Sunday, February 27, 2011

Open Thread on #698

The CNN article I talked about during the show is here: Patricia Sawo Article.

To summarize my brief introductory discussion, Ms. Sawo's religious beliefs taught her that HIV infection was a curse from God, inflicted on those who were disobedient. Those so afflicted could be healed if they prayed and repented. Then one day Ms. Sawo tested positive for HIV, and her prayers didn't heal her. Her first-hand experience with the climate of fear and loathing of HIV's victims changed her views. Now she runs a facility that cares for those suffering from AIDS and their children. Unfortunately, she only changed some of her superficial views of HIV. She hasn't abandoned the underlying beliefs from which those views were derived. In fact, she doubled down on them - she's now an ordained minister.

Ms. Sawo's religious beliefs robbed her of part of her humanity. Empathy should have allowed her to put herself in another person's position and see a situation from their perspective. Instead, her religion shut her off from this ability. She only developed compassion for HIV-sufferers after she became one herself, and after she had made a substantial contribution to the toxic climate of fear and condemnation of people with HIV. I find her story to be doubly tragic - first because there's now another human being on the planet with HIV, and second because it took infection with HIV for her to use an ability that most children first manifest at 10 months of age.

Anyway - open thread on episode #698. Have at it!

Friday, February 25, 2011

It's not like his head needs to get any bigger, people!

Good grief, first there comes an admiring email from a certain Oxford professor, and now this. Seriously, enough already! Otherwise he's going to start asking for money.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why is pseudoscience so appealing?

This weekend I borrowed Beth's copy of The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. Lynnea and I sometimes read to each on car trips, and neither of us have read it in several years. Since Lynnea has been watching "Cosmos" on Netflix, it seemed like a good book to revisit. Also, one of the most common questions we at the Atheist Experience receive is: "As a new atheist, what books should I think about reading?" I always, always recommend Demon Haunted World first. It's not a book about atheism, it's a book about critical thinking, and in my opinion that is the first tool that recovering theists need to have no matter what their ultimate philosophical bent will be.

It's fun to revisit an old favorite. Reading chapter one, I read Carl Sagan's story about meeting a taxi driver who was full of wonder and enthusiasm in learning about the natural world... but unfortunately it was all misdirected into pseudoscience. Crystals, Atlantis, horoscopes, faith healing...he believed it all. Sagan suggest s that the man's passion for pseudoscience could have been -- should have been -- channeled into scientific curiosity from an early age. But unfortunately, his teachers failed to inspire wonder and excitement for science, which ultimately led him to swallow all these nonsensical claims in the thirst to feed his quest for "knowledge." Sagan waxes poetic about astronomy and biology, and he wonders why the driver hadn't ever managed to get so turned on by these real scientific subjects

Of course I love Carl Sagan's work and enjoy hearing his thoughts again, but after so many years of dealing with callers' misconceptions about science on a one-on-one basis, I was surprised to find the question a little bit naive. Actually, I think that it's easy to understand why pseudoscience beats real science, if you just think about the two concepts as competing memes.

Like all memes, concepts within both science and pseudoscience are in constant competition for brain space, and "try" (in a metaphorical sense) to infect as many minds as possible, and to stick in those minds in the long term. But the strategies they use are different. Science has one set of rules for survival, and pseudoscience has a different set. To put it another way, their fitness algorithm is different.

On one hand, a scientific meme lives or dies based on how closely it matches reality. If the meme is untestable, or if it directly conflicts with some known principle of reality, then it dies a gradual death. Researchers don't find it useful; don't propagate in their work; don't refer back to it in other peer reviewed papers; don't insert it as a critical fact in textbooks; and it is eventually forgotten (or else, like Lamarckian inheritance, it is remembered as a contrast to a meme that won).

On the other hand, a pseudoscience meme does not have any such restriction. Since there is no peer review in the world of pseudoscience, the concepts can only survive based on how many people like them. In other words, they survive solely by being compelling and interesting to a lot of people. So in the battle for headspace in the "wow that's cool" part of the brain, science is not going to win.

Of course I'm not saying that real science can't be exciting and interesting. Once you have a grounding in scientific inquiry, the process of measuring things against reality and studying all the complex information about the world we've accumulated can be very appealing. But I am saying that being exciting cannot be the criterion for judging science. if we threw out all the science it wasn't sexy then we'd lose a lot of important discoveries. Science is in the business of figuring out what's true, regardless of whether the facts are fun or not.

By contrast, pseudoscience is free to follow what TV Tropes calls "The Rule of Cool." If you are writing a novel, a show, or a movie, you create your own reality. In this reality, it doesn't matter whether something is scientifically accurate or not. All that matters in your own universe is what looks good on screen or in readers' heads. That's how you sell more books, tickets, and advertising space. Fake science is the same way.

How does this tendency to obey the Rule of Cool show up to the average follower? One thing that I notice about pseudoscience is that it personalizes concepts which, in science can be very difficult to relate to:

  • Astronomy allows you to chart the positions of the stars, painstakingly mapping their locations with mathematical formulas applied over centuries of data collection. Astrology tells you that if you know what month somebody is born in, you can know more about the personal qualities of yourself and your friends!
  • Evolution tells us that life, including human life, evolved due to complex but consistent patterns which only emerge after studying thousands of generations. Creationism says that a magic man in the sky created you special, because he wanted to love and care for you for ever and ever!
  • Neurologists study the movement of neurons and synapses on a microscopic level. Sylvia Brown says that I can talk to my dead love ones, even though their brain activity stopped decades ago!
  • A novel about what life was like in Atlantis? Cool! An investigation of the Mediterranean Ocean Sea showing that there was no such place? Not so cool!

I hope you see the point. Science can be cool, and often is cool. But pseudoscience has to be cool, or else it has no other reason to exist.

I'm not just trying to be negative. I think learning should be fun. I admire what Carl Sagan did in bringing real science to amateurs like us, and I think that education is always more effective when it's entertaining. At the same time, I think we shouldn't kid ourselves about what science is up against. People like to feel special. They like to feel connected. And for many people, it's much easier to believe in an exciting falsehood than in a less exciting well-tested theoretical framework.

Edit: In this post, I may have conveyed the mistaken impression that the ideas brought up were mine alone. This was clearly a case of my runaway ego. In reality, many of the points about the survival qualities of science vs. pseudoscience were brought up originally by Lynnea, without whom this post would not have been possible, as we discussed the book. In writing this, I may have unintentionally pre-empted a similar post that she was planning to put up on her own blog, which undoubtedly would have been excellent.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Brief swagination update

And now a word from your sponsor: you guys. Daniel looks cheerful, George looks vaguely threatening, and I just look like a hobbit as usual. As fun as the AXP hoodies were to do (international peeps, yours are in transit), I've put off plans for a second run in favor of new T-shirts instead. Same logo, any color and sizes up to 6XL, tall sizes too, and only $20 (for most sizes) with fwee shipping in the USA. (America, fuck yeah!) Email me at mw_director[at]yahoo[dot]com for full details. Will be funneling cash from sales to the group and the show, using clandestine mail drops and shell corporations, just because it sounds cool. Current pre-orders at 7 of the desired 150, which I believe can be met, eh?

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blag.

Fan mail...oh the irony...

I wont bother ripping this to shreds, because the author doesn't care to hear from us (yet we're the closed-minded ones), enjoy:
I am not Theist.

I have never seen a bigger bunch of Cop-outs and evangelists such as yourselves. You feed on the blood of the ignorant with your rediculous commentary and outdated science and philosophy. Why not just state that you people are MAterialist, or naturalist, perhaps even objectivists ect. I have listened to the numerous arguments you have with believers, and your rediclous attitude gets worse as the shows go on. You people DO NOT have open minds, nor do you get your science correct.

This show, more-so these two idiotic hosts can be likened as the Alex Jones of Atheism. But it is not Atheism you people subscribe to, its naturalism, or at least in my opinion. One moment you make remarks, which are only half theories about Quantum mechanics, and then have the gaul to tell a caller that everything is made of Atoms? From which ERA were you people born into? Or from which era are you getting your scientific explinations. On top of which, you interperate this information as poorly as the man who said there was a God because a banana fits in your hand!

I could not care less what your response is, because you will speak more bullshit to me than you have anyone else. Your method is distasteful, your ideals are shallow, your science is dated and your philosophy is mangled. You only appeal to more ignorant fellows who are atheist rather then theist. Like a damn buzzard picking the eyes out of a half dead human. You are both the kind of people who believe the conversion to Atheist is the release of Ignorance. You only consider anti-materialists to be ignorant.

I wish you both the Utmost shame. You can wave the magic in your response to me, if any, but the issue remains in the back of your mind, and I hope these words haunt you forever.

I am not a Theist, but you both make me sick to my stomach, like a news reader using authority to establish truth, rather than the exposition of truth. Like a child wanting to be a rock star, you want to be Richard Dawkins, the copout version beta's!

Enjoy your wasted time on Earth, preaching about humanity and REligion, when you have not even taken the time to study any of the scriptures. Your take on history is utterly bias, and I have yet to meet an educated fellow who takes this show seriously.

Kind Regards,
Someone much smarter than to abide by this crap.

P.S. You should become street preachers, so we can finally regard you as completley insane. Perhaps I will drop a coin into your hat.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Today: "Family Values"

Today's show will be about that cherished buzzword of ignorance: "Family Values". Consider this post to be an open thread on the episode.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Facebook friends...not always friendly.

I'm currently unable to add any new friends and that turned out to be a pretty good thing. Beth and I both received friend requests from a "Michelle Kay". We noticed that she didn't have any mutual friends, but Beth went ahead and accepted the friend request after noting that she listed herself as a fan of The Atheist Experience.

This evening, Beth got a message from this person which confirmed our suspicions:

Anonymous, Westboro and free speech.

UPDATE: Anonymous isn't going after WBC

Or are they? That's the problem with anonymity and a free-form organization that isn't an do we know which announcement represents them or if there's a 'them' to represent? It's pretty silly, really.


Let me be perfectly clear:

The activities of the Phelps family and their Westboro Baptist Church are some of the most vile, repugnant and disgusting exercises of free speech in history.

That said, they've recently been warned by Anonymous that:

"ANONYMOUS cannot abide this behavior any longer. The time for us to be idle spectators in your inhumane treatment of fellow Man has reached its apex, and we shall now be moved to action. Thus, we give you a warning: Cease & desist your protest campaign in the year 2011, return to your homes in Kansas, & close your public Web sites.
Should you ignore this warning, you will meet with the vicious retaliatory arm of ANONYMOUS: We will target your public Websites, and the propaganda & detestable doctrine that you promote will be eradicated; the damage incurred will be irreversible, and neither your institution nor your congregation will ever be able to fully recover. It is in your best interest to comply now, while the option to do so is still being offered, because we will not relent until you cease the conduction & promotion of all your bigoted operations & doctrines.

The warning has been given. What happens from here shall be determined by you."

Even some of my friends are rooting for Anonymous...after all, the Phelps clan is beneath contempt.

I'm not rooting for Anonymous, and I'm shocked that any thinking person is.

Despise the Phelps' protests all you like, but they are operating within the law and have repeatedly gone to court to protect the freedom of speech that we all enjoy. Anonymous, on the other hand, seem to have appointed themselves as the moral conscience of the planet and have decided to dictate what sort of free speech should be permitted.

This group of anonymous hactivists are not only breaking the law, they're attacking free speech while claiming to revere it. They've taken it upon themselves to be the sort of Orwellian authority that one would presume they'd be opposed to.

They're hypocrites - and dangerous ones.

I really don't like coming to the defense of the Westboro Baptist Church and yet I'm forced to do it over and over again because well-meaning but misguided people stupidly attempt to attack them for exercising the same freedoms that the rest of us are exercising.

Now, this blog may vanish tomorrow - but I won't be cowering to terrorist threats just because they're made against someone I despise.

Friday, February 18, 2011

God, $20, Skepchick, Dickishness ...

This is long, has quite a few links - and I'm going to call some skeptics out for being decidedly unskeptical...

The Religious Antagonists, Mike Lee, posted a new video on January 25th and the response has been mixed.

The short description is that he offers a homeless couple $20 to remove the word "God" from their sign.

Hemant Mehta, at Friendly Atheist, offered his thoughts.

Mike and I had a private e-mail exchange where I pointed out that I'm on the fence about this particular video.

I wrote:

"I'm somewhat torn. On the one hand there's a very important point made in that video. On the other hand, it seemed like a bit of a lose-lose. You're going to appear overly antagonistic as it's hard for a homeless couple to appear anything other than sympathetic especially when they have a kid and especially to the majority of Christians who would probably be cheering them on.

I've been thinking about it off and on all day - which is great - but I don't know who the target audience is and whether or not they'd give it the same thought. To someone like my parents, you just look like a dickish, agent-of-Satan who is harassing homeless Christians. I wouldn't be surprised if someone like the AFA used your video to drum up more donations.

That said, I wouldn't be surprised if they used many of my videos to drum up donations and my parents think I'm a dickish, we're in the same boat.

I'm still completely undecided on this. It'd be hypocritical of me to complain about Christian homeless ministries who offer food in exchange for a sermon while endorsing your actions. Right now, the only thing that might trump that issue is that you were making a point and aren't (as far as I know) starting a campaign with this as the default reaction to homeless people with religious messages on their signs.

The commentary certainly makes me favor the video a bit. The more I think about it, the more I'm leaning that direction...but this one is still far from settled, for me."

Mike responded and I asked him to sit in on a future episode of The Non-Prophets so that we could openly talk about all aspects of this, including the response.

And then, just a short while ago, Masala Skeptic from Skepchick posted her thoughts on the video and I had to wonder if she actually watched the video and thought about it for a few minutes before posting.

As I started reading the comments, hoping someone would point this out, what I saw amazed me. Several of these skeptics simply refused to watch the video and made up their mind based on Masala's comments.

So, I'll point out the problems with her commentary, in the hopes that discussions about this video (about which I am still undecided) might be a bit more thoughtful and relevant to the content.

- doesn't seem to understand that Mike flatly acknowledged he was being a jerk.

- discusses the video with no acknowledgement of the clarification and commentary that Mike added.

- doesn't seem to get the important meaning behind this (that religion encourages poor decision making - to the point that a starving family will turn down money)

- doesn't seem to realize that Mike never asked them to stop believing (she wrote: "Mike tries to get the couple to give up their faith in a higher power for the temptation of $20." Mike specifically states the opposite. Did she watch the video?)

- doesn't seem to realize that they acknowledged that they weren't putting their soul on the line. (She wrote: "An offer of $20 simply isn’t going to make someone put his eternal soul on the line if that is what they believe is at stake."...when it was made clear in the video that this wasn't REMOTELY the case. Did she watch the video?)

- doesn't seem to realize that those people got the money and got to keep their "god" at the end of all of this

- doesn't seem to think that Mike would say that he believed in god for $20 - I would if it was obvious that I was just uttering words to get cash, rather than stating my honest beliefs. I suspect Mike would, as well. If I was homeless, I most definitely would.

- takes an irrelevant and silly shot at Mike's sweater

- completely misrepresents the video as if it were intended to be a "funny" video.

- pulls the passive-aggressive 'probably can't see the irony of thinking he's right' bullshit while explaining why Mike is wrong and she's right...

As I said, I'm still torn on the video and I'd like to see more discussion about it, but I'd rather discuss it with people who have actually seen the video and with people who are open to fairly and intelligently representing it. People who refuse to watch it, or watch part of it only to rely on other people's commentary for their unskeptical dismissal aren't helping the discussion. People who misrepresent the video definitely aren't helping the discussion.

The knee-jerk, "don't be a dick" crowd annoy me - mostly because they're hypocritically and blindly being dicks about not being dicks. (And almost exclusively on the subject of theism/atheism...)

Make no mistake - Mike is being a dick and he acknowledges it. Masala isn't.

I do like Masala's suggestion for alternate ways to handle this situation, but she doesn't seem to realize that Mike isn't advocating his method as the new de facto standard, it's a single incident constructed to highlight an issue. How can it not be an important issue?

So, what's your take on the video?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In which Mike demonstrates once and for all the proof that God exists

Having some problems with the blog comments on this post and hoping that starting a new one will fix it.

Please direct your attention to the comments section, where MikeAdAstraSmith shall valiantly demonstrate to us poor, benighted sinners that God irrefutably exists.

[Edit: Actually we traced our problem to an overzealous spam filter, which probably thought that some comments looked too much like the work of a certain D**** M****. We're retraining it as fast as we can, but in the meantime, please do enjoy the thread.]

Monday, February 14, 2011

A few words about the Zeitgeist sequels

Our opinion of the movie Zeitgeist should be pretty well known by now. It is an extremely bad and tedious bit of filmmaking, and the scholarship in it is awful, and we disagree with all of parts 2 and 3, as well as nearly all of part 1. And if you need a reminder about why, here are three sites dealing, respectively, with the claims that:
Now that that's out of the way, let me share a few recent emails.

I was wondering if you guys were aware of the (second) sequel to that terrible film, Zeitgeist, and if you plan on talking about it any time soon. If you've done it recently, I apologize for spamming you... I haven't had the opportunity to watch the last few episodes just yet. I've just started watching the sequel on YouTube (so you don't have to do any googling:, and in the first 10 minutes they started harping on how Biology is wrong because there's such a thing as epigenetics. Sounds like more relatively well-informed stupidity to me. I only watch it for the same reason I saw Expelled and What The Bleep Do We Know !!!111!? My hopes for humanity diminish proportionally.

by the way you sould look the new film " zeitgeist Moving Forward " where we see how
[long list of names with irrelevant credentials]
...etc and of course Peter Joseph

describe that our current system breeds insanity

and i hope you dont act emotional about the word zeitgeist because

" Zeitgeist moving forward " is not like the first film

I am a member of The Zeitgeist Movement and would love to get your feedback on what the movement is advocating. I have searched high and low for evidence that the concepts of this movement are falsifiable, but have yet to find any information doing so. I’m not sure as to whether or not you are aware of the difference between The Zeitgeist films and the Movement, but there is certainly an expressed difference.

Also, your host insistently bash the Zeitgeist movement and 911 truth. This really baffles me because the Zeitgeist Movement is a just secular movement that advocates the scientific method for social concern (doing away with corrupt monetary capitalism that allows children to go hunger)

Yes, okay, we get it. We heard you. Thanks. The guy who made Zeitgeist has made another movie-- actually TWO other movies now -- and they cover different topics than the original movie. Lastly, this message is from a comment on a Facebook link I shared that relates to Medicare. Though the commenter doesn't mention Zeitgeist directly, he did bring up the theme of the last two movies.

The better solution than social services is a Resource Based Economy and the elimination of the monetary system altogether. We cannot possible print enough money to solve all of our problems and we certainly cannot save our way to the needed solutions through austerity measures. The 'bottom line' is that money is THE constraint on human progress (well, that and cultural conditioning).

So, okay, I've finally decided I need to respond to this steady stream of emails, if only so I can have something to link in the future.

I have not watched the new movies, as I greatly prefer to do actual reading over sitting through talking heads. I have set it aside as something I might watch. After all, I suffered through What the Bleep Do We Know? and I guess I can get around to this one too, eventually. From what I understand, Zeitgeist: Addendum and Zeitgeist: Moving Forward (which I shall henceforth refer to as ZA/ZMF because I hate typing) are mostly focused on popularizing something called "The Venus Project" (see link). It's a Utopian movement by a guy named Jacque Fresco -- Engineer, Design Consultant, and "Futurist" -- and he's been going around pitching this idea of a resource-based economy.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting: Atlantis. I mean, The Venus Project.

Here's what that means as I read it. The financial system is broken beyond all hope of repair, so we abolish all forms of currency. In its place, everyone gets boundless freedom to use "resources." Money is a fiction anyway, and the federal reserve is evil (as explained in the first Zeitgeist, part 3), and people are going hungry because we artificially limit resources (i.e. food) when they could be made useful for everyone (i.e., feeding third world countries).

I'm a fairly liberal guy. I believe that there are problems with our current economic system, and some such problems stem from unregulated capitalism. A couple of recent sources for information I recommend are The Big Short by Michael Lewis, which traced the origins of the recent banking crisis in a highly entertaining and readable way; and this episode of the show This American Life, in which they discuss the ways in which money is really a convenient fiction.

On the other hand, I'm a numbers geek, and from my perspective, money -- though "fictional" in some sense -- was a fantastic technological advancement in the history of civilization. In any system of trade, some kind of valuation is going to arise naturally. Economists may call it "utils," or it may just be that we compare the value of one thing to the value of something else on an individual basis ("I'll give you two chickens for that hatchet"). Money is simply a means of formalizing a system that people are going to agree on one way or another. In prison it becomes cigarettes. In the future it's probably moving towards all digital currency. Heck, you can even calculate a meaningful exchange rate between United States Dollars and World of Warcraft gold pieces (after adjusting for a lot of inflation due to the recent Cataclysm expansion). It's an abstraction that achieves a goal. Barter systems are fine in small villages, but they are hopeless at large scales.

In any case, "scarcity" does not exist because of money. Quite the opposite, in fact -- money exists in large part because scarcity exists. While many resources such as air and sunlight are effectively in infinite supply, other things are very definitely limited. An excellent (though fairly disturbing) book on the subject is Collapse by Jared Diamond. Diamond studied a number of cultures which, for one reason or another, didn't survive -- they experienced massive population crashes in which a large proportion of their citizens died over a short period of time. In most cases it was because they ran out of something.

In fact, I can kind of sum up Diamond's formula for disaster that is common among most civilizations that died by their own hands:

  1. You have a limited resource. In one case it was timber (cutting down trees on an island faster than they grew back) and in another, it was grazeable farmland.
  2. Something about your civilization requires you to use a lot of that resource.
  3. It starts to run out, but the culture is rigid and resists change.
  4. People talk about breaking their dependency on this resource, but don't actually do anything about it.
  5. Much to everyone's surprise, it runs out.
  6. Turns out the requirement for that resource is pretty widespread. Many people die.

I'm not going to go off on a tangent about which finite resources we rely on in modern society (*cough*oil*cough*) but even so, I'm pretty well convinced that if we solved one problem of scarcity, the problem would just move off to something else.

And that's where money comes in. It is an abstraction that puts a value on resources with different levels of scarcity. They're not all concrete resources, either: people enjoy their free time, and working to accomplish a difficult task (like volunteering to fly to a third world country and deliver mass quantities of food) is frequently regarded as a "what's in it for me?" situation. That's not money's fault. Money is simply a method of making an abstract concept ("What's it worth to ya?") be attached to concrete numbers.

Oh, but I forgot to mention how this problem of scarcity is solved under Jacque Fresco's system. Here, let me quote:
"A resource-based economy would make it possible to use technology to overcome scarce resources by applying renewable sources of energy, computerizing and automating manufacturing and inventory, designing safe energy-efficient cities and advanced transportation systems, providing universal health care and more relevant education, and most of all by generating a new incentive system based on human and environmental concern."

And also:
"With automated inventory on a global scale, we can maintain a balance between production and distribution. Only nutritious and healthy food would be available and planned obsolescence would be unnecessary and non-existent in a resource-based economy."

So you see, this is easily achievable, as long as we first keep in mind the intermediate goals of developing unlimited, clean, renewable energy sources. Also, since human government officials are inherently corrupt, we just need to develop artificially intelligent administrators to manage our cities and distribute everything efficiently.


Artificial intelligence and alternative energy research are only a couple of the most complicated problems facing inventors, businesses, and academics. Have been for decades. And to think that you can hand-wave that away as a minor inconvenience blocking the realization of your Utopia, that's a pretty damn extraordinary claim. In fact, I would venture to say that if you could create a world with no scarce resources, that all by itself would do a hell of a lot more to fix everything than whatever fantasy anti-currency government system the Venus Project promoters can dream up.

And then there's this issue of benevolent computer systems that will impartially make sure everyone gets everything they want. Okay, I've been involved with software development for most of my adult life, and I feel pretty comfortable saying we're not replacing all our politicians with robot administrators any time real soon. But even after assuming that little hurdle is crossed, artificial intelligence isn't a magic solution to anything. There's no reason to think it would be more advanced than human intelligence to start with, and if it eventually got there, no reason to think it would be any less self-serving.

Show of hands, please. How many people want to turn over our economy to these guys? ...Thank you.

Okay, I'm not saying that all artificial intelligence is inevitably going to conquer humanity and harvest their essences to power an elaborate virtual reality that enslaves us or anything. I'm just saying, I don't see why the AI is going to make any decisions better than a human with some really good ideas who knows how to use data mining tools. A better question is, why don't we elect one of those?

Getting rid of money wouldn't save the world from scarce resources. If anything, the immediate effect would be that without a perceptible cost to themselves, people would use up those resources faster than ever. I don't see how these super-cities that Jacque Fresco invented will stop people from wanting to travel, which is one of the big ones when it comes to draining energy. In fact, if I had all this free time and were unlimited by capital, that's the first thing I'd do a lot more of. And I can't envision a realistic political path to implement what sounds mainly like "Socialism... With Robots!" when you have the Tea Party just slavering to declare that Civilization As We Know It is coming to an end if we allow some tax cuts to expire.

So in the end, I'm left with an impression of The Venus Project that is not much different from the original Zeitgeist. It's a large group of fans with who have coalesced around a group of persuasive amateurs, drawn to the notion that they have uncovered some deep and massive truth that is hidden from the rest of us willfully deceived, blind fools. It is largely ignored by people who have expertise in anything relevant like, say, economics -- not because they're trying to suppress it, but because there's basically nothing of substance there.

There. You asked my opinion. Now you've got it. I hope you're satisfied.

Understanding atheists

A response to this posting by Rabbi Adam Jacobs:

"My dear Rabbi Jacobs,

If your goal is to try to "walk back" some of the clamorous dialogue and understand each other better, perhaps you shouldn't start by presuming to define atheism on your terms and proceding to tell us that we're not really atheists.

Beating on the straw man of absolute certainty immediately discredits your commentary.

Perhaps you shouldn't claim to already understand our perspective while demonstrating, at every turn, that you most certainly do not (and claiming to be seeking this understanding).

If you really wanted to understand our position, you wouldn't claim to already understand it, you wouldn't write such a transparently concern-troll-like sermon, you'd actually engage in conversation instead of, ironically, engaging in the very sort of dialogue you claim to be trying to avoid."

Open thread on episode #696

Matt and Jeff go through many calls, including the return of Mark from Austin Stone. Have at it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Vote for Iron Chariots Wiki! is running various polls for favorite atheist resources, and Iron Chariots is among the finalists!

So yes, this is shameless self-promotion of an Atheist Community of Austin-originated resource, but there are other great reasons to vote for it. Bear in mind that as a wiki, the more widely Iron Chariots is known, the easier it is to draw in great editors and improve the content. So get out there and vote!

Edit: The Atheist Experience is currently running second place for best podcast.

Update: As has been pointed out in the comments, both of ours are handily ahead now. Go, fans! We loves ya.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Onward Christian Thugs

This week in Texas, State Senator Dan Patrick proposed a bill to require women seeking abortions to undergo a mandatory sonogram, see the image of the fetus, hear its heartbeat, and hear a mandated description of the fetus by the doctor. The only purpose of such a bill is to coerce women into making a choice that Dan Patrick and his fellow Christian thugs think is the moral one. These sorts of bills have been proposed and many approved all over the country. Fortunately for Texas, some of the most odious parts of this particular bill have been softened in committee, leaving only the doctor-supplied fetal description mandatory.

The number of things wrong with this sort of effort are astonishing. Let's see if we can list a few of them:
  • A major objection would have to be that these sorts of bills are a transparent (and often successful) attempt to use the government as a tool to further the lawmaker's Christian beliefs. The supposedly "secular" purpose of the bill is education, but that's a ruse (but we'll get to that.) If freedom of religion means anything, it means freedom from religion — freedom from transparent con games.
  • They might also claim that they're trying to reduce abortions, but that would be framing the issue wrongly. They are trying to create more people who can be coerced into their religion. You never see these Christian groups promote birth control, mandatory waiting periods or mandated doctor intervention for the MEN who are impregnating these women. You do see Christian groups working to remove an honest teaching of the responsibilities of parenthood in high school health classes. Christians feel that they've gotten the process this far with their efforts. They have to "close the loop" and get the baby born. See "God's Little Rabbits" for more about their success.
  • They (and we all) know there is no God to whom they can pray to make more human beings. Only a moron would believe such a thing, right Dan? Matt. 7:7, Matt. 17:20, Matt. 21:21, Mark 11:24, John 14:12-14, Matt. 18:18 all have Jesus claiming that prayer works all the time. Gen. 1:26 (and others) has God creating humans. Christians don't believe that stuff. Christians know they have to co-opt as many uteruses as they can (there's plenty of sperm to go around — just make masturbation taboo).
  • Dan and his fellow Christians know that God and the church have failed to enforce their edicts on their flock. The absolutely must use the real power of the government to achieve their end.
  • After the baby is born, they lose interest. Christians know that the evolution-engineered motherhood hormones will kick in. While Christians want to have the power to make these decisions, they never step up to the plate when it comes to the responsibility for the child. If they ever did, you'd see Christian organizations make deals with women where the deep-pocketed Christian group would fund the child through college in exchange for the mother bringing the child to term. Christians instead use coercion and thuggery, which are their time honored tools.
  • Christians claim to care about poverty, but efforts like this have the effect of creating poverty. Again, the marketing doesn't match the actual behavior. Their only "solution" here is to encourage single mothers to get married. "Family values" apparently means the creation of families by coercion. No wonder the divorce rates of evangelicals and fundamentalists is higher than that of atheists.
  • Christians like Dan don't think the mother has the intellectual capacity to make the moral decision to keep the child, but they seem to think that she is perfectly capable of raising it. Ironically, the women seeking abortion are the ones that know their limitations. I'll trust a woman's decision about her abilities over Dan Patrick any day of the eternity.
  • There is often some claim of the "sanctity of life", but Christianity is a religion that teaches our bodies are little more than soul traps whose natural use is to release the soul so that it can go meet the Christian god. The god of the Bible is a murderous thug who has also commanded the murder of children and the unborn. The "sanctity of life" is a complete fabrication incompatible with Christian dogma.
  • Dan Patrick is not a doctor, nor are any of the law makers (that I know of) creating laws like this. They have no business interfering with medical procedures.
  • Dan and his ilk clearly don't believe in the golden rule, such as stated in Matt. 7:12. If they did, they would welcome others to insert themselves in their own medical treatments. I would encourage those of you who do believe in the golden rule to make Christians aware of this fact. If you can find someone who advocates Christian interference in medical practices, teach them a practical lesson in Jesus' moral teachings.
  • Supposedly, women seeking abortions need education. I have yet to see a bill mandating education about the cost and responsibility of raising a child or the risk of child birth. There are no bills forcing women to see pictures of women who died in child birth. There's no education about the emotional risks of postpartum depression and the risk of the mother harming the child or herself. The "education" that Christians propose is one-sided.
  • Christian efforts to slow abortion have failed. According to this article, countries with strong religious belief have higher rates of abortion. We might make more progress taxing religions and using those funds to support unwanted children.
  • Finally, I don't see anything resembling compassion in Dan Patrick's bill or other efforts by Christians to prevent abortion. These people clearly care more about their invisible friends (their concepts of god) than the women they seek to manipulate.
Christians claim to care about "sin", but overlook the issue of responsibility. Christians seek to try to make their god happy by coercion and manipulation of vulnerable people. The atheists I know, focus on responsibility. How can we educate people so that the understand the consequences of their actions? How can we provide them with tools to mitigate harm? How can we help people who know they are in over their head? Abortion is not a good thing, but why don't we start using reason, responsibility, and compassion to address the problem?

Regarding the studio technical problems

My inbox is occasionally plagued by comments, complaints and some suggestions about how to fix the audio problems on the TV show. Thanks.

It's come to my attention that some people simply do not grasp the situation...

We do this show from a public access studio. These are studios that were built when the cable companies first started in order to promote free, community-run programming. These studios are old and vanishing...very few cities have studios and even fewer support live shows or call-in shows. We're fortunate to be able to do the show at all. (Just ask the Seattle Atheists...)

The studio equipment is largely beyond our control. We can't rewire the studio and while we've spent quite a bit of money on our own equipment, you can have the best equipment in the world and if you're plugging it into antiquated or improperly configured gear, it won't make a bit of difference. Their recent $1M renovation doesn't seem to have involved any significant improvements to the audio.

The studio uses a Telos digital telephone hybrid but the soundboard at the studio isn't properly wired for a mix-minus setup and doesn't have sufficient discrete channels.

We use the studio on Sunday afternoons and it's used by many other people throughout the week. Those people change settings. They break things. They attempt to "fix" the problems that others have created...which creates more problems. They have different needs and requirements for their show, so they reconfigure things to suit them.

Every week we show up an hour (or more) before the show, run cables, configure lights, set up the table, reconfigure equipment, figure out what is broken and try to find a way to fix it before the show starts.

Every week we're walking into an unknown configuration and doing our best to get it back to "our" setup. We're talking lights, sound, camera, CG, DVD recorder, background, telephone (and more)...and most of it has been "adjusted" by someone else during the week. (I can count, on one hand, the weeks where we've had nothing to fix.)

Additionally, there are settings we're not allowed to change (though it doesn't stop other people from messing with them).

We then do a 'test call' - which seems to work just fine, though it doesn't seem to indicate whether or not all of the calls on a given show will work fine. The problem is intermittent. Some calls are worse than others...some have NO feedback, some have a little and some have a lot. Some calls seem to only be working in half-duplex, some are full. We've found no discernible pattern (I do suspect that cell phones are a huge part of the problem as they're notoriously horrible at full-duplex and signal quality).

If you think we're unaware of the problems, you're wrong.
If you think we're not MORE frustrated than anyone who watches or listens to the show, you're wrong.
If you think we wouldn't love to fix the problems and aren't doing everything we can, you're wrong.

This isn't just a matter of finding the right expert or throwing more money at it. (I'd recommend watching the Super Bowl half-time show for a prime example of how knowing what you're doing and having money to throw at something is no guarantee that things are going to work correctly.)

I appreciate the feedback and the suggestions. I appreciate that people care enough to try to improve the show....but I'm also baffled at how anyone could think we're unaware of the very problems we've spoken about countless times on and off the show - often WHILE the problems are happening.

One recent letter added a rather ironic note (which did make me laugh):

"Please fix the phone problem! (This is your money maker, and it's ruining discussions. Stable and clear sounding phone-lines are crucial"

Wow, I've never thought of that! The irony of using the phrase "money maker" when referring to a show that we actually pay to produce and freely donate thousands of hours to, is sadly humorous.

Don't misunderstand - I'm not writing this simply to bitch at the people who are writing us about this problem, I'm just expressing my own frustration and letting people know that e-mails that are essentially pointing out the elephant that I'm riding have been read, and won't be getting individual responses.

We'll also continue to look for solutions, but I wanted to give people a taste of what we're dealing with in order to avoid some of the suggestions that aren't very helpful.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Open thread on episode #695

Today's show was, as usual, fraught with difficulties, though not as many as we originally suspected. Once again, the calls were problematic, with some callers having a hard time hearing us. Whether the problem is with our audio, their cell phones, or a combination of everything, is unclear. But we're well aware of ChannelAustin's long history of audio problems. Not only that, we dropped the damn UStream feed in the last ten minutes, but the full video should be fine.

It turns out that the first call today, with Mark from Austin Stone Church, may not have been a problem on our end after all. Russell and I thought we just lost the call, which happens. After the program, Frank and John in the control room told me that Mark's feed was just fine. Only after we'd brought up problems with Matt Slick's TAG, Mark apparently stopped talking, then hung up.

If that's the case, it can't have been Mark's proudest moment. According to him, he had the whole congregation watching (awesome!), and, if he indeed hung up, they watched him basically wither in his defense of the faith without much of a fight. Still, we'd have put him at the head of the line had he called back. Better luck next time, Mark.

Note to self: When Christians call the program and immediately demand politeness from us, they are probably about to launch into a string of absurdities and falsehoods that they don't want us to call them on. Frankly, the minute Mark listed the risible Ray Comfort as some authority on evolution, and repeated the tiresome canard that there are "no transitional fossils," I was done with politeness. No, I'm not going to scream nasty names at you while I correct you. But the fact is, with the plethora of scientific literature and research out there demonstrating to as high a degree of certainty as science can promise that evolution is real, there is no excuse for willful ignorance and the deliberate dissemination of disinformation about what science actually says. Frankly, the creationist line that there are no transitional fossils is on the same level of intellectual irresponsibility as flat Earth belief.

This is an aspect of religious fundamentalist dishonesty I think deserves zero tolerance, and there's been way too much coddling and misplaced "fairness" towards a "controversy" that does not actually exist. If you've only read Ray Comfort and not any actual scientific text, and you want to call us and challenge us on evolution, know this: it will not be a pleasant experience for you. You are simply not in possession of the facts, and we will steamroll you with them.

Also, since the gang at Stone Church seem to think Matt Slick is impressive somehow, let me share with you an email we got from a viewer today, who passed along a question from Slick.

How can an atheist trust his own judgments if his brain is completely restricted to the neurochemical laws and cannot operate outside of those laws? Doesn't this necessitate that all the laws/chemical reactions/brain arrangement require certain reactions based upon the stimulus that produces a specific and predictable result due to that person's particular neurochemical arrangement in his brain? How then can such a person trust that his conclusions about the universe be accurate since what he believes and interprets is governed by those laws? How does such required neurochemical reactions produced truth and proper logical inference? If the atheists cannot answer this, then it, demonstrates his worldview has serious problems.

Jeff Dee caught this grenade and lobbed it right back.

How can a theist trust his own judgments if his mind is completely unconstrained by any rules? Doesn't this necessitate that all of his thoughts are random disconnected nonsense? How then can such a person trust that his conclusions about the universe are accurate, since what he believes and interprets is NOT governed by any laws? How does such unconstrained rambling produce truth and proper logical inference? If the theist cannot answer this, then it demonstrates his worldview has serious problems.

So I'd suggest apologists start looking for another hero. Matt Slick isn't as slick as he thinks.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Notice how misogynist the GOP has gotten lately? Want to do something fun about it?

Abortion rights is not necessarily an atheist issue. But it is a human rights issue. And it's something the Christian Right has chosen to go to war over with its biggest, nastiest guns. They're not exactly about playing fair either.

Recently, civilized hominids everywhere were left slack-jawed in disbelief when Republicans tried to redefine rape in order to make it damn near impossible for any actual rape survivor to terminate her pregnancy. They coined the baffling term "forcible rape," implying they think there's such a thing as "consensual rape." Or something. Anyway, it's obvious no Good Christian Woman would be out drinkin' in bars and shit. So if some slutty sinful whore gets her drink roofied, it's obviously her fault for not being pure enough, ain't it?

Now it's gotten crazier. As it seems to be GOP policy to constantly try to out-douche one another, Pennsylvania's Republican Senator Joe Pitts has introduced H.R. 358. This bill would allow hospitals staffed by the kinds of people with a bug up their ass about abortion and a thin grasp of the Hippocratic Oath not only to decline to provide a life-saving abortion to a woman who direly needs one, but even to refuse to facilitate transporting her to a hospital that will. Save her life, that is. So we are presented with the spectacle of a woman dying in agony in a hospital parking lot while the nurses and orderlies on duty calmly watch Oprah and tweet about their weekends. Paradoxically, Pitts calls this the "Protect Life Act." What a lovely thing Christian family values are.

And remember, these are the same people bleating about less government, less government!

It's especially boggling when women, in what can only be thought of as Stockholm Syndrome taken to exponential new heights, fall into the right-wing misogyny camp and oppose the very medical procedures designed to help them in the unfortunate and hopefully unlikely event they will need them. Get it straight: no one is a fan of abortion. But to deny that sometimes the procedure is necessary, and moreover, to declare that the life of a woman is automatically worth less than that of a blastula, and that once a woman is gestating, she is automatically deprived of her personhood and her only function is now that of incubator, is nothing less than monstrous. That this is in fact how the Christian Right thinks is enough to make you think nuclear holocaust might be all humanity deserves after all.

But here's a little something you can do. It's even fun!

Recently, Lila Rose, a rising star in the (sexist wisecrack coming) right-wing bimbo brigade behind Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, made a ludicrous attempt to swiftboat Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides a plethora of invaluable health assistance to women everywhere, but which the right chooses to characterize exclusively as Dachau for Babies. Rose's stunt was butt-stupid, even for a Republican. Like her BFF, convicted criminal James "Doctored ACORN Videos" O'Keefe, Rose tried to punk PP with some video doctoring of her own. Her ingenious plan must be read to be believed.

Over a five day period, visitors to Planned Parenthood health centers in six states said they were seeking information from Planned Parenthood about health services Planned Parenthood could provide to underage girls who were part of a sex trafficking ring.... Men, sometimes accompanied by a woman, have visited at least 11 Planned Parenthood health centers in six states within a one-week time frame. During their visits, they claimed to be involved in sex trafficking of teens, some of whom are in the United States illegally. These men appeared at health centers without appointments and said that they were seeking health services for themselves, but they quickly turned the conversation to the sex ring they said they were managing.

Wait, what?

Yes, you read that right. The plan was to get PP to appear as if they were helping conceal the existence of a child-sex trafficking ring. Rose's little brainchild was itself aborted, however, when PP did what she hoped they wouldn't do: report this bullshit to the FBI.

Now of course, poor Lila — abetted by her pals in right-wing media, of course — will continue to try to sell this false story, and probably paint herself as some kind of martyr for truth. Wingnuts do that kind of thing. But here's a fun thing we can all do, as a kind of sweet revenge. It's a way of letting petty little people like her, and all her anti-choice pals, know that the more they lie, the more they try to tear down women's right to safe and legal health options through disinformation, the more we will remain committed to the cause of women's health. And a little thing called truth.

  • Click on this link. It will take you to Planned Parenthood's "Honorary Giving" donations page.
  • Throw a few bucks their way "in honor of" Lila Rose!
  • Finally, send Lila a friendly, cordial, profane-insult-free email at, informing her that you have done this, and that her campaign of disgraceful lies has resulted in your increased support for Planned Parenthood. In her name. Don't be snarky. Don't cuss her out. Don't give her any ammo to whine about the evil libral socialist godless heathen scary people who are stalking her. Be so civil it hurts. You could also add that you hope she never finds herself in need of PP's services, and to keep an eye on her drinks when she goes out.

That should do it. A little bit of the old martial artist, turning your opponent's attack back upon them, you see. Most satisfying. But then, people like Rose have committed to a life of lies. Committing to truth, as she'll soon learn, wins in the end.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Atheist Experience Facebook page

I know this won't be of interest to many of you, but for our Facebooking friends, here's a curious thing. Over on Facebook, there's an Atheist Experience page that looks for all the world to be official. Except it isn't, and never has been. We have no idea who put it up, and whoever did seems to have abandoned administrating it. It currently has over 7740 "likers," all of whom clearly hopped aboard thinking it was an official page, and who have in fact built up something of a little community there. So it would be a shame to have to get it taken down, which is why Jen is looking into whether Facebook will simply let us take it over. We don't relish having it taken down and starting up our own from scratch, but that's what we'll do if we must.

We don't have a problem with fans doing fan stuff. After all, most of the people who have become fans of the show did so after discovering YouTube clips posted by other fans. And we're aware that on the intarweebs, a lot of stuff is simply going to be out of our hands.

What bugs us is that this page was set up to look official when it is not, and thus whoever created it is guilty of deceiving our viewers. If this had been set up as a fan page (there's already a fine fan group, run by the Macalpine clan, though I have no idea what the difference is between "pages" and "groups" as Facebook sees them, or why they created two separate but nearly entirely similar things in the first place), then hey, fine. If we get to take the page over, we'll definitely use it in a more (I can't believe I'm about to use this fucking word) proactive way, posting frequent Wall updates relating to ACA activities, blog posts, video clips, and other stuff of interest. As it is, we can use it to do none of those things, and fans meanwhile are posting stuff to its Wall addressed directly to us, oblivious to the fact we aren't even seeing it. So, you know, we'll keep you posted.

Of course, if the person who did create the page happens to be reading this, dude, let us have admin privileges and take it off your hands. We won't send ninja after you or anything.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Well, these turned out nicely. They're super comfy and, given the arctic blast that slammed Texas today, I can confirm that they are warm. I'll begin the shipping process starting tomorrow.

The first run is gone baby gone. But I will be happy to do a second run, if, this time, we can get between 50-100 takers. (The first run was only 30.) Contact me at wagnerfilm[at]yahoo[dot]com and I will send you payment and other relevant information.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog.