I soon found out I have different reasons for doing so. I go by the theologically classical definition of agnostic as someone who addresses knowledge regarding god, and finds it lacking, versus the Gnostic, who believes that knowledge about god is accessible and perhaps even that he has such knowledge. The person making claim 1 above, however, asserts that an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves that a god exists. They wished to use that definition alone because it is what their friends agreed was right, and it was listed as a "colloquially" acceptable definition in his dictionary, some version of Merriam-Webster.

I already knew the dilemma this person was creating for himself. To define the agnostic off the bat as not being a person who believes a god exists leaves little room for then trying to defend that the agnostic is someone who does not believe a god exists. I think most people would see the problem with the position even before it unfolds:

If a "senior" is defined as one who is at or over 65 years old, and you assert that I am "not a senior," there is no escaping that you have just indicated I am not at or over 65. And the writer does agree that a theist is a person who does believe a god exists. Thankfully he understands at least one significant definition in theological terminology.

I knew he was going to encounter difficulty, then, in defending his claim that this agnostic is no atheist. Literally, anyone who is not a theist (someone who does believe a god exists) is an atheist (someone who does not believe a god exists). And this person who contacted us, let's call him "J," for brevity, agreed that the atheist is correctly defined as "someone who does not believe a god exists." In fact, he agreed to this during a call to the show--on the air--recorded for posterity, before he wrote to us.

So then, his argument begins with this:

The agnostic does not believe a god exists (or else he'd be a theist), but he also does not, not believe a god exists (or else he'd be an atheist). So that this magical being, the agnostic, both does "not believe" and also does not "not believe"--which is a logical impossibility. I can no more accomplish this as a human being than I can both be a senior and not be a senior.

I accepted the writer as merely a person who is ignorant regarding where the term "agnostic" originated and how it is used in actual theological discussion of these issues. The Gnostic movement is one that concerned itself with knowledge about god. Certainly knowledge is a subset of belief, but one that was the focus of the Gnostics that separated their ideology from broader definitions of belief. And I do not claim this distinction is without problems.

The term that defines the response to Gnosticism, "agnosticism," was coined by Thomas Huxley, in the mid-1800s, to describe his rejection of Gnosticism, and subsequently all claims to knowledge regarding gods. He was not claiming that no one has belief in gods and that belief in gods is unavailable to people. He was making a statement about a subset of belief, knowledge--which is usually far more narrowly (and problematically) defined.

The idea that an agnostic is simply someone who is wishy-washy about their belief in god is a misconception that has grown as discussion of "atheist issues" has become more common. And the reason it grows is that people love to talk about religion, but they don't seem to like to actually research it or inform their opinions before they open their mouths.

In short, it's like the word "founder," which means to have trouble staying afloat. The word fell out of common usage and began to be "replaced" with "flounder"--a type of fish. One suggestion is that people equated it to "flopping around" and being unable to move well, and that's why they began to describe something that doesn't progress well as "floundering," more and more often. Today, when you look up the word "flounder," it actually does generally have a secondary definition that makes it synonymous with "founder."

Dictionaries are wonderful tools. They inform us both of classically correct usage, but also must reflect common usage--which can become correct usage over time. With "agnostic," we have a common misconception that may one day find its way into a secondary form of correct usage. But it carries with it the problem of making all such defined agnostics atheists. And there was a moment when J began to realize this as a necessary conclusion, when he accused me of trying to say that all agnostics were, in fact, atheists. I honestly replied that I do not use his definition of "agnostic," and that I know many agnostic theists; but that if I am compelled to use the term "agnostic" by defining it off the top as a person who is not a theist, and, by necessity, then, a person who does not believe a god exists, then I cannot agree to the second half of the definition--which is logically impossible--that he also is not an atheist and not someone who does not believe a god exists. A human cannot be both someone who does "not believe" a claim and someone who does not "not believe" a claim.

So, this, I chalked up to ignorance and misconception on J's part. I did so, at least, until it went on for more than a few exchanges and I began to suspect there was more here than just simple correction of a misconception required. J was defending, not honestly communicating. A person honestly communicating would have, at or before this point, pretty well have said, "Maybe I hadn't thought this through, and it appears I might be working under some misconceptions." But not J. J has something to prove, which leads to his next assertion:

Assertion 2. The atheist is making a positive claim and we can extrapolate other atheist beliefs from the position "I do not believe a god exists."

Specifically, when J first called us, J wanted to be able to say that we can know what atheists do believe, by knowing what they do not believe. And that is simply not the case. And I should add that it's no more the case than me claiming I can know what someone believes when they claim they do believe a god exists. I have no idea what they mean by "god" nor what impact their god has on anything, including on themselves. But, more specifically, he thinks he knows what an atheist thinks of universal origins, according to his call. His argument is along the lines of this: Either a god created the universe or a god did not. If you don't believe in a god, then you must believe in naturalistic origins (and I assume that would lead to the common misconception that all atheists believe big bang, which I know to be false).

The idea here goes something like this: "I assert that fairies created the universe. If you do not believe in fairies, then I know how you think the universe was created."

Obviously that would be ludicrous. But as is so often the case, the theist can't see how absurd it is when you use "god" instead of "fairies." But using fairies, anyone should be able to see how ludicrous this claim becomes. Of course you could assert you know that however I believe the universe came to be, it is a non-fairy model. That much is fair--but as far as asserting that you have some insight into what I do think pumped out the universe (if I'm not obstinately holding to steady-state theory, and asserting that the idea it was "produced" at all is nonsensical to me)--what I do believe about it--is unjustified.

Here I should note that J does not dispute the broad definition of atheist on the surface. If you show him a dictionary that indicates that the atheist either does not believe in the existence of gods OR believes no gods exist, J will say "OK." However, I don't think J really comprehends what he's agreeing to here--or at least he didn't at first.

The idea that I say you can be "one or the other" means that the "one" is not the "other." And while I think anyone could understand that, J is, apparently, not just anyone. I happened to pull a definition that read "disbelieve" rather than "does not believe," and J decided to fly with this. In fact, he tried to fly this to the moon. "Disbelieving," he asserted, is not at all the same as "not believing" something. I kid you not. This was his response.

Bear in mind that if I knew "disbelieve" would trip him up so badly, I'd have pulled a valid authoritative dictionary from the start that said "does not believe"--because they are out there. But since J had agreed during our call that an atheist is one who does "not believe" a god exists, it did not occur to me he'd now try to claim "does not believe" isn't valid since this one dictionary I pulled had "disbelieve." So, back-peddle number one is that he tried to duck out of his initial agreement that it's fair to label someone who does "not believe" a god exists is an "atheist."

And here we have a lesson in definitions. And by that I don't mean that there are not myriad dictionaries that will support than an atheist "does not believe" (if it's "disbelieve" that is all that is freaking you out) or that there are not myriad dictionaries that assert that "disbelieve" does include "not believe," but we need to see something here about broad and narrow definitions, in general, and how they must be understood by any fair and honest person:

If I assert that Word-X means "A" and you assert you are using it as "B," and I say you are wrong to claim it means "B," and we look it up in 6 dictionaries, and some say "A" and some say "B" and some say "A or B" or "A, B and sometimes C," then I am wrong even though "A" is not incorrect. I did not assert I use it as "A" and you use it as "B." I asserted it is incorrect to use it as "B." And I am wrong. And in our discussion about agnosticism, despite my knowledge that he was abusing the term by using a definition that represents a common misconception, I still agreed to accept it and roll with it. That's what people do when they are trying to have a fair and honest dialogue to understand what you think and why.

It is possible to find dictionaries to support that "disbelieve" means to reject belief in a way that condemns the claim (in this case, "a god exists") as false. But to claim that "disbelieve" does not mean "not believe" is to ignore all of the other dictionaries that assert that "not believe" is an acceptable usage of the word disbelieve. It is to tell me I am wrong to use "B", while "B" is supported by myriad authoritative sources. In order to stop me from rightly using a valid definition, the burden would be on you to demonstrate why those definitions are incorrect and the sources are faulty, or to demonstrate why those definitions might not apply in the context of our particular discussion. In this particular case, however, I even used J's own dictionary--Merriam Webster--to demonstrate "disbelieving" as "not believing." And he was still unwilling to to admit the words can validly be said to carry the same meaning.

At this point I could not give the benefit of the doubt--that this was ignorance rather than pride-- any longer, so I asserted rather that dishonesty might be involved in some way as a motive. But it would be more true to say the motive for his unwillingness to accept what was in front of him was defensiveness. This, in my book, includes being willing to make ridiculous assertions in the face of rock-solid, contrary evidence, by way of lying to oneself and/or others. I think J was insulted by the "dishonest" comment--but it was that or "stupid," and of the two, I would think "dishonest" would be the more complimentary. However, admittedly, I might have gone for duplicitous, hypocritical or disingenuous.

Hypocrisy 1:
Eventually J stated that the agnostic does not believe god exists "on the face of it"--and I have no idea what difference it makes. If he does "not believe" a god exists, he is an atheist. If he does "not believe" because he's uncertain what to believe, because he's investigated and found it to be unjustified to believe, because he's drunk and it's Wednesday--it really doesn't matter. As long as we can honestly say this person does "not believe" a god exists (and if we agree, as J and I did, he's no theist, then we can), and as long as we can say that an atheist does "not believe" a god exists (and J agreed to this initially, and a dictionary survey and history would support this), then we cannot deny that this person is an atheist, while he is not a theist.

It no more matters why I don't believe in god than it matters why I do believe in god. And here is where we get into the sort of hypocrisy that could stir me to righteous indignation if I were to allow it.

Can you imagine how ridiculous and presumptuous it would be, if I went to a theist e-list and began asserting that only theists who believe a god exists because god has personally spoken to them are theists--and that anyone else doesn't really "believe" and is an "agnostic"? What if I asserted that those at the e-list who believe only because of what they've read in their Bibles can't be labeled "theists"?

Where do I sign up to cherry pick for theists which reasons for "belief" are valid reasons under the theist definition, "someone who believes a god exists"? Would J think that was rational of me, to go and tell theists that if their belief is based on "A," then it counts, but if they believe for reason "B," then their belief isn't really "belief" under the theist definition? The reason they believe is not relevant. All that matters is that they believe. The definition of "theist" doesn't have an asterisk leading to a note indicating that "if you believe for the following reasons, then 'theist' is not what you are." You can believe for any reason. And a you can not believe for any reason. You still believe or you still disbelieve. And whether you believe or disbelieve is all that matters to these definitions--not "why."

Hypocrisy 2:
In a context of a particular field, it is possible for definitions to have agreed upon meanings. For example, the term "stripper" in publishing used to mean a person who worked in preparing materials for pre-press. This is very different than what the general population thinks of when they think of "strippers." And I think we understand this pretty well. In theology, where theists equate "belief" with things like "faith," we are often confronted with models of the martyrs--those who exhibited such deep conviction to their views that they would suffer and die for them. Theists make quite a verbal dog and pony show, often becoming offended at any slight to their "deeply held beliefs" or their "god," in which they believe and whom they "revere." This "belief" they speak of is important, sometimes life-altering, something they teach their children, something to spread to the far corners of the world, something that brings them great "joy" and "peace" and "happiness." Theists make it known that "belief" is no small thing. In fact, in the Bible it says that if a person "believes," they can be saved--receiving eternal bliss with god.

This is how the theist frames theistic "belief."

Further, during our call with J, Matt said belief was "acceptance of a claim as true," and J agreed. Later, the e-list exchange, we used a definition of "conviction of the truth of a claim," and J did not take issue--at first. The definition went along, accepted by both parties for a few exchanges. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, J decided that the sort of "belief" we were discussing, the belief in god that distinguishes a theist, was this sort of "belief":

Me: "Where is Tammy?"
You: "I'm not sure. I believe she said she was going to the store--but I might have not heard her correctly."

His point was that you can have varying degrees of belief in god--that not having conviction doesn't mean not "believing." So, the agnostic is like this--he is unsure and sort of "believes."

Beyond back-peddling--literally going back and saying that a definition he accepted twice isn't working out as well as he'd hoped, so he's now going to just reject it and claim I'm the one being unfair--there are two huge problems with J's assertion:

First of all, if this truly is "belief," then we have a problem with J's Assertion 1: If I believe a god exists, I'm a theist by definition--using any source you want to pick. And that means that, according to J, this person is no longer an agnostic, because he has belief in god, and, therefore, must be a theist (which J asserted his agnostic is absolutely not). If there can be "little" belief--then his agnostic would be correctly labeled a "theist"--and J must say there is no such thing as an agnostic. He would actually be saying that anyone who has doubts about the existence of gods has some small "belief"--and those who have no doubts and think a god does not exist, are atheists. So, rather than defend his agnostic, he has successfully defined his agnostic right out of existence.

But secondly, and even more pathetically and dishonestly, J is now taking his belief in god (he is a theist) and throwing it under the bus, in order to salvage his sorry position. No longer is "belief" a conviction or accepting a claim as true. No longer does god require deep faith and the courage to live and die by that conviction that He exists and came to save the world from sin. No longer does god demand worship and reverence and commitment. It seems that when the Bible talks about believing and being saved--it only means not being sure god doesn't exist. If that's the case, many atheists will be thrilled to learn they're saved according to the Bible--for they believe. And that's apparently what theists mean by "belief"--according to J.

Why is this surprising though? Why should it be a shock that when it supports a theist's argument for how wonderful it is to be a theist, belief is a conviction that can fulfill your life, but the moment you want to say that without that conviction, a person can't be said to "believe," then belief becomes nothing more than the thinnest shred of a doubt about the false nature of the any claim? In other words, I should say I "believe" fairies exist, according to J, because I have to admit that, logically speaking, I cannot "know" they do not exist, even though I really, really, really, really doubt they exist, and feel fair saying "I do not believe in fairies." I still "believe fairies exist" according to J, because I have to acknowledge that it would be logically unsupportable for me to assert that I know they absolutely do not.

And J keeps asking me why this is so hard?

From where J stands, it isn't possible that he's twisting in the wind. I sometimes have pity on him because it's hard to see a person humiliate himself repeatedly on this level; but then he acts like this is a debate or honest disagreement we're having, rather than me trying to educate an ignorant, defensive individual, and I get my perspective back.

This brings us back to "one OR the other." If these doubts constitute "belief," then we have a problem with the definition of atheist, with which J took no issue. J agrees that the atheist is either someone who disbelieves/does not believe a god exists OR someone who believes no god exists (denies a god exists). And here's the rub: If "disbelieve" means to accept a claim is false, and if "believe" means to be anything but 100 percent sure the claim is false--then what is the difference between "disbelieve/not believe" and "believing no god exists/denying god exists"?

J, who does not claim to take issue with the definition of "atheist" that reads, someone who disbleieves a god exists OR someone who believes no god exists (denies a god exists), is now trying to say that "disbelieving" and "believing the opposite" represent the same condition, thus rendering the "OR," and the definition of "atheist," nonsensical. In other words, while he claims to take no issue with the definition, J is actually trying to assert that an atheist is only someone who denies a god exists, and that a person who disbelieves a god exists is actually no different. In my last communication, I asked him what he imagines the dictionary (his Merriam Webster) is trying to demonstrate as the difference between "disbelieve" and "believe the opposite"? I just sent it this morning, so I can't report on the answer to that head-scratcher.

But I must say that I reject any claim that it is honest to assert that I "believe" fairies exist. I am unable to logically defend that it is impossible for a small race of magical woodland winged creatures to exist. Do I believe fairies exist? If you think it's reasonable to say I do, I know this guy, J, you really need to meet, because I suspect the two of you will really get along. But I do not expect anyone will ever find a fairy. I do not accept that all the writings about fairies are a compelling reason to think they exists. And if someone presented me with one, I would have to admit I have been "wrong" regarding the existence of fairies. But why? If J is correct, I always believed in them, since I always was willing to admit that I could not be 100 percent certain they do not exist.

Also, J rejected that agnosticism had anything to do with knowledge. And I submitted that theism and atheism addressed belief, not knowledge. And he never took issue with this. Meanwhile, he seems to be saying the atheist has to assert knowledge (certainty), and I don't see that in the definition. Surely an atheist could feel certain there is no god. But I simply note it is not necessary to be an atheist.

I sent J, several e-mails back, a link to a wonderful series of articles written by Austin Cline, who has been for many years the host of's Agnosticism/Atheism section. I don't think J read the articles. That's too bad. If this is an issue that interests any of you, I encourage you to do some further reading at Cline's site. Here are a few links you might enjoy:

At his main page is a link to "Atheism 101," a series that talks about these same misconceptions.

Dictionary Definitions of Atheism"

"Definition of Atheism in Reference Books"

Here are a few quotes I thought were very appropriate to this discussion:

“Atheists are simply those who do not accept the truth of this claim — they may deny it out right, they may find it too vague or incomprehensible to evaluate properly, they may be waiting to hear support for the claim, or they may simply not have heard about it yet. This is a broad and diverse category and there is no particular counter-claim made by all atheists.”

“Many have trouble comprehending that "not believing X" (not believe gods exist) doesn't mean the same as "believing not X" (believe gods do not exist). The placement of the negative is key: the first means not having the mental attitude that proposition X (gods exist) is true, the second means having the mental attitude that proposition X (gods exist) is false. The difference here is between disbelief and denial: the first is disbelief in the broad or narrow sense whereas the second is denial.”

“A belief is the mental attitude that some proposition is true. For every given proposition, every person either has or lacks the mental attitude that it is true — there is no middle ground between the presence of absence of a belief. In the case of gods, everyone either has a belief that at least one god of some sort exists or they lack any such belief.”

“A person who is an agnostic, who does not claim to know for sure if any gods exist, still either has some sort of belief in the existence of some sort of god (believing without knowing for sure is common in many subjects) or lacks a belief in the existence of any gods (not believing without knowing for sure may be more common). Confusing the definitions of atheism and agnosticism is a popular tactic with some religious theists because it allows them to essentially define the territory of debate in their favor. They should not, however, be permitted to misdefine and misrepresent basic categories in this manner.”

I still am stunned at the presumptuousness of a theist calling an atheist public outreach program to argue with the hosts about what an atheist is, writing to an atheist educational foundation to assert they don't understand the definition of agnostic or atheist, and potentially going to Austin Cline's section to say that a person who has dealt in atheist issues for longer than I've been an atheist (and who has extensively handled this question particularly) doesn't have a clue about atheism. I would never dream of contacting the Baptist Convention to say they don't know the first thing about what a Baptist is. In fact, if I did get into a discussion with the president of a Baptist educational foundation (as J disputed with Matt D as well), and he told me that I misunderstood some aspect of what it means to be "Baptist," and dictionaries and reference sources largely supported his assertions--why wouldn't I back down and own up to my misconception? Austin Cline has a thought on that in one of his Atheism 101 articles:

"Another reason for insisting that only the narrow sense of atheism is relevant is that it allows the theist to avoid shouldering the principle burden of proof. You see, if atheism is simply the absence of a belief in any gods, then the principle burden of proof lies solely with the theist. If the theist cannot demonstrate that their belief is reasonable and justified, then atheism is automatically credible and rational. When a person is unable to do this, it can be easier to claim that others are in the same boat than to admit one's own failure."

I think this pretty well nails it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Come on, John're not trying!

The latest hilarious story of a politician with a roving willy is that of Nevada Republican senator John Ensign, who has shamefacedly confessed to an extramarital affair. Like the disgraced Democratic New York governor Eliot Spitzer, Ensign is your garden variety moral hypocrite, with an extra special twist that makes the schadenfreude at his downfall especially delightful. Because, being a Republican, Ensign's big bugaboo was the "threat" of gay marriage, and how it threatened to "weaken" traditional marriages like the one he was betraying. Among other things, Ensign was very vocal in his calling for Larry "Wide Stance" Craig to resign. Here's Ensign on marriage catching teh gay.

“The effort to pass a constitutional amendment reaffirming marriage as being between a man and a woman only is being undertaken strictly as a defense of marriage against the attempt to redefine it and, in the process, weaken it,” Ensign said. “Marriage is an extremely important institution in this country and protecting it is, in my mind, worth the extraordinary step of amending our constitution.” [Emphasis added.]

Seems to me Ensign isn't spinning this with the kind of gusto one expects from the right. I mean, hasn't it occurred to him that he could parlay his philandering ways into proof of his anti-gay marriage thesis?

Clearly, what happened was that, when all these rainbow-flag waving liberals and spearchucking lesbians began demanding marriage equality, Ensign's marriage was so "weakened," that he just couldn't stop himself from having an extramarital affair! If only gay marriage hadn't become a political hot button topic, the marriages of healthy straight Christians like John Ensign, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, and so very many others, would have been as towering in their strength as a Himalayan peak! Right. Right? So what more proof do you people need that we must stand unwavering against the threat of gay marriage, lest more heterosexuals fall victim to the monogamy-dampening effects of their gay rays.'re saying no one would buy it? Well, no, they wouldn't, except for the inmates over at WorldNutDaily and the Christian Worldview Network. But my point is, heck, he could have at least tried, you know. Jeez, even Bill Clinton had the stones to come up with such artistically inventive rhetorical interpretive dance as "That depends on what the definition of 'is' is." So come on, Sen. Ensign, step up! Haven't we earned the right to expect at least that from our politicians?

I ♥ Iron Chariots

Just wanted throw some words of praise at the intrepid editors over at Iron Chariots. I just finished writing a long email response to someone who wanted to know what came before the big bang. When I was finished, I thought to myself, "Self, this would be a great addition to the big bang article at Iron Chariots."

When I got there, however, I discovered that edits were completely unnecessary, as a very thorough and well written account of what I wanted to say was already there. Some of my thoughts about the cosmological argument were not in the big bang article, but instead there was a very tidy link to a cosmological argument page with some great responses. And when I thought "Ah but this doesn't address the kalam version" I was again proved wrong, as one sentence in the middle helpfully informed me that "Changing 'Everything that exists has a cause' to 'Everything that begins to exist has a cause' produces a variant known as the Kalam cosmological argument" which in turn led to another page with some stuff I hadn't even thought of saying.

Then I thought "Surely there's a lot to be done on the transcendental argument. I remember how incomplete it was when I looked it up while talking to Matt Slick." Well, the page is in progress, but it already has the full version of the Slick argument posted, plus some initial refutations based partly on Matt's and my discussions with him.

Needless to say, I'm delighted. It lightens the load of answering emails tremendously, because I can just link a pre-written article which expresses it better than I would off the cuff. That is, of course, exactly what we hoped for when we created this wiki.

I well remember when about 50% of the content had to be generated by me personally, so I'm gratified to see that it's progressing very well without my intervention. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gamers, get ready for Left Behind 2

Alert Non-Prophets listener "Rasputin" sent me this valuable information:

Greetings Unprophets,

After your recent lengthy hiatus I realized I just can’t get enough and with a lack of other listening material I decided to take a stroll through the archives.

...During the March 24, 2007 episode there was a story about the stock price of Left Behind Games hitting eighteen cents and someone questioned parenthetically “Weren’t they going to put out a sequel?”

To assuage my rampant curiosity on this issue I decided to make an offering to the Great Lord Google and what do I find?

Not only did they make a sequel but they released it yesterday making this insanely topical. Clearly my yearnings for the dulcet rantings of Jeff Dee were divinely inspired.

According to this press release the first game is “known as the most widely distributed Christian PC game in history.” I think that’s kind of like cruising for chicks in the maternity ward because you know they put out. It may be technically true but is missing quite a bit of the big picture. And by quite a bit I mean all.

I never did get around to playing the first Left Behind game, because the reviews were so awful it sounded painful to play even for camp value. This time will probably be no different, but I look forward to hearing whether they managed to remain utterly tone-deaf when we see how many flaws that were pointed out remain unfixed.

And now for something completely disturbing

Submitted by Arlo Pignotti. I'm not sure which part of this I find most face-palm worthy, but I suspect it's a toss-up between:
  1. the demented giggling after they talk about shedding blood (1:30)
  2. the anthropomorphic glob of dough's AWFUL line about yeast (2:10)
  3. the bit where they do a flailing do-si-do while chanting "Second Corinthians 5:17." (2:15)

Also, a man who bought a... PEARL? (1:07) WTF?!?

Monday, June 15, 2009


Imagine me in a scene from a bad movie, on my knees, in a rainstorm, reaching up to the skies and screaming the above, and you'll have an idea of my often melodramatic reaction to some of the totally jacked up, hallucinatory theist email we get. Including this, which came to us in the ever-popular Multicolored Multifont Format. Seriously, if this one's a Poe, somebody has way too much time on his hands to spend fucking with us (and the site it plugs is real enough).

War And Famine Coming To America!
Recent Prophecy Revealing The Identity of The Antichrist Is Also Included With This Bulletin!

Numerous prophets have issued grave judgment warnings for America. Linda Newkirk is one among many, sounding the alarm. See the foot of this bulletin for further information. Visit to learn the truth of Rev. 12!
As you will learn in this bulletin, warnings from Gods 'true' prophets are stern, no-nonsense, and very sobering. Many in the church will tell you that God no longer speaks through prophets, DO NOT BELIEVE THEM! God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, He does not change. We were not warned to reject all prophets, just the false ones. If God did not speak through prophets there would be no Holy Bible.
Jesus warned that He was coming back with a sword! He also said He was coming back as a Lion, not as a Lamb! Make no mistake about it, what we now face is referred to in scripture, as 'The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord'
I have been given many divine revelations confirming 'time and again' the prophecies and revelations of Linda Newkirk. DO YOUR OWN HOMEWORK on the Antichrist prophecies. Background information to help confirm these revelations is widely available in the alternative media. The truth of this prophecy also becomes more obvious by the day. Many of those who shook their heads when these revelations were released last fall are no longer doing so.
Mark Brander

It goes on from there.

I mean, really goes on.

You'll never guess who the Antichrist is.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Today's live show - call with Skype!

Quick the studio is closed for the summer, we'll be doing the show live, from Dillahunty International Studios.

If you'd like to call in, here's what you need to do:
- Download and install Skype (if you haven't already)
- Setup a Skype account (if you haven't already)
- Add 'atheisttv' to your contacts list

When the show is live, DO NOT CALL. Instead, send an IM to 'atheisttv' with your name, location and subject. The call screener will be making outgoing calls, as we can. He'll contact you first to see if you're ready for the call and we'll see how it goes. :)

Please be patient...this is a first attempt and we'll try to make improvements each week.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ah, the righteous arrogance of crackpots

It all started when the Everything Else Atheist posted a somewhat scathing exchange between herself and a professor at her college. This professor had been bringing in students to participate in "psychology experiments" which were actually efforts to identify psychic premonitions.

EEA wrote to him with some extremely reasonable concerns about whether proper scientific rigor had been followed in a domain that is traditionally overrun with pseudoscientific hacks. Among other suggestions, the professor responded by asking EEA to read The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin. At that point there was another, somewhat more frosty exchange of emails.

It gets fun here, because Dean Radin apparently googles his name every single day to see who might be talking about him. A commenter found the Everything Else Atheist blog because Radin descended from his ivory tower to dismiss EEA on his blog for being an uppity atheist.

Of course, responding to clueless broadside rants against atheists is what us Tiggers do best, so away we go!

I remember

Ah, the righteous arrogance of youth.

Wait wait, stop right there. Oh, this is going to be too much fun.

So right away after just one sentence, Radin telegraphs his compulsion to latch on to superficial personal aspects of his target... the very definition of an ad hominem. We have a long way to go before we reach the end, but I want to point out that not once in this entire post does Radin ever actually respond to her criticism.

I remember what it was like to feel intellectually superior to my college professors, many of whom seemed to be dullards who understood nothing. I grew out of that phase when I started to apply genuine skepticism, not just to others' beliefs, but to my own.

Radin mocks the temerity of those who would criticize a college professor, thereby offering an argument from authority, since those in high academic posts must never EVER be challenged. Which is a weird position to take, considering that Radin himself frequently has to explain that the scientific community doesn't take him seriously because of a massive conspiracy against him. Uh, what is it that he grew out of, exactly? Beats me.

Here is a good example of a young person who fits the profile of adolescent certainty (some people never grow out of this stage). Once a Christian, she lost her faith, followed by a commonly observed flip-flop -- she became a fervent atheist.

Atheists, especially young ones in the midst of existential crisis, do not yet appreciate that their strong stance against religious faith is just faith of another color (i.e., scientism). They are also unable to distinguish between beliefs based on empirically testable ideas vs. beliefs based on faith. And like most true believers in scientism, they become very concerned that one might conduct experiments where the underlying mechanisms are not yet understood. I wish I could say that most students grow out of an over-reliance on the certainty of prevailing theories, but as I mentioned in my previous post, unfortunately many don't.

Oh, this is rich. First, like many apologists for woo striving to assert themselves as Real Intellectuals, Radin performs a little armchair psychology. His hypothesis is that nobody EVER disagrees with his point of view unless they are undergoing some sort of "crisis."

Then he launches into a tirade about "scientism." Now I don't know about you folks, but the only context in which I ever hear this is from smarmy post-modernists who wish to appear clever by deriding science as a legitimate means for finding things out. Wikipedia helpfully supplies:
"The term scientism is used to describe the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences."

Okay, so here's Dean Radin, exuding scorn for EEA because she applies the concepts of science to a realm in which he implies that it does not belong, since presumably it is information of a "philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic" nature and not science at all. And you know, that's cool with me. Radin's under no obligation whatsoever to care in the slightest about silly concepts like "scientific method" and "peer review" and "academic honesty" or anything like that.

But wait a minute, let's remind ourselves of the context which brought about this exchange. A professor in EEA's science department was attempting to perform a science experiment in which he proved that precognition has scientific merit. And as support for this position, in lieu of offering up scientific research, he helpfully steered EEA towards Radin's book. Gee, I think somebody might want to notify this professor about how Radin really feels about science.

Her angst centered on an experiment studying precognition. Impossible! Violates natural law! Must be pseudoscience! With that attitude, any evidence offered, however obtained, can only be fraud, or worse.

Of course precognition is not prohibited by physics. The laws of classical and quantum mechanics are time symmetric, and there are many serious articles (this link has just a few examples) available on the topic of retrocausation, which is far more interesting and complicated than a superficial scan might suggest.

I'd just like to point out that at no point in EEA's post did she actually say any of this nonsense. She didn't say "ZOMG precognition that's like totally against the laws of NAYCHER!!!" Those hysterics are entirely from the voices in Radin's head. What she said, rather, was that (1) parapsychology is not taken very seriously among the scientific community; (2) it's had a really long time to produce the kinds of results that would make it worth taking seriously; and (3) the professor's techniques are riddled with holes that even an undergrad can see.

What does Radin do to respond to these charges? Well, he makes fun of her, and simultaneously manages to confirm her issues by blowing off requests for scientific rigor as "scientism." Good job, Dean.

Besides my own books (The Conscious Universe is finally in paperback!), I recommend Larry Dossey's new book to get a feel for the art and science of precognition.

But doing one's homework can be so taxing....

Hey, remember earlier when I said that Radin never bothers to actually address EEA's arguments? Maybe I should apologize for that because here's where he...

Oh wait, no. No, he's just trying to peddle his books.

I remember the sanctimonious pride that accompanies feelings of certainty, and I'm glad I outgrew it.

Thank goodness Dean doesn't have any lingering sanctimonious pride or feelings of certainty, because otherwise his post would have been really hard to read.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

I recently had a conversation with a man who had lost his son. He answered the phone and was pleased to hear from me after many years. We had a wonderful conversation and I was glad that I called. He told me what had happened. He talked about how he was doing. And he waxed philosophic on the meaning of it all.

“How someone can look at a tree or a human body or even a human eye, and not see that there is some design to all of this,” he thought out loud. He went on to describe the wondrousness of nature and his theistic leanings, and to express bewilderment at how anyone could accept evolution and other things our public schools and universities are teaching now-a-days. “It’s so much easier to believe in god—so much easier to believe a god did all this.” Yes, he actually said that. And yes, he did use the human eye example.

Obviously I don’t share his views. But I do share, to some small degree, his loss and his hope that things can and will get better as we all come to grips with the death of a loved family member and all that the young man had come to represent for each of us—whether as a fond childhood memory or a son.

We often get letters from atheists asking how to handle social situations where theistic ideas are laid bare to them from those they love or respect. Whether other atheists agree or disagree with me, there is no way I was going to address my opposing views to this man in this circumstance. He wasn’t asking me what I thought. He wasn’t requesting my approval. He was communicating feelings and simply wanted to be allowed to do so. And if I could help him feel comforted by merely listening in this moment, without expressing judgment, I felt I could offer him at least that much.

So, I continued to listen. And he finally began to talk about other things. He is an impressive man of many talents. Not complicated or intellectual—but interesting and clever. He owns some land where he raises orchards and honey bees. Not a large farm, but enough to keep him busy in his mid-70s. And being a garden enthusiast myself, I found I was quickly drawn into some of the most interesting conversation about nature I’ve had in awhile.

I need to try grafting—he insists. I have an apple sprout. When it gets to be as big around as my finger, I can cut it just so, and add a fruit apple stem to the stalk, in order to grow the fruit variety of apple on this useless sprout. And, as it turns out, I can keep on grafting different varieties, and they will all grow on the same apple tree. He has in his garden an apple tree upon which he now boasts 21 different varieties of apples growing on a single trunk.

Many people don’t realize that most of the plants that supply us food don’t exist in the wild. If I grow an apple tree sprouted from seed, it may never fruit. And if it does fruit, there are nearly perfect odds the fruit will be bitter, small, and inedible. Growing an apple tree from a Red Delicious apple seed will not yield you a Red Delicious apple tree. Some of you may have known that—but I’m guessing many of you may not have. To grow Red Delicious apples, you have to graft a Red Delicious apple stem to an existing apple tree trunk—of any variety (even a rouge like the one I have sprouted). The graft will produce Red Delicious fruit. You can’t grow modern domestic apple strains from seed. I don’t know if there are exceptions to this—but in general, this is the rule with much of our fruit bearing domestic crops. They don’t exist in the wild. And if all we had was seed, we would have to rebreed it from existing stock—re-engineer it, genetically, using a lab or evolution and artificial selection to recreate “Red Delicious” apples again.

Not only is the man on the phone aware of how this works—he knows more about it than I do. The only way to create something like a Red Delicious apple, in the days before genetic modification in a lab, was to use evolution and artificial selection to make it happen, yourself. You had to direct nature away from natural selection and use artificial selection to get what you wanted. Most people understand this is how we have dogs in our homes that differ drastically from dogs and wolves in the wild. In fact, we have dogs in our homes that differ drastically from other dogs in other people’s homes.

But he understands we breed strains of plants that become unable to reproduce themselves without human intervention. And he knows how it works and takes great pleasure from actually doing it—from diving into nature and taking control and directing nature and making nature do all sorts of weird and “unnatural” things that, ironically, only nature can do for him. He knows nature. He works nature. He sees nature with his own eyes.

But he doesn’t believe nature.

This same man has seen firsthand how nature can change and produce and reform and repurpose, how it can be made to stretch with agility and be tortuously forced to produce extremes of diversity through such minor interventions as a cut in a limb or picking this type of parent stock over that one. He has seen nature.

But he doesn’t believe nature.

“Who could believe evolution?” he sincerely wonders. And for now, I won’t reply to him. Now is not the time to argue with a bereaved parent. But in my own mind I cannot help but ask, “Who can see nature and do what you have done with nature, and still not believe what nature can do?” The diversity, flexibility and novelty of nature is something to behold. To see someone else behold it and then reply, “it’s so much easier to believe a god did it,” is hard to fathom. Perhaps it is a compliment to nature that what it does is so unbelievable to so many that they think something more must be involved?

To see nature do it, and then say "nature can’t do it—it must be a god," is interesting to say the least. I’ve never seen a god, let alone seen a god do anything amazing (or anything mundane for that matter). So, how could it possibly be easier for me to identify a god as the cause of what I observe that nature does, than to identify nature as the cause of what I observe nature does? How did “god” come into this equation? At what point do we employ a touch of god to get the grafting to work or to breed the new spaniel? Which step was “add a bit of god” in that?

The fact is, there is no “add a bit of god” step. And everyone who works with nature knows that it does what it does how it does it. If we didn’t understand that much, we would be unable to guide it and use it as we have and as we do. We know, to some useful degree what nature is, what it does, and how it accomplishes those things. That’s how we put it to work for us. And still, it manages to come up with new and interesting things nearly every day to continue to amaze us with its revelations.

If we understand a process, why should we employ god—an unnecessary, extraneous step—to explain it?

And if we don’t understand a process, I must still wonder why should we employ god to explain it?

If I have never seen a god and don’t know what a god is or how it functions and operates and what actual impact it has on anything—how do I employ it and use it to produce explanatory function for anything in nature? How is what cannot be observed, examined or understood, useful or helpful in understanding anything? If I don’t understand natural process Y, and I say it’s the result of undefined function X—what have I learned? What have I explained or added to our knowledge? How does that help at all? And why would I put such a baseless thing forward as useful or real?

How can a person so involved in nature and natural processes accept that a divine cause is required for what he can plainly observe nature doing—apparently, by all observation, unaided?

Ironically, most creationists would respond that I’m stripping god of his rightful credit by endowing nature as its own source. But really, if I go by what is supported via the evidence and reason, it’s clearly the other way around. Nature, a wonder to observe (and, importantly, it can be observed) is not served by handing credit for all it does and all it can do, to god-X (and note that, importantly, god-X cannot be observed). Fortunately for nature, it does not appear to have an ego to bruise. But if it did, it might wonder, “on what grounds can any reasonable person assert that I can’t do what I clearly do? How does anyone know what I can do, but by observing what I do before their very eyes?” And if there were some world behind the world, how could we reasonably credit it, while it works in shadows, hides its hand, and pretends to not exist—putting forward a façade that nature can do all this hidden world is supposedly “really” doing? If there were such a hidden world, there would be nothing to observe or examine to make anyone think it exists.

How would that be easier to believe than what can actually be seen, examined, and understood? For me, it’s not hard to believe what I can observe and examine and come to understand. But it’s very hard to believe that which is supported by nothing I can see and examine—and which, due to that, could never be understood, and therefore never believed, because there is no way to reasonably assert belief in things we cannot or do not understand.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

We get email... strike that, we get cut n' paste

So I see this in my inbox:

Who Created God? A number of skeptics ask this question. But God by definition is the uncreated creator of the universe, so the question Who created God? is illogical, just like To whom is the bachelor married?

This was the first paragraph in a very long email, all neatly formatted in a shiny blue font. Naturally I suspected a cut and paste job, so after ascertaining that this was simply a parrot of the Kalam Cosmological argument, I simply googled key words and found it to be a word for word transcription of this page at

Thus I replied:


I see you haven't troubled yourself to come up with an original argument, but merely cut and pasted the writings of another author citing the Kalam Cosmological argument. Therefore, I will respond in kind and simply link you to a thorough refutation of this claim.

If you want to respond to this page, please email me back in your own words and we will discuss it from there.

He wrote a slightly longer answer, and my counter-response (which includes the full body of his message) is below.

your right russell i didnt write it all myself because I didnt think I had to....

Sure, I don't blame you -- no sense reinventing the wheel. That's why i did the same thing. I bet you didn't read the refutation yet, did you?

i know im not going to persuade you that there really is a God.

Not with weak semantic hand-waving like Kalam, you won't. Present us with some evidence for God, and we'll be all over it.

i can tell the devil has a deep grip on your heart

It must make your life very simple when you can dismiss any counter-arguments by saying "Well, the only reason you don't believe me is because you're a slave to EVIL." It's easier than trying to read and understand things, that's for sure.

and i hope and pray you can see that also....what you are believing is lies. you dont need to have a college degree to see it either....

Yes. I can tell.

I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and I am not ashamed at all to say that.

I don't think you should be ashamed for saying what you believe. Now, not having the integrity to understand the arguments you're making and back them up -- THAT would make me ashamed.

The reason i believe in Jesus is because of the Bible. I believe it is true. Its proven to be true. through archelogical discoveries and by the power of the Holy Spirit. I know you cant understand that because you havent had that happen....

Okay, so wait a minute. You believe in Jesus because of the Bible... and you think that the Bible is "proven" by virtue of the holy spirit. Either that is a textbook case of circular reason (Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the same thing under trinitarianism, yes?) or you left out the step where you explain why you believe in the holy spirit.

Of course, you throw in the towel when you say I can't understand something because I "havent had that happen." (What does "that" refer to anyway?) Proof is proof -- it is repeatable and accessible to everyone. Something that only you can understand may be real, or it may be inside your head. In any case, if you don't think you can prove the existence of God without special pleading, then why did you bother sending us a cut and paste of Kalam?

I can guarentee you have had authority problems in your life. All athiests do. their denying an authority figure over them. its simple even a 6 year old can understand.....

Didn't I see you in a movie once? "You're a rogue cop, Glasser! Sure, your unconventional methods and boyish charm get results, but they have no place on this force! Turn in your badge, you're on leave until further notice!"

And with THAT uninteresting argumentam ad hominem out of the way, I'll sign off.


Here's the final reply, but I didn't find it worth responding to.

first off yes i did read your refutation. thankyou for it. my reason for emailing you is because i am concerned about your soul. Everybody has a soul whether you deny it or not. Im not a smart asshole thats trying to get you to repent.....i just question your "show" or whatever it is. If their is no God then why do you care about all this? why are you wasting your time trying to persuade people? you still must be fighting a little voice or something?

It's no mystery why we do a show. Among other things, it's so we can have the pleasure of getting a rise out of people like this. I'm just sad that it wasn't on air.