Thursday, December 31, 2009

At least he isn't telling everyone God will call him home

Oh noes. Now it's Rick Warren who needs money for his ministry. Like, 900 large. And he needs it by, oh, tomorrow.

Warren said the church managed to stay within its budget, but "the bottom dropped out" when Christmas donations dropped. "On the last weekend of 2009, our total offerings were less than half of what we normally receive — leaving us $900,000 in the red for the year," the letter reads....

Warren's appeal presents an opportunity for those who haven't been hit by the recession to step up and help, Ross said.

I got the impression Warren himself hasn't been hit especially hard by the recession. I bet some of his royalties from The Purpose Driven Life would cover that shortfall pretty handily.

One day to go... the lousiest decade in living memory. It can't end too soon. Sure, we had all sorts of things to be happy about. For one thing I think the 'aughties will become known as the era personal tech came into its own: laptops, iPhones, Blackberries, and more keeping us connected to the world at large wherever we are and giving us huge leeway in personalizing the experience. But does that make up for eight nightmare years of misrule that sped us down the path to global economic collapse? Not quite. Let us hope the 'teens will be a time of prosperity. Kind of like the '90s. You know, we may have had a philandering dolt with dubious taste in interns as president and a pronounced gift for acting even dumber than Tiger Woods in the aftermath. But at least we wrapped up the decade with a nice fat budget surplus. And the music was better then too.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Should we believe what we can't disprove?

We received a letter from a viewer asking about how some theists interpret evidence. In his view, it appeared some people don’t care about evidence, and I agree. I also note that this is nothing limited to theists. But in my reply, I noted that it’s important to know whether someone cares about evidence before you expend too much time correcting factual or informational errors presented to you by the other party. In his last reply, he added this:

"The question to ask the faithful is, how would you distinguish the difference between faith in something true and faith in something false without evidence?"

This reminded me of the question I have often asked, "How does a theist know the god he believes in is moral, if he asserts that humans are not able to judge his god’s actions when they appear to be wrong?"

But it also put me in mind of a recent conversation I had over the holiday. A theist asserted that it's not reasonable for people to assert there is/is no god, since there's no way to prove or disprove it. It’s an old, tired, and well-rebutted refrain, but, somehow, it never seems to lose steam. The interesting thing about this particular exchange is that the theist rebutted herself in short order.

I replied, "Of course we can prove if a thing exists. It's like Big Foot. First we have to have a clear definition of what it is we are claiming exists: a great ape. Then we define how it manifests—in this case, where this thing can be discovered: North American woodlands. Then we go looking for a great ape in the North American woodlands. If it's there, eventually the evidence to demonstrate it exists should become available—and when it does, we can say it exists.”

To this she replied, "But what if you don't find any evidence?"

To which I replied, "Well, then I would wonder why these people were asserting that a great ape lives in the North American woodlands."

And here is where it got interesting. AE viewers will understand, probably, my take on Big Foot. You will grasp that my question was along the lines of the Dragon in my Garage: Without any manifestation—there is no rational reason for someone to assert something is there.

However, this theist took it as a statement of my own assertion that I accept something must be there, otherwise, people wouldn't have asserted there was something there. She thought I was presenting the theist fallacy, the argument from popularity. "If lots of people assert it is true, it must be true."

But her reply was priceless: "Well, in ancient Greece, there were lots of things people claimed lived in the world that I'm pretty sure don't exist." And "pretty sure" was put forward with a chuckle—in the same way we might assert we’re pretty sure that W.C. Fields wouldn’t turn down a drink. It was a positive statement that "people assert all sorts of nonexistent things exist—like satyrs, winged-horses, and wood nymphs of the ancient Greeks."

Of course, the beauty of this is that she just asserted that she accepts these things don't exist—despite the fact that nobody has ever "proved" they don't exist. And wasn't her initial statement that this was an ignorant position for someone to hold?

To frame it in terms of the initial query from the viewer mail: "How does this theist distinguish between the thing that doesn't exist and the thing that exists but manifests in exactly the same way as the thing that doesn't exist?" Obviously, she feels confident she has reasonable basis upon which to reject some of these claims of existence of supernatural beings, while she accepts other such claims—but, without being able to "disprove" either, how does she differentiate? And further, why would she criticize the atheist for a more consistent application of a standard she clearly uses herself: In the absence of a conclusive demonstration of existence, it's reasonable to dismiss inconclusive evidence and unsupported claims, and assert your disbelief (of Greek supernatural beings)—even if you can't or haven't "disproved" the claim.

I wish I would have thought more quickly. This particular theist doesn’t believe in the existence of ghosts. Ghosts would have been far more appropriate to the dialogue in this case, as it is something far more people believe in than Big Foot, and for which much “evidence” and “testimony” is, and has been, presented from eye-witnesses and "researchers" in paranormal fields. And yet, she has asserted to me on numerous occasions that she understands such things do not exist.

I still don't know how she differentiates.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A very special person was born on this day!

Yes, gang, today is Isaac Newton's 367th birthday! Celebrate by eating 367 apples.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Somehow, the logic of this escapes me

Found on Facebook, with editorial commentary by yours truly.

Also, I wasn't aware inventions could be homosexual. Probably explains that alluring rattle my space heater makes.

Addendum: Okay, everyone's pointed out what I was hoping was the case: that this was some kind of epic Poe-ing. Still, that's the whole point of Poe's Law: that it should not be especially surprising to find people out there in the world calling for the destruction of computers by holding up signs that have a URL on them. This is exactly the sort of hilarity you'd expect to see coming from the Westboro crowd with no irony whatsoever.

Logic: ur doin it rong!

A crystalline example of whatever it is that goes on between a fundamentalist's ears that passes for thinking can be seen in this whiny little editorial in the Columbia County News-Times. This would be in Georgia, which would be in the deep south, which would explain much. Anyway, the point Will Fischer desperately tries to convince us of is that if people stop saying "Merry Christmas" in favor of all those "politically correct" holiday greetings, then — all together now, boys and girls, "Slippery slope fallacy!" — Christians will "lose their freedom to practice their religion," apparently. Uh-huh. Oh, and there's this rather surreal example of analogy fail:

Just imagine what would happen if you decided to say something nice to everyone that you meet such as, "I admire you because you are such a gay person." Look out; you might not like their response. Why? Because we have changed a word's original meaning over time to mean something else. By not saying "Merry Christmas," we are doing the same thing.

I'll take "Dumbest Argument Made by Someone Not Named Ray Comfort" for $1000, Alex.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Constitutes Contradiction?

I was hanging out over at Austin Cline’s place online when I came across a comment in the blog section from a theist who offered this, “Similar to political writers of today, I believe the authors of Matthew and Luke put a ‘spin’ on their accounts that would best appeal to their intended audiences.”

The context was one that all of us ex-fundamentalists will be familiar with: how to handle Biblical contradictions. This particular Rabbit Hole is one of those rides where I just have to come right out and declare, “If you haven’t experienced it—you just can’t know what you’re missing.”

The Problem
The Bible tells a story in one place. Then in another place, it retells or references the same story. This story might appear in more than two locations, but the idea is that unbelievers will claim the story contradicts from one telling to the next. As faithful fundamentalists, however, we weren’t allowed to believe the Bible contradicts, so we had to offer an explanation for these events.

The Solution
The explanation offered is the one you see above. In fact, when I was in church, it was explained thus: “Suppose you were on a street corner, and you observed an accident. Well, when the police take your statement, it will be very different than the statement of, say, one of the drivers involved in the accident.” So, I might say “the red car ran the light and hit the white car,” but the driver of the white car will say, “the red car came straight at me,” and so it goes. It’s the same story—but the different vantage points mean we get varying descriptions of it. You might also be familiar with the analogy of the five blind men and the elephant—all describing different parts of the same animal—while none of them sound like they’re talking about the same thing at all.

It is a reasonable explanation for why two stories may sound different, when, in fact, they’re the same. I would expect vantage point to play a role in relating almost any event. But it is also reasonable to recognize that at a certain point, a difference in the story can present an irreconcilable contradiction. So, if a red van and a white truck collide, and I describe a black convertible and a white van colliding, something is amiss, and “vantage point” can’t really fix this level of contradiction.

Surely if such contradictions did exist—errors so blaringly obvious nobody could miss them—Christians would be aware. Fundamentalists memorize Bible passages for fun, for goodness’ sake. Unless it were some really minor issue tucked away in some remote corner of some irrelevant passage—they’d have discovered it by now, surely?

I can see how a person not raised as a fundamentalist might think this would have to be the case. But let me share a secret: Fundamentalists, for the most part, don’t ever do side-by-side readings of their texts. When they read about Jesus’ birth or resurrection, they read from one story at a time. They don’t take Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and read them in a parallel fashion. But let me tell you, the first time I did this, my fundy head blew clean off. It didn’t blow so much as a result of finding a contradiction, as it did the reality that I was thoroughly familiar with these verses, but I had never noticed any discrepancies in them at all. It had never occurred to me to even try to read the stories side-by-side to see if they aligned. And it wasn’t that I didn’t perceive these passages as contradictory once I read them—it was that I didn’t ever notice these discrepancies were even in there—after years of Bible reading and Bible studies.

It was epiphanies like this that really drove me the hardest during my years of deconversion. It was the many times I recognized I’d been trained not to think and not to question. I recognized I was wearing blinders, I had no idea were ever put on me. I don’t pretend that no Christian has seen what I’m about to show you. And I don’t pretend no Christian—even ardent literalists—offer no explanations for what you’re about to read. But I will tell you that this is one of those things that most lay Christians—however carefully they read or scrutinize their Bibles—don’t know is in their Bibles.

What is the crux of the Christian religion? Upon what does their specific sales pitch hinge? The Resurrection. This is the single most significant event in the evolution of Christianity. It is their sign of assurance of an afterlife, the means of man's redemption and reconciliation with god, and the main and most important signal that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God. And I guarantee you that nearly every theist you will ever meet has not done what you’re about to do in this post: Read the Resurrection tales side by side.

Don’t groan—they’re surprisingly short stories. But I invite anyone who has never done this—atheist or theist—to take a moment and do it. And I’m putting the tales right here, to make it easy for even the laziest minds. I’m not going to offer up any personal critique or assessment of what follows. I’m not going to tell you what problems I think exist in these texts. You read them. You be the judge. You decide.

All I Ask:
Before you rush to look up the apologetic that will somehow attempt to reconcile what I’m presenting below, read the passages for yourself and then honestly answer this simple, single question: “If four different people told me the same stories I just read—and I didn’t already believe these stories can’t contradict—would I consider them contradictory?”

And we’re off…

Luke 24:1-10
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.

Mark 16:1-8
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.″Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Matthew 28:1-10
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

John 20:1-16
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

Make up your own mind.

Your Tuesday afternoon chillout. You're welcome.

Nothing to gripe about this morning, so enjoy this lovely (and admirably titled) track, "Abiogenesis," from Carbon Based Lifeforms. And yes, if you like the sound of this, you should absolutely buy the album.

Okay, I didn't see this coming

Everybody catch the news about Mexico City legalizing gay marriage? That kind of got slipped over the transom, didn't it? And it's interesting that the vote wasn't even close in that ever-so-Catholic country: 39-20 in favor with five abstentions. It'll be even more interesting to follow the reactions and ramifications of this. Cue indignant spluttering from the Vatican in 3...2...1...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It looks like moderation will be on indefinitely

Not only is Markuze still lurking around with his childish hit-'n-run poo-flinging, but tonight, for the very first time, I popped a bit of Asian porn spam, of all the lame things. Cripes. It remains to be seen if that turns into a growing trend. In the meantime, just remember you all can keep the comments lively as you always do, and yours will get approved in fairly short order if you don't see it appear right away.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sumerians Look On In Confusion As Christian God Creates World

Apparently, God creating the world 6,000 years ago was a big surprise to the ancient civilizations who were already living on it. Or so reports the Onion.

"I do not understand," reads an ancient line of pictographs depicting the sun, the moon, water, and a Sumerian who appears to be scratching his head. "A booming voice is saying, 'Let there be light,' but there is already light. It is saying, 'Let the earth bring forth grass,' but I am already standing on grass."

"Everything is here already," the pictograph continues. "We do not need more stars."

6,753 douchebags: a post in which I swear a lot, even in Finnish

That is the number, as of this posting, of the people who have actually voted "yes" to the current CNN online poll question: Should information about women who get abortions be posted online? Fortunately, they are in the vast minority on this one. As much as America has been slouching toward lunacy in the past eight years, at least most people have an appropriate sense of clarity on something this deranged. Still, that's a lot of fucking douchebags!

In case some of you are wondering with slack-jawed horror what might have prompted this poll question in the first place: yes, it's true. The great state of Oklahoma — home of Silly Sally Kern (read up on her by doing a search over at Abbie's); the state where they were so offended by Richard Dawkins' speaking tour that the legislature introduced a resolution telling everyone how offended they were, as they'd already eradicated all crime and poverty in the state and therefore had plenty of downtime that week — yes, Oohhhhhklahoma wants to pass a law...

that will post information online about women who get abortions in the state -- an act critics say would be harassment and an invasion of privacy....

"We're not trying to embarrass anybody, hurt anybody or make anybody's identities known. That's not the purpose of the legislation," the Republican lawmaker says.
"We want to collect hard data that can be a useful tool in helping prevent future unwanted pregnancies."

You know, I was going to call this bullshit, that being what it is and all, but it occurred to me that mere English profanities were not sufficient to convey the totality of the bullshittery on offer here. So I did a little Googling and discovered that "bullshit" in Finnish, which is a lovely lyrical language, is ja vitut! Nice! Just kind of rolls off the tongue. So having logged "bullshit" in my multiculti swearing lexicon I began a desperate search for "motherfucker," but the best I could come up with was runkkari, which evidently only translates to "wanker" but which I'm also assured is "extremely offensive." Great, I'm sold! Now, setting aside the fact I know bugger-all (see, I can do it in Cockney too!) about proper tenses and grammar and such in Finnish, I'm just going to cobble the thing together and proudly announce that I've come up with exactly the thing to say to any right-wing runkkari who tries to tell me that their new "harass teh wimminz" law is all in the interests of looking out for their delicate well being. Ja vitut, runkkari!

(And I'm not kidding about the lyrical qualities of Finnish profanity, people. Wikipedia helpfully informs me of the magnificent phrase Vittujen kevät ja kyrpien takatalvi!, "paraphrased, 'Oh fucking shit!' or literally 'The spring of cunts and the late winter of dicks!'" That simply leaves me reeling in awe. It's like the kind of album title you'd get if Marilyn Manson ever went emo.)

I mean, I could tell these idiots how to prevent future unwanted pregnancies. Just drop millions of free condoms from low flying airplanes! Or just pass some kind of comprehensive sex education to inform all those poor redneck kids of yours that inserting Knob A in Hole B usually results in Lump C unless sensible precautions are taken. This suggestion perhaps unfairly assumes a measurable percentage of Oklahomans are sensible, but please, won't someone think of the children!? Anyway, there are any number of easily-implemented ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies if that's what they really wanted to do up there, so if you try to tell me you're taking down women's private information and posting it on the goddamn Internet, for chrissakes, in order to help these women, then you're just olla naama norsun vitulla. (Yeah, look that one up, kids. Har!)

So the wingers are of course trying to lie about their real motives, which is to frighten women out of exercising their reproductive rights entirely, and claim that...

The measure specifies women's identities will be protected. "Nothing in the Individual Abortion Form shall contain the name, address or information specifically identifying any patient," it says. "Nobody's identity will be made known," Lamb says.

Which naturally prompts the question of why do it at all then? What exact scientific information that is helpful to anyone will be gleaned from looking at a bunch of questionnaires and determining, "Well, X thousand women had abortions last year, and of those, 25% were due to health dangers, 10% were due to interfering with their lifestyles, 20% were due to being raped by their dads in the back of the singlewide when ma's off doing church bingo, and the rest were due to the women realizing their kids would grow up to be dumbfuck rednecks from Oklahoma and they simply couldn't bear the shame." None of that is necessary to get you to the simple realization that you could have spent all that time and energy simply dropping condoms from airplanes!

It will be interesting to see how badly this crashes and burns, although when the wingers get motivated, watch out! There are no guarantees. In the meantime, just remember: Ja vitut, runkkari!

So do Finns have a word for "douchebag" anyway?

PS: I've actually met a lot of nice people from Oklahoma. I have. Really! :-)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

And now, for your enjoyment, today's clueless-theist-with-no-sense-of-irony moment

I offer no comment.

HT: Jennifer Juniper via Facebook.

We get email: reason can't be trusted

Hello there.

Did you consider that reaosn and evolution are concepts in crisis since the developement of modern semantics? I think Chomsky explains it better in his conference about biolinguistics. But the destruction of positivsm is something that happened in the late XIX century. Evolution and reason are no longer concepts to be trusted anymore. I was wondering if you read the work of post structuralists like Derrida or Lyotard, even Heidegger in the early XX century let that statement cristal clear. But the real doubt was... you are concient of all this I'm saying and you choose not to brought it up in the show cause believers are three steps behind it, or you actually don't know it :S

Thanks for reading!

Dear *****,

Thank you for pointing out that reason does not matter. After reading your letter, I have concluded that you are, in fact, an imaginary platypus named Phil. As such, I have decided to let my talking anthropomorphic ceiling tile answer your letter for me. Please let me know when you hear from him.

Russell Glasser
The Atheist Experience

Scenes from the proposal

Finally, here are those pictures from Threadgill's as promised. Thanks, Keryn!

The chorus enters

"She flew across the nation..."

"Yes," says the back of my head

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cool thing for tonight

No real time to pound out a major blog post today, so I thought I'd leave you with some kickass science news. More later.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

900'-tall Jesus steps on Oral Roberts

And another one bites the dust. What a card that God is! He tells Oral that Oral will be summarily killed if the money isn't raised to keep his faith healing center afloat. And so Oral gets the money, and then the center shuts down three years later anyway! Then God waits until the fellow is basically decades older than the average human life expectancy, and kills him then, without a warning or cash extortion attempt of any kind. God, you joker you!

Oh, well, actually, God was never involved in any part of it. Oral was just another huckster who struck it rich exploiting ignorance and gullibility, and enjoyed the sort of long and prosperous life that, if we lived in a just world, honest people would be more entitled to. But I suspect even Oral wasn't as shady as the federally-investigated Kenneth Copeland, seen below administering a kind of Christian rolfing to the ORU patriarch. If you wish to commemorate Oral's passing by captioning/LOLing this, we won't stop you.

Addendum: Here's mine. Forgive me. (In the event it gets flagged and taken down as "inappropriate," I've taken a screenshot.)


The bus-banner campaign we really need

Dave the Happy Singer, one of the stalwart Australian AXP fan contingent, has just launched a site that, so far, has nothing on it but this.

Which I happen to think is a fine, fine sentiment and not the least bit militant. I mean, we already know that the Christians get all hot under the collar when they see a really threatening atheist message. So I think something a little more even-tempered ought to be just the thing. I don't know what else Dave plans for this charming little graphic, although coughcoughtshirtscough I could probably think of an idea or two.

Oh, here's another helpful message from Dave. He's just full of them!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Email: Why can't science ever prove God?

Andrew writes:

I've stumbled across your show and personal beliefs aside, I just have to say that people are really stupid. As a Catholic, I'm ashamed of the logic of Christians trying to prove the existence of God as it presents itself on your show. I do have a question which I don't get about what atheists state: God can never be proven through science. If something exists, it can be proven. Yet with the logic that the Christians use, they change Christian belief and twist it into personal assumptions rather than going by fundamental doctrine. I guess my questions are: 1) Why can't science ever prove God? ; 2) What, besides God walking up to you, can be proof for the existence of God?

And by God, I mean a physical entity that can come down and walk amongst us, wrestle with us and looks like us. Basically, if you stood next to God, you'd see that humans were created to be in the image of God. I know how you love to get definitions of God.


You have to understand that we can only respond to claims that we are offered about God, and there are thousands of conflicting versions of God. I know many atheists have put forth the case that God should be possible to investigate through science, and have suggested specific ways that the claim could be testable.

However, to understand how much the waters have been muddied, you ought to familiarize yourself with the history of the creationism movement. A hundred years ago, it was illegal to teach evolution in schools at all. By the 1960's, evolution was accepted as standard science. However, there was a movement to demand that creationism must be taught as science by law. This was finally rejected because creationism, at the time, was considered purely religion with no scientific merit.

So in the mid 60's there was a push to create "scientific creationism." At the time, creationists still attempted to make testable claims, generally centered around a literal interpretation of the Bible. For instance, they attempted to prove that the global flood was real. But the problem with such specific claims is that science can not only test them; it can prove them wrong. And it did, which eventually led to more legislative defeats for creationists.

Since that time, creationists have gotten a lot more crafty in trying to advance a watered down form of creationism in schools. The 1990's saw the rise of "intelligent design" which, while heavily borrowing elements of traditional creationism, made the definition of "the designer" continually more vague and without specific testable claims. In their effort not to be labeled as yet another drive to teach religion in schools, they refuse to say anything specific about God. They just say "we logically infer that there must be a designer" and they don't propose any claims about what the designer is like or how he could be tested.

This achieves the objective of being harder to counter with observable facts, yes, but it also renders meaningless any efforts to actually investigate "God" or some other sort of designer.

So can science investigate God? It depends, of course. If the concept of God is attached to specific claims about the way he interacts with the world, then yeah, you're right, that God should in principle be testable. Of course, no scientific investigations have ever revealed anything like the God of the Bible.

But on the other hand, when people propose a God that is deliberately made vague, that is untestable. An amorphous "intelligent designer" can't be investigated, and as I've explained, that is pretty much on purpose. Likewise, vague claims like "God is love" or "God is a universal consciousness" don't lend themselves easily to testing. If we ever said that God is not a scientific concept, you can bet that we were probably responding specifically to a person who was advancing this kind of nonspecific notion of God.

As for your second question: "What, besides God walking up to you, can be proof for the existence of God?" Well, I mean, God walking up to me would be a pretty good one. It's not even all that outlandish a request. After all, according to the Bible, God used to appear to people all the time. He talked to Moses in a burning Bush, he showed his puncture wounds to Doubting Thomas, he dropped in on Saul of Tarsus, he told Abraham to kill his son (before going on to say "just kidding!").

If God is bothered by the existence of atheists, then clearly he knows how to fix that. What's weird is that God is seemingly so selective. A few scattered people get to have a fireside chat with God. The rest of us apparently have to make do with clearly apocryphal stories about the appearances, and believe blindly with no such concrete evidence whatsoever. If this is the way God works, then either he enjoys playing mind games with the millions of atheists on the planet, or else he really does want them to remain atheists.

As for me, I don't think there is a god. If it turns out I'm wrong, he knows where I live.

Last night at Threadgill's

All right all right, I hyped up the surprise at dinner after the show, so I feel like I should just get it out and not wait on pictures to surface.

The Everything Else Atheist and I are now engaged. There, I said it. In a highly unconventional move, since we are godless heretics who scoff at tradition, she proposed to me.

Obviously none of this was a surprise to me since I announced it in advance. We had discussed marriage already and I already knew that she was planning to pull this off at dinner. What I was not expecting, though, was that she enlisted three of her coworkers at Texas Campaign for the Environment to show up dressed as the Bad Horse chorus from Doctor Horrible's Singalong Blog. They sang the song, but the lyrics were, er... modified, to warn me of dire consequences unless I said yes.

I said yes.

The turnout was great, with about 30 people in total showing up. Among those attending were my son Ben, and a rare appearance by my sister Keryn and her husband Michael, and of course the usual crew along with numerous show cohosts.

Thanks everyone, for being there! And to everyone who knew exactly what was about to happen, thanks for keeping the secret.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"You're just trying to put a unicorn in my mouth!": Open thread on 12/13 show

Thought it was a fun one today, even with our original big surprise having to be pre-empted. Have at it, gang.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Alert canceled :(

I seriously apologize for getting everyone interested and then yanking the rug out, but the idea we had for the show had to be postponed at the last minute. Hopefully it will run on January 10.

However, the post show dinner is still going to be interesting, and not even Martin knows why. ;)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Heads up for the Atheist Experience show this weekend

Let this be a teaser to all you viewers out there:

Something unusual is happening on the show this weekend. It is my guess that it will either be a successful something that will make this a widely discussed show, or it will be a spectacular flame-out. Either way, you won't want to miss it. A new thread will appear a few minutes before the show ends so you can discuss which it was.

Word on the street is that something entirely unrelated but no less unusual and cool will also happen at the post-show dinner at Threadgill's. If you are in Austin, You. Will. Attend.

Update: I really apologize for this, but due to circumstances beyond our control, the unusual thing for the show is postponed until next month. The dinner thing is still happening. Again, I am sorry for getting up everyone's interest prematurely.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

This holiday season, shop at "naughty" retailers!

Better call the waaaaambulance. The "War on Christmas" is in full swing in fundieland, and the first casualties are rolling in. Or not.

Got an email heads-up tonight about the "Naughty and Nice 2009" list cooked up by the American "Family" Association. Right-wing fundamentalists absolutely love their collective persecution complex. It's the only thing they have, really, that gives them any empowerment.

The feelings of entitlement behind the nonexistent "War on Christmas" essentially have to do with Christians not liking the fact that anyone other than themselves exist, as well as not liking the fact that this secular world out there happens to be filled with people who enjoy celebrating the holiday season too, and last of all, going batshit insane over the fact that there are some retailers out there who approach the holiday shopping season with an eye to inclusiveness rather than exclusion. Fundies simply don't want retailers to cater to anyone but themselves. So they've decided that if holiday advertising says things like "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!", then these are godless evil Christian-hating lefty tree-hugging commie hippie faggot hellbound devil-worshiping retailers who want to make the Baby Jesus cry, and good Jesus-loving Amerikans have a duty to boycott them.

For those of you who don't want to abuse your eyeballs and brain cells by following the link to the AFA page (though there are some abusive comments there that are pretty sweet), I'll just repost their list of "anti"-Christmas retailers below — these would be retailers who cheerfully greet those who celebrate Channukah, Kwanzaa, the Yuletide, or who just enjoy the secular celebrations of gift-giving, sharing love and warmth, and scrumptious turkey and dressing, in addition to Christmas-celebrating Christians. It saddens me that so many Christians are so childish and selfish that they want to deny happiness to all but themselves this time of year. But that's the evil of religion. Thinking you belong to the chosen people of the creator of the universe tends to do ugly things to the egos of people who lack the moral development to respect their fellow humans as much as they demand respect from us.

Companies marginalizing "Christmas" (according to the AFA, this means the company "refers to Christmas infrequently, or in a single advertising medium, but not in others")

Bass Pro Shops
Banana Republic
Barnes & Noble
Best Buy
Gap Stores
Hancock Fabrics
Hy-Vee Stores
Old Navy
Toys R Us
Whole Foods

Companies against "Christmas" (this means the company "may use "Christmas" sparingly in a single or unique product description, but as a company, does not recognize it")

Advance Auto Parts
Barnes & Noble
Best Buy
CVS Pharmacy
Dick's Sporting Goods
Home Shopping Network
Limited Brands
Office Depot
Radio Shack
Victoria's Secret

So what about the companies who are "for" Christmas? Well, you can shop with them too, if you like! Because as atheists, we believe in freedom of choice and conscience, both on the part of shoppers and the companies that service them, and we'd never tell you not to shop somewhere simply because we thought they offended some precious inviolable ideology of ours (and atheists don't really have those kinds of ideologies, anyway). Sure, we might suggest that people shouldn't patronize one business or another if it could be shown that they were engaged in unethical or illegal practices, but in that regard, we're no different than the BBB. So hey, shop anywhere you like this holiday season. And, just to tweak the hateful, empty people at the AFA, throw a few more extra dollars than you planned at the folks they've red-flagged. Spread the love the AFA hasn't got!

This just in: Dunbar not running for another SBOE term

From a TFN email I just got:

We wanted TFN members and supporters to be among the first to learn about developing news at the State Board of Education. News reports today revealed that Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, has decided not to run for re-election to her seat on the Texas State Board of Education. As TFN members know full well, Dunbar has been an outspoken leader of the far-right faction on the board, repeatedly using the state's public school classrooms to wage her own personal culture war.

While Dunbar has not yet revealed the reason for her decision, her extremist track record has clearly made her a damaged brand in next year’s election — and TFN has been the leader in exposing that record.

  • TFN introduced the world to Dunbar's 2008 book, One Nation Under God, in which she called public education a “tool of perversion,” “tyrannical” and unconstitutional.
  • TFN broke the story about Dunbar's attacks against then-candidate Barack Obama, authoring an opinion column that labeled him a terrorist sympathizer who wanted another attack on America so that he could declare martial law and throw out the Constitution.
  • TFN exposed her efforts to politicize our children’s social studies classrooms and to promote creationist arguments against evolution in science classrooms.

Unfortunately, the candidate Dunbar has handpicked to be her successor shares many of her anti-science and extremist views. A blog post today at TFN Insider reveals some troubling information about Brian Russell, whom Dunbar has apparently recruited to fill her shoes on the board. So our work is not done.

Dealing with right-wing creationist d-bags is like playing Whack-A-Mole. But you gotta keep whacking.

Okay, so now that we're all agreed we don't play nice...

Via PZ and WikiLeaks, in case you hadn't seen this bit of timeless comedy gold, you can now download Kent Hovind's entire "doctoral dissertation" for "Patriot Bible University," a farcical Christian outfit housed in a doublewide offering correspondence courses. If the above is an example of what "Patriot Bible University" considers an acceptable lead-in to a dissertation, then let's just say the whole preposterous charade that is fundamentalist "education" is even more hilarious than you think.

While we're on Hovind (and it's worth noting that this remains one of our most trafficked posts ever), I'd like to add a rider to remarks that Kazim and several commenters made in the preceding post. I agree it's most important to attack ideas and not the people expressing them — but only to a point. Yes, the ad hominem attack is a fallacy, and is most commonly used simply to score cheap shots (and yes, I've been guilty of that one), or when the arguer has run out of intellectual steam and can't muster rebuttals to strong points made by his opponent.

But this is a very different thing from attacking people when they have demonstrated, by their statements or actions, that they are not merely wrong but bad and foolish people. Kent Hovind is a case in point. First off, I don't see anything unacceptable about calling a person who is convinced to the core of his being that dinosaurs walked the earth alongside humans an "idiot." This is not name calling, but merely descriptive, in the same way I have pointed out that Richard Dawkins' referring to Ray Comfort, the World's Stupidest Christian™, as an "ignorant fool" and my referring to him by his unofficial title of World's Stupidest Christian™ are not insults but descriptors*. Listen to Ray talk and read his writings, and his stupidity is on raw display. It cannot be denied any more than you could deny getting wet while standing in a thunderstorm. There is simply no way to refer to him other than to call him what he is: a stupid, ignorant fool.

Hovind is a man who is not merely ignorant but arrogant and entitled. He is convinced he is above the law, and remains unrepentant even when a ten-year jail sentence served to show him he was wrong on that point. Moreover, he has had an impact on a number of sycophantic followers, whom he has taught to lie and prevaricate just as he does. Read the comments from Hovind's defenders in that old post of ours, and you'll see them spouting the usual run of tortured, self-serving falsehoods to claim Hovind's conviction on rather blatant tax fraud was Christian persecution at the hands of a Satanic government. So, QED, Kent Hovind has significantly damaged not merely the intellectual but the moral development of hundreds if not thousands of people. He has caused demonstrable harm.

He is also, in his self absorption, utterly cold and heartless to those who really do care about him. Listen to the audio clip between Hovind and his wife Jo. Listen to her try to express her feelings to him, her concern over the rightness and wrongness of the situation they find themselves in, and then listen to him shut her down with icy finality. He's right, he's always right. Because he's God's wingman. He doesn't need to change, he's perfect. It's she who needs to "advance." You have to wonder if we witness, in that exchange, the entire dynamic of fundamentalist Christian marriage in microcosm. Is this really a world in which unfeeling, authoritarian men are simply deaf to any of their wives' emotional and moral concerns? Sure seems that way.

So, yes, I will always concentrate on attacking arguments first. But I will not refrain from condemning people worthy of condemnation. So go laugh at Kent Hovind's "dissertation," and then laugh at Kent. Because he's an ignorant, arrogant, entitled, cold-blooded, self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing, felonious piece of shit. Quote me.

*Speaking scientifically, I know I cannot prove that Ray is necessarily the world's stupidest Christian. There may well be many who are much much stupider. But if so, then they — unlike Ray, who proudly flies his stupid flag in public at every opportunity he gets, many of which he instigates himself for the attention — have the sense to stay out of the spotlight about it. Which, in turn, would make them smarter than Ray by just that much. So perhaps it can be proved that Ray's the stupidest after all.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

We don't play nice

Basically this post could be a big "What PZ said": The notion that there is anything "new" about "New Atheism" other than having the boldness to speak out is ridiculous; but the notion that there is a newer, better atheism that doesn't like to make waves against religion is far more ridiculous.

I am occasionally baffled by emails such as this one that we received two days ago (as per an earlier post, this is just an excerpt):

I was going to call in to ask what you guys think about the following. Some of my friends have suggested that the "militant atheism" strategy pursued by scientists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc., may turn out to achieve precisely the opposite of its goal. The strident, aggressive stance taken by these "atheist preachers" can easily be seen by many theists as offensive, and consequently strengthen their faith and encourage the formation of a stereotype which sees the atheist as "the enemy".

How can anyone wonder what we think of those guys? We are those guys. Oh sure, we're not bestselling authors or anything, the crowds we draw are much smaller, comparatively speaking (although fairly high if we're allowed to count "every single person who eventually watches each show" as part of a crowd).

But really, the entire draw of the Atheist Experience is that we are out there every single week being a walking, televised billboard saying "Hey look, here are some guys who think that it's irrational to believe in God. Call us and argue. PLEASE." I mean, sure, we try to do so in a manner that is polite and respectful -- most of the time. (Then again, Jeff's rants are legendary.) But in generally I try to follow a guideline something like "People deserve respect and dignity. Their flawed claims do not."

Are we abrasive? Are we offensive? Sometimes I don't know how to answer that question. But I will certainly say this: it is offensive to me to claim that there are ideas out there that are beyond the scope of public dispute.

Wasting your life?

We received a letter from a theist who sent us the following question:

I came across [a Youtube Video] where one of the gentlemen on your show said that spending time, “in prayer or in church is a waste of your one precious life”…If atheism is correct and the end of life is oblivion of one's consciousness, then how is anything one does during their "precious" life a waste of time? If [2+4+75+15]*0 does equal 0 and [43-58-1002-67]*0 also equals 0 then in what real way are these problems different?... whether or not one is a theist or an atheist/agnostic there are many things you can do in this lifetime to further progress or hinder future generations. But the personal end result is always the same so I can not understand how anything you do could, at the end, be viewed as wasted.

This was the kernel of the question. The writer also pointed out that some ritualistic behaviors, such as prayer, can make some people feel good, and offered that perhaps these activities may not be a “waste” from that perspective, even if the god isn’t actually there. I replied to this particular query, and was asked to post my response to the blog. So, here it is:

Most people who put any effort, time, or resources toward attaining a goal, and then find the effort did nothing to help them get any closer to that goal, would use the term “waste” to describe that expenditure of effort. It’s simply the definition of the word “waste”—inefficient, ineffective efforts.

All we have in life are time, energy and resources. So, if those are wasted, it’s not really outside the bounds of standard definitions to call that “wasted life.” If we send money to buy a product that promises to make our clothes whiter, and we use it, and it doesn’t work—then we say it was a “waste” of our money. There’s nothing semantically or philosophically tricky about it. And whether we have no end of money (an eternal afterlife) or that was all the money we had (no eternal afterlife)—in fact, especially if that was all the money we had—the transaction is fairly, honestly, and understandably (to most people), labeled “a waste of money.”

If I hired Jim to work for me for a year for $75,000, and at the end of the year Jim came by to get paid, and I had cleared out of town without a trace, Jim would be very reasonable to conclude that he wasted a year of his life on doing work for me for nothing. He worked hard in an effort he believed would help him net a desired goal of $75k—but really the effort was fruitless in getting him anywhere close to his personal goal of $75k.

If I tell Jim to cheer up, that one day he will be dead, so the year and the money don’t actually matter—Jim probably wouldn't like that advice very much. And I have no trouble grasping that Jim would want that year back in a bad way and feel it was “wasted” and stolen from him—even if Jim didn’t believe in an afterlife (in fact, especially if Jim didn’t believe in an afterlife—and this life/time is all he gets). I suspect Jim would spend at least some time trying to hunt me down (with a blazing vengeance) to get at least some of that compensation of which I defrauded him, so that his year wouldn't be a "total waste" in his estimation.

For someone in my position, there is an ethical obligation if I have any regard for my fellow humans, if I meet Jim, to explain to him that caution is in order, since there is no valid evidence this company has ever paid out a dime to anyone it has ever employed, and to alert him that working for the company is a waste of his life, if he sincerely believes he will receive the promised compensation for his efforts. I won't physically try to stop Jim, but certainly issuing a warning is a fair and reasonable effort.

The question to Jim, then, is this: "Would you work for this company for a year even if they didn't pay you at the end of the year?" If the answer is "no," then working for the company would constitute a waste of life for Jim--based on Jim's own assessment. If the answer is "yes," then Jim has some other motivation beyond the $75k that he hasn't told me about yet, that needs to be revealed before an evaluation of "waste" could be made.

I have yet to see a person who felt anything but robbed in Jim’s situation—regardless of their religious or nonreligious leanings; and a great many ex-theists who contact us express that they feel like Jim (that their time involved with religion represents wasted life of which they often describe that they feel defrauded), and for exactly the same reasons Jim would. I hope this helps to clarify the position.

This is the end of the e-mail response. But I would like to add the following thoughts:

First of all, kudos to this theist, who replied to my e-mail to say that it helped him greatly to understand the meaning of what was said, and that he appreciated my effort to explain it. I will fully admit that I was braced for some petty semantic argument—but instead I received a nice response showing that he’d read and understood. That’s a wonderful change of pace in dealing with correspondences from theists.

But his original letter actually made me think further. Anyone could easily see my $75k analogy as being related to an afterlife promise. But actually, it is only intended to represent “motive.” In the question of theism versus atheism, everything hinges on whether or not a god exists. So, the question to Jim would translate to, “If there was no god, would you still do this?”

Interestingly, the response to the question results in a Catch-22 I had never previously considered. If the theist says, “Yes, I would still pray—even if I was convinced there is no god,” that means that for this particular theist, praying serves a primarily secular function, since whatever benefit he derives from prayer would still be there—according to him—even without a belief in god.

Alternately, if the theist says, “No, I would not continue to pray if I did not believe god exists,” then it’s fair to say that if no god exists, and if I were to help him recognize that, I would be helping him avoid wasting some portion of his life—in the same way warning Jim could salvage a year of Jim’s life.

I have heard from ex-theists who have written to our list to say things like, “I still stress over some things—like coming to grips with my own mortality,” but I have yet to get the letter that says, “My life was wonderful as a theist, and you ruined everything by convincing me god does not exist.” On the contrary, I have seen countless letters come through our list from ex-theists who want to thank us and express heavy gratitude to us for helping them get their lives back and escape from the bonds of delusional thinking. Honestly, the only people who write to us to express that taking away someone’s belief in god has ruinous results, are people who believe in god and, for whatever reason, are convinced that losing that belief would be ruinous—I assume to them? But their imagined fear contradicts the real feedback from every ex-theist who has ever contacted us.

Ironically, people who write to tell us they’ve gotten their lives “back,” must have been people who were expending a great deal of their lives on their belief in god—otherwise, why write to thank us? What have we really done for them if they weren’t devoting much, or anything, to god? They write because they were devoting quite a lot to belief in god, and now they can redirect their energy, time and resources toward something that will yield actual results in reality for them and others—not just in their minds. So, taking a person who is putting a lot of energy into belief in god, and stripping him of that belief, in reality results in a profuse “thank you,” despite the theists who claim it will result in a loveless, bleak, meaningless, doubt-filled, fear-based existence that offers a person no reason to get out of bed in the morning.

The theist who offers this prophecy of doom, though, is only speaking from his own fear—the real cord that keeps him bound to his belief. And he is so strongly gripped by this fear that it’s beyond his capacity to imagine anyone else not being held sway by such terror. So, he projects those fears onto others because that’s all he is honestly capable of. He really, and sadly, has accepted the childhood indoctrination message that a life without god would be an awful and meaningless existence.

If you are a theist, and you think this way, please understand that this is a big, flashing sign that you are in the iron grip of irrational, mind-twisting fear that was drilled into your brain during indoctrination as a child. The fear you feel is real, I understand, but the basis for it is a lie your tiny child mind was pressured to accept by well-meaning, misguided adults. You’re accepting a lot of religious rubbish because you’ve been convinced that to not do so would have catastrophic results in your life. It’s hard to take that first step, when you’re gripped by the terror that one false move can doom you for all eternity. To be honest, many theists don’t have the nerve. When push comes to shove, a lot of them cave and just accept belief in god as best they can, in order to stop the pressure they think will never stop otherwise. Don’t believe the lie that the only choice is to accept god or live forever in fear and doubt. There is another option.

What you fear exists only in your mind. The religious claim that the only escape from it is to accept all these beliefs about god, is a lie. There are ex-theists who have rejected these beliefs and who have worked through these same fears and made it out, very successfully—to bright futures where their lives have been fully restored to them. Consider talking to some ex-theists. Don’t tell them that their lives without god are meaningless and terrible, ask them if their lives did, in fact, become terrible and meaningless after letting go of faith.

If you will listen and learn, it could save you from a wasted life.

Question for readers on publishing email

So sometimes, as you know, we get email. Sometimes we publish the email. PZ Myers has been doing it for years. And before I was a blogger, I used to publish every piece of email that I got from my web page response to Amway. (I no longer do this, but I've set up a guest book to let people self-publish their feedback.)

Because I am such a polite heathen, I usually ask people's permission before posting the text of an exchange on a blog, and I will generally honor someone's request to have their stuff taken down. However, I have until recently considered it fair game to post whatever I receive at my discretion, and only a matter of etiquette to do what they want.

But recently I had a reason to go and look up the law, and I was surprised by what I found. It turns out that legally, the writer of any message has an implied copyright on everything they produce. While the copyrights are rarely enforced, intellectual property experts generally agree that it is a significant ethical violation to post somebody else's material without permission, even if you are just responding to it. You can paraphrase it, you can include perhaps short excerpts, but you should not simply repost it verbatim.

I'm not a lawyer so I don't know all the details all that well. What do you think, dear readers? Are we committing copyright fraud every time we post one of those amusing "we get email" messages, when we have not obtained explicit permission in advance?

I don't think we'd ever be taken to court for it -- after all, just look how much Something Awful routinely gets away with for comedy purposes. However, as an ethical humanist with morality based on real world consequences, I'd like to reason this out and avoid validating claims that atheists are immoral sinners.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Winning winnification that's full of win

Full story here. Gotta love the look of resignation on the woman's face. Jesus didn't warn you to expect that, did he, fashioncakes?

PS: What's really funny about this is that corduroy is a cotton blend, and blended fabrics really are a sin!

It's not just the economy

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Bogus miracles, fake news, intellectual and moral cowardice

Okay, this is fun.

The other day we got an email from a fellow who described himself as an atheist, but who professed he was a bit taken aback by a miracle claim that had come his way, about a Florida doctor who is supposed to have prayed a man back to life. He pasted a news story into his email, and some quick Googletronic Googlefication confirmed my suspicions: that this is one of those stories making the rounds in fundagelical circles, that they email one another as a big social reinforcement exercise, but for which there are no accounts — either confirming or disconfirming — from a secular source anywhere.

I tracked the story down to one website (which probably isn't the one that originated it, but they're certainly spreading it), Australia's Catch the Fire Ministries. Here you may read the 2007 story in full. It is written in the form of a press release, but it comes from Assist News Service, one of those phony Christian "news" services that feeds press releases to the likes of the 700 Club, and probably WorldNutDaily, the AFA's One News Now, and so on. The medical "conference" at which this miracle testimony was given is — you guessed it — a "Christian doctors' conference". If it dismays you that there are people out there with at least enough going on between their ears that they can pass eight years of med school, eight years of residency, go on to become M.D.s, and who are yet gullible and nonskeptical enough to swallow bullshit about Jebus doing miracle resurrections in the ICU, it should. And really, they're everywhere.

Anyway, in response to the first comment on that page I linked to, where some dimwit tries to say that "...unbelievers will ignore the doctor’s eyewitness testimony and will cite the fact that they have never witnessed such an event," I wrote:

No, we will point out that there’s not a shred of evidence that this anecdote is true. A Christian doctor gives a testimonial in front of other Christian doctors abut praying a man back to life, and hallelujah! they believe him. Big surprise there. No religious confirmation biases at all, nosiree.

Christians have a little problem understanding that the plural of anecdote is not data.

You should not be surprised that my comment was not approved. Unlike atheist sites, many Christian sites are completely closed to comments from dissenting voices. (This is perhaps the one regard in which Ray Comfort can be said to be better than most of his ilk. But then, baiting atheists is really the only shtick Ray has.) We only turn moderation on to prevent outright spam and trolling from guys like Dennis Markuze. But we love it when guys like Seth R. in the Mormon thread, or "MrFreeThinker" drop by to mix it up.

But that isn't the most fun part. Guess what is. Catch the Fire Ministries sent me a concern-trolling evangelizing email! They wouldn't let my comment through, but they will use my email address for stuff like this. Hilarious.

May the one true living God bless you Martin, atheists and all people with His Saving Truth and Everlasting Love! (John 3:16-21)

We at Catch the Fire Ministries will keep praying for you to believe the Bible (Word of God) as the mighty Voice from Heaven that calls, “I died on the cross for you and rose from the dead to save you from eternal death, hell and destruction! Repent of your unbelief / doubt and surrender your life (past, present and future) to Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord before it is too late!”

Time is running out as we will soon stand before Him face to face as our Final Judge! (Revelation 20:11-15)

Say, 'Yes to Jesus, Yes to Heaven Forever!'

Say, 'No to Jesus, Yes to Hell Forever!'

Make the Right Choice, Your Eternal Future Depends On It!

I wrote back:

Hello, and thanks for writing.

So, it's the usual thing, in other words. Lacking evidence, Christianity must resort to threats to compel belief. Most atheists have heard this tiresome routine before, and it always makes us shake our heads sadly that you do not realize how much it confirms both how intellectually and morally adrift your religion is.

And anyway, I notice that in your zeal to evangelize you utterly failed to refute or even respond to my point. Where precisely is the evidence that this doctor prayed a man back to life? "Uh oh, gotta thump my Bible harder!" is not a way to deal with tough questions.

So, what else you got?


PS: I noticed you refused to approve my comment. The kind of cowardice that suppresses dissenting opinions and hard questions rather than addressing them is indicative not of righteousness, but insecurity and weakness.

(And before some creotard latches onto my PS, thinking he's found a "gotcha" quote exposing atheist hypocrisy about intelligent design, be aware the scientific community has addressed ID, comprehensively, and shown it to be vacuous and utterly nonscientific rubbish. It's kind of what the whole Dover trial was about.)

Christianity is peddling an inferior product. Its adherents know this, and yet they cannot allow their reason to overcome their emotional investment in the fear of death and desire for a celestial daddy who'll keep them safe from the monsters under the bed. So this is why, when you ask a tough question, many times they'll just stick their fingers in their ears and sing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" in a loud voice until you're done, at which point they'll switch on Witnessing Mode, ignoring everything you've said. I know the answer to my last question: they got nothin', and they'll prove it by writing me back (if they do) with just more Bible quotes, more emotional appeals, more veiled threats of the dire fate that awaits me if I reject God's "love," and ad infinitum into the moral wasteland and rhetorical cul-de-sac that is evangelism.

If they do write back, I will naturally let you know.

And now, a spirited debate over the ontological argument

Which, I'm happy to report, reaches the obvious conclusion that cats are worthier of worship than any stupid old deity any day, and besides, cats exist. Hugs all around!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Christianity and the allure of "cheap grace"

One aspect of religion that has often come under atheists' critical fire is the way in which it enables the most egregious hypocrisies amongst its most devout adherents. Considering how important Christians will tell you Scripture is to their lives, it's remarkable how selective they are in their reading of that Big Book of Multiple Choice. The warnings against hypocrisy among believers that comprise most of Matthew 6 would be sufficient to shut up almost the entirety of the American Christian Right, if they were the kinds of people who practiced what they preached.

But I think there is something about religion that's even more insidious than hypocrisy, and that's the way it puffs up believers' hubris, allowing them to think they're more special and entitled and deserving, even (and especially) without having done anything to earn it. Religion tells people they're part of a select group, favored over others by God. And yet these are the same people who routinely like to attack unbelievers — and the intelligentsia many unbelievers are part of — as "elitists." What could be more elitist than believing everybody but you deserves eternity of torture in hell, simply because you belong to the Jesus Fan Club and they don't?

I've been thinking about this over the last couple of days since my attention was drawn to something that hasn't really turned up on atheists' radar: the Manhattan Declaration. This is a kind of manifesto that has recently been put together by several prominent conservative Christian figures — among them arch-bigot Tony Perkins and Kazim's old pal Chuck Colson — as something of an ideological purity test. It begins as follows:

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Some quick Googlage has revealed that this Declaration has already ruffled the feathers of liberal, progressive Christians, who have quickly called the whole thing out as an effort to enshrine conservative prejudices as "fundamental truths about justice and the common good." Only the most smug and arrogant bigots could claim with a straight face that a Declaration that openly repudiates GLBT marriage equality is one that favors "justice" in any form. I think that word, to quote The Princess Bride for the 80 billionth time, doesn't mean what they think it means.

Basically, the highfalutin language of the thing does little to disguise the fact that it's a huge anti-gay-rights and anti-abortion petition, and it takes a Bushian "with us or against us" attitude that is nothing less than a gauntlet thrown down to all those liberal Christians who haven't toed the Hate Line to the satisfaction of their conservative betters.

Surfing the blogosphere, I come upon this post by blogger Hugo Schwyzer — who, as an avowed pro-GLBT liberal feminist Christian, is about as far from the fundies' notion of ideological purity as a guy can get — where he takes the Manhattan Declaration to task for being little more than a reactionary pushback against the tendency among the younger generation of modern Christians to reject right-wing fundie obsessions with "pelvic morality" (basing culture war talking points on sexual and reproductive issues to the near exclusion of everything else) in favor of broader moral concerns — saving the planet, helping the needy — that are generally of interest only to those damn latté sipping libs. Schwyzer makes an astute point about the "cheap grace" enjoyed by fundies whenever they beat their chests and pontificate over such narrow-minded issues: that these are fights they love precisely because they have nothing at stake.

Here’s the thing: fighting against abortion and gay rights is, in the end, cheap. It requires no particular personal sacrifice or reflection on the part of those who claim these are the top issues. Men who will never get pregnant; heterosexuals who have the privilege to marry those whom they love — they surrender nothing precious to them by fighting tooth and nail against reproductive and glbtq rights. The struggle against global poverty and the struggle to save the planet from environmental degradation, on the other hand, make radical claims on all of us — particularly on the affluent in the West, whose unsustainable consumption patterns are directly linked to human and animal suffering. Fighting against climate change and poverty require that the wealthy transform their lifestyles; fighting against gay rights requires nothing more than censorious and self-righteous indignation.

Bam! — direct hit, below the waterline. But I'd caution Schwyzer not to forget that, in a very real way, "cheap grace" is at the heart of all Christianity, not just the version practiced by wingnutty Sarah Palin and Carrie Prejean fans. Christianity presents believers with this odd notion about morality, sin, and fate: that, merely by virtue of being alive, a person is a worthless sinner damned to eternal agony because of the Fall; but hey, not to worry, because Jesus took all of that punishment upon himself, poor chap, and now by virtue of his sacrifice, you're good to go, and all you need to do is make sure (at some point before you die) you publicly high-five Jesus for taking one for the team, accepting him as your savior. So, we're damned, but we're not, and eternal salvation is ours simply by the rough spiritual equivalent of clicking a confirmation email.

So right from the outset, Christians are more or less raised in the extremely confident belief that all the heavy lifting for their own personal redemption was already done 2000 years ago. Their own efforts require no personal sacrifice at all. If this is not cheap grace, what is?

The very thing that Christianity tries to sell as its most morally and spiritually profound element — salvation by proxy — in fact cheapens the entire notion that in life, self-respect, the respect of others, and an enduring reputation as the kind of good person whom the rest of us should want to emulate, must be earned. The whole notion of salvation by faith and not works (which, admittedly, might be more favored by conservative Christians than liberal ones, though I think God, if he's up there, ought to do his job right and clarify matters) gives Christians the ability to think pleasingly of themselves as among the saved elect, regardless of how they might actually behave in their lives. The popular Christian bumper sticker "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven" conveys egotism, not humility, as it's basically saying, "Yippie! I'm a Christian, and I never have to change, never have to better myself, never have to take responsibility at all." The very hypocrisy Matthew 6 rails against is enabled by Christianity's entire salvation mechanism. How else could so many arch-scumbags (insert names here, but off the bat I think of Kenneth Lay and Jim Bakker) preen with such pride while living the sleaziest, most immoral lives they could manage?

So, while I'm always pleased to see liberal Christians who aren't afraid to take on the Right Wing Noise Machine (a thing we have pointedly challenged them to do for a decade on AETV), I'd caution Schwyzer and his liberal Christian brethren not to overlook the cheap grace at Christianity's very foundation. But to be fair, perhaps the fact that guys like him, at the very least, do try to live decent lives of higher personal responsibility, supportive of the real meaning of terms like "justice" and "equality" that the wingnuts simply treat as pious catchphrases, means they're more aware of it than they might like to admit.

A Pretty Good Resource

I'm working on some research for the psychology of childhood indoctrination, and had some trouble finding actual data on this topic. I finally found a very good article, but was actually wowed by a number of essays presented at this site:

I wanted to share it because it deals with a variety of topics with which counter-apologists are often presented, and it handles them in a very clear, readable and reasoned fashion that I think just about anyone can appreciate, or at least comprehend. The really surprisingly helpful aspect of the several articles I perused was that they include many quotes from Christian writers and preachers to help make their points more clear by contrasting explanations with apologetics.

I won't go long on this, but just thought it might be a helpful resource to some, and so wanted to provide the link for the record.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Vic Stenger visited Austin at the end of October

Dr. Victor J. Stenger, author of the New York Times best seller, "God: The Failed Hypothesis" was in Austin at the end of October promoting his new book, "The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason". He gave a lecture and did an interview with me. For various reasons, we have not publicized these until now.

Since the Atheist Experience is on break, it seems like a good time to unveil them.

"A Conversation with Vic Stenger"

Mp3 audio is available here.

"The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason"

Mp3 audio is available here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hooray, Mormons!

So, after all my jealous whining every time Kazim has a story to tell about religious types knocking at his door, yesterday evening I got a visit from a couple of Mormon missionaries. You know, the young guys riding around on bicycles in white shirts, black slacks and ties and calling themselves "Elder" although they're all of 20 or 21, if that.

No, I didn't bite their heads off and drink the blood from their spurting neck stumps. These were a couple of nice guys, and I thought, we'll, here's a chance to pin them down on their beliefs and see how they respond to a tough question now and again. I told them up front I was an atheist, affiliated with a local atheist organization, co-host of a TV show and moderator of a blog, both on atheism. They were like, Oh, okay, and asked me a couple of questions about the difference between agnosticism and atheism.

So, to the highlights. I kept the tone entirely pleasant all the way, just in case they were worried. I suspect that these guys put up with a lot of "No thanks" and slammed doors, but generally aren't accustomed to dealing with someone who both openly identifies as atheist and then eagerly proceeds to engage them. (And one of the guys later on said as much.) My main question was one right from the AETV playbook: Exactly what do you guys believe and why do you believe it?

It is always interesting to question believers like that, because right there, in that most basic of all approaches to religious discussion, you will see just how differently theists and atheists approach thinking about religion and its claims. They essentially told me about their belief in God as a loving father figure, etc., and instead of giving me a solid "why" for what they believed, they merely asserted the strength of their belief as some kind of validation for it. The thing is, I don't think they were playing dodgeball. Cognitively, this is just how a lot of theists are. Passion equals proof, more or less. I think they thought they were giving me a very solid why, without understanding why "I know it in my heart" or whatever descriptive phrase they call into play does not, in fact, answer, why. I could have hammered the point home, demanding to know why they knew it in their hearts so strongly, but I know that for an answer I'd have ended up on a rhetorical merry-go-round.

Where the conversation got interesting — to keep this post short — was when I asked them why they believed Christ's sacrifice was necessary. It all went back to original sin, as in mainstream Christianity, though where Mormons split from mainstream Christians is in rejecting the Trinity (at least, that's what they told me). Jesus, in their belief system, is the Son of God, but was not God in the flesh. Anyway, this led to my asking about sin, and why God would allow such a drastic flaw in his creation in the first place, thus necessitating Christ's sacrifice years later. Their answer was interesting. Apparently, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden were perfectly innocent, like "three year olds." They didn't reproduce because, in their innocence, they didn't know how, poor things. But here's the strange part. God apparently realized that this childlike, innocent bliss was stifling, stultifying. He introduced sin, they told me, so mankind could be happy. Certainly, introducing evil into the world brought with it much strife, but it also brought humanity the ability to exercise their free will to choose happiness over evil.

I had to admit this was a new take on the theology to me, but it still didn't really pass the smell test. For one thing, I told them I couldn't figure out why a perfect being like God, what with being omniscient and all, couldn't have come up with a better and more consistent business plan. Wouldn't God have know how to get it right from the start, without wasting so much time by first creating a world of innocent, developmentally arrested and hopelessly boring children romping around a meadow doing nothing in particular, only to think to himself "Nah, this ain't working" and change the rules? God here resembles those artists who are said to be such great masters at their craft that they introduce deliberate flaws into their work simply so they themselves don't get bored with it. But even those artists aren't all-powerful and all-knowing, so why wouldn't a perfect being have simply done the job to his satisfaction the first time?

The discussion went back to the whole free will thing, which led me to ask if there was free will in Heaven. After all, Heaven is supposed to be a place of eternal bliss. Why, if the Earth was such a drag in that condition, should Heaven then be a place we aspire to? Do people in Heaven have free will? Yes, they told me. So, if that's true, then is it possible for people to do evil in Heaven? Yes, they said, only in Heaven, well, it's such a great place that up there, you just wouldn't want to.

Okay, hang on, I said (thoroughly enjoying myself by now). Why can't Earth simply be that kind of place, one where you can choose to be evil, but are so content with your life that you don't? Because, if that's the definition of Heaven, I'd have to say I'm already there. I choose not to do evil, because I see too many reasons not to, and even more reasons to be good, plus, I simply have no impetus towards evil acts. It seemed that the more these guys described Heaven to me, the less it seemed like there was any notable difference between it and Earth. (And besides, I had to point out that Lucifer chose evil while in Heaven and rebelled against God, which kind of threw cold water on their assumption that no one would want to.)

Well, you might be able to see where this is leading: they finally admitted (I'm big on body language, so I couldn't help noticing one of the guys take a big step back as he gave me this answer) that in the end, it boils down to faith. Well, of course it does, and if I'd bet myself a ten-spot we'd eventually end up at this point, then...well, I'd have a ten-spot. I was encouraged to read the Bible and the Book of Mormon and study it, but — and here's the kicker — check those hard questions and skeptical thoughts of mine at the door, and just allow the message to wash over me. Now, without shifting from my Mr. Nice Atheist persona, I couldn't let them off the hook with this one. I told them I simply couldn't do that. Whatever I read, I think about it, and if there are hard questions to ask, then goshdarnit, I ask them. You have to. Indeed, the more important the issue at hand, the more there is at stake (and if the claims of Christianity are true, then there is quite a lot at stake), the harder your questions have to be. What they didn't realize was that by insisting I had to treat their holy book different from anything else I might read — simply choosing to exercise little to no critical thinking in the reading of it — they were all but admitting that their holy book could not stand up to such intellectual scrutiny. And that's hardly the way an all-powerful, all-knowing being would go about his business in spreading his Word, wouldn't you say?

Anyway, there are more details about the conversation I could go into, but those were the highlights. We parted cordially, I told them it was nice to meet them and good luck in their efforts, and I hope I left them with some food for thought. If nothing else, I suspect that they'll be telling their fellow missionaries at the church on Sunday about the atheist guy they talked to. I hope they come back.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Allah Flummoxed by Swine Flu

I wanted to share with you the very first news item I saw on television this morning. It was a story about swine flu concerns surrounding hajj. Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that is required of all Muslims who are able to make the trek. Google "hajj+'swine flu'" to find related articles.

Apparently, if adherents are required to destroy skyscrapers and execute unbelievers for jihad, the god will ensure their success. But protecting adherents from a flu bug, while they make the required hajj, is a bit too much to ask from the all-powerful creator of everything.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy 150th, Origin!

Today is the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, and, reports have it, the mainstream media has decided, in its infinitely misguided goal to be "fair and balanced" about things, to give publicity to ignoramuses. So, I'm told, Stephen Meyer spouts his usual string of canards on CNN, and Time has apparently weighed in by interviewing some dimwit named Dennis Sewell on Darwin's "Dark Legacy" (ooooooo!). You know, the usual Godwinning, "evilushun is to blame for school shootings oh noes!!!" feces. Well, I choose to ignore ignorance. And I'm not linking to it, because blithering anti-science idiocy does not deserve to be rewarded with links. Instead, I'll simply raise a toast to one of the greatest and most important works of science of all time. Long after Christianity — and indeed, the human race — has settled into dust, whatever living things remain on this earth will continue to evolve, and the panoply of life will continue. Which is the reason Roger Ebert has described evolution as the "most consoling of all the sciences." Because it not only tells us that life will find a way, but it tells us how. All thanks to Chuck D. Well done, sir.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanks for not using "No True Scotsman"

I found this letter to the editor in yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman interesting. It was in reference to a statement in an earlier article regarding the recent Fort Hood shootings:

Religious radical?
Re: Nov. 12 article "Suspect alarmed doctors."

The story noted that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's doctors and colleagues "viewed him at times as belligerent, defensive and argumentative in his frequent discussions of his ... faith."

That pretty much describes every member of the religious right that I've ever encountered.

Rev. Bill Young

How often have I, and others, said that liberal Christians need to be more vocal in their condemnation of their more extreme brethren--instead of falling back on the "No True Scotsman" fallacy? In fact, it’s their silence and solidarity as much as their support of irrationality that lends credibility to the extremists in their ranks. So, this statement undermines at least one of the pillars supporting fundamentalism in Western Christendom. I hope other Christians will follow suit.

When I first read the content, I thought, “No Christian will hear anything an anti-religious person submits in this vein.” Then I saw the signature and was happy. It’s like reading about a lawsuit to bring down a religious statue on public property and finding the plaintiff is theist. It’s sort of a relief to know we aren’t going to be accused of bias and targeted for criticism or ugly insults—at least not this time. That’s not a bad feeling now and again.

Thanks Bill.