Friday, May 28, 2010

Why I don't argue with YouTube, redux

A few months back I posted a statement of policy about refusing to argue with YouTube videos. It has served me pretty well since then, because now every time we get email saying "Watch this video and tell me what you think!" I link to that post and reply with "Please sum up the points in that video that you found compelling, because I'm not going to watch." I've seen several other members take a similar approach more often as well.

I have to say, however, that over at the Conspiracy Science blog, this post provides a much longer and more thorough explanation of why arguing via YouTube videos is (1) mostly fruitless, and (2) so beloved of people who don't really have a good argument. Read it! Although it relates to conspiracy theories and not atheism in particular, they face a lot of the same issues. A couple of excerpts to get you over there:

Because there’s no difference in a conspiracy theorist’s eyes between any two sources based upon the nature of those sources, they have no way of telling whether a source is true or false. David McCullough, a respected academic historian with decades of credentials, is no more reliable a source than David Icke, an ex-football player who believes that the world is controlled by reptilian shape-shifting aliens. John Maynard Keynes, one of the most influential economists in recent history, is no more credible than bloviating radio talkshow host Alex Jones on matters of economics. This is why conspiracy theorists generally interpret any questioning of the credibility of their sources as an “ad hominem” attack, because to them credibility is irrelevant. Taken to an extreme, this idea results in the bizarre belief that a YouTube video can be just as true and credible as a peer-reviewed scientific paper published in a nationally-respected journal.

Conspiracy theorists hate experts and intellectuals mainly because they are forced to. Few if any real experts in anything—engineering, economics, metallurgy, political science, or history—agree with conspiracy theories, and conspiracy theorists know that this is a major obstacle in their attempts to gain mainstream acceptance. Honestly, if one structural engineer with questionable credentials says that the World Trade Center towers were dynamited and 99 real structural engineers say that theory is bullshit, which side are most people going to believe? Consequently, conspiracy theorists have to tear down experts. They do this mainly by denigrating the real value or relevance of expert opinion, which usually means casting aspersions on expert status in the first place. This has two effects: first, they think it blunts the attacks of experts on their theories, and second, it elevates non-expert opinion into the same realm as expert knowledge.

Also, in the interest of not having a double standard, I want to say something else.

(Pausing to look sternly at the Atheist Experience audience.)

I hope you guys don't argue that way.

Something I prefer not to see is using a clip from TAE as an authority. We're not one. Thus, if you're in an argument and you say "You're wrong! Here, watch this video!" ... You're doing it wrong. You know they won't watch the video, and if they do, they will dismiss it as quickly as possible.

It's the arguments in the video that are meant to help you, and they don't carry any additional weight just because some slobs with a few bucks to blow on producer licenses said them in front of an audience. If you thought the arguments were good, do yourself a favor and learn to use them. The effort of typing in your own version of the Euthyphro dilemma or the argument from evil or whatever, will serve you much better in the long run than proving you can paste a URL into a window.

A Letter to Nelson McCausland

Texas SBOE have found a friend in Northern Ireland:

If you haven’t been following, Culture Minister Nelson McCausland is pushing for museums in his country to promote creationism along side displays illustrating scientific theories of origins. One of his constituents shared a letter to McCausland with me, and also granted permission to use it at the AE blog. So, without further introduction, here is a reprint of that correspondence:

Mr McCausland

I am writing this letter out of concern, not out of religious intolerance or to force my own agenda. The concern is due to your letter to the National Museum trustees about the possibility of inclusion of alternative views of creation. I hope that you will take the time to read this to understand exactly why this is a mistake and hopefully to shed a little light on a few things you seem to be mistaken about.

Firstly I would like to highlight the fundamental flaws of creationism and the so called ‘scientific proof’ of it. I am not sure if you are aware of the Kitzmiller/Dover Trial in America 2005 when concerned parents took out a lawsuit against a public school district that required the presentation of intelligent design/creationism as an alternative to evolution as an explanation of the origin of life. Creationist ‘scientists’ were invited to the trial to show their evidence and prove that it was scientific, and they faced off against accepted science and scientists. It is worth mentioning that the scientist charged with defeating the creationist/intelligent design camp was a devout Christian (Kenneth Miller) and that the judge was also a devout Christian (Judge John E. Jones III) and a right hand man of George Bush.

It is not mere hyperbole to state that this was the most important moment in the defense of science. It was to much relief and satisfaction that the court ruled emphatically against the creationist/intelligent design position. In his 139-page decision Judge Jones took the creationist case to task and I find this point most relevant:

“ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.” (Page 89)

It is clear that when asked to come forward and put their case and all their evidence on the table they didn’t just fall short, they had nothing. It would be hoped that this would have put this situation to rest but it is still thriving in the United States and apparently in our home country. I recently visited a creationist seminar in a local church, and it disturbed me at what was being taught to the congregation as ‘fact’, I feel that people in the position of talking and administering to the congregation/public have a responsibility of being honest with what is fact and not bending evidence to fit the worldview they have.

To say that the world is 4,000-10,000 years old is nothing short of irresponsible, you have in a single statement infused doubt in people’s mind of the accuracy of geology, paleontology, chemistry, physics, biology, morphology, genetics, molecular biology, cosmology, biogeography and so on, all of which help each other positively in the proof of age of the earth. There is no mere speculation here, we can put the evidence on the table and show you how these things work and how they prove what accepted science is. I would hope that you have at least researched behind the claims of creationist science before publicly claiming them as a viable alternative but I feel you haven’t as you would have quickly seen that the so called proofs are nothing short of pseudo-scientific speculation.

Christianity is not negated by accepting the big bang or evolution; the scientific evidence can be seen as the method and not the reason. In fact there is a wide acceptance of these matters throughout the Christian community and I would urge you to read some of the American Scientific Affiliation’s work who are a fellowship of Christians in science. Science is not out to disprove god, and I would dare say it can’t, so there is really no need to want to put a faith-based position alongside science in a museum.

We have a responsibility in this world to operate within what we know, what we can observe in our shared reality. What we cannot do is subvert overwhelming evidence for the sake of a faith position, which is a dangerous path to put a society on. If we do this where would we stop? Would we also delve into pagan creation stories? If you want to open a display talking about religious creation mythology which covers the scope of all religions in our community I would be absolutely behind it but only if it was all inclusive and not running alongside scientific displays.

You made the point that the majority of this country is Christian and that this is somehow a justification for including creationist myth and I just want to say that it is a completely logical fallacy to assume that ‘might makes right.’ Science is in no way a democracy; it’s constantly scrutinized, re-evaluated and goes where the data takes us not where we want to take it. It is worrying to hear an elected minister talk in such a way and I’d hoped that our country would be able to be more religiously progressive given the past we have had, but this is in fact a severe step back whether you can see it or not.

If you feel strongly about this, as I am sure you do, then perhaps you could push for a public forum where we can get creationist science and accepted science to debate their cases. I assure you that it is not intellectual elitism or over-confidence when I say that it would become apparent very, very quickly that there is no case or evidence for creationist science and it would leave a lot believers confused as to why the people in power have been misleading them.

If religion is to survive in any meaningful context in this society it is necessary that it accepts reality, this in no way takes away people’s beliefs but will hopefully enrich their view of the world around them.

I look forward to your reply,


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

This is not Photoshopped

Seriously. It isn't. This is an ad that appeared in my Facebook sidebar today, presented as is. Who knows, maybe Liberty U. is having a truth-in-advertising moment.

Monday, May 24, 2010

An Islamic response to drawing Mohammed

Via Rationalists: Some Muslims decided that the best response to everybody drawing Mohammed was to start an "everyone draw the holocaust" day.

Which is dumb. It's not even that offensive (says the token Jew on the blogging team). I mean sure, it's in poor taste, but considering that it's an attempt to shock and horrify, I think it falls far short. The thing is, there is no specific religious injunction against drawing murdered Jews.

In fact, here's how stupid it is: Jews themselves have certainly done more to draw attention to the holocaust than Muslims are doing now. There's a holocaust museum founded by Jews in the United States. There's another one in Israel. There has been great literature based on the holocaust, and many excellent movies, even comedies even comedies*. Yes, really! Tons of famous photographs, and several Choose Your Own Adventure books for crying out loud.

The point is, Jews aren't trying to stop you from showing scenes from the Holocaust. As an attempt to respond in kind, it's an utter flop. It isn't breaking a religious taboo. At worst, it's just being kind of a dick.

Now arguably, you could say that those of us who chose to draw Mohammed were also dicks. But so what? Isn't that kind of the point? We don't contest anyone's right to be a dick. We support their free speech. We just think they're wrong.

* The struck out link is a clip from "The Great Dictator" starring Charlie Chaplin. Since it was correctly pointed out that Chaplin was making fun of Nazis before the holocaust occurred, I've added an alternate (and equally hilarious) clip from the original "Producers" by Mel Brooks. This link is more appropriate anyway -- Chaplin, while attacked with rumors that he was Jewish, was baptised and probably agnostic. Mel Brooks, on the other hand, was and is a big old loud and proud Jew.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bigots Don't Get to Claim the Moral High Ground

Uganda plans to introduce the death penalty for gays, but the government there says it's more likely that the bill will only pass with life imprisonment:

I'm not sure why, but in the last week, I've been presented with several issues that all involve gay hate and persecution in the Christian community. I've wanted to post about it, but wasn't sure how to put it into a concise and linear statement. So, I've given up trying; and instead I am including below some abbreviated recent thoughts I've sent privately to a few correspondents:

Correspondence 1:
...I'm getting near to a boiling point with the whole anti-gay thing and religion. It may be difficult to believe, but I actually am more angry at the religious persecution of gays than of women. With women, the idea is a submissive existence, where women are acceptable—but only if they know their place. But gays have no "place" in Abrahamic religion, generally. Even some of the most educated Christians I know seem to have difficulty admitting there's nothing wrong with it. The stupidity they spout, such as "Well, that's up to god, I don't judge." As though they think there is some sort of dilemma. Judge what?!

I met a gay guy this week who was raised by fundamentalist parents. They believe in faith healing, and all manner of garbage. They taught him that gays were vile, evil, crimes against nature, abominations to god, the whole nine yards. He said he didn't really think about it until he hit 13-14 and began to have sexual thoughts about the other boys in his school. Then he started worrying and wondering why god made him with these feelings, but was going to send him to hell. He told me he would engage in regular teen-boy activities in his room, and then feel so bad about it he'd go and shower and scrub himself until he bled. Finally, around 17, he took a bunch of pills. He said the attempt was half-hearted. And I'm happy for that—because today he's a talented musician with a lot to offer. About his parents, he said he knows they only did what they were taught, and they didn't know any better. He loves them and says they took care of him and tried to keep him from harm. But I can't help thinking of all the trouble they caused, and how easy it would have been to keep him from that harm, if only they'd just asked: "Why are we saying this is so bad?"

His father told him eventually that he'd always known/suspected his son was gay. He explained he couldn't understand how a loving parent could suspect their child is gay, and still proceed to tell them all the horrible hateful things his parents told him about homosexuality.

I have brown eyes. Most people on the planet have brown eyes. That doesn't mean people without brown eyes are unnatural. And it's certainly no license to persecute or hate them. "Uncommon" should never be equated with "evil." "Evil" needs far more justification than that.

I have trouble grasping how people who exhibit hatred and bigotry and persecution—even violence in some cases—against gays can be considered to be on the "right" side of anything, while a gay man who forgives all the pain that has been inflicted on him, and just wants to live and be happy and not hurt anyone, is the vile abomination?

I seem to be getting a lot of prods on this issue recently. And until social equality is reached in this arena, I suppose everyone on the side of reason should be weighing in on this. ACA always supports the Gay Pride Festival locally. And I think this is an issue that is ripe for constant hammering. Hateful bigots who comfort themselves that they're on the side of right really need to be told as loudly and often as possible they're on the side of pure, unadulterated evil.

I just need to find the right words. But maybe those are the right words? Maybe that's all that needs to be said?

Thanks for your letter. Sorry that gay people everywhere have been somehow singled out to put up with the worst of this bullshit, honestly.

Correspondence 2:
Maltreatment of women gets a lot of media attention. And well it should. But to me, the crimes against the gay community are so much worse—not by magnitude of numbers, but by sheer irrationality and vilification. Even the most misogynistic religions will allow a place, however disdainful, to women. But with gays—I mean, I can’t imagine being stoned to death because of how I was born. I loathe to see a woman persecuted for refusing to wear a veil. But I know that horrible as it is, she can hide behind that veil and live in hopes the oppression will end. With “gay”—there is no “king’s X”—no compromise you can strike. What you are is wrong.

To try and make it more clear, I host a party every year in November at a local Lake lodge. I invite friends, and we hang out for a weekend. One year, a gay friend told me that the location I use is notorious in the gay community for a gay hate murder that happened there years ago.

Here’s the point that bothers me: There are men who will rape and murder women. But I am aware society condemns those men as monsters and criminals. We haven’t quite reached that level of understanding with “gay.” Today, if someone kills a “fag,” I'm disturbed to know there are still a number of people in our culture who think the “queer” got what was coming to him. Literally, he shouldn’t have been gay.

And there is no rational basis for this hatred and vilification. These are good people who happen to be a minority percentage who are attracted to same sex mates for whatever reason. They’re not hurting anyone. They’re not converting anyone. They just want to do what any of us do, and be open about who they are and live their lives. And for that, they are vilified and persecuted.

I recall when I was in church, “gay” didn’t even require an explanation for why it was a sin. It just was. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” right? Phenotypic attributes occur in populations on a bell curve—nearly across the board. You have the most dominant traits, and then you have less dominant extremes on either end, and a lot of diversity in between. I have gay friends who say they could have sex with opposite sex partners if push came to shove (some have even been married before), and others who say it wouldn’t be possible for them. I have straight friends who can’t fathom gay behavior, and others who say it’s six of one, half dozen of the other. In anthropology, you study different cultures around the globe, and by no means is homosexuality vilified in all areas like it is in our culture. And historically, it’s the same. Depending on where/when you happened to be born—you may be accepted, considered to be special to the gods, or executed.

There used to be a commercial where they sold contacts to change your eye color. In every commercial they shot, the woman they were selling to had brown eyes. Well, blue and green eyes are beautiful, I agree. But the fact is, if you want to sell contacts to color eyes, your target market is brown because brown eyes are the dominant trait in humans: Africa, Asia, South America, India, Aboriginal Australians, Native Americans, the Mid East—you get the idea. What if it was determined that since most people have brown eyes, eyes that aren’t brown are a crime against nature? Unnatural and therefore a sin? Punishable by death, imprisonment, or being persecuted and vilified by your society? Can you imagine the label such an initiative would get in today’s society? Not one person would think you were sane to suggest such a thing. And yet that’s exactly what we do to gays. And nearly all the haters think you’re crazy to question “why?” To them, that question, by itself, is evidence of your own moral depravity. It’s "obvious" what’s wrong with these people—in the fundamentalist mind. They're not the standard, so they’re wicked. But loads of people have attributes that are nonstandard, and we don't think it’s fine to kill them. And the false facts cooked up to vilify it are just aggravating. I recall some years ago showing someone once that AIDS was most prominent in heterosexual, not homosexual populations. They refused to believe it until the statistics were staring them in their face. It’s frustrating to know good people who are subjected to this sort of prejudicial treatment, and then recognize a lot of people in our culture don’t understand what the motivation could possibly be to make it otherwise.

A Final Note
Just to add that the reason in the Christian Bible for condemning homosexuality is that it places a male in the position of a female. In other words, it's a misogynistic argument that it's wrong for a man to be used as a lowly woman. It's a disgrace to male superiority, and any man who humiliates himself (puts himself on the level of a rank female) needs to die.

In Leviticus 18:22, the Bible says, "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." It's right between rules against burning children as human sacrifices and having sex with animals. That's where you rank if you're gay, according to the Christian god (to whom these statements are attributed in verses 1 and 2 of the same chapter).

Later in Leviticus 20, which also starts out attributing it's content directly to god, in verse 13 it says, "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

I can hear it already, though: "That's the Old Testament."

Yes, it is. It's the Old Testament, the first part of your Christian Bible, and it says your Christian god instructed this harmful idiocy. You either believe these statements are correct and that god, in fact, did instruct His adherents to do these things—in which case you agree these statements, and any compliant actions resulting (such as murdering gay men) were actually justified by your Christian god (and therefore acceptable to you—if you are an adherent of this same god); or you think your Bible is incorrect when it comes to what it says god tells people to do, in which case, how is the book even helpful, as it's admittedly untrustworthy?

If you believe your Bible is correct, and you agree with this content and worship this personality you think ordered the murder of these people as moral "law," for the crime of not inheriting the most common phenotypic attributes of their overall populations, then as I said earlier, you are on the side of "pure, unadulterated evil." You and your god are no more "moral" than another historic figure who also once decided that people with the "wrong" phenotypes should be removed from the human population.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Kcuf the muthakcufas!

So. We have artificial life. Kickass. But wait, what's this? Why, right on cue, if it isn't a bunch of showboating, pious old cretins in dresses wagging their fingers at the presumptuousness of scientists, and insisting that the creation of life is the sole purview of some invisible magic man in the sky they seem to believe in.

"We look at science with great interest. But we think above all about the meaning that must be given to life," said Fisichella, who heads Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life. "We can only reach the conclusion that we need God, the origin of life."

Now, one could respond to that in the usual way, by pointing out that before they can make claims like that about their God, they should prove the old spectre exists in the first frickin' place.

But of course, we don't even need to go there. Because the very idea of an organized crime syndicate responsible for enabling and protecting the largest and most appalling epidemic of child rape in the history of civilization having the audacity to lecture anyone, let alone scientists, on "the ethical dimension" of anyfuckingthing, is quite simply gobsmacking. Now, at least, you know why those guys wear those huge flowing robes. They need them to contain their colossal solid brass balls!

So all that's left is to give this little ditty another airing, I do believe. Take it away, Timbo.

PS: The comments on that Yahoo news article are gold. The RCC has a serious public image crisis. I wonder why...

Kids these days

That's the Internet for you. No sooner do scientists manage the breakthrough of the first synthetic self-replicating species of bacteria in history, then the damn thing goes and sets up its own Twitter page. If it starts listening to emo, I say stomp on it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Draw Muhammad Day...

I support the efforts of Draw Muhammad Day. I took a few minutes and made a quick drawing and posted it to Facebook...and that was going to be the extent of my participation.

Fortunately, our local religion reporter made a blog post and she couldn't have managed to misrepresent the subject more, if she'd tried.

I took the opportunity to correct her...and I was sufficiently irritated that I thought I'd copy that correction here. As next Sunday's show is cancelled, consider it a replacement rant.

"Again, I thought this would fizzle out, but apparently it’s become all the rage to make a spectacle out of demeaning Muslims."

How does this demean Muslims? Be careful you don't break your back while trying to twist this issue to portray the Muslims as the victims...

The fact is that some Muslims have repeatedly demonstrated remarkable and violent hypocrisy when it comes to free speech. They demand that their views be respected by everyone else in society - and anyone who offends them may well suffer a violent response.

"If it’s true that the Prophet Muhammad is not drawn or depicted by Muslim artists based on Islamic beliefs, why revel in ignorance? In other words, if it were considered heathen-like behavior to draw Jesus, would that be tolerated with the same level of revelry - or is there something else at work?"

Of course it would be tolerated. What sort of journalist doesn't grasp the basics of free speech and expression?

There is no right to not be offended. There is no right to impose your ignorance, fears and superstitions on the rest of society.

Why do you think this is happening? If there had never been a gross over-reaction to cartoons, do you think anyone would have organized people to draw Muhammad?

Do you really suspect that the individuals drawing and encouraging others to draw Muhammad are simply cruel-minded bigots poking a stick at the poor Muslims?

This is not only about free speech, it's valid social commentary and a serious issue. There are people who travel with bodyguards and live under constant threat of violence or death for exercising basic freedoms that we should all support. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie and Lars Vilks.

What a staggeringly myopic perspective one must have to shrug this off as someone else demeaning Muslims.

Muslims, on this subject, have demeaned themselves.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Zacharias follow-up

Because there was no indication Matt had done it, I thought it would be interesting to email the link to his post answering Ravi Zacharias' "Six Questions to Ask an Atheist" to the contact address I found at the RZIM website. Monday afternoon I received this response, not from Zacharias himself, but the ministry staffer who posted the actual "Six Questions" article to the site.

Dear Martin,

Thank you for your recent email to RZIM in response to the article "Six Questions to Ask an Atheist" in our "Engaging Conversations" section of the website. I want you to know that I read the posted response in its entirety including the comments. On the whole, I found these responses to be very helpful and challenging. I am the author of this essay, and I borrowed heavily from a framework used in Brian McLaren's book "Finding Faith." I can completely understand how since you do not know me, the "tone" of this article seemed to be antagonistic rather than genuinely interested in either conversation or learning from your perspective. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. I am seeking to learn, just as I assume you are, and I have learned a great deal from this post and the responses.

If you would permit me some time to more carefully reflect on what has been written, I would like to respond to you. While I know that what I may write will likely end up as "public domain," I would appreciate it if we could exchange emails initially that are between the two of us. If you find something useful - either to critique or to stimulate further conversation, you are welcome to post it. But, let me do some thinking first, and then respond.

Again, thank you for sending this to me and for the very thoughtful
interaction that was presented in this post.


Margaret Manning

Speaking Team/Associate Writer

So there. I replied that I would be delighted to continue a dialogue (which I'll bring Matt in on, as he wrote the original post, of course), while assuring Margaret that I wouldn't post any of it here without securing her permission. But I thought there'd be no harm in letting you guys know there was a response, and a polite and receptive one at that. It does appear as though Margaret had not in fact field-tested Ravi's Six Questions among any actual atheists before. So hopefully there will be an eye-opening series of exchanges to come.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

We get email: we iz childrens of teh Basement Cat!

Not much going on around here today. We're just prepping for a busy Sunday, what with the textbook rally at the Capital in the morning, then the show at its usual time, followed by Threadgill's. And here I was thinking part of the fun of being godless is you got to sleep in on Sunday! Ah well. Here is some kooky fun from the mailbag today, to put smiles on all your heathen faces. Also, our "Christian Psychiatrist" dude wrote me back, but I'll get on that later. Toodles!

Dear Atheist Experience Show,

I think it's a shame that most of the people who call-in to your show are either ignorant of the scripture or they are merely religious people that do not have a clue about what they are saying because they have never heard the voice of God anyways. It's obvious that God "IS" real and it is also obvious that He has never sent anyone, an actual child of God, to speak on your show and probably never will. Here is why, all human beings in their natural born state are wicked and evil, such as yourselves. Most religious people, churchies, just cannot figure this out. You have experienced atheism, but you have never experienced God because you are the children of Satan. This is why Yesu, <-- Jesus, said that a human must be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This heresy that God loves everyone is a lie! God loves those who persues righteousness! God loves His children. Satan's children, the wicked, or the world will be burned up and then casted into the Lake of Fire. Another fact is, is that unless God draws you to The Christ then you "cannot" come to Him, nomatter what you do. I do not care what the world or atheist do, thinks, or says because it does not concern me and should not concern any other "real" Christian anyways. It's not a Christians duty to go around fixing the world because that's just impossible. Only God can fix the world and is going to do so in due time with some serious heat. In the end the losers become the winners and the winners just get burnt. You are not the Devil like many people say on your show, but you are one of his many children.

I think I actually will start calling Christians "churchies"! I like that!

Friday, May 14, 2010

A response to Ravi Zacharias’ “Six Questions to Ask an Atheist”-

Someone sent me a link to this via Facebook and after spending some time addressing it, I thought I'd post it here. It's another long (though not insanely long) post, but it addresses the "questions" of a popular apologist that is often cited in e-mails from Christians.

Zacharias' original text is in black and my responses are in red.

Many times, as Christian theists, we find ourselves on the defensive against the critiques and questions of atheists. Here, then are six key questions you can ask of atheists as you engage them in honest conversation about the trajectory of this worldview:

First, we need to clarify that atheism isn’t a worldview. There are no tenets, dogma or edicts because atheism isn’t an “ism”…it’s simply the label we use to identify a position on a single question; do you believe a god exists? If the answer is yes, you’re a theist, if not, you’re an atheist.

Atheism can be the result of a worldview and it is certainly consistent with a number of secular philosophical worldviews, so for the sake of this discussion I’ll address the questions without quibbling over that detail but it’s essential to point out that there’s an underlying misconception that tends to encourage theists to frame their questions in a way that doesn’t really make sense.

1. If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Where did everything come from, and why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life? Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end? How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier? If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, where do we look to determine what is good or bad, right or wrong? If you are content within an atheistic worldview, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?

The entire paragraph is an implied argument that if we haven’t yet explained the big questions (without making an appeal to the god hypothesis) that we’re then justified in accepting that a god exists. This is a thinly-veiled argument from ignorance, a classic logical fallacy.

In addition to that problem, the god hypothesis has no explanatory power. Explanations increase our understanding and we tend to explain things in terms of other things that we already understand.

Attempting to ‘answer’ the big question by appealing to the supernatural doesn’t accomplish this because it’s an attempt to solve a mystery by appealing to another mystery. That’s not an explanation; it’s a gap-filler. It doesn’t solve a mystery; it obscures it in an attempt to assuage our discomfort with the unknown.

How do we answer the big questions? The same way we’d answer any other question. First, we acknowledge that we don’t have an explanation and then we investigate until we do. The time to believe a proposed explanation is after it has been supported by argument and evidence - and not a moment before. Explanations are supported by evidence; they’re not supported by a failure to come up with a better response.

In the end, this question isn’t an implied argument for the existence of god; it’s an implied argument for belief as a means of placating curiosity and xenophobia. Accepting a pacifying non-answer retards progress toward discovering the real answer.

2. If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists taking their worldview more seriously like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault? These three atheists recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes. The experience of atheistic meaninglessness is recorded in Sartre’s book Nausea. Without God, these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.

The implication in this question is that if there is no transcendent, ultimate, externally imposed meaning that there can be no meaning. That’s a bit of an equivocation fallacy – conflating “meaning” and “transcendent meaning” and then spinning it into “atheistic meaninglessness”.

I have no crisis of meaning. A secular worldview doesn’t result in meaninglessness. My life has whatever meaning I attribute to it, and this would be true whether a god existed or not. Value is the result of desire and while he’d like to dismiss our “selfish interests, pleasures, or tastes” as negatives, that’s not the case. Our selfish interests can result in benefit or harm, all with respect to the things we value. He dismisses the very foundations of meaning in order to claim there is no meaning… that doesn’t sound like the “honest conversation” I’m looking for.

The broader, implied argument is that one should believe in a god because it’ll prevent you from feeling as though your life has no meaning. This is not an argument for the existence of a god; it’s an argument for belief which has no dependency on the object of that belief being true. It’s like arguing that one should believe that they’re holding a winning lottery ticket if it makes them happy.

The problem, of course, is that our beliefs inform our actions and our actions have consequences for ourselves and others. The person who sincerely believes that they hold a winning lottery ticket may well take actions that prove devastating when they discover they actually don’t have a winning ticket.

3. If people don’t believe in God, the historical results are horrific, so how do we deal with the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it? Countless millions lost their lives under these godless regimes, regimes more influenced by Nietzsche’s concept of the ubermensch (superman) than they were by transcendent morality.

Once again, we have an implied argument that has nothing to do with the actual existence of god but rather on the purported benefits of believing that a god exists; if people stop believing in gods, bad things will happen, so don’t stop believing.

The assertion that atheism leads to horrifying atrocities is simply not true. It’s a vile, slanderous charge, rooted in ignorance and deception that isn’t the slightest bit softened by Zacharias’ stylish, questioning form.

In the case of the examples given, atheism is neither necessary nor sufficient to be identified as the cause of the actions taken. In truth, the atrocities were the result of belief systems which, while consistent with atheism, are not caused by atheism. You simply cannot draw a causal chain from “I do not believe a god exists” to “I’m going to destroy religious organizations and religious people” without an additional belief — and it is that belief that would be the cause of the atrocities.

To claim otherwise is to claim that atheism necessarily leads to horrifying acts (which is what he’s trying to do) and there are millions of secular people who testify to the false nature of that assertion every single day.

Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot took actions based on beliefs that are akin to religions. They were powerful zealots of socio-political ideologies and a belief that the opposition must be eliminated. To claim that those beliefs were caused by atheism is as much a non sequitur as claiming that they were caused by a stomach ache.

Hitler, on the other hand, gave conflicting reports about his beliefs. He publicly and privately identified as a Catholic, yet there’s also testimony that he was anti-religious or anti-Christian at times. If he had done great work, I suspect that the Christians would claim that he was opposed to organized religion, but a devoted, personal believer. Because of the atrocities he committed, they take a different tact, labeling him an atheist.

We can no more know Hitler’s true beliefs about the existence of gods than we can know the mind of any other. What we can know, though, is that even if he was an atheist, that wasn’t the cause of the actions he took. As Zacharias points out, it was the ideology of the Übermensch (among other beliefs) that encouraged those actions.

While that ideology is consistent with atheism (everything except for a belief in a god is consistent with atheism) it is not caused by atheism nor is it necessarily connected with atheism. It is not, though, consistent with modern secular humanism.

4. If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer? Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of it being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable, since no interventions in this life or reparations in an afterlife are possible. It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort. There is only madness and confusion in the face of suffering and evil.

His claim is that suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, if there is no God. This is another roundabout way of saying, “Hey, you might as well believe, you’ll be no worse off” — another argument for belief with no ties to the truth of the proposition one is being asked to believe. It reminds me a bit of the people who try to claim that atheism is “just another religion” without realizing the implication of what they’ve just said.

I disagree with his assessment, though, that suffering is just as or more tragic if there is no god.

If there isn’t a god, then suffering isn’t the result of original sin or impious thoughts and it isn’t a test from God or a torment from demons and devils. If there is no god, then suffering is a natural part of reality and that means that we can equip ourselves to alleviate unnecessary suffering by learning more about reality. We can also take comfort in knowing that the unavoidable is actually unavoidable and not punishment.

If there is no god, then those who blame natural disasters on immodest women, abortionists, homosexuals and atheists are simply arrogant bigots and not the voice of a deity. That’s no small comfort and, since we’re talking about the impact of suffering, that’s a valid point.

We do not require a god for comfort, we can reach out to other people and we can reach within, to the confidence and security that is bolstered by the understanding that one is not simply a plaything of a transcendent being.

5. If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most? Whose voice will be heard? Whose tastes or preferences will be honored? In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway? Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong — really wrong? Where do those standards come from? Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy. Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.

This is simply false. The standard by which I critique religion and religious people is not contingent upon the existence of a god. This is a thinly-veiled claim of “no moral authority” and it’s a bit like saying that a room full of people can have no opinions or shared principles without someone outside the room telling them what those views should be.

Secular morality is superior to religious morality in every regard, save one; religious morality is simplistic. Secular morality requires thought and effort, religious morality is for the lazy and the thoughtless — those who would be duped into thinking that something becomes ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for them, simply because of an edict attributed to some other being.

Religious people already intuitively recognize the superiority of secular morality and they’ve been adopting the moral views of the secular societies that surround them.

The Bible, for example, clearly and explicitly endorses slavery. For those who believe that the Bible is the ultimate source of moral law from the ultimate lawgiver, there is no moral justification for opposing slavery — yet that’s exactly what some of them did and what most of them continue to do. Nowhere does the Bible denounce slavery, it’s supported in Old and New Testaments; so why do Christians generally oppose slavery?

It’s because we live in a cooperative society which helps form and shift our values. While dogmatists were blindly proclaiming their god’s endorsement of slavery, freethinking people (religious and non-religious) were actually considering the subject and evaluating its impact on the health of society.

It was the application of reason that changed the moral landscape, not the God of the Bible.

6. If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent? How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why I am so unfulfilled or empty? Why do I hunger for the spiritual? How do we deal with these questions if nothing can exist beyond the material world? Atheists, particularly atheistic scientists go way beyond their scientific training when they depart from the “how” questions to prognosticating about the “why” questions. Even terms like “natural selection” seems a misuse of words, since only an intelligent being can assess options and choose. How do we get laws out of luck, or predictable processes out of brute chance? If all that makes us different from animals is learning and altruism, why do the brutish still widely outnumber the wise in our world?

He’s basically arguing that his desire for the transcendent can only be explained in a case where the transcendent exists. This is an obvious fallacy. If there are no aliens, why do people long for alien encounters? Does their desire only make sense if aliens are beaming messages to their brains?

More importantly, I have no longing for the transcendent and no hunger for the spiritual. If Ravi’s desire is sufficient to support the existence of the supernatural, then is my lack of desire sufficient to refute a claim of existence?

Finally, there are no “how” questions or “why” questions — you can form the questions either way:

Why is the sky blue? How does the sky appear blue? What makes the sky appear blue? Where does the blue in the sky come from? When…well, maybe we can’t use every interrogative.

What he means by “why” would be better labeled “for what transcendent reason…”, but if he says that, he exposes a flaw that we can expose with another “why” question: Why do you think there must be a transcendent reason?

His answer to that question is obvious. He thinks there must be a transcendent reason because he can’t imagine that there couldn’t be and wouldn’t want to live in a world where there wasn’t a transcendent reason… yet another argument for belief or against the consequences of disbelief, with no bearing on the truth of the issue.

His claim that “natural selection” misuses words is a bit obtuse when you realize that the term is a metaphoric response to unsupported claims of supernatural mechanisms. Only someone unfamiliar with evolution or willing to misrepresent it to make a point would claim that this is a misuse. Would he object to someone claiming that something was “decided by a coin toss” since only an intelligent being can “decide”?

In the end, this is really the same as the first question: if there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered…

I think “does some god exist” qualifies as one of the big questions. If Zacharias was as interested in examining the truth of his religious beliefs as he is in defending his belief with appeals to the fictitious consequences of disbelief, he might see that.

We’ll have a hope of answering those big questions when curious thinkers, dissatisfied with appeals to mystery, question the claims of religion and investigate with any eye toward truth, rather than comfort.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

We get email: another creationist punching bag

So today, there's a fellow who's shown up in our inboxes claiming, at different times, to be a "Christian Psychiatrist" (both words capitalized), a neuroscientist, and a physician, though his nick is "risky-kid," which doesn't sound like any doctor I want to see. I call bullshit. But maybe the guy got his degrees from Patriot University and that's how they do things. Anyway, he caught me at the right time, and so if you wish to amuse yourself reading my beatdown, here 'tis. I'm in italics.

Caveat: you are likely to find the tone of this response extremely condescending and rude. This isn't an apology, merely a heads-up. I'm afraid public displays of smug ignorance bring out the worst in me. It's not a thing I feel I need to work on.

Subject: RE: I am a thiest I come in peace
Date: Thursday, May 13, 2010, 4:37 PM

My approach it an integrative evidence based approach, in which scripture and nature rightly understood always harmonize. If there are apparent contradictions I look for errors in both my understanding of scripture and my understanding of nature. I have found errors in both places over time.

What is your basis for considering scripture valid as evidence of anything in the first place?

I find Darwinian evolution held together only by an insistence on forcing evidence to be interpreted in ways that are favorable to that theory rather than actually letting the evidence speak for itself.

Good for you, but that only shows you fail to understand the evidence for evolution and how it shores up the theory.

The list of scientific evidence which refutes Darwinian evolution is enormous, but this email isn't a place for me to recite all of such evidence.

Nope. Sorry. You don't get to show up here and spout the same tired creationist canards without backing them up. And yes, we're aware that there are loads of creationist websites out there making arguments against evolution that sound very scholarly and scientific. But has any of their research actually been reproduced by other people without an agenda to push? Where are the peer-reviewed articles demonstrating that evolution by natural selection has been refuted? I mean in legitimate, recognized scientific journals, not those the creationists print up to circulate amongst themselves.

Those biased by years of evolutionary education however have failed to see how subjective their thinking has become and instead criticize any interpretation that deviates from the "accepted" norm as "blind" or "faith" based.

Perhaps the "accepted norm" is "accepted" because it's what the evidence actually supports. Seriously, you started out with basic scientific illiteracy and now you're projecting the attitudes of creationists onto scientists, and you're not even trying not to be lame about it.

Sorry, but until you show you actually know a damn thing about evolutionary biology, I see no reason to take any of this drivel seriously. If you wish any credibility for your claim that you have "read widely in the scientific literature", simply demonstrate that you're right and that you have the expertise you claim to have. Here is your assignment:

1. Explain endogenous retroviruses using the evolutionary model.
2. Explain the creationist alternative.
3. Demonstrate precisely how the latter refutes the former, with citations.
Extra Credit: Submit your work to Nature and win a Nobel Prize.

But when one has already concluded that creation didn't happen, and evolution did, then all the evidence is filtered through a bias which prevents real learning.

Yeah, again, you seem to have covered the whole subject of projection pretty well in your training to be a "Christian Psychiatrist". Of course, it could never be the case that someone who has already concluded there's an invisible magic man in the sky filters evidence through that preconception, and has "real learning" prevented thereby.

As a physician, and particularly a neuroscientist, I do find the common theory that the brain evolved over millions of years to be unscientific.

Then I'm going to take a wild guess and conclude that you're either A) not a neuroscientist B) a lousy neuroscientist.

I have never seen one scientific experiment, reproducible, in which any species, by forces of nature and environment grew new lobes onto its brain. This is what is commonly taught in the neuro literature and I ask what evidence to support this - of course there is none.

I thought you were familiar with the scientific literature. It took me precisely 2 seconds to Google this.

But tell me, where are the reproducible experiments that have shown Godidit? I mean, clearly, the scientific literature must be overflowing with them. Or is it that the Big Science Conspiracy has struck again, I wonder?

Really, only three things need to exist for evolution to occur, and they're all things that we know exist: Sexual reproduction, heritable variation, and selection pressure. Perhaps you have some research that shows none of those things come into play in the process after all...?

Another equally resonable intepretation of the evidence is that a designer built and expanded His design to create variations on a theme. When we consider all the vehicles on the road from carts, to carriages, to bicycles, to autos, trucks etc. We can see various elements in common to all and order them from simple to complex, yet none would argue that these vehicles evolved on their own, all would rightly realize that designers included elements that are essential to the function of each (wheels) etc.

Yeah yeah yeah. And if you found a watch on the beach...

Honestly, there are 18-year-old biology freshmen who could explain selection to you. You're making the basic creationist fallacy of comparing artifacts to natural organisms. The development from simplicity to complexity in evolutionary science really is Biology 101 stuff, and very widely understood by those, unlike you, actually versed in the field. Seriously, your remedial education begins here.

If that doesn't interest you, then demonstrate, please, that the concept of a designer is scientifically falsifiable. What would a non-designed lifeform look like?

Therefore, I do not believe science has provided reasonable evidence to conclude a naturalistic explanation, and rather I find the weight of evidence for a designer

Huh? Then where is that evidence? All you've shown us is what you consider "reasonable interpretations" of evidence you haven't even convinced us you understand at a baseline level. (Indeed you've shown pretty unambiguously that you don't.) And all you backed that up with is whining about how you think scientists are all biased and subjective for not seeing your god in everything. You also seem to think that "integrating" modern scientific evidence with the writings of a Bronze Age holy book produced by an ignorant, pre-scientific, and primitive culture that barely even had indoor plumbing to be a valid approach to researching this vast and complex field. Which, frankly, makes about as much sense as figuring out how to get a girlfriend by integrating your actual interactions with women with the experiences of Archie and Peter Parker in comic books. In other words, you have something of a credibility deficit here.

and in fact find two antagonistic principles at play throughout the entire earth ecosystem - what I term the law of love, which is the principle of life, and the survival of the fittest principle (fear and selfishness) which is an infection which damages and brings death. Viruses, as I see it are examples of the infection to creation which damages and destroys, their very function is merely self replication and take without giving, and results in destroying the host and itself in the end. This is exactly what sin is and does, selfishness, taking, destorying and dying.

Well I guess I have gone on long enough.

Long enough for me to conclude you are either not being truthful about being an actual neuroscientist widely read in the literature, or that academic standards for people in your profession have crashed through the floor. Perhaps you got your degree from Patriot University?

Talk about last minute...

...But the Texas Freedom Network has sent the information for registering to speak at the next Texas SBOE hearings on social studies curriculum standards. So if you are in Austin and wish to speak — and the fundies who simply love the new "it's all about white Christians!" standards will almost certainly be trying to fill the rolls — you gotta get up pretty early in the morning.

1. You have to register to testify with the Texas Education Agency. TEA will accept registration on Friday, May 14, 2010 from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Registration is on a first-come, first-serve basis, so it is beneficial to register as early as possible on Friday. You can either register by phone by calling 512-463-9007, download a form by clicking here and fax it to 512-936-4319 or hand deliver the form to the William B. Travis State Office Building. The building address is 1701 N. Congress Ave. Austin, TX. (Click here for a google map).

2. Click here to download the form you will need to register with the TEA. Here is some information to help you fill out your form. The hearing date is May 19. Item to be addressed is Social Studies TEKS, and the grade level you will be testifying about: elementary, middle school, or high school. You will need to bring 35 hard copies of your testimony with you to give to the board members. If you represent an organization or business, please indicate that in the section marked "affiliation"; otherwise indicate "parent" or "self". Do not mark your affiliation as TFN. TFN will have only one official spokesperson that day.

3. The hearing will take place at the William B. Travis State Office Building, 1701 N. Congress Ave., Austin. The hearing will be on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 9:00 a.m. (Click here for a google map). The hearing room is 1-104.

4. Parking is limited. There is street parking around the William B. Travis State Office Building that is metered, and we recommend parking at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum garage. (Click here for information on the parking garage).

5. We suggest you also look over the general rules for public testimony and the registration process created by the Texas Education Agency by clicking here.

6. You only have 3 minutes to give your testimony, so it is important to state your main points clearly and quickly.

7. Please click here to read the proposed social studies standards.

The narrow window is to keep the rolls thin so everyone won't be there till one in the morning, and I'm sure the McLeroy/Leo bloc hopes they can pack it with the church crowd. If you wish to speak, well, I hope this post gets to you in time.

A Surprising Opinion

I met a professional paleontologist recently. We seemed to share some similar opinions on the Texas State Board of Education. But we parted views when I heard that he has presented before to Evangelicals, and that he has told them, when confronted, that he cannot comment on the validity of the theory of Intelligent Design.

“Really?” I asked. “You can’t assess the validity of ID as a theory? But it’s not falsifiable—it makes no predictions.”

He said that Evolutionary Theory makes no predictions. And this stunned me. He qualified it by restating it “makes only contingent predictions.”

We were walking as we talked, and had to quickly part ways based on where we were each headed, but I decided to look up his statement to see the meaning of “contingent prediction.” It appears that this means that it doesn’t make predictions along the lines of a physics formula—mathematically precise. I found this odd, because this, to me, would be an irrelevancy whether true or not true.

The actual concern, in my view, is that we do know there are things about this world that would be very different, indeed—demonstrably so—if evolution were not a reality. And the same cannot be said for Intelligent Design—because the mechanism—the intelligent designer—is not examinable. Evolution as a mechanism, on the other hand, is very much examinable.

If evolution were untrue, for example, I would not expect to have successful domestic breeding programs. How would breeding individuals with certain, specific phenotypes even hope to produce increased numbers of offspring that also demonstrate those phenotypes, if phenotypic data is not relayed by reproduction in some fashion? If humans did not observe or discover that you can relay traits from one generation to the next with increased frequency by artificially selecting for them in breeding—domestic breeding would never have even been attempted. Evolution through artificial selection is tried and true. Who could possibly deny it?

Or, what if we had discovered that organisms of different species, at a genetic level, bear no evidence of relationships to one another? What if my biology was incomparable to that of a chimpanzee? As distantly related as to a squid or a fly? Or what if none of us appeared to be related at all? Why should some animals be more or less “like me”? Why would we do medical testing, for drugs or treatments ultimately intended for use in humans, on animals like rats and chimpanzees and pigs, rather than spiders or goldfish? Would you feel as safe using a drug that was tested on a spider prior to use in humans, rather than on another mammal?

Or, how is it that, in digging for fossils, field scientists can predict the types of life forms one will find in a given area at a given depth representing a specific point in our Earth’s history? Would you think it a good prediction that we would find human fossils digging in a location known to represent the Mesozoic Era? Why not?

How has speciation been observed in both natural and laboratory environments—if it doesn’t occur naturally via evolution? How did it happen?

Any of these things, and I’m sure many others not mentioned, would be a problem for Evolutionary Theory if it had turned out to be different than it was. That is because Evolution does predict a particular type of reality that can absolutely turn out to be different than predicted.

But what does Intelligent Design predict? What sort of world is not the type of world an intelligent god would produce? Would horrid birth defects throw a wrench in it? Would flightless birds? Blind fish with residual eyes? Volcanoes? Tsunamis? Earthquakes? Plagues? Famine? Pestilence? Utopia?

Seriously—what is the difference between a world nature and natural laws would have generated without an intelligent designer, and one that a god—or intelligent designer—would have produced? What would falsify Intelligent Design? Evolution has put its cards on the table; and, over the decades, the findings have only upheld Darwin’s core concept: Populations absolutely change over time due to variation in information that is passed from one generation to the next.

Evolution is a reality—a fact anyone can observe. We all understand—or should by this time—that we don’t find the exact same sets of animals going back through the fossil record, as the ones we have today. The changes have been demonstrably grand, resulting in very different life forms in our modern world than what existed long, long ago.

I wish I would have had time to ask on what grounds a man of science scoffs at the Texas State Board of Education for it’s handling of biology textbooks, if he truly believes that science cannot assess the validity of something like Intelligent Design, and also that it offers no more in the way of falsification than Evolution? Since he and I agree the Board mishandled the biology standards—what is his basis for his view, if religious “theories” are just as valid, in his professional opinion as a paleontologist, as demonstrated models used in modern biological research?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ray Comfort recovers World's Stupidest Christian™ title from Denyse O'Leary

Just in case you were worried. See how much pure, unadulterated Raytardation you can catalog in this single passage.

Evolution has no explanation for man's beginning. Some of its believers think that perhaps there was a big bang, but they don't know where the materials came from for it to take place. They don't know what was in the beginning, but they are certain that there was no God. They believe the scientific absurdity that life rose out of non-life. It was simply a case of evolution-did-it.

Truly, I'm amazed the guy survives from day to day with such a profound lack of basic intelligence.

Here's more, if you think your poor skull can take it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How to mismanage a call on live TV...

I knew we'd get feedback about one of the calls from yesterday's show and I'd like to post a brief comment in order to avoid getting a ton of feedback.

There's a serious problem with the phones. In short, there are many occasions where the caller simply cannot hear us when they're talking. The studio's Telos system is supposed to be full-duplex but most of the time it doesn't work properly. There are several possible causes:

1. The audio system simply isn't wired correctly (no mix-minus setup).
2. The Telos device simply isn't adjusted correctly.
3. Some other part of the audio system is over-driving the Telos such that it can't be adjusted correctly.
4. The device simply won't work effectively at all times due to the nature of taking calls from all around the world on both land lines and cell phones.

I'm not an audio engineer, so I can't say for certain, but we have the exact same device at my place for the Non-Prophets show and it took a great deal of tweaking to get it to work correctly (and it still acts up from time to time). We take a test call before every show and attempt to make sure that everything is working correctly...but we're unable to identify the problem. (The test calls tend to work just fine.)

Yes, I'd happily pay for a real audio engineer to come in and fix the problems in the studio - but I'm not allowed to do that. We are, though, doing everything in our power (which may not be much) to get it fixed.

So, what happened yesterday? Well, the caller couldn't hear us talking when he was talking. Jeff didn't realize this and thought the caller was being rude (not much of a stretch when he called to talk about how dangerous "new atheists" were and then failed to support the claim at every point) Jeff got irritated. The caller responded in kind, and things spiraled downward from there.

At some point, I lost my cool and yelled at everyone to shut up. Sorry about that, luckily the compressor/limiter works and I doubt I blew out anyone's eardrums.

What I should have done was just put the caller on hold, take a moment to explain the problems to everyone and work out a plan that would actually allow both of them to talk...but honestly, I was already sick of the caller's dishonesty.

He had called in to claim that "new atheists" were dangerous. He shifted this claim, when it was shot down, to "reductionist materialists" were dangerous, yet the only danger he identified was a danger to his ability to be comfortable with ideas that departed from his own...followed by the tired old slippery slope claim that if we recognize that humans are "merely" matter and energy, then we're no different from a rock and we must then toss aside our humanity.

He claimed to "know" that humans are more than matter and energy, because he's somehow managed to discover that it's impossible for us to "merely" be matter and energy and then he announced that he was a solipsist.

We hung up on him. A later caller wanted to clarify solipsism by defending philosophical solipsism (soft solipsism?) - which is, for me, a waste of time. That position is almost tautological (it's flawed in ignoring logical absolutes) and largely irrelevant as it simply points out that we can only be absolutely certain about the self. Jeff and I had initially responded to the more colloquial usage of solipsism (hard solipsism?) that expands on this to establish a belief that only the self exists or is likely to exist.

In any case, I'd like to apologize to everyone, including Jeff, for losing my cool. We had an annoying caller, a problem with the phone (that I've been frustrated with for quite a while) and it all led up to a mismanaged call.

I'll make more judicious use of the hold button and we'll keep pushing for them to fix the phone system.

George Rekers is a bigger whore than his own rentboy

Whenever one of these secretly-gay fundamentalist homophobes manages unintentionally to out himself with the usual Keystone Kops subtlety, one thing can be counted on always to happen. Folks like us will be passing around yummy slices of schadenfreude pie, and at some point during the party, amidst all the gloating and off-color jokes about a man's "luggage," someone will sincerely wonder why the secretly-gayest of all Christians are the most virulently, vocally homophobic.

There's a complex psychological answer to this, of course, having much to do with the cognitive trauma endured by a lifetime of Christian indoctrination that is often and repeatedly at odds with reality, and the way such indoctrination is designed expressly to tear down the believer's self-esteem so as to rebuild it with Christianity at the center of it. But in some cases, there's also a painfully simple answer as well. Take old George Rekers. In a very meaningful way, what prompted his homophobic crusade was the crassest of all human motives. It paid big bucks. Your big bucks, if you happen to be a Floridian.

Turns out that Rekers banked a handsome $120,000 of taxpayers' money when the state of Florida paid for his services as an "expert witness" against a gay man trying to adopt a child. Money, as the writer of the linked article points out bitterly, which could have gone to some needy school district or something. And he's done it before, once in Arkansas where his input was dismissed as "worthless" by a judge. But Rekers still got to keep his fee. That kind of money will certainly pay for a lot of high-end designer-label cock luggage.

Rekers has made his living as a homophobe-for-hire, spewing worthless, unscientific opinions in courtrooms with the goal of destroying peoples' dreams of a family of their own. And he did it for money. All the while living the life he condemned, smugly convincing himself, I have no doubt, that by punishing others for his own "sins" he was balancing the moral books. Congrats, George, you just leveled up your "Scum" attributes as high as they can go. At least your hunky "Lucien" never pretended to be something he was not!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

McLeroy's moronity gets press across the pond

Just in time for the end of his SBOE career, Texas' moron du jour Don McLeroy is profiled in this piece in the Times. Unlike the mealy-mouthed faux journalism of the US, where everyone is expected to play nice and all views no matter how foolish are to be accorded "respect," McLeroy here is unambiguously painted as a pants-on-head ignorant ideologue openly attempting to politicize education. Just another reason to be grateful he's been shown the door.

"I love science," he protests. Of course you do, Mac. Like priests love kids.

Friday, May 07, 2010 makes no SENSE!

Welcome to Florida, where they hate teh gayz, but are apparently pretty open-minded about furries. The Sunshine State goes out of its way to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying or even adopting (though their adoption ban has been ruled unconstitutional), and yet they just can't seem to muster up the energy to ban bestiality.

But here's what I find confusing, even by the standards of wingnut tomfoolery. Aren't these folks the ones who believe that homosexuality leads to bestiality? Aren't they the ones telling us that buttsecks and being fabulous is just a gateway drug to boning Fido? I mean, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and our ol' buddy Pat seem to think so, and many others in the I'm-Not-Repressing-Anything-No-I-Mean-It Brigade agree. So is it Florida's position, then, that while The Gay is a threat to the very fabric of our society that must be eradicated at all costs, the presumably-ickier kinks it apparently leads to aren't really much to be worried about? Wouldn't it follow that if homosexuality really corrupts society, then bestiality would be a total apocalyptic leghump for the whole planet? But if they're now saying bestiality is a "rare crime" that it would be a waste of time dealing with legislatively, then aren't they admitting that Huck and Pat and Rick and those guys are (gasp!) wrong!? But how could they be lying to us? They're good Christians! Gah! Dealing with these people makes my poor head* throb. I need a cookie.

*I mean the one on my shoulders. Geez, you people...

Easter Sunday (a bit late)

I mentioned on Saturday that my fiancee and I went to church on Easter Sunday. I've been meaning to write a post about the experience for a while, but I never got around to it.

Luckily, she blogs too, and has done my work for me. Enjoy!

Belated Easter Tidings

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Yes, I know, this is just begging for a joke about teabagging...

...But even I won't go near it, gang. Wait, I just did. Oh well! And yet, a headline like "Christian Right leader takes vacation with 'rent boy'" is still funny no matter how many times stuff like that happens. Gee, it's almost like "Christian Right leaders" are all a bunch of repressed moral hypocrites or something.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

An example of the e-mails I tend to spend time on...

As I've said on the shows, I spend a great deal of time answering e-mails. Some only take a moment to respond to, others take hours. It's been suggested that I post some of them here so that people can see, learn, laugh or sigh along with me. As I spent over 3 hours on this e-mail last night, I thought I'd go ahead and post it to see if this is something that suits the blog. I probably got a few things wrong...c'est la vie.

It's long (I've only edited it to protect the anonymity of the questioner), so if long posts aren't your cup of tea, move along. My comments are in the boxes.


Thanks for writing me back. Sorry I didn't mention, but I'm a Christian. To be more exact I'm Roman Catholic.

I have a number of Catholics in my family and I've spent some time studying Catholicism, but I was raised Protestant and I'm sure that it will color some of my commentary. What it won't affect, though, are the broad statements about truth, evidence, reason and belief.

I'll be turning 21 in a couple of months. I find the notion of God to be a very interesting topic because God is such a controversial figure.

I find it interesting, not because of the controversy but because of the lack of controversy.

You've started off using the word 'God' without really defining it. Yes, you've stated that you're a Roman Catholic, so I'm reasonably safe in assuming that you hold to many, if not all, of the doctrines of that church...but what I meant by "lack of controversy" is that despite the controversies over the specifics of "God" there's a (largely ignored) lack of controversy on the question of the existence of this ill-defined "God". The majority of people believe that some god exists, despite the seeming inability to agree on what the word even means. It may be the case that the word means something different to nearly everyone - which would mean that no real information is being conveyed by its usage. That's intriguing.

What's more intriguing is that when we actually discuss the reasons people have for accepting this foundational belief, many different reasons are offered and none of the reasons involve a sound argument supported by evidence - which is, I would argue, the only reliable path to truth.

Growing up, I was raised Catholic, I went through most of the Sacraments because I was forced to by my parents. Being in my teens hardly anything made since in my faith. As a teenager I wasn't really a believer, God or no God I didn't care. I do however recall anything associated with Church was boring. Growing up with a lot of my friends in the Church, about half aren't even Catholic anymore, and quite a few don't even believe in God. The number one reason is because none of it made any sense. It was when I was around 18 did I start to take an interest.

It is important to ask questions about God, if God is real then why doesn't he manifest himself to us?

Am I safe in assuming that you agree that your God does not manifest himself? Because later you seem to imply that he does.

If so, then that should be the end of the conversation. That which does not manifest is absolutely indistinguishable from that which does not exist and, therefore, sufficient justification for belief is impossible. This is something that confuses people, though I think it should be instantly recognizable. You reject other god-concepts that don't manifest, don't you? If I told you that there was an alternate universe in which your analog was Emperor of the Earth's analog, yet this reality was utterly separate from ours (did not manifest in our reality in any way) could there ever be any reasonable justification for accepting that claim?

Until something has manifested in reality, there cannot be sufficient evidence for believing that it exists. Indeed, how could one even begin to define it? It is beyond detection or examination.

Who created God? What exactly is God? How does God function? What does an infinite being do with his time?

If you haven't answered your second question, "What exactly is God?" then what justification do you for any of the other questions? If you don't know what it is, you can't assert that it was created, has a function, is infinite, etc.... you're blithely skipping over the most important question in order to ask other questions that are spawned from mere speculation and assertion.

Running a finite universe cannot be the complete work of a infinite being? What is exactly is a spirit? What is the Spirit of God? Why would an all powerful loving God allow evil? Why is the God in the Bible all about sacrifice? Why do I have to die in order to go to heaven and hell? What is heaven and hell? Why would God create the universe? How did God create the universe? Why would God create Man? Why would God become Man? Why would God die for Man?

Can a god die? Did a god die? Did a god ever manifest in any way? You're questioning doctrine, and that's fine...but you have to start questioning the foundations. These questions make sense to you because they're within the framework of the religion you were raised in. Why not ask questions like; Why would there be a cosmic mechanism for justice, like Karma?

You don't ask those questions because you haven't already surrendered your mind to the presuppositions of've surrendered them to the presuppositions of Roman Catholicism. You haven't completely surrendered, though, or you wouldn't be questioning doctrine.

My point is simple; you think you're asking the right questions, when you're really not. Don't get me wrong, you're asking questions that may eventually lead to the right questions and I applaud you for questioning at all, but you won't get very far until you question the very assumptions these questions are based on:
- What does "god" mean?
- Is there sufficient reason to accept the claim that this "god", once defined, actually exists?

The rest of the questions are distractions. They're questions that you feel safe in asking because your particular church absolutely loves to write it all off as "mystery". (The next time you're at a funeral or mass, keep a running total of how many times the word "mystery" is used.) These questions allow you to feel like you're being intellectually honest, without any great risk of you actually investigating the presuppositions that serve as their foundation.

That's like me dying for a worm. Why would Christ command me to eat his flesh and drink his blood? Why is it that everybody tries to prove Christ in the Scriptures when Christ himself didn't write anything nor did he tell anybody to write anything? Those are extremely tough questions to answer, some may be repulsive, but its questions like these that have helped me.

Going back to the subject of asking the right questions; what reason do we have for thinking Jesus existed at all? I happen to think that it's very likely that there was a real man at the center of these stories, but my point is that there's a grand assumption being made and one that may not be justified.

What does it mean to say "person X" existed? If I say George Washington existed, what am I saying? Am I saying that there was a boy who refuse to lie about cutting down a cherry tree? Of course not. I'm saying that we have as much or more evidence to support the existence of George Washington as we do for many other historical figures. We have independent accounts, records, things reportedly written by him, paintings, accounts of friends and relatives that are all verifiable to differing degrees. The various claims about his life are judged as reliable and likely true or unreliable and unlikely to be true based on how the various reports agree, whether there's any discernible bias, whether something has the hallmark qualities of myth-building and many other criteria.

Eventually, we conclude that there's very good reason to accept that George Washington existed, was the first President of the United States and that he most probably did not refuse to lie about chopping down a cherry tree.

The farther removed we are from an event and the fewer sources we have, the less reliable things become...

Did Socrates really exist, or was he merely an invention of Plato? I have no idea, and it doesn't matter. The words attributed to Socrates are either sound or unsound whether they came from Socrates, Plato or Plato's next door neighbor. The words stand and fall on their own merits. (Note that this is not true in the case of Jesus where the truth of his words is inextricably tied to his existence...)

What about Jesus? We have a few accounts, by anonymous authors, written decades (or more) after the events supposedly occurred. We have no extra-Biblical, contemporary evidence to confirm any event specific to his life. We have, from these four Gospels, reports that either explicitly or implicitly conflict (was he born while Herod reigned or during Quirinius' census?) and we have many outlandish, mythic-hero claims. We have no good reason to think that any of these are eye-witness accounts and even if they were, we have no way to verify their reliability.

If we make a list of claims about this individual and rank their likelihood and credibility, we wind up acknowledging that it's likely that there was a person at the center of these myths...but we can't confirm anything about this individual's life. There's not sufficient evidence to assert that the Jesus character was entirely fabricated but after conceding the possibility that an itinerant rabbi existed, there's really not much else to say.

You could, if you wanted to, interview people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. They'll tell you stories that contain remarkable similarities, they'll seem honest and sincere and there will be many of them that agree. Will you believe their claims? If not, why not? Their claims are far better supported than the ancient writings of anonymous authors and less far-fetched (many of the stories don't actually involve physics-defying miracles). You'll be getting eye-witness testimony, directly from the source - but I'm betting you wouldn't believe and it confuses me as to how one can do that, and then believe ancient, unsupported claims of miracles.

If God doesn't exist then do I really have to live up to morals? Can I just pick and choose the mores I want live by? If God doesn't exist does that give me the "okay" to do evil? Who's to say I'm wrong? Society can, but in the long run I don't have a consequence, but who's to say society is right anyway?

There are consequences, and we both know it. Saying "in the long run" is just a red herring. Your line of reasoning ignores the only consequences that are likely to matter...the ones that happen while we're alive. It does no good to appeal to hypothetical post-life consequences.

If God doesn't exist is murdering an unborn innocent developing human wrong then?

I'd say God's existence is irrelevant to whether or not it's wrong. Does genocide or child rape become morally correct simply because a God declares it so?

The Euthyphro dilemma is an ancient treatment of this subject. An updated take on it might look like this:

Is something moral because a god commands it or does a god command it because it's moral?

If it's the former, then there are no moral absolutes, morality is simply a fiat declaration that can be changed on whim (and the fiat declaration of this god is no more moral than my own declaration - the only difference is one of power; a might-makes-right mentality which has no ties to morality). If it's the latter, then the god is simply a messenger boy and is irrelevant to whether or not an act is moral.

What would happen if the "notion of God" disappeared? Would the world become a better place or would the world become horrifically barbaric? The world is barbaric with the notion of God already, so how much more barbaric could it be without the notion of God? Without God their are no limits of what man can do. People develop prejudices, intolerance's, slander. For all kinds of reasons, "he looked at me funny." If God doesn't exist than its best to live life right now to the fullest in any way that suits you. What are your thoughts on this?

I think you answered it. Without the god concept, we are free. Would the world become a better place? I think it has and I'm optimistic that it'll continue. Secular morality is superior to religious morality in every way except one - religious morality is simple and easy; it is an unthinking, uninvolved system that requires no effort on the part of the participants. Moreover, religious people already recognize and accept this and there are a few ways in which this is obvious. Here's one:

The Bible clearly and explicitly advocates slavery. It gives instructions on who to enslave, how long you can enslave them, how much you can beat them, how much to pay for them. It explicitly advocates owning another human being as property, including passing them on to your offspring. This Old Testament advocation is not reversed in the New Testament, it's supported with specific instructions for servants/slaves to obey even cruel masters.

This is morally repugnant. Even most Christians recognize that this is morally repugnant. It wasn't their religious views that ended slavery in the United States, it was the influence of secular ethics that encouraged softer interpretations of their religious views.

If slavery is immoral, why doesn't the Bible say so? Is god so inept in his communication that he inspired men to get this simple issue exactly backward? If so, how many other things are backward? How many subtle doctrinal points that have divided Jews and Christians are the result of this God's inability to communicate? Why hasn't God cleared this up? If God did inspire the Old and New Testaments, why not inspire a New New Testament correcting the mistakes? Why did it take the influence of secular progressives to change the moral views of Christians?

Is it more likely that this god is inept, or that he simply doesn't exist? Is it more likely that the Bible represents the best thinking of its authors at the times it was written or that it reflects the best thinking of an omniscient moral lawgiver and creator?

How hard would it have been to say "Thou shalt not own another human being as property"? Instead, the Bible specifically states that your slaves are your property and they can be passed on to your descendants.
How hard would it have been to say "Slaves, do not succumb to masters, cruel or otherwise, but throw off the yoke of oppression and be free"? Instead the Bible orders servants to obey their masters, even the cruel ones.

The Bible is simply wrong about slavery. Apologists will attempt to cover for this with a thousand excuses, but the Bible is simply wrong.

Bottom line is either God exist or not, you either see him or don't. But we both can't be right.

You're making a mistake here and I don't want to harp on it too much, but it needs to be clarified.

"Some god exists." That is a claim and those who accept that claim are labeled theists and those who do not accept that claim are atheists.
"No gods exist." That's a different claim. There really isn't a label for those who accept that claim, but anti-theist will probably do.

The point is that rejecting the first claim does not mean you necessarily accept the second claim.

Yes, it is a fact... either some god exists, or no gods exist. Those are the only two possibilities. However, what you BELIEVE about those two possibilities is not limited to simply two options. Rather than going into great detail, I'll recommend that you watch my lecture on belief.

When we die we are either just going to obliterate into nonexistence which sounds nice, or we are going to see ourselves the way God sees us.

Whoa, cowboy! How did you come to the conclusion that those are the only options?

It's worth noting that some Christians believe that non-believers will be annihilated instead of sent to an actual hell - so even within the scope of Christian doctrine your dichotomy fails. But there's no reason to accept the false dichotomy that implies that either your particular take on Roman Catholicism is correct or the anti-theistic view is correct. What about the theological claims of Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, Zoroastrians? There are many different competing views and they can't all be right...but they can all be wrong.

You're proposing a modified version of Pascal's wager here and it's the last gasping breath of someone who has already admitted defeat.

Which doesn't sound to pleasing, because nobody knows where he or she stands with God that's why we have faith. Unless you "presume I'm Saved" I can say I'm saved all I want but that doesn't mean one iota, that's my opinion. God isn't limited to what a finite creature thinks of him. God can do anything and everything, there are no limits with God.

You seem to be defining this God more specifically, as we go along. Despite your claims of uncertainty, the god you're describing is sounding more and more Roman Catholic. Do you see what you're doing? Do you see how you've skipped past the truly relevant questions and made assumptions that support your presuppositions?

If God allows evil in the world, then God allows evil in the world, if God allows goodness in the world, then he allows it. Only God is good. But he allows it.

By what standard are you determining that God is good? If God is only good by his own standards, then couldn't the Devil be considered good by his own standards? How are you accepting one set of standards over the other?

Either you are judging them by your own standards (in which case you are the author of your own morality) or you're choosing one of them with no regard to any objective standard. As a mere mortal, how can you be sure that you haven't backed the wrong horse? After all, yours supposedly sanctioned slavery and threatens people with hell. Exactly what has the Devil sanctioned?

Please realize, I don't believe in either and I'm not supporting either. We could substitute any two fictional rivals and the questions are still valid.

You can say "what is the problem with righteousness in the world?" People typically don't question beliefs that are comfortable to them. If God doesn't exist then what is there to atheate?

First of all, atheate isn't a word...and while I initially thought I liked it, I really don't. It represents a flawed perspective that I partially outlined in my comments about belief. Despite that, let's look at what you wrote next:

Nobody atheates unicorns cause nobody believes their real. If God wasn't real their would be no believers.

You've committed a rather obvious logical fallacy here which would invalidate any syllogism you attempted to construct. I'm not even sure I can put those two sentences in a syllogism in order to clearly show the error.

First of all, if no one believes unicorns are real then everyone 'atheates' unicorns. Because the only way that your non-word means anything is if it means "rejects claims of the existence of". So your first sentence is absolutely backward - everyone atheates unicorns (provided we ignore the views of children, for the sake of argument).
The real problem, though, is in your second sentence, "If God wasn't real there would be no believers." Rather than constructing a syllogism, let me just retype that sentence replacing one word...hopefully you'll begin to understand how horribly flawed that sentence is:

"If Allah wasn't real there would be no believers."
"If Brahma wasn't real there would be no believers."
"If Karma wasn't real there would be no believers."
"If Homeopathy wasn't real there would be no believers."
"If Astrology wasn't real there would be no believers."
"If alien abductions weren't real there would be no believers."
"If bigfoot wasn't real there would be no believers."

You're trying to claim that the existence of atheists somehow confirms the existence of god and you tried so hard to do it that you made up a new word, got the usage of that word completely backward in the first sentence and then wrote a second sentence that is so invalid that I'm pretty sure you'll be a little embarrassed. You should be, but don't beat yourself up over it. We've all made stupid mistakes like's learning from the mistakes that matters.

Nobody typically submits themselves to something that they know doesn't exist.

This is the "no one would knowingly die for a lie" claim that we dealt with over the summer. First of all, it's not true. People have knowingly died for a lie when they thought they were protecting others or serving a greater good. Second of all, it's irrelevant because we need not claim that martyrs died for something they knew to be untrue. We need only note that whether or not they believed sincerely is irrelevant to whether or not the claim IS true.

There have been many martyrs for many religions. I'd reckon that the overwhelming majority of them sincerely believed that they were dying for the truth. I'd also point out that you and I would agree, I presume, that all non-Christian martyrs died for something that we do not believe to be true which means that we agree that people do die for things that aren't true, they just may not realize that they aren't true.

The sincerity of one's convictions has no bearing on the truth of those beliefs.

If God wants to manifest himself into bread, so be it, whether I understand or not. If God wanted to make me non existent he could. You start putting limits and boundaries on a being with no limits or boundaries you set yourself up for doom. You can't force God to be on your own your own time at your convenience, he plays by his own rules whether we agree with those rules or not, that's besides the point. If God wanted evolution to exist, then so be it. If God made the natural ;aws of order for people to discover so be it. If God allowed man to figure out E=MC2, So be it.

And if those things are true irrespective of a god, so be it.

Every man and woman desires to be independent from God, the only problem is everybody is dependent on him, I exist because he allows me to exist whether I acknowledge him or not.

Please demonstrate that God allows you to exist.

God doesn't force anybody to believe in him, but he does ask for us to believe and that we follow his commandments,

Please demonstrate that God has ever asked us anything or ever provided us with any commands to follow.

God is the one trying to save our butt he wants us to believe in him,

What is God saving us from or to? Why is belief relevant? Is God powerless to act without our belief?

only God can save us from what we think we want,

Why do we need to be saved from what we think we want? Isn't what we think we want simply what we want? Do I want something and think I want something else? How do you know?

but God knows the outcome and warns us, "that's not what you want, I know you better than you know yourself."

I've never received this warning. How is it delivered? Wouldn't that count as a manifestation?

I don't believe in God to save my butt from hell. I believe in God because I love God

What an absurd statement, "I believe in God because I love God". I love time travel, but that doesn't make it real or believable. If I said "I believe in time travel because I love time travel", I'd be laughed off the air...and deservedly so.

The time to believe something is after you have an understanding of it and after it's been reasonably demonstrated to be true.

It seems that you care more for comfort than truth. It's called a 'comforting delusion'.

we can never attain maximum love of God with only a minimum knowledge of God.

OK, now you're just tossing out nonsensical preaching terms. You started off well; asking questions, considering possibilities and now you're just trying to say things that sound deep when they're really not.

I love my parents even though they grounded me, and spanked me but they also raised me and took care of me. You come to love your parents more by realizing how much they have sacrificed on their behalf for you.

You come to love/admire/respect/hate people by knowing them and seeing qualities that you consider worthy of love/admiration/respect/hatred. You can love/hate real or fictional characters...but how you feel about them has no effect on whether or not they exist.

The god character in the Bible is not worthy of respect or admiration. Whenever someone explains why they love or revere god, it's never that Biblical character it's the fictional character they've invented in their own mind that is only loosely modeled upon that Biblical character.

Even if they were ruthless people they still gave you life, not to many unborn babies can make that claim.

Yes, I understand that you're opposed to abortion and it's obviously a major issue for you, as you keep hinting at it. Just for your own education, there are atheists who oppose abortion.

However, here we simply disagree. If you were raised by ruthless people, I don't think you should love them simply because they didn't abort you. That's the type of thing battered housewives - and religionists - say and it just drives me nuts. Saying someone is worthy of love simply because they didn't kill you is moronic.

And, I'll also point out that "not [too] many unborn babies can make that claim" is silly. No unborn baby can make that (or any) claim. It does, however apply to all of them.

God didn't make us to die, he made us to live, just like our parents.

First you need to demonstrate that God made us. Only then you can begin to demonstrate that he didn't make us to die.

But since God knew man would sin and therefore die, he had already conquered sin and death, before anything came into being.

Now you're just starting to get boring. I don't mean that to be rude, but it's the truth. Instead of a discussion, you've simply moved on to a sermon...and one that is not only uninformative, it's not even Biblically accurate. He couldn't have conquered sin and death before anything came into being, because sin hadn't come into being yet, from both a philosophical and a theological perspective.

Just like how my parents planned a head before I came into being. Not a moment has passed with God. Their is no past or future with God, everything is in the now with him. God lives in an eternal moment. God doesn't jump in and out of eternity but he does come into time.

More rambling definitions about what God is, just moments after asking all sorts of questions that implied that you didn't know what God is. Can you demonstrate that any of this is true? If you can, why didn't you do that instead of simply preaching it? If you can't, then why do you believe it?

We have no concept of eternity, because we have never existed for all eternity,

More bad arguments. "We have no concept of 2000 years because we have never existed for 2000 years." See the flaw yet? What you mean is that we cannot accurately conceptualize infinities. Despite that, we can have some understanding of it.

That aside, the point is still irrelevant - because you're still just preaching rather than demonstrating. How does our ability to accurately conceptualize eternity have any bearing on claims of the existence of gods?

we have no clue what that looks like because were not in eternity were stuck in time, our senses have never came across it. Because we don't know what the human mind looks like that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The same with God, although we cannot see God, we see a natural order of laws, which can presume us to believer there is something out there. If there was no natural order of laws everything would be chaotic and about a 100% chance nothing would exist.

There are mathematicians out there that will find that sentence very amusing.

What you just said was that if there was no order, there would be chaos. Yes, that's true. It's called a tautology. How is it relevant? You think it's relevant because you think there can't be order without a god...that's an argument from ignorance until you actually present the argument and evidence that demonstrates that it's actually true.

I'm not against Science or Reason, I just happen to incorporate science and reason with faith.

Then you don't understand science or reason...or faith. Faith is the excuse people give when they don't have a good reason. Science is the method by which we discover good reasons. What you're doing is accepting some science and reason, as long as it doesn't make you too uncomfortable and as long as you can still find a way to shoehorn your irrational god beliefs into the gaps in our understanding.

While that's not anti-science in the sense of being opposed to scientific inquiry, it is anti-science in the sense of retarding progress and polluting scientific inquiry with the unnecessary baggage of irrational beliefs.

Science, when properly performed, holds nothing sacred. Where exactly does the sacred fit into that paradigm?

Truth is truth and nothing can alter truth, my opinions don't mean one iota. I just believe people have misunderstandings. Their seems to be a lot of ambiguity with God. I also believe people develop their own personal agendas. I look at the universe and see how small we are in the large scheme of things you almost have to wonder if we exist, does God even see us so to speak? The universe is deep and full of mystery beyond limits but to God the universe is a simple structure.

How do you know? You're all over the map... 'God isn't understood, people misunderstand, but I'm sure that God exists and that the universe is a simple structure to him.' It's absolutely ridiculous that you can hold such contradictory views in your head.

I don't believe in just "freak" accidents, a building doesn't just one day appear. The universe didn't just one day appear in eternity,

How do you know? I thought you said you weren't anti-science...the big bang happened, it's been confirmed by science. Are you rejecting it, or are you just saying that it couldn't have happened without a god? If it's the latter, how do you know? What justification do you have for making such an assertion? Have you studied other universes and other possible universes and come to this conclusion because the evidence lead you there...or did you start with the belief that God exists and find a way to plug it into the equation...or did you simply give up and decide that because you can't figure out how it could have happened without a god, that it must require a god?

because the universe is made up of finite material.

Says who? If you mean a finite quantity, you're correct. If you mean finite in a temporal sense (and I'm sure you do, based on comments you'll make in a moment), then there's no reason to think you're correct.

Finite materials cannot give being to infinite structures. Its one thing to believe God was born of a virgin, but its another to believe, all existence came about by just simply coming about.

Yes, one of them is supported by science and the other isn't. Unfortunately for you, it's virgin births in humans that aren't scientifically supported.

Talk about the virgin births of all virgin births that we just came about by a "freak accident" nothing comes about by just a "freak accident"

Nothing? There's never been a freak accident? There's never been an astronomically unlikely occurrence?

Are you just exaggerating for effect or you on your way to collect a Nobel prize?

the universe isn't a "freak accident" because there is a such a thing called natural laws.

Clearly you're not in line for a Nobel prize. Those laws are part of the universe. They would, then, be part of the "freak accident" that you say didn't happen. You can't use them as an argument against the accident...they're the very thing you're trying to explain.

If it were a "freak accident" there would be no laws or the laws would be constantly changing at a rapid pace faster than the speed of light.

OK, now you're just making shit up. The first clue was the very unscientific term "freak accident" being used 5 times in rapid succession. The second clue was when you started making grand assertions about what can or can't happen - questions that some of the greatest minds are still working on.

You've gone from questioner to zealot rather quickly and I wonder how your God would look upon those who pretend to know stuff that they really don't know.

But the earth sits on an axis of 23 1/2 degrees if it were off by a degree all life would become extinct.

Life, as you know it, would not exist...but you're beginning with the assumption that we were the goal. You need to read up on quite a few subjects...beginning with the anthropic principle, and then I'd focus on evolution.

What you're doing is looking at a hand of cards and saying "If the deck had been shuffled just one card heavier, I wouldn't have these cards." Correct...but so what? In that analogy you'd have different cards. In your example, you cannot say what would happen. Maybe there would be no life. Maybe there would be different life. Maybe that different life would be sending messages to another different life form claiming that if the angle wasn't 21.75 degrees, all life would become extinct.

If the universe was always here then what is causing the universe to change?

If the answer is "we don't know", then the answer is "we don't know". It doesn't mean you get to make stuff up or claim that our lack of knowledge means that some god must be involved.

Why is the universe at an incredible speed expanding? Planets don't make the universe go. Stars and just random spontaneous molecular motions don't cause the universe to just go.

You've asked a question and then made two silly you think you accomplished something there? If your conclusion is, as I'm sure it is, that God is the answer: that's an argument from ignorance. Here's an example of what you're doing:

You asked a legitimate scientific question and then basically said "well, peanut butter isn't the answer and neither is a coin I'm gonna say God is the answer". 2+2 doesn't equal 13, so does that mean it equals "God"?

Would anybody really believe that I existed from all eternity? No that's nonsense.

Agreed. Especially since we have a rough estimate of when you started to exist (hint: it's probably listed on your driver's license).

I'm a structure, I am a mini universe inside myself, I have organs and physical features, and you can break those down into even smaller components with cells, the Gobi apparatus, the ribosomes, the nucleus, break that down even smaller to an atom. Do protons and neutrons and electrons if they had a mind of their own say "whatever we are in has that always been there?" Cells come and go, but I still exist, but I didn't always exist, something higher brought me into being, that I had the potential to become.

You are the result of millions of years of evolution, which was the result of billions of years of stars converting elements into new elements and spewing them out in explosions.

I will soon come to an end just as the universe will come to an end because its made up of finite material.

You don't know that the universe will end, and there's good reason to think that it won't. It's called the First Law of Thermodynamics. The universe will suffer heat death (via the 2nd law), but all indications support the idea that the matter will exist, forever.

This, though, is entirely irrelevant to any of your points. You still haven't bothered to address the question of the existence of gods...and despite skipping over that unknown, you've somehow settled on not only a particular category of god but a very specific doctrinal view of a god...and you've done it all without any justification.

Just as we cannot give ourselves being, abiotic or biotic, there is always a being that gives us being.

My parents.

Right now the earths being gives existence to all life form, the second the earth doesn't exist then we don't.

Unless we figure out how to survive away from the Earth and leave it, you're correct (though we'll more likely cease to exist long before the Earth takes a lot more to destroy a planet than a species).

If the universe was an infinite structure then we would all be of infinite structure

That may be the dumbest thing you've said. Not only are you using 'infinite' as an actual quantity, but you're also conflating infinities.

You cannot distribute qualities to subcategories. It's like saying "If mankind is made up of men and women then I am made up of men and women"...

This is the problem with theistic discussions. People don't have a good idea of what they believe or why and instead of actually considering evidence and reasoned argument, they attempt to defend it at all costs. It results in muddled thinking and tons of logical fallacies.

Everything finite thing runs its course, the universe too will run its coarse as well which could be in another kazillion years x a kazillion years. We know what a finite structure looks like, take a human but what does an infinite structure look like? Nobody has a clue.

It'd look like everything. :)

Even if the universe was an endless series of caused causes stretching backward into the past then everything finite in structure could be made actually and would exist even though their cause or previous parent might not exist. But even this from a logical standpoint you can determine thats not true, then that would mean once I come into being I don't need anything else to give me being, nothing could ever be a contingential being,

OK, I'm glad we're almost to the end because I couldn't take much more of this. Contingential isn't a word. I'm not saying that just to pick on insignificant spelling and grammar errors; there are plenty that I ignored and I'm sure I've also made some. I point it out because you've clearly done quite a bit of reading and only partly understood what you've read and now you're trying to use words that you don't have a proper grasp of. This usually means one of two things... either you're trying to sound smarter than you are because you know you're not completely comprehending or you're doing it because you honestly have no grasp of how much you have no grasp of.

You don't have to do that. You don't have to write me a lengthy dissertation made up of fake words and half-understood concepts. We can just talk.

The problem here is that you're doing it while making one unsupported claim after another, all in defense of your beliefs when none of them actually succeed at defending your beliefs.

it would all have to be by mere chance, but who knows how many outside factors give me my being even outside my original cause. If they don't exist then neither do I. Imagine an infinite amount of beings coming into being, if that were possible we are simply expanding the set of beings met from within the imagined set. But it has been met, since contingent beings has been met. There is some soure of being on which our material unvierse right now depends.

What are your reasons for not believing?

I don't believe because I have not been presented with a logically sound argument or sufficient evidence to justify the claim. Additionally, I haven't been presented with any argument or evidence that would make me think that there's any value in proposing supernatural answers to questions, and a rock solid argument that demonstrates the opposite:

Supernatural appeals are not explanations. They have no explanatory power. You gain nothing by pretending that you solved a mystery by appealing to another mystery. You have, in fact, lost the opportunity to find the truth.

I don't believe because no supernatural claim has ever withstood the rigors of scientific investigation. The truth has nothing to fear from inquiry...inquiry is the light that leads to truth. It is far more honorable to admit that you don't know than to pretend that you do.

I don't believe because the various god claims are absurd, in the highest order. They don't pass the "sniff" test. For that, I'll give you one single example that pertains to your religion (though I think I've already given an example in questioning why your God never corrected his books take on slavery)...

Imagine you're in a foreign country with your pregnant friend. You don't speak the language and she goes into labor. You're standing on the sidewalk pleading for help, but no one understands or cares. In desperation, you drop to your knees and pray to God for help. When you finish, a ball of light appears before you, you have an intense feeling of calmness and it starts leading you to a car. You get in the car, find the keys in the ignition and pull out into traffic. The ball of light leads you down the road and every car pulls off to side, allowing you to safely travel at incredible speed. It leads you to the hospital and your friend delivers her baby.

Is there anything that could EVER happen that could possibly make you worship another god?

Most people would say "no". I'd argue that the answer could be "yes" but it would have to be exceptional circumstances, like the baby dying or some other god doing something even nicer...but generally, the answer would be "no".

Yet your Bible tells the story of huge nation of slaves that watched a sea part, so they could walk across dry land. They were lead by a pillar of light at night and a pillar of cloud by day and they were fed manna from the heavens. And yet, when Moses had left them for 40 days, these people - led by Moses' brother - decided to just up and start worshiping another god...because the old god wasn't working out.

That's absurd. I don't believe for one second that it happened. What it tells us is that these people were in the habit of worshiping whatever god suited their fancy and that they didn't actually witness those miracles, because there's no way they'd have thrown in the towel after 40 days...especially the brother of the leader.

But keep reading. What happens? These people are punished - except for Aaron, Moses' brother. He gets to be God's head priest.

Does that remotely make sense? Is that remotely the act of a wise and just god? The guy who led people astray gets to be the top dog? Isn't it more likely that Moses simply hooked his brother up?

It doesn't pass the sniff test. It's bullshit, start to finish. It's the poorly thought out revisionist history of a roving band of people who wanted to feel more important than they were.

That's just one of many reasons that I reject Christianity and there are similar examples in other religions...but the big reason is this:

No religion has successfully met the burden of proof.