Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The unofficial Atheist Experience response to Zeitgeist

So many people email us asking if we have seen the online movie "Zeitgeist" that we've had to come up with a stock response to people so that we don't have to keep explaining why it sucks so much.

Matt has been sending this response to emailers, and I have gotten his permission to repost it here on the blog.

Thanks for writing! Most of us have seen Zeitgeist and we've commented about it numerous times on both shows. I've actually watched it several times, and if others hadn't already done a brilliant job of debunking the nonsense in that film, I'd probably devote more time to doing exactly that.

The first third of the film is an unscholarly, sophomoric, horribly flawed, over-simplification that tries to portray Christianity as nothing more than the next incarnation of the astrologically themed religions that preceded it. Like all conspiracy theories, they combine a few facts, focus on correlations and build an intriguing story that seems to fit the pieces together nicely - provided you don't actually dig below the surface to find out where they might have gone wrong.

The second third of the film is full-on conspiracy theory nonsense that is a virtual cut-and-paste from the "Loose Change" 9/11 conspiracy video. The flaws in this portion have been expertly addressed on numerous websites, video responses and investigated not just by responsible publications like Scientific American but also thoroughly debunked by peer-reviewed science. There is no reliable evidence to support the fascinating fairy-tale they weave. Again, like all conspiracy theories, a few facts a compelling story and as long as you don't look behind the curtain, it can be fairly convincing.

The final third of the film is complete bullshit. The claims that taxes are illegal and that one doesn't have to pay taxes have been bandied about for years - and they've been tested in the courts. Anyone willing to actually refuse to pay their taxes based on the information in this film is likely to find themselves in a court room appearing very foolish as mountains of case law and precedent demonstrate the absurdity of their claim.

Zeitgeist is perhaps one of the most damaging films I've ever seen, because people who don't exercise proper skepticism buy into a flawed story and then repeat it. They may convince other folks, and what we'll end up with are a bunch of people who reject Christianity, for example, for very bad reasons - and the minute they come face to face with someone who can defend Christianity from these easily dismissed claims, they're likely to not simply be convinced they were wrong but also convinced that Christianity is therefore true (after all, we're talking about folks who weren't bothered to investigate the truth in the first place).

There are some facts in the film, but it's not particularly difficult to take a few facts, spin a clever story and make a very convincing case for something, despite having no rational, evidence-based justification for their beliefs.

I'd highly recommend you spend time looking around for websites and videos that offer rebuttals to the information in Zeitgeist. You might find that it's far less impressive than you originally thought.

To Matt's very thorough answer, I will add some links of my own.
  • This is an episode of the TV show that Matt and I did on conspiracy theories. While it is not about Zeitgeist in particular or even any 9/11 conspiracy, we touch on similar issues that are obviously intended to apply.
  • This is a blog post I wrote earlier describing my general reaction to the so-called "9/11 truth" movement.
  • This web site is a very thorough response to most of the various claims of the "9/11 truth" movement.
  • Everything you could possibly want to know about the ridiculous notion that you don't have to pay taxes is here. And here. And also here.
  • Updated, 6/24/09: A full critical analysis of the movie as a whole is here.
Future questions about Zeitgeist or any individual component of the claims in Zeitgeist will be directed to this post.


  1. In fairness, my response doesn't contain any hard facts to counter the claims of Zeitgeist. It was written quickly, out of frustration about constantly being asked about this film.

    If there weren't already a ton of responses to the points in the film, I'd probably have given it the wiki-treatment that I gave to the 'Way of the Master' episodes...and I still might, but it's really low on the priority list.

  2. I completely agree with you. When I watched the first third of it, I immediately recognized that it was based on the work of Acharya S. which had been thoroughly debunked over on the JREF forums.

    I couldn't make it halfway through the second third before I had to stop it to prevent brain damage (The Stupid: It Burns!)

    I fast-forwarded to the third part and lasted all of 5-10 minutes before getting fed up with that bullshit too. Just like the second part, I recognized the familiar conspiracist crap.

    Your letter succinctly outlines many of my own objections to that POS movie.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. For those of you who are gluttons for punishment, there is also Zeitgeist: Addendum. I warn you though -- it's two hours of your life that you'll never get back.

    Unfortunately this means that the Atheist Experience folks can expect to get calls and emails about this additional pile of (mostly) garbage, if it hasn't happened already.

  5. For once we agree. I only watched the first 30 minutes of it, upon request from someone, and thought it was one of the most pathetic mishmashes of crap, garbage, and non sequiturs I'd ever seen.

  6. I want to thank you, AE, for making me realise something about myself. Like the religious types I disdain for their beliefs, I too can be a credulous fool.

    I was taken in by Zeitgeist because it seemed to match so many of my ideas and tickled the "I'm-so-clever-because-I-know-something-you-don't" part of me.

    So it's back to the drawing board with my scepticism, and thank you once again.

  7. I'm a christian and an atheist told me to watch this movie as proof that christianity is false. I had to laugh though when I saw the portion that said that the government was behind 911. Not that the government can't take some responsibility for bad choices before and after 911, but I had a problem believing any of it.

  8. I can forgive poor religious scholarship. (Is Religious-Scholarship an oxymoron?) I can laugh at wild conspiracy theories. However as specialist in financial risk, the Zeitgeist account of banking and credit creation was truly offensive to the intelligence. In Banking and Finance there are verifiable facts in the form of Laws, financial regulations, regulatory returns to government agencies and accounting records. These tell a much more complex and plausible story that the Zeitgeist producers didn't seem to have bothered with.

  9. Matt D. is right, his response doesn't contain ANY hard facts to counter the claims of Zeitgeist. That PaulLawleyJones still changed his mind about the movie is very telling... Scepticism, my butt. :P
    Matt D. says how frustrated he is about the flood of emails concerning the movie but it's still "really low on his priority list"?? Kind of contradictory...

  10. Ah, Bungle, did you miss the links provided? There are several links to factual refutations of the shit that is Zeitgeist contained in the original post.

  11. this blog is fine and all but what about the second movie have you seen it?

  12. Until I discovered the Atheist experience I followed the Zeitgeist Movement exclusively when researching what I could to make sense out of the world. Anyhoo I think too that the first movie is very sophomore too but I accept it with a grain of salt and don't promote it. The 2nd film I feel differently about. In particular the Venus Project. To me it would seem to be an Atheist dream just for the fact that the scientific method would be driving culture holistically and not religious assumptions and age old laws dealing with pre industrial minds.
    Never the less the information brought by both the Zeitgeist movement as well as the Atheist Experience are tall glasses if not a swimming pools of water to drink. I have found myself locked into many many many books to try and even get a basic grasp on why our cultures operate the way it does. I find the science behind the mind fascinating. It might have answers to the questions of where we came from and were are we going in respects to the decisions we make. I think that our mind alone does not create reality it only exists in it.
    I hope Matt does take the time to address Zeitgeist properly with proper evidence and reason. It is a bit frustrating to read the vagueness of his critique for it has the tone of "Zeitgeist is crap cuz I says it is crap. Here are a couple of links that agree with me". It would have been better to either have kept it similar for example. "I disagree with the film but don't wish to address it further until I have time or the will to debunk it" or actually take the time to debunk it on the same level as you would and religion or other skeptical worthy claim. I can see a greater spread of Atheism within the members of the Zeitgeist Movement. That could promote the atheist cause and secondly I think it would hold the director, producer and writers feet Peter Joseph to the fire and force a correction to either side of the claims.

  13. I listen to the latest show as of now Oct 24th 2010. I was a bit more understanding and Matt along with Martin made himself more clear on his stance with what institutes a conspiracy and how they handle issues of the grey areas of 911. As I see why you both disagree with the Zeitgeists first film being unscholarly I was glad to see one of the callers pointed out you did agree with notion that other previous religions had shared elements as the Christian story/myth.
    Me aligning myself with some of the ideas of Jacque Fresco and Peter Joseph when it comes to the future of technology, market, and the healthy application of the scientific method on social reform it is frustrating to hear what seamed to me the baby with the bath water. I know issues have been brought up on episodes, one being with AronRa as a guest, of not pushing away potential people who may eventually support the ACA point of view. I being one of them. I see Atheism in practice as a better mind set in creating a better tomorrow because it gives the tool to allow a person to make better decisions using skepticism and the scientific method. This I hopes if grows momentum and will help cause the much needed reform to western culture.
    Thanks for the show!

  14. @jfdoser I agree with you on TVP, Jacque Fresco, etc.
    I support TVP and an RBE, discussing technology, the monetary system, and so on (applications of science to society in general).
    The Atheist Experience likely don't know about this, and their critique in on Zeitgeist: the Movie. The Zeitgeist Movement is not based on it, nor technically based on Addendum, though Addendum discusses a Resource Based Economy and Fresco's ideas so there are overlaps.

    However, TZM is not based upon Zeitgeist: the Movie. Some members are Christians, others, like myself, do not ascribe to the 9/11 ideas many put forth. TZM has precisely zero to do with that.

    I do warn you though, that the Atheist Experience may not be the right forum for this. They are about religion. A Resource Based Economy and it's related ideas are not within their theme. Furthermore, it is likely they would not be very interested, and after some consideration, I think it would not benefit from this, since they would most likely conflate it with Zeitgeist: the Movie and remain uninformed on an issue that has nothing to do with religion anyway.

    I responded to them on this on another blog.

    The Atheist Experience should stick to religion. That's what it's supposed to do. If you write to them about TZM, they will assume you're talking about the movie and switch off. They will also wonder why a person needs their validation. And they'd be right.

  15. I agree that Zeitgeist is a conspiracy theory. However, I do not understand why anyone has to accept what the Bush regime told us about 9/11.

    You do not have to believe in a conspiracy theory to not believe that 9/11 was an act perpetrated by Arabs or Muslims.

    I am sorry, but one can disbelieve in the government endorsed theory and at the same time reject the conspiracy theories.

    However, it is not illogical or irrational to question what the Bush regime called "reliable intelligence".

  16. I can agree with you on some of the 9-11 claims and conspiracies regarding Zeitgeist parts 2, 3 & addendum but, I cannot agree with hardly anything you've said about ZG part 1. I've done my own research long before the Zeitgeist movie was ever heard of and your claims are wrong - embarrassingly wrong and you're embarrassing all atheists by repeating the nonsense I've seen in your youtube video #634. The comments there by 'Hercules2345' proved that.

    I notice that most here at the atheist experience consistently commit the fallacy of 'guilt by association' by conflating part 1/Acharya S with everything else. Acharya S had nothing to do with parts 2 or 3. She has consistently substantiated part 1 when it has come from her own work and I've yet to see anyone here go to her website or videos or forum or read any of her books or even make any attempt to contact her at all. So, the anti-Acharya S position here is about as intellectually dishonest as it gets. As an atheist, I find your website & videos regarding ZG1 & Acharya S a monumental disappointment that isn't any better than fundy Xians. Take that as constructive criticism.

    If you have any interest in being honest invite her on your show via the phone or something but, it would be wise if you knew her work first or you will look like a dumb-ass. Or do a show on her mythicist position.

    Read Acharya's Frequently Asked Questions at her Freethought Nation forum.

    Read this FAQ & you'll see why atheists should not be SMEARING her: Do atheists disagree with Acharya's basic premise?

    Search for the "Zeitgeist Part 1 & the Supportive Evidence" thread and the post "The New ZEITGEIST Part 1 Sourcebook (2010)"


  17. This thread pretty much sums it up:

    Another Nasty "Atheist Experience"
    freethoughtnation. com /forums/viewtopic. php?p=22233#p22233

  18. I basically agree with Vincent.

    I've been a fan of AE for a while and I love most of your content. However, I do think you could help the zeitgeist followers by having a good debunking of the movies.

    Maybe have one video and or paper that can be peer reviewed. I have seen all the movies and I also agree that there is a lot of nonsense. However there are some of the ideas that have some merit.

    I would like to see what in that movie is false and what is true(apart from what I already know). You may convince people that if some of it is false then all of it when that is not the case. That wouldn't make you must better than the conspiracy theorists. When he talks about the federal reserve and money creation he's right when it comes to the some of the facts, but there still is a lot of conspiracy.

    Basically don't through out the cellphone because the battery is broken, or possible visa versa. But that could be a decent perfectly good battery! How far could I go with this metaphor? I digress...

    Hell, maybe you could talk to their head guy, Peter Joseph, if at least just for comedy and to publicly embarrass him to show his followers that he is wrong and where so. If he stands for what he says he does, he would not mind evaluation.

    I saw there last movie the made, it just came out a few days ago, and it seems that he is taking criticism because he has removed a lot of the conspiracy nonsense.

    I also just would recommend to watch it if just to see the part on 3D printing in zeitgeist moving forward! If you don't agree that with everything else they say, you can at least agree that 3D printing, especially when it comes to construction, is really fascinating.

    I've been working at my skepticism and reasoning but I still make errors. If I got anything wrong or if my logic is off, please tell me!

    I basically agree with Vincent.

    [>insert generic hyper enthusiastic mega fan comment here<]

    Fun fact: Peter Joseph, creator of Zeitgeist, seemed a little embarrassed by his first movie in a recent interview I saw when he was talking about his new movie when it was brought up.


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