Monday, April 26, 2010

Because it's SCIENCE!

Today is Boobquake, the day when freethinking ladies everywhere prove to the world that science isn't boring and show misogynist Iranian clerics a thing or two. I mean, I'd be the last to doubt the power of breasts in the course of human events. But actually causing tectonic activity? I'd say that's due for some myth-busting. So in the spirit of research, I reiterate my support for this endeavor, and the dawning of a new age of global enlightenment it portends. I'm sure the day will rack up some revealing results.

Now, as in all worthy scientific efforts, the results of your research should be made publicly available for peer review. Over at Skepchick, some worthwhile boobular myths are examined, none actually having to do with geological activity, but still. And so far, among our fine AXP family of readers, Jennifer Juniper has documented her data points. I'm sure we'll enjoy more results as the day goes on, which, even if we don't have an actual quake, will completely rock the world! So I'll just let Mike and the Bots from MST3K lead us out in song...and enjoy your experimenting. I certainly will!

Oh, I almost forgot! The perfect theme song for the day...

Addendum, later in the afternoon: Holy cow, it worked! Well done, ladies!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sick and Tired of Christian Manipulation

The headline reads, “Oklahoma Senate Passes Five Controversial Abortion Bills.” It should read, “Christian Theocrats Make Strides in the Promotion of Sadism, Manipulation, and Hypocrisy.” Let’s face it: if there’s a group in the U.S. that wants to harness the reproductive capacities of others, it’s Christians. In this case, the Christians elected by Christians in the Oklahoma State Senate has thought of various creative ways to screw with women who are convinced they’re not able to raise a child that they have in their womb. The Senators feel it’s their duty to demand potentially invasive medical tests to take “baby pictures” for the sole purpose of emotional manipulation. They feel it’d be a good idea to invade the personal lives of these women. And to add insult to injury, they’re making the patently false claim that they’re trying to help these women.

If Christians would really like to help women seeking an abortion, I have some suggestions. First, I have yet to see a Christian group put up the money (up front in escrow) that is necessary to raise a child to adulthood as a trade for a woman not to have an abortion. Why not? Christians want to have the power over a woman’s womb, but they run away like squealing vermin when the slightest mention of responsibility is mentioned. Their propaganda says that “God will provide.” Christians, why don’t you pony up the money and let your invisible friend reimburse you? We all know that will never happen. If you want to reduce abortions without being sadistic and manipulative bastards, try actually putting your money where your mouth is. If you don’t believe your bullshit propaganda, why should anyone?

Other suggestions:
  • Quit sabotaging contraceptive use, sex ed, and family planning. These things actually reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions. It’s obvious that reducing abortions is not the motivation of Christians. And please quit pretending to want to reduce abortions. Your obvious intent is to increase the number of believers in the world without having to pay for them.
  • Quit meddling in the lives and medical business of people you don’t even know. Nobody appreciates being fucked with. Duh.
  • Please understand that what you are doing is religious persecution. If you can’t show a bit of empathy for your victims, don’t expect anyone to give a shit about your religious rights when that glorious day comes when the shoe is on the other foot.
  • Learn a little empathy and humility. Just because you’ve sucked up to the invisible Big Thug in the sky doesn’t give you the right to be a little thugling. Anyone who has taken an objective look at your religion is aware is a load of crap. Keep it to yourself.
  • Concentrate first on fixing your festering boy fucking problem that shows how astoundingly incompetent your God is, and how amazingly gullible your fellow believers are for believing the amazing bullshit rationalizations used to excuse the problem.
Christians claim to follow an all-powerful God who has the ability to create people. If that’s true, why doesn’t your God make more gullible toadies if he really wants them? Seriously, aren’t there already enough in the world? The actions of Christians make it obvious that they know it’s a complete lie. They know they have to harness reproduction to make the next generation of sycophants. Unfortunately, with all it’s claimed power, Christendom plus God don’t have the power to control their own flock’s reproduction. Instead, they are hijacking the reproductive capacities of others via government control—and then foisting the expense onto them. This policy actually creates poverty and ignorance, which make it easier to instill religious belief in the next generation. If Christians want to run a breeding program, at least do it with your own people and your own money. And start paying your taxes. What you’re doing is not charity and deserves no public support.

In the spirit of Jesus’ saying of “Doing Unto Others,” I would like to suggest new law to be applied to Christians. Under the law, Christians would enjoy their Constitutional Right to free exercise, but upon entering their church, they would need to submit to a head x-ray (at their expense). The test would help them determine whether they had a brain and it would be purely for the benefit of the congregant. I would also suggest that any Christian in a leadership role, such as clergy or in government, submit to a weekly anal exam with the results published on the Internet. We want to make sure those assholes are working properly, don’t we?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Refuting individual branches of Christianity

I got a message on Facebook, and I hope the author won't mind if I respond publicly, without identifying him.

The relevant paragraph asked:

I was wondering if you may know where I can find some material on Eastern Orthodox Christianity (critique mainly), as I've lately been confronted with a lot of opposition from orthodox Christians defending their faith during debates with the "oh, we're not like them (catholics, protestants), our teachings bring only peace and prosperity and we didn't have any Crusades, et cetera..." argument. But I'm more than certain that there actually were executions and burning at the stake ordered by the Orthodox Church (but I can't find 'em!), so if you could give me a brief list (articles or sites) I'd be uber happy.

No, I don't know of any specific works regarding Orthodox Christianity, although I'm sure you can find some. As I have recently grown fond of pointing out, there are 38,000 sects of Christianity. Debunking every one of them individually would be a pretty time consuming task. If I wanted to see the history of a particular church, I would probably start at Wikipedia and search outward from there.

Rather than reject the whole thing as a package deal, in your situation I would fall back on Matt's favorite question: "Tell me what you believe, why you believe it, and why I should believe it?" It's one thing to speak in generalities about how Christian offshoot X is "not like those other Christians"; it's another thing entirely to identify the individual beliefs and try to defend them.

Personally, I couldn't care less how many atrocities this or that group committed, as opposed to some other group. It's not as interesting to me as finding out whether they make claims that are true, and how they think they know that the claims are true. What you'll probably find on further investigation is that they believe many of the same unsupportable things all religions believe: That you can't explain the complexity of life without a god, that somebody had to start it all, that it feels nicer to believe in a higher power, etc., etc.

If you can get them to bring these up, you are on much more solid ground. Instead of having to denounce an entire group based on the actions of some representative -- which always makes you look mean! -- you can go after the arguments on their merits. At that point, I'd refer to something like Iron Chariots, or Guy Harrison's book, for ideas to respond to those claims.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Boobquake is Coming!

An Iranian cleric has discovered the cause of catastrophic earthquakes, and it's not plate tectonics after all. Nope, it's women's immodesty. According to Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi,

"Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes," he explained.

Huh. Who knew my girls were so dangerous. I have to admit that when I first heard about this, my initial response was to keep them under wraps. I just didn't want to be responsible for all that human suffering. Since then, Jen McCreight over at Blag Hag has convinced me that an experiment is necessary to test this new theory. The experiment must, of course, be photographed.

Boobquake 2010 will take place on April 26th. On that date, you are encouraged to show as much or as little cleavage as you have. If you prefer not to show cleavage, Mr. Sediqi warns that tight-fitting clothing will piss off Allah as well. He issues the following admonishment:

"What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes," he said.

Let's give this a fair test, shall we? I say we all get out there and rock the planet on April 26th. I should also point out that women going shirtless is technically not illegal in Austin - but feel free to engage in your preferred brand of immodesty and unrepentant degeneracy that day.

Oh, one last thing - science requires that observations be repeatable, so we might have to do this again next year. Just sayin'.

Cheap shot!

Oh noes! Looks like the Teabagger militias have lost a vital part of their training regimen!

Monday, April 19, 2010

It ain't just Rush and Pat

Seriously, how primitive in its development does one's poor little brain stem have to be, to be the kind of person who interprets, in this day and age, natural disasters as some form of divine wrath? Seriously, I can understand cave-dwelling hominids cowering in their caves from a thunderstorm thinking this way. But in a 21st century civilized, technological, post-Enlightenment society? Get on board the short bus, tardboy!

Who else can we add to this parade of thermostupid? Oh, how about the reliably batshit crazy Brannon Howse? Here we see Brannon exercising his considerable prophecy skills to predict God's next meteorological snit.

Brannon believes America may very well see a serious crisis this week such as flooding in the North East for Obama's treatment of Israel in the past few days and particularly for his treatment of Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Why does Brannon say this?

Because Brannon is a paste-eating fuckheaded moron, that's why. The above was posted March 30. Anyone remember the news reports of flooding in the northeast the following week? Nope, me neither.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rush, if you wanna be truly evil, you gotta be less lame

So Rush Limbaugh woke up yesterday in his palace on Geidi Prime, and while he was being hoisted by his catamites into the gravity-support harness he'd been given by the Baron Harkonnen as a hand-me-down, it occurred to the least drug-benumbed of his brain cells to think, "You know, I'm tired of everyone in the galaxy thinking Pat Robertson is a more evil piece of shit than I am. Let alone the Baron!" So on his radio show that day, he made the awesomely ludicrous suggestion that his Republican God caused the volcano in Iceland to erupt because He was pissed off over Obamacare.

Truly, there is no bottom to the level of rank idiocy defecated across the right-wing airwaves.

Thing is, if Rush was angling to take Pat Robertson's "Most Evil Piece of Shit in the Galaxy" crown from him (with its lifetime supply of mélange and a little Oxycontin on the side), he lamed out. Because as evil as Pat is, you've gotta give the old boy props for backing that evil up with balls so large they exceed most known Kuiper Belt Objects in sheer mass. Over more than half a century, Pat has leveled up his evil to such a degree, he could calmly exploit a disaster that killed a quarter of a million people, informing them as if it were the most natural thing to say that it was all their own fault for making pacts with some imaginary devil.

On the other hand, the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (I had to copy-paste that, and don't even challenge me to pronounce it), while it has wrecked everyone's flight plans and necessitated some serious evacuations, has apparently had a death toll so low I cannot find it recorded anywhere. (Maybe someone else's Google-fu will be better.) So Rush was careful to pick a disaster where hardly anyone's died, avoiding the universal condemnation that Pat got, even from Shepard Smith on Fox News. Though if anyone did condemn Rush, he'd just whine about the leftist socialist media ganging up on him again.

So you're just too lame to be the ultimate in supervillainy you were hoping for, Rush. But don't worry. You are still a total piece of shit and all decent people hate you. You're welcome.

Friday, April 16, 2010

I'm sure Howard Stern's people are speed-dialing

So there's this Christian pop singer cutie who's just come back from a seven-year hiatus to reveal she's gay. Unlike Ted Haggard, she's totally cool with her gayosity, so all props to her! But I wonder if the title of her new album Letting Go really means what she wants it to mean. Sweetheart, we're all very happy for you, but religion is not your friend! The hate you're about to get from those who pride themselves on how devout they are is something you just don't need. Just be proud you've found the music in you, and move on.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This is our 1000th post

...and originally I thought it would be cute to waste it in postmodern fashion simply informing you of that fact. But then I realized that would basically be an exercise in irony so banal and obvious it would tip over into mere douchebaggery. So I'm much happier to spend this post in the valuable act of informing you of an exciting legal development in the ongoing fight against the theocratizing (that's probably not a word, but screw it) of America.

A federal judge, Barbara Crabb, in Wisconsin has ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. I simply cannot wait for the 700 Club and Whirled Nut Daily to sound off on this, let alone the raging paranoiacs over at Christian Worldview Network, who will no doubt rush to blame the ruling on the baby-eating communopinkosocialistical policies of Barack 666Satan666 Obama, despite a flack for the administration assuring the pearl-clutchers that "President Obama intends to recognize a National Day of Prayer." Naturally, we get a sound bite from fundie legal beagle Jay Sekulow, who distorts on cue:

"It is unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honored tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it," ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a statement.

Well, you see, Jay, the thing is the court did recognize that. It's just that unlike you, the court also recognized it is the prerogative of private citizens to determine for themselves when and where and how they set aside days of prayer. It is not the privilege of the government to do that for them. See the difference? Citizens deciding their own religious observations: within 1st Amendment. Government promoting religious practice on specified day: violation of same. Come on, Jay, IANAL, and you are, and even I know that rudimentary difference.

But that is, of course, what Sekulow and the fundagelicals want: to be able to use the power and authority of the government to impose their brand of Christianity™ upon the nation. Yes, these are the same people who lose their shit and wail about "Soshullisum" when "BIG Government" tries to pass health care reform that makes it harder for your insurance company to sodomize you while rifling your wallet at will. But when it comes to pushing Jesus like he came in dime bags at the playground, oh, does the right ever love Big Government then.

Gotta heat up some popcorn for this cagematch, kids. It'll be a good one.

Addendum: The fun begins. Nothing too mouth-foamy there yet, but there is, of course, already one falsehood present.

[Alliance Defense Fund] Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster...argued the day gives opportunity "for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith – and does not promote any particular religion or form of religious observance."

That might have been the intent and the spirit of the NDOP on general principles. In practice, reality is much different. The Texas Freedom Network has cataloged incidents of Christians excluding non-Christians from formal NDOP events. Mother Jones also has an account of James Dobson's (surprise surprise) bullying of those worshiping the wrong invisible man, and has a detailed account of Christians using legal muscle to keep a Hindu from participating in an NDOP event in Troy, MI. The idea that the NDOP has ever really been ecumenical is as transparently full of shit as Fox News's "fair and balanced" slogan.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

We get email: from the "Word Salad" folder

Sometimes, you just shrug and go "Whatever."

Dear brother and sister

General public is very vulnerable, what ever guidance sounds helpful, whether it is not rational, people like it.they are created to believe this.

On the contrary you are what is in your memory in your sub conscious , that what u are projecting in the mundane world.any fantasy you think can be real in your thought, even in the mundane world,.if you believe there are millions of earth and so oare you, in millions ,so what is real you don't know, when you merge with which reality.

your mind is a fascinating mechanism processes millions of information every second , we r only aware of 100's. nothing to loose in you believe, lot to loose being a sceptic, you can be popular in tv, media in paper that what y what. huh!

Holy scriptures do mislead people, all are misinterpreted, mostly corrupted is the Biblical stories, and the Vedas.

I can challenge you, with prove that thoughts are cosmic energy, they can influence you and your surroundings

Think for a while then conclude.

You have nothing to loose being a believer.beliver in your self, your heart. The rest will come out automatically, that is why we have dreams, dilutions .illusions, hallucinations, these ate only medical terms, but also a media for human to interact with parallel reality.

I think Holmes would do better getting a handle on this reality, personally.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nebraska Abortion Regulations

I am on the road for about the next month or so. Interestingly I had alerted Matt that I likely would not be able to participate much in ACA activities during that time. However, I've had at least three events/items come up that I'm burning to share. Two are more involved, one less so. And since I have only a few minutes, I'll go with "less so."

In reading USA Today, I see that Nebraska has just given final approval to a new sort of measure requiring women to be screened for mental health problems before they can have an abortion.

In principle, I would probably support this, if it wasn't so non-universally applied. I have known women who have had abortions, and at least one I think should have thought it through more thoroughly before having the procedure. I could have foreseen that it would be something her personality would later ultimately regret--and it was. However, I still support it was her decision, and I know that there are other women for whom abortion may be, or may have been, a better life choice. Is offering counseling to women considering abortion a bad thing? Certainly not.

That being said, the first thought I had upon reading this blurb was, "I wonder when they'll pass a law requiring the same thing for anyone planning on becoming a parent?" Am I the only one who has thought that about the Quiverful adherents? Would that the parents on "17 and counting"—oh wait, isn't that "19 and counting" now—would require some sort of screening.

It would be great if we had screening for elective surgery applicants, people wanting to become parents, and women considering abortion. But the fact is, we don't require it. Doctors or clinics can set rules for such counseling, and sometimes do, but the state does not normally. And so I see this as somewhat prejudicially applied, and wonder if the real motivation is concern for the woman's well being, or to create further pressures and delays on women trying to obtain an abortion?

I have no idea what the debate in Nebraska has been leading up to this, but it smells a bit of fundamentalist conservatism. Feel free to correct me in comments if I've misjudged.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Peoria trip report, wrap up

Matt has already posted an excellent summary of the rest of our trip, and I encourage everyone to read it. So rather than repeat everything he said, I'll just fill in the few odds and ends I'm remembering that he may have missed.

One other thing I didn't mention about the young woman in the back who wanted to know about secular morality. We approached this question from several different angles, but mindful of the Euthyphro dilemma, the last thing I asked her was: "I hope you don't mind if I reflect the question back at you. Where do you think God gets his morals from?" She immediately said "I have no idea," and went on to explain that she is not a theologian or a religious studies major.

That kind of sums it up, doesn't it? People pretend to be concerned with where morality "really" comes from, but when you want to explore the source of religious morality, it turns out that they actually couldn't care less. Most theists simply assume that somebody else who is a religious scholar must know the answer; but if not, they assume that God knows what he's doing.

This dovetails nicely with a central theme of my initial presentation on science. Basically, "God Did It" appears to be an answer to all questions, but it is actually a copout. If we were satisfied with those answers, then we might still believe that Ra pulls the sun across the sky every day in his barge, and we wouldn't be able to reach an understanding about the complex and interesting way that the earth and sun interact with one another through gravity and conservation of momentum.

Similarly, answering "God Knows It" is a copout on figuring out how to answer moral questions. I tried to provide an example of a question for which the Bible is no help at all, and I'm not sure how well I succeeded, but here it is. What does the Bible have to say about net neutrality? Not a thing. You can reason out what should be done, and you can pretend that you are basing this on Biblical principles, but it's unlikely that you can conclude anything that would not be contradicted by any number of people from the other 38,000 sects of Christianity in the world. (Brief correction: During the talk, I said there were 38,000 sects in the United States alone. Now I see this was a mistake. I regret the error.)

Anyway, people do actually get morality by looking at their own core values and reasoning from there. The only difference is that theists are willing to pretend that the conclusions they reach are in agreement with an infinitely knowledgeable being who knows for a fact what is best. This approach is no more helpful for ethical matters than it is for determining why the sun goes around the earth. (Tip: it doesn't.)

Regarding the other guy in the back whom Matt mentioned, the one who claimed that there would be no religious conflicts if everyone were the same religion, we don't see a likelihood of those 38,000 sects collapsing into one soon. While it's true that people might not conflict if they all thought the same way, that's pretty unrealistic. The difference is not necessarily in the specific beliefs, but in approach. Neither Matt nor I would ever endorse a system that bans religions or prohibits their free exercise. What concerns us is when a particular set of religious beliefs is in some way codified and endorsed by law. There isn't a symmetry there.

Now on to the Catholics who attended on Saturday.

Matt's already described their smug attitude, which I'll duplicate just by Quoting For Truth:

After a quick back and forth with one of them, he followed up with something that I didn't quite catch (and I still have no idea what he was saying). I said something like, "I'm sorry, you lost me for a moment" as a lead-in to asking him to repeat himself. He adopted a particular smug tone and said, "I'm sure I did" and promptly handed the microphone to our if he'd just 'pwned' me.

This sort of exchange actually happened more than once. When one of them asked their first question about science, it went something like this:

Catholic #1: "Are there true things that science doesn't know about yet?"
Matt and Russell simultaneously: "Yes." "Of course."
Catholic #1: (smirk) "Thank you." Sits down.

You know, I don't claim to be the greatest debater in the world or anything, but I do know that acting as if you've scored a point is never enough to make your case. You have to actually make one. In this case, he clearly thought it was some kind of "gotcha" when he got us to "admit" something that, in fact, we'd been saying all along for the last two days.

The other thing people should be aware of is that asking a smarmy question and then sitting down is an attempt to play to the audience. And you can't play to the audience effectively if you haven't gauged their mood. Whenever they sat down, the effect was absolute stony silence. I expect that inside their heads, they heard cheers and laughter, as well as stunned gasping from me and Matt. Out there in the real world, it was... well, the effect would have been better with crickets, but you get the idea.

Now that I've had a couple of days to reflect, I realized -- I know where this technique comes from! It happens in every Christian urban legend about a heroic student apologist facing down a wicked atheist professor. Tell an atheist professor that he can't prove he has a brain, and the class erupts in pandemonium... and the students sit down. Poke holes in the theory of evolution, and the atheist professor slinks out dejectedly to resign from his university, while fellow students clamor around you to hear the good news about Jesus Christ.

This was a great illustration of what happens when you do this in reality. Crickets. Then the audience laughed when the response was given.

Matt mentioned a courtroom scenario that one of the Catholic Trio brought up to show how one can be both perfectly just and perfectly merciful. What was weird that the scenario boiled down to this: "You are on trial, and you are innocent of the crime you have been accused of, but the evidence implies that you're guilty. The jury lets you go out of mercy."

As a way of proving the point, it was a terrible failure. If you're actually not guilty, then justice was done, whereas it would not be served by incarcerating you. If you were guilty, then letting you go would be merciful but unjust. Even the guy who brought it up had to fall back on saying "Well it's not a perfect analogy." It doesn't even begin to be a good analogy, because the whole idea of divine justice is that God has perfect knowledge of people's actions. I still don't see where he was going with it.

Finally, quoting Matt's post again:

Another of his friends made an appeal to justice. He argued that the Catholic view held that someone like Hitler would eventually see justice, even if they didn't see it in this life and then asked which view, his or mine, was more beautiful. Russell immediately pointed out that the Catholic view doesn't guarantee that justice is going to be served, and that it may be possible for Hitler to be in heaven while his Jewish victims are in hell...and that there wasn't anything beautiful about that.

We did a nice little good cop/bad cop routine here, with me arguing that, no, there isn't anything especially beautiful about Christian doctrine; while Matt argued that, beautiful or not, it makes no difference to whether or not a thing is true.

I would like to add, though, that when I asked: "Are you sure that Hitler is not in heaven now?" he replied that he was couldn't be sure, but it would be just as beautiful if Hitler reformed and went to heaven.

Can't overemphasize the importance of this ad hoc mid stream change of subject. Apologists love to pull out this line that "There must be a hell, because it wouldn't be fair if Hitler didn't go there." But they're lying. Many of them would be just as happy if there was a hell and Hitler escaped it. Indeed, the doctrine of being saved through faith requires there to be a very real possibility that Hitler -- if he said the right words before dying -- received his "get out of hell free" card, and received eternal happiness, without having ever made amends for his earthly crimes. The idea the eternal reward and punishment is portioned out not based on any real actions, but on being divinely forgiven, is not beautiful at all. It's demented. It's a solace for war criminals to rationalize that, no matter how much evil I may do in this life, it won't matter if I'm wrapped in the sinless shroud of Jesus.

Anyway, I echo Matt's sentiment that I had a really fun time on the trip, and it was great getting to tag team with him. If anyone else wants to pay for us to come hang out, give a ring.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Today's show: The Prosperity Gospel

Today, on the Atheist Experience, I'll be talking about the Prosperity Gospel. I thought I'd post a couple of interesting links about it, in case people want to explore on their own:
Feel free to comment on the show on this thread.

Peoria trip report, part 1

Russell here. I'm still in my hotel room on Sunday morning, chilling with the internet and waiting to go catch our plane at 3 today. We had a lot of fun. On both days there was a good crowd, about 40 or 50 showing up to the Friday lecture, and maybe a few less on the second day.

Friday we had prepared a topic that was essentially "Atheism 101," in case we got a lot of Christians joining us. The fellow who organized the trip -- whom I will continue referring to as "BU" since that is the only name he has used here -- let us know that there are a lot of Christian activist groups on campus who might take an interest in attending and hitting us with hard questions. He also said it was parents' weekend, so we might see a lot of parents coming to guard their kids. I think we didn't. Also, a few people had driven from hours away.

We arrived a good 30 minutes before the start time on Friday, and there was already a pretty good early turnout of people waiting. Out of curiosity, I started my talk by asking for a show of hands to see how many people were atheists or Christians. Most were atheists; when I asked about Christians there were initially no hands. Then I said "Really? Come on." Then a small number of hands went up, I think fewer than ten. I thanked them for coming.

I explained my history as a fourth generation atheist, and described a few of the straw man arguments that people use to explain atheism. (Some Christian psychology guy claims we all hate our fathers.) In fact, I said, we disbelieve because we think you should have good reasons, or evidence, before believing a claim.

I borrowed a page from my dad's past talks when I said that people answer two kinds of questions with God: questions of fact, and questions of value. I said Matt would be discussing questions of value, so I spent my time discussing questions of fact. I explained that scientific investigation was the best way to learn things you don't know, and historically, "God Did It" is a poor answer to questions because it doesn't provide any new knowledge and stops you from learning the real answers. Since I wrote this all down ahead of time for practice, I will probably post it later. For Matt's part, he addressed questions of value by adapting a talk he did at another college, called "The superiority of secular morality."

We mostly got a very friendly reception, but we did have a few young women in the back of the room who wanted to challenge us. Well, actually only one did. She wanted to argue about the morality issue, with the usual question about where atheists can get their morality. Matt likens the variety of moral choices to a chess game: while some moves are clearly very good or very bad, in most situations there are several different moves that can be effective. The fact that there is not a single, certain choice does not negate the fact that some decisions are clearly more or less harmful to other people, and collectively, we try to agree on behavior that won't be supported because we don't want to live with that behavior. Of course many people in the audience wanted to chime in, bringing up things like the Euthyphro dilemma so we didn't even have to.

I got some great questions about science from people who probably knew it better than I did. There was a medical professor there both days who wanted me to expand on how science is different from faith in investigating truth.

I've written this post in fits and starts, so now I'm due to catch the airport shuttle and I won't have internet access until late tonight. Another post tomorrow, most likely.

Friday, April 09, 2010

One less religious deception in Austin

The Austin City Council unanimously passed an ordinance yesterday that would require "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" to post information about what services they do and do not offer. These centers have sprung up around the country in recent years with billboards targeting pregnant and desperate teenagers. While posing to help people in a challenging situation, these fake clinics are only in existence to manipulate the victim into having the child. They do not provide contraception or information about contraception. Another impact they have is that they delay the decision, thus making getting an abortion more difficult. The ordinance partially addresses the problem by making it a bit clearer to the victim of what they're getting into. From the ordinance:
The Owner or Operator of a Limited Service Pregnancy Center shall prominently display, at the entrance of the Center, two black and white signs, one in English and one in Spanish, that state as follows: “This center does not provide abortions or refer to abortion providers. This center does not provide or refer to providers of U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved birth control drugs and medical devices.”
I hope other communities follow suit.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Last weekend and this weekend

I was saddened that I had to miss hosting the show this weekend due to another Mormon invasion. I always hate to miss a chance to be on with Jeff Dee. Also, my fiancee and I actually went to church on Easter Sunday for fun, and we got a lot of interesting discussion material out of it.

In point of fact, we went to Great Hills Baptist Church, home base for Kyle Miller, who was on the show with us several months ago. I made my presence known to him, and he graciously asked to treat us to lunch the next day. (I just started a new job in Austin, and I wasn't working yet on Monday.)

In some respects we managed to get more argumentative than we were on the actual show together, but it was all kept on a friendly basis and I believe that a good time was had by all. As I said previously, Kyle is a fun guy, and there are a lot of non-God topics we agree on, but I also really enjoy it when we get down to discussing the evidence (or lack of it) for God. I probably won't detail our private conversation, though, but just the church experience.

Matt and I will be en route to Peoria early tomorrow morning, where we will be speaking at Bradley University at around 5:30 PM. Again, get there early in case it fills up. I'll have my laptop on the plane, so I might take the time to turn my church notes into a blog post that I can put up after we land.

I've got, I think, about twenty minutes of material and I need to put the finishing touches on my slides when I get home tonight. Matt will present a similar length of material, and then we'll take questions. There are other events afterward which you can check out at the Bradley Skeptics page, and we'll take more questions on Saturday.

The TV show will be in excellent hands with Jeff Dee and Don Baker, and I know I'm looking forward to catching the replay when I get back.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Religion is abuse, pure and simple. Just check Twitter.

Today on Twitter, one of the big trending memes is "Without God". Hordes of theists right now are tweeting what they think life would be like if Sky Daddy weren't around to hold their hand, with the words "Without God" somewhere in the tweet (which is how people get topics trending). The most common tweets are the most disheartening, because they demonstrate with crystal clarity that the most effective tool religion has for keeping people docile and compliant is the utter destruction of their personal esteem. Seriously, what other than religion could get people so eager to boast of their personal worthlessness? Here are actual examples.

@Periyon Without God I have nothing else to live for...

@mandyymanders Without God I would have nothing.

@SupaBaddizI Without God I am nothin, have nothin, && will never be able to accomplish nothin!

@Rieno2 Without God, I wouldn't know how it feels to LIVE...

@iLoveMJ147 Without God I am nothing.

@BellaKerber Without God, life has no meaning ..

@PeAce_SteLLa Without God : I'm NOTHING ! ! ! ! !

@taylormatthews Without God there can be no knowledge, good, evil, hope or joy.

@DJFoRenZic_JA: Without god, there is no life!

@iK00lKiDd Without God there is no me...

@nanamarie87 Without God i could do nothing

And it just goes on and on and on like that. Thousands upon thousands of people, eager to devalue themselves. "I suck! I'm worthless! I'm nothing, nothing, nothing...without GOD."

This is quite possibly the most unspeakable form of brainwashing a person can endure. It is what George H. Smith in Atheism: The Case Against God is talking about when he states that Christianity has "a vested interest in human misery." First, convince the believer of their innate lack of value. Get them to believe that there is nothing good about themselves in any way, shape or form. Then offer them a thin straw of hope: God can give you worth. Sure, you're a completely undeserving piece of shit, but no worries. If you pray and genuflect and abase yourself just enough, he might — if he happens to be in a good mood that day — might condescend to let you past the velvet rope into his Heaven. What's that? You say you answered the altar call at church? Well, that's great and everything, but you know, that still might not be good enough. Because without God you're nothing, you miserable little shitstain! So just remember that.

By this time, you have the believer so utterly intimidated they're afraid of their own shadow. Even the tiniest scrap of joy they experience in life, they'll be damn sure to credit immediately to their God, just to make sure they don't fall out of favor.

You know who else uses these kinds of brainwashing techniques? Abusive spouses. "Without me you're nothing" is the biggest hammer in the toolkit of the controlling, abusive partner. It's why abused women don't leave their men when you'd think all common sense would have them fleeing at the first opportunity. It's like Stockholm Syndrome. And it's why it's so difficult to use reason when arguing with believers about their beliefs. You're calmly and soberly trying to lay out objective facts, while they're thinking that if what you say is true, then they're doomed to a worthless, miserable void of a life, because THEY. ARE. NOTHING.

When you read these tweets, you should understand that when Dawkins refers to the religious indoctrination of children as child abuse, he isn't fucking around. These tweeters are folks who grew up with that indoctrination into an adulthood defined in its entirety by fear and self-loathing. They hate themselves, pure and simple, and see no pleasure in anything their brief time on this earth can offer them if it cannot be attached in some way to their God.

If this parade of misery isn't all the reason you need to stand against religion, I don't know what else is. And any accommodationist who tells me religion should be "respected" even though I don't believe it will frankly get a swift kick to the jewels. Are you going to tell me to "respect" wife beating even though I'd never do it?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Transportation needed in Peoria

Because of scheduling concerns, Matt and I have decided to take a bus from the airport to Bradley University when we speak this weekend. We could rent a car afterwards, but knowing that a lot of Atheist Experience fans will probably be attending, it would be great if we could get someone to help transport us around.

If you think you'd be available to supply rides between university and hotel on Friday or Saturday, or back to the airport on Sunday, please send your contact information to so we can get in touch when you're around.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Philip Pullman's newest isn't likely to end up a fundie favorite

If Christians had a rough time with Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ, I don't quite see them lining up to buy the latest from Golden Compass author and staunch heathen Philip Pullman. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, releasing May 20 in the US, is described thus:

...the remarkable new piece of fiction from best-selling and famously atheistic author Philip Pullman. By challenging the events of the gospels, Pullman puts forward his own compelling and plausible version of the life of Jesus, and in so doing, does what all great books do: makes the reader ask questions.

In Pullman’s own words, “The story I tell comes out of the tension within the dual nature of Jesus Christ, but what I do with it is my responsibility alone. Parts of it read like a novel, parts like history, and parts like a fairy tale; I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories become stories.”

Written with unstinting authority, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is a pithy, erudite, subtle, and powerful book by a controversial and beloved author. It is a text to be read and reread, studied and unpacked, much like the Good Book itself.

Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, depicting a war against God, is a modern fantasy classic, and if your only exposure to it is the well-intentioned but murkily executed Golden Compass film from a couple of years back, you owe it to yourself to check out the books themselves. They're very much the anti-Narnia. In this video clip, Pullman responds with simple honesty to a question about Christians finding his new book offensive.

I'll be putting my pre-order in.

Denyse O'Leary supplants Ray Comfort as World's Stupidest Christian™

After holding the title courageously for most of his adult life, Ray Comfort has been forced to relinquish his unofficial designation of World's Stupidest Christian™. Meet the newly crowned title-holder, Denyse O'Leary, whose risible record of attempted evolution denial has leveled up into heretofore unexplored realms of awesomeness with this quoted passage, which simply must be read to be believed. Warning: you will lose about 20 IQ points just reading this, but the fact you won't be able to stop laughing for a week should, one hopes, compensate.

Congratulations, Denyse, the new reigning World's Stupidest Christian™! Take a bow.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Will he do it?

I know I have said many times atheists ought to ignore the farcical spectacle that is Ray Comfort, but this one was too good to pass up. A viewer has emailed us reporting that over at Ray's blog, a reader calling himself "imadallasguy" has left this comment:


A good way you could honor your Saviour and the sacrifice He made for you would be to call in live tomorrow to the Atheist Experience of Austin show which airs live on Easter Sunday at 4:00PM CST.

He did so much for you. What a sweet and blessed thing it would be for you to honor Him in return by calling in to the show, so that His word could go out to all the unbelieving world.

I'll be listening for your soothing voice tomorrow.

In reply, Ray loaded up the .50-cal Bullshit SMG and set it on full auto.

imadallasguy...All they have to do is ask. I would be honored to go on their program. I don't want to invite myself.

Gee, if I had a dollar bill for all the times Matt has told me he's attempted — right there in the comment sections of Ray's own blog — to get Ray to agree to some face time, I'd have...well, probably about twelve bucks. Whatever, the point is, he knows full well he's been "asked".

So here is the comment I just left, which I reproduce here just in the event it somehow fails to make its way out of Ray's moderation queue, thus enabling him to keep claiming he'd love to talk to us, we've just never asked him. (Perhaps some of you ought to visit that thread and back imadallasguy up on his call-in request, eh? Godless eyes are watching!)

Ray: imadallasguy...All they have to do is ask. I would be honored to go on their program. I don't want to invite myself.

As one of the rotating cohosts of The Atheist Experience, I say consider yourself asked. You are formally invited to phone in tomorrow, or on any Sunday afternoon it is convenient for you, from 4:30-6:00 PM CST. The number is 512-477-2288, and the earlier in the program you call, our phone screener will make sure you're pushed to the front of the queue. We look forward to hearing from you.

I am also aware that our host, Matt Dillahunty, has made debate overtures to you several times, often right here in the comments of your blog. So I find it curious you say you've never been approached by any of us. Still, I understand you're a busy man, so perhaps you've forgotten.

Who'll start the betting?

Addendum, one hour later: Ray did post my comment.

Second addendum: Well, fuck. Apparently the show's not on tomorrow, and Joe didn't find out until yesterday, and (bit where I jumped Joe's case for not letting us know before Saturday deleted, because that was done in frustration and thus uncool, sorry). So I'll have to leave another comment informing Ray of this, and making sure he knows the offer's open. Not that I expect him to call, still. Sorry, gang.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Proof of Miracles Tonight on 20/20

I just saw a blurb on television that tonight on 20/20 they're going to demonstrate real miracles. From the look of it, it appears they're going to use healing as their thrust. One quote from the show they shared was a theist saying you have to differentiate between miracles and magic. Really? And how exactly do we do that--since a miracle would have to be magic rather than the result of natural cause and effect?

And on a side note--thanks to Don for keeping up the April Fool's Day blog tradition!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

God says pedophila ok

Dateline: April 1, 2010 – The Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree today saying that pedophilia is not a sin. According to the decree, the Roman Catholic Church no longer bears any responsibility for the ongoing child molestation scandal that has rocked the Church in the United States, Ireland, and several other countries for several decades. The decree was issued Ex Cathedra, which according to Roman Catholic Church dogma, is the result of divine intervention and protected from the possibility of error by God Himself.

Ex Cathedra decrees are rare, but this particular one may have been unique. The Pope himself is alleged to have shared the details of his conversation with God with his most trusted cardinals. A Vatican insider, speaking on the condition of anonymity explained what happened. “The Pope was in his cell praying and begging repentance for his role in the ongoing scandal for the ten thousandth time. Then he came out saying, ‘God doesn’t give a shit’.” The Pope was reportedly shaken but overjoyed by the unusual revelation.

Vatican accountant Father Guido Cartamoneta expressed relief over the momentous pronouncement. “It’s a great day for the Catholic Church. This resolves all of these issues that have been hanging over our head for so long. It’s just in time for the Easter donation season!”

Former Cardinal Bernard Law of the Boston Diocese also expressed his pleasure over the announcement. “I feel vindicated for my role in moving priests between posts. Maybe now life will return to normal and can get back to the business of filling our youth with the Holy Spirt.”

Information from a Viewer

Someone sent us this link today, and I want to alert people to this.

"Lebanese man charged with sorcery and sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia is scheduled to be beheaded on Friday, the man's lawyer said Wednesday."

I don't know if there is anything anyone can do--but I feel helpless and desperate for this person. I can't imagine being in this situation. And I have no idea what could possibly be done by an anyone to assist. All I can offer is relaying the story for public awareness.