Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Good luck with that, Larry

Larry Moran offers an interesting challenge:

I challenge all theists and all their accommodationist friends to post their very best 21st century, sophisticated (or not), arguments for the existence of God. They can put them in the comments section of this posting, or on any of the other atheist blogs, or on their own blogs and websites. Just send me the link.

Try and make it concise and to the point. It would be nice if it's less than 100 years old. Keep in mind that there are over 1000 different gods so it would be helpful to explain just which gods the argument applies to.

Thing is, we've been asking this same question for many years on our show. We always rush callers to the front when the screeners tell us they claim to have proof that God exists. So far, we've been disappointed.

Pretty much everyone says he or she has proof that God exists winds up landing in one of the following categories, roughly in descending order of frequency:

  1. They wish to make a first cause argument.
  2. Before the call ends they will admit to being an atheist in disguise; they either thought it would be funny to offer a fake proof, or they (correctly) believed that they wouldn't get on the show unless they lied. Hot tip for people fitting this category: You almost certainly aren't funny and didn't impress any of the viewers. Try keeping the lines clear for actual theists instead.
  3. They offer some poorly drawn refutation of a particular scientific principle, and then assume that the only alternative to the science is their god.
  4. [Inserted after reading the comments] They cite a personal encounter with the supernatural which cannot possibly be verified, investigated, or duplicated.
  5. They have some pseudo-scientific argument that is based on some kind of misapplication of a science they barely understand, such as quantum mechanics.
  6. They have some kind of even worse pseudo-scientific argument that involves making up "laws" that don't actually exist.
  7. They have some kind of linguistic argument that relies on proving that "God" exists based on purely semantic properties rather than observed evidence.

When these various tactics fail, about half will resort to threatening us with some form of Pascal's Wager, most likely without knowing who Pascal is.

That about covers the supposedly sophisticated arguments that theology has had to offer in the last 200 years. Seriously. If there are many more then few theists are aware of them.

Monday, September 27, 2010

More Accommodationism - More "He's not an expert"


Open thread on episode #676

Matt and Jeff in our last 90 minute episode for a while. I'm in the middle of listening right now.

There appears to be a problem with the podcast, because annoying music keeps interrupting the audio. It might be coming from another studio or something.

Now this is ticking me off. 30 minutes into the episode, Pat from Pasadena called in. AGAIN. Last week she called me and Martin and rambled for quite a while about her "non-traditional Christianity" that she knows from "metaphysical" experiences that she picked up through meditation.

I think Martin and I were pretty patient with her last week, but this is ridiculous. She called in again, with completely different hosts who haven't her routine before. She makes NO acknowledgment of the fact that she called last week. She doesn't say a word about the time we already spent on her. She shows no sign of recognizing what we told her then. She just pretty much says exactly the same thing to see what different people will say to her. And predictably, the response is almost exactly the same.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

No longer a friend of the center...

Rather than writing a long post, I'll just link to Jerry Coyne's comments as he and I seem to perpetually be on very nearly the same page.


I'll be speaking to CFI Tampa on October 16th. I plan to talk about whatever they want to talk about and I have no intention of walking into their home and telling them everything that I think is wrong with the organization.

Why not?

Because the organization, on the whole, is one that I still respect and would like to support. CFI members at the local level are some of the best people that I've met and have been great promoters of reason, discussion, conversation and fellowship (a word I'll use with a grin, and mean it).

But, as I've said before, I'm disturbed by a number of individuals in leadership positions in various skeptic and secular organizations that have explicitly or implicitly tried to ostracize outspoken atheists from their organizations. Some of them seem to be doing it for 'big tent' reasons, some are opting for a style over substance accommodationism and some have simply been duped by lies ("skepticism has nothing to say about untestable claims" or "outspoken atheists hurt the cause").

I love the idea of CFI and the JREF and dozens of other organizations. I love the people in those organizations. I greatly admire and respect many of the leaders of those organizations - even those with which I strongly disagree on some subject.

The difference is that I'd never implicitly or explicitly attempt to make them feel like they didn't belong or that they shouldn't be permitted to present their views or any of the other nonsense that has been directed at atheists.

Dr. Shook, you've been duped and dazzled by sophistry and intellectual masturbation. The "contempt for religion's intellectual side" is the result of understanding, not misunderstanding. But hey, if you'd like to send out a few free copies of your book, let me know. I think I'd like to read it...and then I'd like to have myself, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, and others offer reviews and commentary on it.

Let's actually promote inquiry and discussion. Now there's a thought.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Then some days, we just get emails that are this awesome

Yeah, this one is Christian spam, but it's one of those instances where you wonder if the person sending it to us honestly thought that offering us a link to a sure-to-be LOLtacular Christian online novel would be just the sort of outreach we atheists had been awaiting, to finally soften our hardened hearts against Jebus. The email alone is so fun (pick your favorite line), my only worry is the book will be disappointingly less hilarious by comparison.

There is a new epic novel (in e-book form) of intense spiritual magnitude. It is titled, "Satan: Judgment Day for the Dragon." by author Trey Smith and founder of the God in a Nutshell Project.

Satan: Judgment Day for the Dragon is FREE. It is not partially free. It is not “kind of” free. It is not halfway free. Never once is a credit card even mentioned on the pages of this e-book site. IT IS TRULY FREE. And, getting to it is as simple as clicking here. Basically, we don’t want to sell it to you… WE WANT YOU TO HAVE IT!

This book, Satan: Judgment Day for the Dragon is a very… very new thing. It is the FIRST of its kind. It is a story based on Biblical texts, ancient historical evidences and a great many wonders we as mankind have forgotten. It is vivid, violent, gritty and gripping. It may shake you. It may twist you. But, you may love every second of it; that is for you to decide.

This novel is the story of how the devil became the devil. It a story that takes you into realms that are beyond comprehention. There is no simpler way to describe it. And describing it would spoil everything. We want you to SEE IT. You tell us; is it REAL? Or, is it just good fiction?

CLICK HERE to get Satan: Judgment Day for the Dragon FREE right now.

Is it REAL? Or (comma splice) is it just good fiction? I'm guessing neither. And I'd humbly suggest that anyone who thinks "It a story that takes you into realms that are beyond comprehention" is an effective pitch needs to sit down with a publicist. (Note in the interests of fairness: at least "judgment" is spelled correctly.)

Enjoy your book. (smileyface) In case you still aren't sold, here are the opening paragraphs of the first chapter of the "novel."

We do not start with the beginning; for in reality, such a thing does not exist. A beginning and end are merely two points on a line, a segment of what is everlasting. Thus, there is nothing magical about the beginning, nor the end. All that truly bares any interest is the curved, jagged, rippled, bent, twisted, sloped and amazingly warped line that lies in-between. In essence, the beginning and end are fixed points that only serve as a capsule to contain the chain of events that has led to this moment, the moment in which you now sit to read this page.

So, it would be foolish of us to begin at the beginning. That would be like attempting to read backwards gibberish. In this story, to understand the beginning, we must start with the end. Therefore, let us start at the proper place; let us begin with the violence.

In the real world of publishing, involving things like literary agents and editors, the last sentence of paragraph two might raise a giggle, if it weren't for the fact that they'd have stopped reading and tossed the manuscript by sentence four of paragraph one. But by making it available free, at least this Trey Smith knows what it's worth.

Bat Cruise day

Tonight is the annual ACA Bat Cruise, which I'm very much looking forward to, as this will actually be my first year to attend. Like last year, I'm busy spending the bulk of this week at Fantastic Fest, our awesome local annual film festival of horror, sci-fi, and general geekitude, and I'll have you know this year I'm skipping a Yeun Woo Ping double feature to go float on a boat with a bunch of baby-eating heathens. So you know I have my priorities straight. (And I got burned last year, skipping the cruise for two premieres which turned out to suck horribly.)

This afternoon, the cruise will be preceded by Matt's "Superiority of Secular Morality" lecture. And then I do believe tomorrow is going to be the last 90 minute episode of AETV (featuring Matt and Jeff) for a good long while, if hopefully not forever. So this is a momentous weekend for atheists in Austin all around.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

If you're at your computers, I guess you're already sitting down for this...

Word has just come in that The Atheist Experience's time slot is, for the first time in its 12 year run, being shaved from 90 minutes to one hour. I haven't yet heard when this change will go into effect.

There's already a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about this on Facebook, but apparently there's nothing we can do. I don't think we're being targeted or anything. What's probably going on is a change in ChannelAustin policy by which they're trying to cut back on longer shows in order to fit in more programs per day. Either way, it sucks, and it's going to take some real adjusting.

One thing that's going to have to happen is some real ruthlessness in dealing with tedious, rambling callers, like that "collapsing wave-form" dude from last Sunday. And hopefully our atheist fans will at last get the message that, while we love them dearly, it's preferable to use the email address, and not a phone call to the show, to tell us what an awesome job we're doing. We should be more strict about demanding a caller make his point within, oh, 30 seconds, or we'll have to let him go. Since I don't inhabit the host's chair any more, I can't promise the regular hosts will agree this should be the practice.

If I may be allowed to air a personal gripe? If you're wondering why I don't have any more details about this, it's because I found out about it, just half an hour ago, from a Facebook post by Matt. While I know it's important to let the fans know right away, I think it would have been — oh, what's the word — a courtesy for the cast and crew to have been informed, personally, ahead of time.

In any event, the show will go on! We aren't ones to let something as petty as having our time slot chopped by a third to stop us speaking truth to power and all that! You can expect the same spirited blasphemy and hard arguing and hilarious Jeff Dee tirades you've been getting all these years. It will just be in a more concentrated package. We love and appreciate the support of all our viewers, new and old, all through the years, and we plan to be around for many, many more years yet!

Addendum: Matt has sent us all an email explaining the changes and apologizing for what's turned out to be an honest goof. There has in fact been email discussion going on the last couple of days about all this, but it's been taking place on the ACA board's private email list, and wasn't being shared with the TV list, which Matt assumed was being done. Several of us on the crew are not on the ACA board, and I guess that got overlooked. So, consider feathers unruffled.

The new time slot goes into effect the second Sunday of October (we're being pre-empted on 10/3 by the fucking Mormons again), and we'll be back in the big studio we were using ten years ago, which the guys have been trying to get for a long time in order to accommodate our ever-expanding studio audience. So kudos to them for managing that. For more details as they're revealed, just keep checking the website.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Removing blog roll for now

That neat little widget that used to appear in the side bar, which scrolls through a list of other atheist blogs, is gone for now. It was causing some false reports of malicious software on some browsers. We'll keep an eye on this site until they come up with a solution to put it back.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Open thread on show #675

Okay kids, here's the fight cage for today's show. No time tonight, but Monday at some point I will post my email conversation with Troy, so you can see what led up to today's final call. Enjoy.

Oh yeah...arrrrrrrrrrrr!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Viewer Mail: Are There Other Gods?

I'm not posting the writer's full letter because he is an atheist who wrote to ask how we might reply to a theist he encountered. I provide sufficient input to give you an idea of the claims he said were put forward:

>...[to an atheist] there are no concepts of evil and suffering.

Well, that's just stupid. Evil may be self-defined, but that is what a "concept" is--an idea you hold. An atheist may say "I don't use the term evil because it's too ambiguous," but he could hold "X" as a criteria of evil and accept X is evil. Meanwhile "suffering" is less ambiguous. While we can talk about what constitutes suffering, anyone who has ever broken a bone or burned themselves or lost a loved one understands suffering--both physical and emotional. Even animals understand suffering--we know, because when they're given choices to avoid it--they take those non-suffering options. If a dog can understand it, why not an atheist?

>To an atheist, there is no difference between a tree falling over and crushing a bees nest and an earthquake causing a building to collapse and kill a group of human beings.

In-group bias exists in all social species. Wolves, for example, hunt prey--but how often do you see them hunting wolves? This person is trying to give god credit for biologically derived realities. Bees are not people. And we are biologically geared to care about other humans, because we are human social animals. This is why you don't see cultures that routinely raise other humans for food--anywhere on the planet. All people, all wolves, all chimpanzees, see a difference between members of their own species and animals that are not members of their own species. Again, a wolf can get it, but a human can't--without god?

>Seeing as all living things are just random matter, what's the difference to an atheist?

Seeing as all people are depraved and deserve death and hell, why does a Christian care if a building falls on other people? Didn't they deserve it?

>He claims that only biblical faith offers objective standards of good and evil

Actually, it doesn't. Euthyphro shredded this years, and years, and years, ago. You can either personally understand why X is wrong, in which case you are using your own moral judgment, or you can't understand why it's wrong, and you're nothing but a trained monkey who does X because he's been taught to, with no employment of moral judgment. Following orders is not a morality and requires that I exercise no understanding whatsoever of moral thinking or behavior. Beyond that "Thou shalt not kill" was followed by god ordering the killing of people all over the place. How is that objective? Is killing wrong? Is slaughtering your neighbor, his wife, and his toddler sons--but keeping his (most likely underage) daughter as a "wife" (i.e., sex slave)--the sort of objective morality he means?

>Atheists have no reason to feel pity for anyone or anything.

So, rats empathize, but not people. What a sick view of humanity--we don't even have the natural emotional range of a rat?


>he said there that there have never been any other gods.

What about the Ugarit god "El" that the Hebrews borrowed to create the god he worships today? Pantheons have been demonstrated in Egypt, Greece, Rome...the idea there are no other gods is so demonstrably false (if we mean gods people believed in and worshiped) as to make his claim ridiculous. Even Ba'al and Ashterah and Sophia are mentioned in his own Old Testament. Sophia (the goddess "Wisdom") even gets a speaking part in the Book of Solomon:


Ashterah was the wife of El (another name for Yahweh), and was worshiped by the Hebrews alongside Yahweh (because both El and Ashterah were borrowed from the Ugarit pantheon). King Hezekiah abolished the worship of the wife of El, according to the Old Testament:


Ba'al is mentioned all through the Old Testament:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baal (see the box on the right for more Ugarit gods)

>and are not really gods because they exist within the Universe, not outside it.

He doesn't get to define what people call gods. If there are so many gods that don't fit his personal definition, he can't argue they're wrong, only that he doesn't personally consider these as gods. But he can't say nobody else did or does. They are gods. They are worshiped. They do exist as legitimate concepts of gods that stand in glaring and direct opposition to his claim.

>Only Christianity has ever had the idea of an eternal, infinite creator God.

Let's say that's true. So what? What if I found only Egypt ever had the concept of a god with a hawk head...so what?

>Any religions younger than Christianity have copied it...

Wow, how can he claim to know what every religion after Christianity has taught? That's a bold claim, and one I doubt he's informed enough to make. But funny he worships a god borrowed from Ugarit by the Hebrews, while he claims other religions don't fly if they borrow from his?

>But I just wondered what your guys thoughts were?

I think he's ignorant about animal psychology and the roots of his own religion and instead of informing himself, he stays ignorant so that he can use his ignorance as a springboard to claim support for his beliefs--which shrivel and die in the light of actual information.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Open thread on Non-Prophets 9.8

It just occurred to me that I mentioned the new episode was up last week via Facebook, and of course you podcast-savvy listeners have already heard it. But for those who only rely on the blog for new information, you may not know that there is an all new guerilla episode featuring Lynnea, Jeff Dee, and me, Russell. Go check it out!

Open thread on episode #674

Oh yes, I said I'd be making more of these links when they're called for, right? Episode 674 happened last Sunday and featured Don Baker and Tracie Harris.

Have at it!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Purpose and Meaning without God

We received a letter from “Rob,” who asked (emphasis his):

Specifically, I guess my question is this: how do you go from living a life where you 1) believe in a God who guides and protects you, 2) provides eternal security, 3) makes everything work out, and 4) gives current purpose and ultimate hope to your life, to believing that everything is essentially random chance, there is (probably at least) no afterlife, this life is it, and there is death, dying, pain and suffering all around, to continuing after losing all of that? I am finding myself often consumed with the feeling—if not the belief—that continuing to live is an irrational exercise. That it literally doesn't make sense. Am I wrong? Why? And have others struggled with a lack of purpose and hope upon turning away from Christianity, and how have they death with this?

My reply:

Hello and thanks for contacting our list.

The first step is to realize that none of the things you thought god gave you were god given, and yet you were doing OK. Nothing about reality has changed—only your perspective on it. So, if you felt that god gave you strength to go through a rough patch, for example, you now know (or should know) you have that strength, but no god is, or ever was, required.

The fact is that religion robs us and cripples us by making us believe we need it. It instills that by taking children and not teaching them how to live without god and religion in most cases. When they try to leave the religion often they find themselves tied to it because they have no other mechanism for coping in reality—a reality they were robbed of a chance to get to know and appreciate, and a reality with which they have trouble coping without the blind obedience to authoritarian rules they've been taught to adhere to under pain of death or eternal torture.

That being said, know that you have all the things you had before, nothing has been taken, you've only been hoodwinked into feeling like something has been taken. You now may have to hone some real life skills you never had to manage before, that's true. So, for example, any immorality condemned on god's command now should be suspect. You now are responsible for determining whether and why actions are truly wrong or harmful. There is no more "I just say it because god said so." This is another religious projection. Theists claim that atheists don't want the responsibility and moral obligation of dealing with rules and morality. When, in fact, it is the atheist who must own his own ideas and actions and has no god to blame, only himself. From this day forward, you are a responsible human being in a way you probably never imagined.

So, that's #1 and #2 of your questions above.

Three (#3) is that things don't always work out. The universe can be a horribly cruel and pitiless place in which to find yourself. Many people live horrible and short lives or horrible and long lives and never know love, comfort, or compassion from another human being. Be very glad you aren't one of those, and think about how you might feel if you were. Consider if that is sufficient to motivate you to want to help—knowing that no god is going to fix it, and only other people can lend a hand. To me, that puts, again, greater responsibility upon us all to do what we can to help other people. We can't suggest they suffer for some divine reason, or that they will have a better reward someday. We must own up and step up. If they suffer for reasons we can alleviate, then they suffer due to our lack of compassion and assistance. And we help them with the knowledge that if we need assistance, most often other people will be there to help us in a similar fashion, because—thank evolution—most social animals really are biologically driven to care about group welfare.

Above may answer #4 as well. That depends on you. You have your life ahead of you after years of living in indentured servitude to a lie. It's like being let out of prison after having been railroaded in, in the first place. "What do I do now?" can be daunting, but my answer is "live your life." Find joy in what you do. Show compassion to those around you. Remember that it wasn't just Jesus who observed that treating others in good ways is a good idea that helps everyone out and makes us feel good about our usefulness. There are countless people and animals and environmental issues just hurting for support and aid. Where to being?! Now is your chance to ask not "what does god want me to do?" but "What do I care about? Where am I needed? What makes me happy?" (Considerations religion often condemns.) The fact that you're concerned about these questions tells me you have nothing to worry about. You are the sort of person who values introspection and reason. Those things will serve you well and guide you for your entire life in ways god never could have.

On your deathbed, when you say "I lived a full and satisfying life, I did what I thought was right, and I am proud of how I lived," what would that be referring to? What would allow you to be able to say that at the last? That's what you need to find and to do and to work hard at during this life—the only life you can be guaranteed you'll ever have.

>that continuing to live is an irrational exercise

You are right that this thought doesn't make sense. I have helped people before in ways I know made them very glad I was alive and there for them. I have, likewise, been helped, as well, by people—one person who wanted to commit suicide, believe it or not. But I was glad he was alive, as I was literally stranded in a blizzard in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere—locked out of my car with nobody around. He helped me get to safety, and in doing so shared a story about his family, expressing that he just wants to finish his life and end it all. But if not for him—I dread to think what could have happened to me that night. Suicide due to want of purpose is a sad and supreme waste of resources on a planet where every hand that helps can make a difference and can matter in ways we may never fully appreciate.

I'm glad you also have uplifting feelings. That's good news. I did a blog post that got some comments that relate a bit to what you're describing. Maybe reading what others had to say could help? You never know what will make an idea finally click in your head?


Again, it was mainly the comments I thought of when I read your letter, not necessarily the post itself.

I hope this helps.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Picking Up the Pieces

When I receive a communication like this one, I don't know whether to be happy or to cry. On the one hand, it's nice to be able to help someone. On the other hand, I'm sorry to have to help someone put their self-worth back together after it's been badly damaged so unnecessarily.

I received this note privately from someone on Facebook:

I watch AE on ustream and just wanted to say that something you said really helped me work through a few things :) Forgive me for being candid about the subject!

While not brought up in the Catholic faith I went to Catholic schools and have suffered problems relating to sex due to various things (minimal relationship advice from embarrassed parents, virtually no sex education from school other than in science lessons). I have been in emotionally abusive relationships since a very young age and was taught to feel nothing but guilt and shame about anything sexual. Being English (and from Yorkshire to boot), we just don't talk about those things with our parents.

Through my self-education over the past few years (and my interest in issues related to atheism) I have started to work through these things that have plagued me since I can remember. It really clicked for me however whilst watching you responding to a caller on one of the archived programmes a few days ago. You were explaining to the caller how we do not need saving from being human. You stated that seeing a person and thinking sexual thoughts is a normal state of being and entirely natural (even essential) to being human and why would we need saving from soemthing so inherant to us?

It sounds silly to say it now but I had never thought of it that way. I'd had so much misinfomation and guilt piled on me that I couldn't see the blindingly obvious.

I've been reading John Gray recently and this concept of the human as animal and natural is only just now sinking in (I don't agree with everything he says but that part got to me). It seems that you don't need faith to be still affected by some of the dogma!

I turn 30 next year and have had so many good relationships ruined by this, so many tears and recriminations that I can't explain it here. I can't even begin to think how much I have lost.

I'd been working towards it for a while but you really made it finally click with your matter-of-fact approach. I felt like "duuuuuuuh" when I realised the crap I put myself through! And it was totally unecessary! :D

So thank you. I managed to open so much of my life recently and this was one part of the puzzle that bound me to that old guilt.


All I can say to her is "you're welcome, and best of luck."

And all I can add for anyone else is "Don't tell me the average believer doesn't cause any harm."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Burning Korans, drawing Mohammed, avoiding hypocrisy, creative vs. destructive protests — religion just makes the whole frickin' world crazy!

There's a truth about the upcoming Koran cookout planned by Dove World Church and its grandstanding (and light-fingered) pastor Terry Jones: they have every right under the Constitution to do this thing. Are they a bunch of dicks who don't care about the potential devastating backlash of their actions as long as they get the publicity they crave? Yeah, I suppose they are.

Recently, atheists proudly participated in an online event called Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, which was as deliberate a middle finger to Islam as we could have thought up. Before that, PZ Myers famously threw a cracker in the trash, making him the bête noire of Catholics worldwide. (Though they conveniently forget that he also trashed a copy of The God Delusion at the same time.) As people who are not above acts of deliberate provocation ourselves — indeed, as people who are currently arguing amongst ourselves about the merits of "being a dick" in our encounters with religionists — it would hardly be honest of us to join the chorus of chest-beating outrage against Jones' church for the horrible offense of burning somebody's holy book. While most of us, I'm sure, take Fahrenheit 451 to heart and deplore book-burning on general principles as a disgraceful act of intellectual cowardice and the suppression of ideas, we should also acknowledge the legitimacy of the act as a form of protest speech. After all, I can't very well defend the rights of flag-burners while condemning a Koran-burner. Don't work dat way!

I suppose where the conversation ought to go from here for atheists is in whether or not Jones is motivated by a desire to conduct a legitimate form of protest, or if he's simply a crass political opportunist, playing into a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in order to increase his profile from "obscure pastor of an outcast hick church" to "internationally famous martyr and warrior for Christ". Well, what is legitimate protest in this context? Yes, radical Islamists brought down the World Trade Center. But all Muslims are not radical Islamists, and all Muslims did not partake in, let alone condone, the 9/11 attacks. So if Jones's idea is that he's protesting Islam for 9/11, he's clearly throwing his net way too wide. The thing is, I suppose he knows it, but doesn't care. He's getting the publicity he wants.

The potential for hypocrisy in criticizing the upcoming burning has been much on my mind, and I've been forced to think about the similarities and differences between what Jones is about to do, and, say, Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. And then I've been forced to question whether or not any of my ideas are simply bullshit justifications I've been making up to feel better. I don't think they are. But I do think it's a positive thing, overall, that I'm willing to be self-critical. This is an advantage the godless life offers, I think, over the brazen certainties of God-botherers like Jones, who confidently assert that God (i.e., their projection of themselves upon the universe) truly wants them to do what they're planning.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, for one thing, was on the whole a creative rather than destructive act of protest. It was a response, not only to the real Islamist violence and threats of violence that erupted in the wake of the publication of a few innocuous (and not especially good, when you think about it) cartoons, but to the arrogant assumption on the part of Islamists that non-Muslims were somehow obligated to follow Islam's rules. Also, at the end of the day, what you had were a bunch of silly cartoons. While there was a little huffing and puffing about EDMD, in the end, the message I think got across (to the general public, if not to radicals) that taking someone's life over a lame doodle was both insane and pitiful in equal measure. Lame doodles themselves can't possibly hurt a fly. EDMD might have offended some Muslims. But in the end, no one killed anyone.

Now, piling up a couple hundred copies of the Koran and torching them — that would be a destructive form of protest. Furthermore, it's hypocritical of Jones to justify it by condemning Islam as a hateful, intolerant religion, when he has a history of hate speech (against gays, the usual suspects) and intolerance. While I think Jones has the right to go through with his speech, I don't think his motives are honest. He's exactly what he condemns, except that his religious radicalism wears a cross rather than a crescent moon and star. (The atheists who took part in EDMD might condemn Islam and Islamist violence, but we'd never want to deprive Muslims of their right to worship, as many right-wingers do right now.)

Could this event trigger more terrorist attacks and counter-strikes against our troops overseas? Yeah, I suppose it could, though it isn't as if they needed more reasons to do that. But if Jones ends up giving them one, the first such attack will be all the vindication he needs. "See, we were right about how violent Islam is!" Not caring that, in this instance, he threw the first punch. Yeah, it's entirely valid to condemn radical Islamists for doing what they actually do, which is kill people who aren't sufficiently "respectful" to their beliefs. But you limit your condemnation to those individuals and groups who do the violence. As has been pointed out to an indifferent Jones, it's absurd and dishonest as hell for him to suggest that he's only protesting the violent Islamists, and that "moderate Muslims" ought to support him, when it's their holy book he's burning too.

In the end, I think what we as atheists should take away from all this insanity is a sobering realization that this is the kind of world you get when religion runs the show. Belief pits us against our fellow man for the most absurd of reasons: failure to worship the correct invisible magic man in the correct way. And for all that defenders bleat about the alleged benefits of religion — that sense of charity, well-being, love and community we are told believers enjoy better than any of the rest of us — they always leave out the part about religion's innate tribalism. Whatever benefits religious beliefs confer are only enjoyed by those within that particular belief community. If you're an outsider...run.

We rationalists can only hope humanity outgrows its penchant for religious tribalism one day, and that all these vile superstitions are eradicated from our cultural landscape completely. (Not through violence, of course, but through intellectual and moral awakening.) There really ought to only be one tribe — humanity.

But until then...yeah, go ahead, burn that Koran. Whatever. I'll be at home that day. Let me know when the smoke clears and it's safe to breathe free again.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Something to read with your Monday morning coffee

Everyone loves a good beatdown of those two adorable sad-sack clowns, Ray Cameron and Kirk Comfort. (Or is that the other way around? Oh, who cares!) And here, a fine young atheist writer named Nathan Dickey provides one for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.

Talking to Nathan on Facebook this morning, he brought up that he was inspired to take the opposite approach suggested by this post of mine from a year ago, in which I tried to encourage atheists simply to ignore Ray. My opinion then, which I still hold, is that the vast majority of what Ray says and does is every bit as much about self-promotion and aggrandizement as it is about evangelizing.

It's nothing but a publicity stunt when Ray and Kirk do things like publish their own version of Origin of Species, or "challenge" people like Richard Dawkins to a debate (simply so they can crow he must have chickened out when he refuses). And Ray's legendary dishonesty is so shameless in all of his dealings with atheists that for atheists to continue to seek engagements with him can only be seen as an act of futility. This is quite simply a man who cannot be trusted to show any degree of integrity whatsoever. He is a pathological liar, straight up, as we saw most recently in an exchange where Ray informed an atheist commenter to his blog that he would be delighted to phone in to AETV if we extended an invitation to him, as he did not want to invite himself. I immediately went to Ray's blog and posted an invitation. Ray replied by posting a link to his "interview request" form, which would seem bizarre, considering that I wasn't requesting an interview with him, only extending the invitation to call us that he had asked for. I say it would seem bizarre, until you realize that Ray is dishonest in every imaginable way. Then you realize this behavior is par for the course for him.

Weeks later, we were told by a reader that Ray was once again repeating the whole "Sure I'd love to call them, but they haven't invited me!" thing, which makes him nothing less than a blatant, bald-faced lying sack of shit. So in this regard, yes, I still say, atheists should ignore Ray, because he has demonstrated through his every behavior that honesty at even the most basic level is just not part of his playbook.

But then, to do as Nathan has done, and critique the content of Ray and Kirk's evangelism — well, that remains an entirely legitimate exercise in counter-apologetics. And a fun one too, as Ray and Kirk are without question the most laughable excuses for apologists alive — and when you consider the generally low intellectual level the bulk of religious apologetics is working in, that's really saying something. So keep tearing apart their silly books and websites and TV programs. As Nathan notes, beating down Ray and Kirk's drivel can be thought of as the training wheels for newbie atheists just learning to ride the counter-apologetics bike. It's good sport, and good practice.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Praise Jesus and pass the Pringles!

There is, I suppose, a certain breed of believer with whom there is no point in talking or engaging in any way. They just float around in Happyland with wide eyes and big smiles on their faces, impervious to any incursions by reality. Of course, they often feel compelled to contact us and share the "good news" of their delusions. Take this mail we got today (the rampant misspellings here can be attributed to ESL).

the one way to find out that God eksist, is to lay all your soul and heart to find him. and when you find him, you will see the world different, and see the truth.
but your an atheist so i know that you never will see the world through a different perspektive.

thats the way to find god

Ooo, got us on the ropes there. You may wonder why, since folks like this seem convinced that we're unwilling to see the world through a "different perspektive," they even bother to write us at all, but it's easy to understand when you realize that remarks like this are the defense mechanism of a believer who wants to pat himself on the back for doing his bit to "witness" to the godless while at the same time preemptively shielding himself from any responses he lacks the intellectual muscle to understand or rebut.

So occasionally, I think it'll be fun to reply to one of these, and I do.

It always amuses us when believers write to us to tell us we "will never see the world through a different perspective," because it means they clearly haven't figured out that most of us came from a religious upbringing. Furthermore, in our experience, it is almost always believers who refuse to see the world through any "perspective" that isn't centered on their God. When they accuse of this, it is something psychologists call "projection".

We are perfectly happy to look at other perspectives, but — and here is the important part — they must be rational perspectives, rooted in evidence. The problem with the advice you give us for "finding God" is that it is not rational. You are basically saying, "If you decide you want to believe in God, you will." But this is obvious. Anyone can fool themselves into believing whatever they wish if they are being irrational. They may even say they believe in things they really don't, simply for social acceptance, and they lose the ability to know what it is they really believe and what they don't.

To understand why your advice to us is irrational, watch as I take the exact sentence you wrote, and replace the word "God" with a number of other mythical beings. You will notice the advice works just as well for each one.

"the one way to find out that Zeus eksist, is to lay all your soul and heart to find him. and when you find him, you will see the world different, and see the truth."

"the one way to find out that Shiva eksist, is to lay all your soul and heart to find him. and when you find him, you will see the world different, and see the truth."

"the one way to find out that The Great Pumpkin eksist, is to lay all your soul and heart to find him. and when you find him, you will see the world different, and see the truth."

"the one way to find out that Sparkles, the Magic Fairy Unicorn eksist, is to lay all your soul and heart to find him. and when you find him, you will see the world different, and see the truth."

You see, it is all exactly the same. So, assuming you do not believe in Zeus or Sparkles the Unicorn, I hope you understand how this can hardly be good advice for distinguishing what's true from what's false.

The simple fact is that your beliefs, and the way you think people should decide what to believe in, are irrational. And you do not even respect the claims of your own religious beliefs as much as we do, because you are simply willing to accept them with a bare minimum of serious thought, while we insist on giving them very serious thought indeed.

So, do you think any of that sank in at all? Do you think the guy even heard a word I said? Let's check his reply...

hello again i will thank you for your answer:-)

Its important to see from your perspective also
because not every human do not see the world like i do.

i will not try to make you beliving, but if you change your mind somtimes God is always there. and i will say you that Love of God is bigger then you can imagine.;-)

(ps. love is the answer to all the mysteris in the bible. and its the only place evil can not find)

Thank you fore reading:-):-)
:-)God is Love:-)

Aw, isn't that sweet. All those smileyfaces. It's like he really wanted to drive home how completely unencumbered by actual brain activity his empty little head is, bless him.

Of course, he gave no indication he saw my perspective, or that he ever had any intention of doing so, or would know how to even if he did want to. He gives no indication that he engages in the trying task of thinking at all, at any time, about any subject, including his religion, which he simply allows himself to bask in the emotional euphoria of like someone who's just fired up an especially awesome blunt. Religion is indeed the opiate — or THC — of the masses, everyone, and it comes in dime bags. I'm guessing our correspondent has the munchies something fierce.

Friday, September 03, 2010

An unsolicited chat about Pascal's Wager.

Out of nowhere just now, I received a message on Gmail:

12:40 PM some guy [screen name withheld]: So you're an atheist?

Naturally I thought, "So who the heck is this guy and why is he pestering me?" Searching through my email , I found a long exchange with a Muslim, which I eventually got sick of. I even posted about it here, here and here.

12:41 PM me: We had a ten email long exchange about this already.
12:42 PM I posted it on the Atheist Experience blog and linked you to it.
12:44 PM Muslim apologist: ah thats right
12:45 PM Why don't you take advantage of Pascal's wager?

Now I had to think real hard about whether to just hit the "block" button, because I don't really want to be hassled at work by some random Muslim apologist. But then I thought about things I might say, and I was inspired. Here is the rest of that exchange.

me: Ah, you mean become a Christian.
12:46 PM apologist: Christian Muslim, Jewish, same god
so ya sure
me: Really? Because a lot of Christians believe that Muslims will go to hell.
So why don't you take advantage of Pascal's wager? Aren't you afraid of Christian hell?
apologist: So do we, I believe alot of muslims are going to hell too
12:47 PM me: So you're not afraid of Christian hell then.
apologist: of course not. Christians believe those that did wrong will go to hell
me: No.
Christians believe those that don't accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior will go to hell.
Do you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?
12:48 PM apologist: You mean Jesus Christ as in God?
We believe in Jesus Christ
me: Yes, but do you accept that he died for your sins, and have you pledged to let him into your heart specifically?
12:49 PM apologist: We believe he never died...
me: You don't believe that he died for your sins and then rose from the dead?
Bad news, man. According to the Christian religion, you are doomed to hellfire.
12:50 PM It doesn't matter if you're a good person or not. All people who die without accepting salvation go to Christian hell.
Why don't you accept Pascal's wager?
apologist: No we believe Jesus is going to come back to earth
12:51 PM me: Then you are a heretic in the eyes of the Christian god, and you deserve eternal torment.
12:52 PM apologist: Accept christian religion was changed over years so you don't know exactly if thats true or not.
me: I certainly do not know that, but it MIGHT be true.
And even if there is a small chance, then can you afford to take the risk?
I don't understand why you would risk hellfire over the possibility that you are wrong.
12:53 PM apologist: Well no you see, if the Christian religion was not changed and remained in tact from when Jesus first revealed it then it would be exact similiar to the quran
me: That's your belief. It's your business if you want to risk your eternal soul over something when you might be wrong.
12:54 PM Hey, I'm just doing what you asked and taking Pascal's Wager seriously, you know?
Pascal was a Catholic. You're not Catholic. Do you think Pascal thought Muslims would go to heaven?
apologist: Why would I take pascal's theory. Whether I believe in Christianity, Judaism or Islam I am believing that god exists
12:55 PM Christianity and Judaism is just like Islam except for the change documents
only difference is Islam is unchanged
12:57 PM Its just obsurd to think that something came out of nothing
me: Oh I see. So you think there is evidence to support your religion.
So actually Pascal's Wager means nothing to you at all.
If it did, you'd accept Jesus as your savior.
12:58 PM Why did you bring it up then?
apologist: Jesus himself never died he was replaced by someone else on the cross which latter Christians failed to believe
Islam address this in the quran
me: So you don't believe Pascal's wager?
A simple yes or no will do.
apologist: Why would I?
12:59 PM I am in the right religion already
me: then now you know why I don't believe it, and I have answered your question ;)

Then I blocked him.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

We'd like to thank the academy...

Hey, gang, remember that one time when we asked you to go vote for us as best access TV show in the Austin Chronicle? Well, thanks very much for your votes... WE WON!

Got a nice blurb, too:

This international public access show includes debates about religious philosophy while promoting a positive education on atheism. Some of our town's most delightful free thinkers, including Hepcats author Martin Wagner, computer scientist Don Baker, and aerospace engineer Jen Peeples, host this tasteful approach to lively, interactive conversations with viewers of various beliefs.

Oh my gosh, so many people to thank, if we can just stop crying long enough to put on our tiara.

Congratulations also to our good friends at the Texas Freedom Network, who walked away with "Best Activist Organization."

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Flowchart: Does God send people to hell?

Alert viewer Robert K. was inspired to create this flow chart based on Matt and Jeff's dialogue with Denise.

The only part that I would object to, a bit, is that it implies that the caller should not be taken seriously if he or she supplies a "wrong answer" to the early questions about what God is actually like. This implies that there is an actual "right answer" to questions like "Did God create hell?"

Of course, the way I see it, the actual right answer is "Of course not, because there is no God." But even for a believer, there's no compelling reason why their answers must conform to anything other people believe, or even the Bible. See, that's the benefit of belief systems that are just made up. Even if they are internally consistent, there's no chance that you can ever be proven wrong. Even if you are, in fact, wrong.