Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Because sometimes we're not above cheap lulz

Surely we can find some example of hilarious and absurd behavior among the religious to mark the passing of this year's Christmas season. Oh, here's a fun one...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pretty crappy for a miracle, I'd say

Following up on our earlier miracles post, a viewer emailed Tracie with some other examples of miracles and, while not entirely endorsing them, still seemed to think there might be something to them. One of these was the story of eight Catholic missionaries who supposedly survived the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima without so much as a scratch, or any trace of radiation poisoning in their bodies. I responded to the effect that, if this story were true, it would paint a rather unpleasant picture of God.

First, I couldn't find any source for this claim that was not from a Catholic site, or that didn't simply copy-and-paste the exact text from said sites. So until I see something credible from a neutral, scientific source, I have to remain skeptical of the claim, since I am well aware of religion's history of coming up with all kinds of miraculous claims.

But it's known that some people survived the bomb, even those very close, if they were in structures that managed to absorb the worst of the explosion. In fact, this year marked the death of 93-year-old Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. I just happened to know about him because he was featured in a Cracked.com article a few days ago.

But think again of what this miracle claim is really saying below the surface. The atomic bomb at Hiroshima killed an estimated 150,000-200,000 people instantly. Many of these people were women and children.

And we are supposed to be in awe of a "miracle" in which, out of all those people, God chose to save not any women, children, or little babies — but eight missionaries!? Uh, thanks a lot, asshole.

If this were actually a miracle, it would be the miracle of a god so completely morally reprehensible and evil that it would not be sufficient to disbelieve in him. The only morally appropriate act would be to angrily repudiate and reject him. Seems to me the Church really ought to rethink using this one as part of their sales pitch.

Presenting the most offensive email we've ever gotten

And it's not even Christian hate mail. Hell, that stuff's almost always penny ante.

No, this is someone who claims to be a fan, but who has his head...well, let's just say that the attitudes expressed here reflect a level of clueless douchebaggery and stupidity that I've rarely seen. I suppose this way of thinking might fly in the Christian Quiverfull community, or among 13-year-old boys who've learned everything they think they know about females from torrenting Girls Gone Wild videos. But to hear it coming from an (choke) admirer of ours is creepy to say the very least. One gets the impression he's the sort of fellow who wonders why women only want to go out with "jerks" and not "nice guys" like him.

Why post it here? Simply because I think this is the sort of thing that deserves public shaming. Rock-stupid condescension and male-entitlement attitudes like this continue to thrive when those who express them are brushed off with a "boys will be boys" dismissal, rather than being subjected to the castigation they deserve. So, castigate away.

Subject: message for jen peeps

hi,

I think you're great, and your current look is excellent suits you very well.

I am only saying the following advice because you're good and thus deserving of my advise

You look hot here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7w7hOv47Y4
this seems to be your current look

Long hair is very important.

It's a minority that look reasonably good with short hair, and even those that do, would almost always look better with long hair.

You look bad with short hair.. As in
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsaOL85jx9Q
It might be better if I don't elaborate on that or get too blunt, because women can burst into tears over that kind of thing.. and you're nice I don't want you to burst into tears or even to get upset. And there's no reason to, this is a very positive message that you look hot -now-. and that it's so easy for you just don't cut your hair short. And since you're so logical, I know you will take this message as a positive thing since it should be, and it's not spun either.

A secondary issue, is your clothing in that older video is frumpy rather than modern-sexy.. women usually look sexier in a t-shirt than in frumpy clothing, and you are no exception. I know you're not trying to look sexy even when you do.. but no point dressing in a frumpy way. Really since i'm a guy I don't care about type of clothes.. but as a woman you're familiar with clothes and you'd understand if I said your clothing there was frumpy.. and it was. The recent video where you wore the t-shirt is better than the frumpy clothes.. though you'd look hot either way.. since as I said clothing was secondary. From a guy's perspective, something less frumpy might not hide you as much. I hope you get a nice partner, like Russel , a particular hero of mine, and have lots of intelligent logical discussion and kids like you two! or like almost any on AE, at least 5 or 6 of you are incredible and really leading atheist thinkers.

In 15 years you'll look quite bad.. and after that you'll look as disgusting to a man(A man with standards) as any other very middle aged woman is just expired and at different stages part their expiration date. So look good and sexy and enjoy the experience while you can. And be glad that you can..

I am very happy that you are hot, because you deserve to be!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Having too good a day to be annoyed by religion

It's a gorgeous day in Austin today. Cold, but sunny and blue. In a few minutes, I'll throw on the old hoodie, fire up the old iPod, leash up the old dog, and take a walk in the old park. Might even look for that old geocache that eluded me last time. In all, it's simply too awesome a day, and, as the sort of godless person who does his best to make each day count knowing I don't have an eternity of them waiting for me in Candyland, it's entirely conducive to my best of moods.

Which is why I just don't have any incentive to get all riled up by a text I got from a Christian acquaintance of mine this morning which read Merry christmas. Thank god for the gift that keeps on giuing 'jesus (Errors in the original, but most people text without regard to proper spelling, capitalization and punctuation.)

The confrontational nature of communication between believers and atheists is a matter that often takes center stage. Having been involved in AETV since 1999, it's not as if I shy away from such confrontation. I frequently enjoy it. I'm also a firm believer in holding the feet of believers to the fire, so to speak, to force them to argue competently for their beliefs and listen with some degree of actual understanding to atheists' rebuttals.

Still, sometimes I find it fun to sit back, watch a believer do what he does, in situations where no forceful rebuttal is needed because the fail is apparent from the outset. Take Mike (not his real name), this fellow who texted me. Now, he and I get along in person. He knows I'm an atheist. When we talk, we don't argue religion, not because I don't want to, but because I'm perfectly happy to let him make the choice of whether or not to do that, knowing I can pretty well deflect anything his ORU theology degree can throw.

What Mike does is, in a way, more entertaining. He tries very passive-aggressive — often to the point of indifference — forms of proselytizing. You'd think a fellow armed with a bachelor's in theology (which I don't see as being any more relevant to reality than a similar degree in Star Wars Trivia) would have few worries about his game. But instead of taking me on with overwhelming force and shock and awe, he's done things like play soppy Christian pop and R&B on the occasions we carpooled. (There are some good singers on those R&B tracks, I will admit.) So, it's like a challenge. But it's more like throwing down a mitten than a gauntlet.

When it was my turn to drive, I wouldn't play Dimmu Borgir or Scandinavian death metal in retaliation. I wouldn't play music at all — so he could sleep. Did he notice that gesture? Did he notice I was taking the high road? Did he notice, especially, that I was saying to him, "Okay, your approach here? It's so not working." Probably not, I don't know.

It's like this. You'd all agree that as atheists, we live good and happy lives without gods, invisible or otherwise, guiding our days. Christians see this, and it disconcerts them. It doesn't fit the narrative they've been sold all their lives. So here we are, living the positive atheist life, and religion is this thing that people keep wanting to put in our way. It's like the old story (is it one of Sagan's? it might be...) about the two guys admiring a beautiful garden, and one says to the other, "You know, there are fairies tending this garden, that's why it's so beautiful." Huh? Why can't the beautiful garden be admired on its own, without introducing imaginary and superfluous fairies into the picture?

I get the idea Mike has been looking for that opening with me, but not in such a way that I'll be alienated. In its way, this text marks something of an escalation, in that it's the first time he's come right out and directed a Jesusy remark to me. That it's the kind of thing you'd read in a greeting card means the level of conviction he's willing to put behind it still doesn't entail too much risk. But the point is I saw this coming, more or less, and am utterly unruffled by it.

I'd be the last person to deny that many forms of Christian proselytizing are not nearly so harmless and feeble. In fact, just this morning we got an email from a viewer describing a distressing situation a friend of his is facing and asking for advice.

My question is in regards to a friend's situation at work. He was told by his boss that his hours were being cut from 3 twelve hour days to 2 twelve hour days per week and that he needed to use this time to find god. He was also told to email a response to his boss about how he was going to find god. His boss is a fundamentalist Christian and we live is South Carolina. I know that this is illegal and completely asinine but I need some advice on how to encourage him. He needs to keep his job to support his family but he does not want to conform to his boss's demands. He is not an atheist or if he is he is not out yet. His wife is a Christian and even she knows that its wrong. How can I help him?

This is, of course, the most egregious sort of bullying. I hope our correspondent takes my suggestion to have his friend contact the ACLU at once. More often than not, religion is exactly this appalling in its disregard for common decency, and in all such cases it must be smacked down forcefully.

But then there are situations like Mike and his text message, that put a little grin on my face because they reveal just how weak the whole enterprise really is. Did Mike think hearing CD after CD of silly Christian songs might woo me to the Lord? Mostly, I couldn't help noticing how the lyrics of every single one of these songs had the same trite message: "My invisible friend is totally awesome!" And then all I could think was, "Dude, you went to college and got a degree in a discipline designed to do nothing more than slap a veneer of intellectual respectability on the inane sentiments of these lyrics? Yeah, 'heaven' forbid you'd actually want to be a doctor or scientist."

I mean, when it's all shown in this light, proselytizing is simply funny. I look at the sort of half-hearted evangelism reflected in this text message, and I find myself playing the role (okay, work with me here, people) of an attractive woman in a bar who's just heard Lame Line #563 from the fifteenth clueless beta-male who's tried to approach her all evening. What do these women do in situations like this? Sure, they could laugh in the guy's face, berate him in front of his and her friends until he dissolves into a puddle of ectoplasmic humiliation on the floor. But what these women usually do is simply walk away. Lameness of such lameitude barely merits notice, let alone an impassioned retort.

I'm sure some atheists would get a text like I got, and fire back with everything they've got. Dude, fuck u! I'm an ATHEIST and Christmas is bullshit ripped off from Saturnalia anyway. So stick ur Bible up ur ass sideways!!! Again, I saw this coming, and I don't rise to the bait quite so easily. I did finally text Mike back: Hope you're having a great Christmas! And I'll just leave him scratching his head over that.

Like I said, I'm having a lovely day.

A belated note on Isaac Newton's birthday

Happy Newtonmas, everyone. (And most importantly, happy birthday to my Non-Prophets partner in crime Gia Grillo!) Here's an announcement I epically borked, but hopefully I can make up for it. The fine crew of Seattle's Ask an Atheist is shifting to AM radio in January. They have run up against a phenomenon that is sweeping cable television nationwide: to wit, the loss of public access channels. Very few cities now have those any more, let alone the ability to offer shows that take live calls. In that regard, we're still quite lucky down here Austin way.

The gang held a benefit comedy show earlier this month, which I totally failed to announce in time. But they are still accepting donations on their site to make the transition easier. Best wishes to Mike Gillis and the rest of the SeaTac crew in the continuation of their fine contribution to godless media! We need more dedicated shows around the country and globe. And not so long ago, AETV felt like a tiny oasis in an endless desert...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On changing minds

In a previous thread, someone wrote: "While debating with a theist can be as invigorating as playing chess, one should bear in mind that it's doing them harm. It's driving them deeper into their psychosis."

This is simply not true, and yet it's unfortunately a very common meme among the "Don't be a dick" crowd. As a counterpoint, I'd like to share a letter we received a few months ago. I don't post stuff like this often, as it would come across as too self-congratulatory, but I do want to remind everyone that people sometimes change their minds.

For context: This guy originally wrote to us in January. He wrote that seeing the show was causing serious doubts in his own Christian beliefs. He then went on to say:

I was wondering, if there is no higher power, how you would justify morality in an atheist at all? Please don't misunderstand, as a young person on the verge of apostasy, I'm not saying that atheists have no morals, although I have met 'christians' who have claimed as much. After all, if there is no higher power, then there is no objective truth, ergo no objective morality, meaning all morality is subjective. If that is the case, then to say that a murderer is immoral is surely a fallacy, as he no doubt acted as his morals saw fit. If morality is subjective, then he is as moral for acting out the murder he saw as moral as you are for not acting out a murder you saw as immoral.

I wrote back and we discussed the morality issue for a while. The angle I took on this was the Euthyphro Dilemma, though I usually don't refer to it by name. I like to explore the concept that a God-given morality is somehow objective in a way that human consensus-derived morality is not. In the course of three more exchanges between us, and some messages from Tracie thrown in, we discussed slavery; we discussed the story of Jephthah; we talked about what kind of commands God could issue that would be considered by this person to be immoral.

After a while he said that they were hard questions but he still felt like there must be a god. The conversation petered out.

In September I received this:

Hi, Mr. Glasser,

I doubt you remember me, but we had a discussion about religion and so on just under a year ago. I have since become an atheist and I thought I'd drop you an e-mail to thank you. The video I e-mailed about in the first place was the first real faith-shaking material I had come into contact with, and from there I kept investigating my religion scientifically, historically and morally. Obviously, I found it wanting and, as I said earlier, have since renounced it. I thought I'd let you know a few of the final arguments in convincing me that the bible, at least, is wrong, not really in case you hadn't heard them (I'm sure you have), but rather because, since our discussion must have been frustrating for you, I'd like you to know. One is that the God of the bible forced us into sin, and therefore knowingly and willingly condemned literally billions of people to hell by creating the Eden situation in the first place, for he knew what would happen but did nothing to change it. This is an act of incredible cruelty, and is unjustifiable, giving trouble even to my own father (a minister). That's a moral argument, I suppose, but also shows a biblical contradiction (if God is all loving and unchanging then this act (among dozens of notable others) should be impossible). The second is the fallibility of the bible. I wonder if you knew that Luke, in his gospel, lists 28 generations between Joseph, Jesus' father, and David, whereas Matthew gives 41. On top of that, the census Luke wrote about never happened, and the local census upon which it may have been based happened long after Herod's death.

Those are just a few, but anyway, thanks again for showing me another way of thinking, and it's thanks in part to you guys and what you're doing that I am being fascinated and amazed every day by the way that the world works without resorting to the 'Don't ask questions, God did it' train of thought.

So. I have been asked, on a few occasions, whether arguing with people about atheism ever changes people's minds. My answer is always "Very rarely, and the changes are usually minor but positive." This is what I would consider a happy exception.

Monday, December 20, 2010

How useful is faith for obtaining knowledge?

This is a typical conversation between a theist and an atheist, and in fact something very much like it occurred over a lengthy series of back-and-forth comments on this blog last week. Please excuse this paraphrase; I want to boil the conversation down to its most important features, and I hope I've portrayed the theist accurately.

Theist: "God must exist. Unless there is a god, many features of the universe are unexplainable."

Atheist: "What's your explanation for God?"

Theist: "Don't be ridiculous! We can't explain God. He is outside of time and space, and cannot be understood by mere human minds."

Atheist: "But then how do you know that a god exists? Do you have evidence?"

Theist: "Of course I do! The universe is evidence for God."

Atheist: "The universe definitely exists, but that's got nothing to do with providing positive evidence for god. Your argument about having 'no other explanation' is just special pleading, granting yourself the authority to invent something that is also unexplained. Not only does it not solve the problem, it invents new ones. So again: Do you have evidence that there is any such thing as a god?"

Theist: "Don't be absurd! Since God is beyond our understanding, we must rely on faith."

Atheist: "That seems like a really bad strategy for actually finding out what is true."

Theist: "Nonsense! Just think about all the other things that scientists accept without complete evidence."

The theist then proceeds to list some of the usual suspects, starting with abstract concepts like "Love" and "Beauty," and then including some of the vaguer outliers of speculative scientific theories such as aspects of quantum mechanics and string theory.

Let me set aside for a moment the issue of how some things are more or less firmly accepted within the scientific realm based on how good the evidence is; how there are "hard" sciences and "soft" sciences; and how the ideas that individual scientists hold to be true personally is often separate from what they claim as scientific knowledge. I just want to ask some stuff about applying faith to claim knowledge.

Is faith sufficient? If you hold a belief in something without evidence deeply, sincerely, and completely, then does it follow that it is true? Or do you require faith and some component of evidence in order to accept something as true? In what ratios do they apply?

If the answer is "Faith alone is sufficient to establish truth" then let me ask this. Suppose that a Muslim comes up to you and says the following:
"There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet. Allah has no son and there is no other god accompanying Him. All that we know of Him is revealed in the Qur'an. Believers in Christ are heretics and infidels who tell lies about the one true God. The reward for faith in Allah, Muhammad, and the Most Holy Qur'an is Jannah, an eternity of pleasure and sexual delights."

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that this fellow is sincere and earnest in his belief, and holds his faith every bit as strongly as you hold yours.

My question is: What is it that would compel an outside observer to accept your faith as correct and his as wrong?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Today's Show: Deconstructing a Miracle

Since we're only on for an hour now, I'm not sure how much time we'll have for a topic, but if we have time, I would like to address the following miracle claim I was confronted with in a recent dialog:

Out of curiosity though, I ask how you can scientifically prove how this happened:

A young girl, between the ages of 3 & 4 drowns and dies. A man who has failed every CPR test in his life, brings her back to life. Later on, she tells her mother that she has a little sister named Emily. Emily does not exist. The little girl says she does. When asked who told her this, she said a lady in white did in a white room. Keep in mind the hospital had no white rooms where she was at and the nurses were not wearing white. Later on the mother is pregnant, the little girl says this is not Emily. It is not. It is a boy. Later on the mother is pregnant again, same thing happens, another boy. The family decides they are not going to have anymore children, but then the mother gets pregnant one more time. The little girl says this is Emily. A girl is born.

For the record, this is a true story, with many witnesses. How is it that this little girl saw this lady in white in a white room while she was dead and then predicted the birth of her sister?

This is why I am not atheist because I believe something or someone does exist and there is some kind of place after death besides six feet under or ashes.

Not to give too much away, but to skip to the end of the discussion, after making a few requests for clarification from the claimant, this miracle is exactly as impressive as saying "Yesterday I flipped a coin, and before it landed, a little child shouted 'tails!'—and it did land on tails. How do you explain this?!"

Hope you'll be there for the live feed!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oh, we've hit the big time now for sure!

Today I was made aware of a Facebook group called — are you ready? — "catholics against 'the atheist experience'". That I know of, this is the first expressly anti-AETV Facebook group yet formed. Not that it's a big thing or anything, with only 55 members at this point, the vast majority of whom appear to be atheists. The Wall posts are a blast to read.

Saith the group's creator, Nathan Boucher, who is only two years out of high school...

so i came across this video today on youtube about these atheists who have a show...Now it is freedom of speech but what really annoyed me was the host was totally bashing catholics and he actually gave out the audience consecrated hosts or what he said were.

its not right to make fun and mock that which you don't understand!

Which I do believe can be roughly summarized as "hurr de durp durrr." I suspect Mr. Boucher is referring to this clip here.

First, the fact that students in this country continue to graduate from high school with writing skills as abysmal as the above remains this country's greatest shame. Secondly, we don't make fun of and mock the church and its practices — both spiritual, like communion, and material, like boy-fucking — because we do not understand them, but because we do. Religion promulgates ignorance, medievalism, tribalism, and anti-intellectualism, and protects the grossest immorality under the shield of its authority. Frankly, mockery of such vile filth is fairly light treatment. What we should be doing is arranging to have Pope Ratzo arrested and imprisoned for life. We've been letting the Church off lightly if all they can whine about is mockery and ridicule.

No Phones for next Sunday's show

Many of you are probably aware that the phone system in the TV studio wasn't working last Sunday and the crew did whatever they could to make a workable show out of the situation.

I've just been informed that the phone situation will not be resolved in time for next Sunday's show. Tracie and I are scheduled to be on that show, and it'll be the last show of the year. I don't want to try to find a last-minute solution using Skype (though we'll look at this for the future) and I'm not going to try to wade through the muck in the UStream chat to find something interesting..so here's the plan:

I will pick out a few relevant news stories and a few interesting e-mails (Tracie is welcome to have a few of her own), and we'll spend part of the show discussing these.

I'd also like to have a bit of fun, so I'll keep thinking about this during the week and the entire plan may change before showtime....

Monday, December 13, 2010

10 best Christmas songs...

Greta Christina has a new post about a story she wrote for AlterNet...trying to list the 10 best Christmas songs for atheists.

I don't like the rules of this particular meme...which is why I wasn't happy with her list (this isn't a knock on Greta who I really like and look forward to talking to at the American Atheists National convention in April, as we're both on the speakers' list...but screw the rules, let's go for fun!).

So, in no particular order, here are my 10 favorite Christmas songs (or at least 10 that I really like)...irrespective of any rules:

1. Billy Squier - Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You.
(This was the intro music for Saturday's Non-Prophets and it's downloadable content in Rock Band...what's not to love?)
2. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - Snowmeiser Heatmeiser
(This hip reworking of the Rankin/Bass classic is one I can listen to over and over and over and...)
3. The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping
(This video includes decent audio and a geeky synchronized Xmas light show.)
4. John Lennon - Happy Christmas (War Is Over)
(What's not to love?)
5. Robert Earl Keene - Merry Christmas from the Family
(If parts of this song seem mildly familiar — you might be a redneck)
6. Brenda Lee - Rockin Around the Christmas Tree
(How did this miss even an honorable mention on Greta's list?)
7. Elmo and Patsy - Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
(Unfortunately, I was only able to find this and remixes and not the original version)
8. The Beach Boys - Little Saint Nick
(This was close...but from the opening notes, I just want to listen to it.)
9. Gene Autry - Here Comes Santa Claus
(Yes, it says "say your prayers" "thanks to the lord above" and I couldn't care less...)
10. Dean Martin - Baby It's Cold Outside
(Because it's my list and there has to be some Deano...Sway isn't sufficiently Christmas-y, but this counts. Winter Wonderland is nice, but this is better.)

Obviously, there are many other songs and covers that I could add or change. But it's a quick list of songs I'm happy to listen to this season...

Open thread on episode #687

Have at it!

In case you missed it, I was pre-announcing this to be the "worst episode ever." Planned co-host couldn't make it. No phones. No audio in the beginning.

Mega-kudos to Steve for hitting on the strategy of filtering chat comments and sending them to the phone screen line as if they were calls. What you hear in the end is me interviewing first-time cohost Erica about her plans to come out to her Christian family, followed by 40 minutes of me mostly monologuing on caller questions.

Considering what we were working with, I actually think it came out pretty well and not the disaster it could have been. Your thoughts!

Friday, December 10, 2010

We get email

Now, I'm not going to claim that this is the most unusual or interesting mail we've ever received; it's actually a fairly mundane rehashing of common creationist cluelessness. But the final replay really makes the email exchange one for the ages.

My responses are embedded in his italicized message, but the original message was one huge block paragraph.

I would like to know how and why atheists can knowledgeably ignore the laws of physics when considering such things as creation?

It's interesting that you would say that, because it turns out that physicists tend to be atheists far more than most people. According to fairly recent surveys, while around 85% of people in the world believe in some kind of God, somewhere around 60% of practicing physical scientists have doubts about the existence of God, and among members of the National Academy of Sciences -- one of the most elite groups of scientists in the world -- only about 7% are believers.


It seems that more advanced a person is in scientific disciplines, the less likely they are to believe in God. Maybe you should take up your question with them.


all the laws of physics prove that nothing can come from nothing, so how did this universe come into exsistance, if not from nothing, where did that original "something", most often referrred to as matter or ssome other form, come from?


Big Bang theory doesn't attempt to address this question. The universe came to its present state around 14.5 billion years ago. Before that, everything in the universe was compressed into a small enough state that known laws of physics can't be applied properly.

Therefore, the Big Bang is not an assertion that anything came "from nothing." Could have always existed. Could have been generated out of matter from a meta-universe. Could have spontaneously come into existence through a matter/antimatter reaction. The responsible perspective is to accept that we don't know, and won't until a new way to collect evidence is worked out.

You, on the other hand, seem to believe that you do know. And your belief is that the universe was in fact created from nothing, by a being who either always existed or, in turn, came into existence from nothing itself. I think it's remarkable that you don't see the irony in that position.


more importantly, id like you to address cosmological singularity, which has been accepted by most, if not al physicists, concluding that there is, and always has been God,


I don't know where you're getting your information from, although my guess would be that it's from within a certain part of your body. As I've already pointed out, you can get actual information from scientists about how much they believe in god, and it's considerably less than the general public. Besides which, even scientists who believe in God would very rarely claim that this believe is in some way scientifically proven. Most of them hold to some form of Stephen Jay Gould's idea of "non-overlapping magisteria," claiming that faith in god and scientific evidence should be held as dealing with separate domains.

Almost no formal papers have been published in mainstream, peer reviewed scientific journals addressing the question of a god's existence, and those that have slipped through are generally not cited as relevant by any other scientific works. This is so widely acknowledged that creationists routinely claim that the "scientific establishment" is involved in a massive conspiracy against their work. This is, of course, baseless paranoia, since the reason that their work doesn't get published is that it's a load of poorly supported, pseudoscientific quackery.


therefore disproving the core of atheist beliefs. in such a society today that is so scientifically based, it is ignorant to ignore such things as cosmological singularity, as well as other laws of physics, including einstiens relativity, and quantum mechanics, which even led einstien to believe in the exsistance of God.


Somebody's been lying to you, dude.

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/quotes_einstein.html
"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."
-- Albert Einstein, in a letter March 24, 1954; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 43.


thank you for your time, tho you'll be wasting your efforts trying to disprove the laws of the universe to justify your living in denial.


Thanks for the vote of confidence. Ta ta!

And here's the reply. Wait for it....

lol you actually wasted youre time to rely to me ??? hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!1

THANK YO SO MUCH FOR MAKING MY DAY! hahahahaah! thank you! wow you really would waste youre time like this wouldnt you!!! hahahaha!

im glad to know that you "care" enough about your "public" to reply to this! hahahahahahaha!

YOU ARE A FOOL!!!!!

(by the way my email contained a virus)

have a "wonderful" life and then die!!!!!

Apart from being scientifically illiterate and knowing fuck-all about computers in the bargain, I'm kind of charmed to see that the victory which made his day was the recognition that he is wasting people's time. If only all creationists could be so self-aware!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Take note, Mr. Plait: This is "being a dick"

There has been some concern among certain folks in the skeptical community that "expressing an opinion strongly and with conviction" constitutes "being a dick," because it might bruise the tender feelings of believers. This concern is misplaced. From England's green and pleasant land we have a literally staggering act of actual dickishness. Said to be nearly 2000 years old and planted by Joseph of Arimathea (and whether that's true or not really isn't relevant to the situation), the Holy Thorn Tree of Glastonbury has been a popular destination for believers on pilgrimages. The other night, some vandals hacked off all its branches, leaving nothing but a naked stump.

That, I submit, is dickishness of the first water.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Who are you calling a sheep? (Another classical music post)

It's the holiday season, and my chorus last weekend performed a piece closely associated with the season, Handel's Messiah. As I've often said before about choral music, atheists have to judge the artistic merits of a piece of music apart from the message being conveyed through the music. Presumably even the most hardened philistine is familiar with the great "Hallelujah" chorus of the piece, and there's plenty else to love throughout the work. A few more of my favorites bits: "For Unto Us a Child is Born." "And He Shall Purify." And the Amens at the end. Great music.

Of course I could criticize the theology in all of it, but I want to focus specifically on this one piece in part 2. "All We Like Sheep." In fact, it's critical enough to this post that I'm going to embed it so you can watch it first. I think there's a valuable insight into theology to be found.



(That's not my chorus, by the way, it's just some people on YouTube.)

Cute, isn't it? Here are the words.

All we like sheep
Have gone astray
We have turned everyone
To his own way

And the Lord hath laid on him
The iniquities of us all!

Sometimes I imagined changing the lyrics to "We all like sheep," which changes the message considerably.

Our director really emphasized the shift in tone at the final part. Up till then, everything is bouncy, cheerful, and silly. After that, it's dark and scary. I like to envision all the little sheep frolicking around in a Pepe Le Pew style hopping trot. Then at the end, maybe a giant Monty Python foot comes down on them.

Who are the sheep? Us! All we! Maybe you've heard the Christian metaphor already that Christians are sheep and Christ is our loving shepherd. You might interpret it that way, but that's not how Handel apparently thought of it... the consequence of being dumb, frolicking, self-willed sheep is implied in the dark, brooding, angry minor key of the last few bars.

That's the perspective that Christianity seems to offer on humanity. Under all the cheerful, bouncy "I'm so happy I have a personal relationship with Christ!" vibe, I also detect a deep rooted contempt for all humankind. The image of sheep doesn't seem to be used here to convey the idea of comfort at being taken care of, so much as scorn at whatever it is that people like doing that makes them go astray; and also an implied threat.

Maybe I'm exaggerating, but actually I think a lot of preachers would agree with me. "You're just denying God because you want to sin," they'd say. The idea of all non-Christians as stupid, clueless sheep lurching around without the shepherd to watch them is baked into the core message of the Bible.

The disagreement here is not that I want to "sin" for its own sake. It's that I don't agree with the Christian concept of what constitutes bad behavior. It doesn't matter what the bad behavior is -- whether it's sex that isn't sanctified by the church (as Darrel Ray and Matt discussed yesterday) or sleeping in on Sundays or scientific inquiry into the nature of the universe. What's important in a religious context is that you feel generally uncomfortable with anything you do that the doesn't involve religious devotion.

I understand that many people raised religious still feel that discomfort. What's interesting is that if there is no God, the only place you're getting information about the "going astray" behavior is from a group of individuals with a direct interest in keeping you coming back to church and donating money.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Quick word from your sponsor

You might recall I did T-shirts featuring the red on black logo in the sidebar there. As of today I have 4 Mediums and 5 Larges left. If interested, don't comment, just send me an email to the TV show address with subject "FAO: Martin" and I'll reply directly.

I'm considering hoodies.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Nice to see so much money so wisely invested

By now, you all know that the Creation "Museum" has plans to build what they think will be a full-size replica of the mythical Noah's Ark, in order to fleece the drooling, uneducated rubes, of whom there are an unlimited supply. Setting aside exactly how he knows this replica will be authentic (hey, maybe the original had racing stripes — were you there?), it occurs to me that this could be a prime opportunity to do some actual science.

The first thing that should be done is that the ship should not have any modern construction methods brought to bear. The whole thing must be assembled by one old man (it's unlikely we'll find a 600-year old, but we'll split the difference and hire a septuagenarian) using nothing but pitch and hand tools. (Gen. 6:14) Next, assemble all the animals as described in Genesis, and tow the monstrosity out into the middle of the Atlantic, where it will be left for ten months without any resupplying while all of the animals are cared for by a crew of four men and four women inhabiting a grand total of three decks. Assuming the ship floats at all, we'll see who's alive at the end of that time. Deal?

Oh, what's that? This isn't a scientific enterprise at all, but a theme attraction? But gosh, isn't the whole sales pitch of Answers in Genesis that science is really on their side? What a fine, fine opportunity to make a real experiment out of all this. Just think of the look on that crusty old fellow Dawkins' face when it's all been proved! He'll be crying into his tea and scones, the blighter! Praise Jesus.

You know, take a minute to think of what $24.5 million would mean to — oh, take your pick. Research in childhood leukemia. Feeding the homeless. Getting people clean and sober and helping them with job training. Christians go on and on about how much more they're about the milk of human kindness and charity than anyone else. I don't see anyone being helped by this at all, except Ken Ham and Ken Ham's checking account. Like so many in the evangelical world, he plays multiple choice with his holy book.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

A reminder note about Blogger's glitchy comment issues

If you try posting a comment, and a window comes up telling you that what you wrote was "too large," ignore it. Your comment almost certainly posted anyway. Blogger is just messed up like that sometimes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Can we please stop having religion, people?

So this idiot punk-ass Somali kid decides he wants to be a big jihad hero and set off a bomb in Portland, and is exactly dumb enough to walk right into a sting. I imagine the FBI was having a hard time not laughing as they handed him the cell phone he thought would trigger a massive explosion. "Dude, it'll be just like on 24, except this time you're the good guy!"

On Sunday some clodhoppers decide to retaliate by burning down the Islamic Center the kid attended, though they only managed to scorch part of it a little bit and cause some smoke damage.

In the midst of all this, we have the unsurprising spectacle of Christopher Hitchens turning Tony Blair into thin strips of beef tripe in a debate over whether religion is a "force for good" in the world. The only debate there is whether anyone who would answer yes to that question is merely deluded or maliciously ignorant.

Religion, more and more, is being revealed as a haven for lunatics willing to commit all manner of lunacy to curry the favor of an imaginary father figure. I see precious few good guys, only idiots with competing holy books trying to outdo one another's monumental acts of barbarism. Whatever good "faith" may be doing anyone is well hidden from view, at best. Can everybody please just let it go already?

...Sorry. Slipped into a little reverie there. Back to bad old reality yet again.

Open Thread - AE #685: The Leavers

The information I presented on tonight's show came, in part, from an article published in Christianity Today. You can find that article at this link.

One thing I didn't mention on the show was Drew Dyck's comment on the last page of the article that most young adults who leave Christianity do so because of moral compromise. What he means by this is that they're doing something that is inconsistent with Christian values, and they drop their faith as a means of resolving the internal conflict. He then goes on to imply that those who don't admit that this is why they've left Christianity are not being honest. Is it just me or does this sound like the "you just wanna sin" pronouncement we hear from Christians sometimes?

Anyway - open thread on the show topic and callers. Have at it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

More Secular Morality videos: the follow-up panel

At last, we now have the videos (thanks to Catherine Blackwell and the Secular Student Alliance) of the follow-up panel on secular morality that followed Matt's debate with Hans Jacobse. Abridged from the SSA's write-up, the panelists include:
  • Gregory S. Paul: Labeled religion's "public enemy #1" by MSNBC, Greg Paul is a freelance author and researcher about the effect of religion on society, and vice versa. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Science magazine, Evolutionary Psychology, Philosophy and Theology, and numerous other journals and publications. Paul's theory centers around the thesis that there is no "God gene" that gives people an inherent propensity for religion, and that "prosperous modernity is proving to be the nemesis of religion." Greg is a Baltimore native and active in the Baltimore Ethical Society. Find out more about his "science of religion" writings at www.gspaulscienceofreligion.com.
  • John Shook, Ph.D. [debate moderator]: Dr. Shook is a scholar and professor living in Washington, D.C. He is Director of Education and Senior Research Fellow of the Center for Inquiry, and also is Visiting Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University at Buffalo, teaching for its online program in Science and the Public. From 2000 to 2006 he was a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University. Shook publishes on philosophical topics about science, the mind, humanist ethics, democracy, secularism, and religion, and he has debated the existence of God with leading theologians including William Lane Craig. He has authored and edited more than a dozen books, including the new The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (and Everyone in Between). [Shook is the fellow I took to task on NPR 9.9 for a recent HuffPo article chastising his fellow atheists with a variant of the Courtier's Reply.]
  • Matt Dillahunty [debater]: Known for his extensive private collection of meerschaum pipes and inflatable sheep, Matt Dillahunty plays a mean Jew's harp and once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
  • Robert Anderson, Ph.D: Dr Anderson is a UMBC psychology professor and student advisor. He teaches a number of courses, including aggression and antisocial behavior, abnormal psychology, personality study, human sexuality and clinical psychology.

Enjoy. There will be other parts. I understand you need to turn the sound up.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Media fawning over Papal claptrap

Is is just me, or does pretty much every news story about the Pope's latest emanations annoy you, too? No matter what he has to say, the media is there like hungry puppies eager to lap it up and puke it out in your local newspaper or TV news program. There's usually a whole series of puff pieces trying to add drama to his latest moral pronouncement. Rarely is there any real balance to the stories and the Pope is held up as some great expert on whatever he chooses to blather about.

This week, the media was all about the Pope's latest message about condoms being ok sometimes, but not others. Two stories have run in the Austin American Statesman about this "burning" issue.

Here are my list of gripes:
  1. The media consistently fails to point out that whatever the Pope/Vatican has to say is self-serving. In this case. using condoms to stem AIDS infections would certainly take a little heat off the Vatican from health experts who have rightly pointed out that its policies are tantamount to murder. Condoms also have the very helpful benefit of not leaving DNA behind in the behinds of boys molested by priests. Furthermore the Pope still frowns on any contraceptive usage that might reduce the number of potential future tithers. Self-serving "moral" pronouncements are nothing more than propaganda and they should not be repeated in the media.
  2. Neither the Pope nor anyone at the Vatican is qualified to speak on health issues. They just have nothing valid to say and health advice from anyone so blatantly unqualified should not be repeated in the media. To make matters worse, it's rare to see any news piece that will add at least a little balance by quoting a health expert. Even a junior trainee at a family planning clinic would be far more qualified. I have yet to see an acknowledgment in most articles about Vatican pronouncements that the they are on the wrong side of this issue by consensus of 99% of the people who DO have qualifications.
  3. I personally think the Pope is unqualified to speak on moral issues. I'm sure most atheists would agree. His moral sensibilities are hopelessly broken by his indoctrination in to a church that has perpetrated some of the most ghastly horrors conceived. The Christian holy book is a genocide manual and loaded with atrocities and immoral teachings.
  4. The Vatican is a criminal enterprise. I can't think of any reason why US media should serve as a mouthpiece for an organization that has systematically molested tens of thousands of children in dozens of countries over at least four decades. (This is just the tip of the criminal iceberg, but hopefully fresh enough for journalists to have some awareness.) The Pope himself authored some of the most odious policies and shuffled priests personally. Yes, the Vatican has yet to be brought to justice in the US. This is only because our "tough on crime" elected officials are whimpering pussies when it comes to the guys with the big hats and magic crackers. Even if you want to play the "guilty until proven innocent" card, there's no reason to actively promote the Vatican until they are properly tried. Don't hold your breath.
  5. The Vatican will never accept responsibility for its actions. The Pope's pronouncements are considered "news" because there is an assumption that many people will follow his bad advice. Publishing Papal pronouncements is a tacit admission by the media that a sizable fraction of Catholics are unwilling or unable to reason for themselves and take responsibility for their own actions. The media then completely fails to hold the Pope/Vatican responsible for the impact of its policies on the world. Either Ratzinger's opinion carries no weight and there's no reason to print it, or it does carry weight and the Church is responsible for the effect of their dogma. I see plenty of puff pieces promoting Catholic dogma, but very very few investigative reports on how many people have been negatively impacted by Catholic dogma. I would love to see some real reporting on how many people have become infected with AIDS as a result of the Vatican's condom policies, or the number of women who have become pregnant when they didn't want a child but followed Catholic "moral" teaching for whatever reason. The Vatican is creating victims without any moral accountability. I would like to see the Vatican compensate these victims--especially anyone who may have been impacted who is not Catholic. I think that municipalities should be taxing Catholic charities to recoup the expenses related to Vatican contraceptive misinformation.
If you agree with my complaints, perhaps when you see one of these puff pieces you can write a letter to the editor or provide other feedback pointing out one or more of these problems and ask why the media is so consistently doing the wrong thing. Trust me, until we do, little will change.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Open thread on episode #684

Well, well. Fireworks on the show today, with Lee and his outlandish misrepresentations and conflations. I enjoyed it myself, though we still have serious sound issues to deal with. Have at it, gang.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Source of Human Morality debate videos

Here are the first three (of nine) video installments of the debate between Matt and Fr. Hans Jacobse at The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, yesterday. According to the writeup, Fr. Jacobse "views the current world as a battle between competing moral visions of the secular and the sacred, and hopes that Christianity can restore the moral tradition of the gospels." Whether this involves angrily killing fig trees is, I suppose, left to be clarified. (Zing!) Anyway, enjoy. (Note: I'll be embedding the rest of the vids as they are posted to YouTube, and will offer my assessments as I watch and absorb them.)

Final addendum, 9:30 PM 11/20: All 9 parts are now embedded, using the playlist embed code provided by the lovely and multitalented Catherine Blackwell. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You knew this was coming, didn't you?

So the Rethuglican Taliban are on the warpath, and once again they're all about using the government to shove Jebus down all our throats (all the while pontificating that they got back into power because they're all about "less government," of course). So far, we have one gasbag here in Texas wasting no time in making sure that Ten Commandments slabs are erected in every school in the state. Just how many lawsuits over idiocy like that do we need before they figure it out? And the San Antonio paper has a poll, in which jackbooted theocratic thuggery is currently ahead by a two-thirds margin. We aren't Pharyngula (I and several other folks I know have emails out to PZ at the moment), but perhaps we can "AXP" this poll just a tad in the direction of religious freedom and sanity.

Anyway, to those of you on the left who sat out the mid-terms because you were disappointed that Obama didn't fix the world fast enough, welcome to your new Saudi America.


Addendum: PZ has now posted and the squid hordes have acted, and the poll is where it should be, at over 90% against.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Alternate universe TV crossover episode!

Hey folks, quick heads up. I will be in Seattle this weekend visiting my dad, and I've arranged to show up as a third wheel cohost on "Ask an Atheist" on Sunday.

What? You haven't heard of Ask an Atheist? Why, it's a nonprofit call-in cable access show promoting (something similar to) positive atheism and the separation of church and state. You should go check it out!

Also, if you live in Seattle and watch The Atheist Experience, feel free to swing by and say hi. I'm pretty sure there's some sort of social post-show activity that dad and I will attend, but you'll have to look it up yourself.

- Russell

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Somebody hold me

I wish we could make these up, gang. I really really do. But we get these emails. How many are Poes and how many are the real crazy? All I can tell you from experience (as I'm willing to bet we at AETV are on the receiving end of Poe-age more than most) is that when people Poe us, they're usually very nudge-wink obvious about it (like, they really overdo the misspellings, cap locks, and 1's in place of !'s), and they pretty much always wrap up with "Haha! Just kidding, I'm an atheist too! Your show rocks! Keep up the good work!", as if we'd actually just been masterfully punked.

So, when we get something like this, it's usually the real deal.

Death doesn’t exist. The plan after death is like this we live. When people die they see their clothes, their utensils, objects and common residences, buildings, houses, flats. There is no more masons, doctors, manufacturing cooks handling with matter, because this plan is mental. (Indeed it is. —MW) You only need mind power and the work is done. Food, clothes, cars, modern objects is all the same. This plan is like here, no bureaucracy e everyboby deals with his reality, creates it, sceneries, nature by his own. We, the living beings, the plants, everything remains. Everybody can create his reality, for example: A person has a thought car. We think even buildings and make them exist. In order to avoid destruction in case of strikes is the same situation. They multiplied to a number of 849 billion people, all is possible there. I believe changes will begin in 2012 and will end in 2014. The Earth will be spiritual, a state of mind. In this plan, there are no myths, no mythology, only human beings and their will expanding to other planets. You have sex with a person in the shape you want.

I just knew he was leading up to a big finish there.

Face this fact: there are deeply, epically irrational humans in the world. And they write to us! So, you know, we really need some hugs about now. In whatever shape you want.

Monday, November 08, 2010

My God is an awesome God a whiny little bitch

Aaaand we get email! Yesterday, we heard from a fellow who objects to our objections to Christianity, because, as he goes on to explain, all other Christians are "ridiculous" because they've read the Bible all wrong, and he's the first one ever who's got God all figured out. Thing is, I don't see his version as being much of an improvement on the concept...

My replies, as written in my email back, appear within.

(And PS: The first person in the comments who makes the usual "Oh, I just can't believe anyone could be this stupid, this guy must be a Poe" remark gets to wear the Pointy Hat in the corner for 24 hours, and doesn't get any pudding after supper either.)


I'm a Christian.

Your anti-biblical arguments are strawmen, and your anti-theistic arguments are typically childish, because you are arguing against mainstream definitions of God, which themselves are ridiculous definitions. Shame on those of you who claim to be "former Christians" because you, like the rest of Christians, never attempted to define the biblical God in any kind of logically consistent manner.

So you're off to the races with a "no true Scotsman" fallacy right out of the gate? Look, we won't stop you from claiming that you are the only Christian out there who isn't working from a definition of God that is "ridiculous," but honestly, isn't that a matter for you to take up with your fellow Christians and not us? Shouldn't all of you come to some kind of consensus as to what this being is you worship, and want us to worship, whose supposed edicts you want enacted as laws that will affect all the rest of us? I really don't see how you can blame us for critiquing the concepts of God as they are presented to us by the vast majority of believers who contact us, even when you agree with us that these are "ridiculous" concepts. Really, where's your beef with us?

The only way to resolve the problem of evil, or to make sense of the biblical accounts, is to define God as a being subject to certain needs, weaknesses, and limitations. For example, the biblical God obviously lacks foreknowledge, because a loving God would not create Lucifer, Adam, and Eve knowing in advance that they would freely choose to fall. The most loving thing to do would be to create only those persons foreknown to freely chose righteousness.

WHY did God give Lucifer, Adam, and Eve enough freedom to hang themsleves? The only solution is to define God as a being who has an emotional need for voluntary fellowship. Had I the space, I would explain precisely WHY God has emotional needs.

Well, I suppose one can imagine a weak, stupid and insecure god just as easily as one can imagine an almighty, powerful, omniscient and omnipotent one. I think you're going to have a harder sell where your fellow Christians are concerned, though. Why worship someone with weaknesses and limitations? What believers want in a God is a being just like them, except idealized and perfect. Otherwise where is the appeal? I don't see too many religions thriving whose sales pitch is, "God! Just as pitiful as you!"

Next question. On what basis would the biblical God indict the whole world for the sin of Adam and Eve? The solution is quite simple. A soul defined as an immaterial substance is a logical absurdity beccause it leads to the insoluble mind-body problem, as the church father Tertullian pointed out in 200 AD. Therefore the soul must be defined as a tangible substance.

Lovely. Then it ought to appear on a CAT scan, an MRI, an X-ray or somewhere in the human genome. Let me know when you find it.

Let's assume for the moment that God created only one tangible soul named Adam. After Adam sinned, God extracted most of Adam's soul from his body and held it in suspended animation. At every human conception He mates a portion of this soul to the embryo. In other words, YOU are Adam. You were born guilty of sin because YOU are part of the Adam that originally sinned even though you don't remember living in the garden.

I see no reason to assume any of these things, but I do think you probably have a fantastic career ahead of you writing for Marvel Comics. Seriously, there's a plot here worthy of an entire series.

The biblical writers wrote with great brevity. Therefore we really don't know how severe Adam's rebellion was. For example we don't really know how many times he partook of the forbidden fruit before God pronounced sentence. But if we give God the benefit of the doubt, we'll assume that Adam's sin was severe enough to merit hellfire, although personally I don't believe that hell is everlasting. And since all men merit hellfire, we cannot regard the biblical God as tyrannical merely because he sent a Mesopotamian flood in Noah's day, or rained burning coals upon Sodom and Gomorrah, or allowed babes to starve to death. All are guilty in Adam.

Well, that all sounds like a pretty raw deal for every human being born since Adam. So far, what you've been describing are the actions of a god that I can only consider an incompetent clod at best and a malevolent psychopath at worst. Why, exactly, would God only create one soul, watch it epically fail, then continue reinstalling tiny bits of that same soul in all subsequent humans in the hopes that — what — it'll work this time? Why not just go back to the drawing board and keep plugging away until he's ready to launch the new and improved Soul 2.0, now with new sin-negating algorithms?

Remember what I said about your promising writing career? Scratch that, you have serious problems with story logic, even worse than the conventional Christian mythology you've dismissed as ridiculous. Exactly where is the sense in God suspending a broken and malfunctioning soul so you can keep using it, despite knowing it's broken and malfunctioning? I mean, even for religion, that's silly.

Let's move to another topic. Why believe in Christianity? Subjective experience is the only way for God to reveal Himself unfailingly. In other words He must persuade the heart that Christianity is the true religion, if in fact it is so. Why doesn't He give this revelation to everyone? Again, because He has needs and limitations. It COSTS Him, emotionally, to show kindness to people who regularly sin against Him even after they get the revelation.

Then frankly, he should have gone about his business in a less idiotic way. Stop re-using the same old broken souls for all of humanity, and get rid of the completely unjust sentence of hellfire and damnation for refusal to believe in something that you admit he is too incompetent and emotionally dysfunctional to communicate properly in the first place. Sorry, but if you're trying to cast your version of God in a sympathetic light, it ain't working. As you describe him, he's petulant, unintelligent, rash, given to tantrums, and incapable of following through on anything he's started, or even understanding the consequences of his own failed actions.

For the long-term safety of the universe, He will not emotionally expend Himself to the extent of mentally destabilizing the Godhead (because were that to happen, we WOULD end up with a capricious God).

No, the being you describe is already capricious, because he's not even in control of his own emotional health and compounds his mistakes by punishing people for his own failures, rather than simply correcting those mistakes. And apparently, if he gets extra pissy he'll blow up the universe or something. Talk about a buggy system! It's really sounding like God should have put together a better angelic QC team before creating stuff.

You know, your God isn't really much different or any more appealing than the conventional Christian concept after all.

The Bible says that God is love. This IMPLIES that He is already expending Himself to the max, that is, to the very brink of destabilizing the Godhead.

Therefore He needs our help in getting men saved. When we Christians pray to Him and worship Him, this ministers to His emotional needs - you might say it raises His pain threshhold - and thereby enables Him to impart the saving revelation to more and more unsaved people.

You know, Jerry, when you say stuff like this, do you know what we hear? We hear something like this: "In Thor #whatever, Thor, like all Asgardians, is shown to be not truly immortal but relies upon periodic consumption of the Golden Apples of Idunn to sustain his lifespan, which to date has lasted many millennia. After Odin's death, Thor inherited his father's power, the Odinforce. Thor becomes capable of feats such as reconstructing the Earth's Moon, willing the Asgardian monster Mangog into nothingness, and, by focusing his entire power into a hammer throw, decapitating a Desak-occupied Destroyer."

Yes, I got all that from the Wikipedia entry on the Thor comic book. Which is the point: to us, your mythology sounds no different than that one. You can describe this being you have imagined all you wish, but in the end I'm going to ask you the same question I ask all those other Christians with their "ridiculous" version of God: How do you propose to demonstrate that your God is real and not merely something you are imagining?

I claim to be the first person in Church history to provide any kind of reasonable, legitimate theodicy,

I think this claim is open to doubt.

but unfortunately I don't have time right now for a full exposition. Feel free to contact me with any objections and, if I have time, I'll provide you with more details on my views.

All I ask is that stop reading the Bible in a silly manner. Don't start with the assumption that God is insusceptible to weakness, because such assumptions makes the Bible look ridiculous. I realize that's how Christians have been reading it for 2000 years, but this kind of silliness is precisely why I haven't attended church for many years. I reached a point where I just couldn't stand it anymore.

As you've described it, your variation on the myth is no less silly. In places it's even moreso, as I've described above.

The incarnation demonstrates God's susceptibilty to weakness. Jesus became fatigued and needed rest. God is not, therefore, inherently strong. Strength is rather something He aquired over a long time, as the Ancient of Days. Nor is He inherently omniscient, as shown by the fact that Jesus arrived on earth as an ignornant babe. God therefore aquired His knowledge over time. Note well that a God defined as susceptible to learning would quite naturally create the species over a period of several billion years. Learning takes time.

Scientists tell us that the fossil record is consistent with a slow process of evolution. But it is also perfectly consistent with a creative Being who is slowly educating Himself, experimenting with various species.

You could also say evolution is "consistent" with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, provided you define that being the same way you're defining your god: a cosmic tinkerer who's just kind of messing around without really knowing what he's doing. Again, I fail to see why Christians should be eager to embrace this klutzy, inept, Aspie God you seem to find appealing.

If you actually study evolutionary theory (or any field of science for that matter), you find that what is so beautiful and elegant about them is that they make recourse to supernatural explanations totally unnecessary. Gone are the days when people had to fear that sickness was due to evil spirits clogging our humors. The more you study nature, the less need there is for cosmic tinkerers.

Does this imply that He is cruel to innocent animals? Again, let's not read the Bible in a silly manner. The Bible says that God is love. Therefore He isn't cruel to animals, in which case we can safely assume that animal souls are actually Lucifer's followers who already deserve hellfire. Therefore it isn't capricius for God to run experiments on animals, for they already deserve any suffering experienced.

Minion of Lucifer, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A fond farewell to Joe Rhodes

Joe Rhodes has been one of AETV's producers since — well, since I was host, I do believe. How the time it do fly.

Anyway, he's given us both good news and bad news. The good news is that he's gotten a job in the Portland, OR region, and the bad naturally means that this will entail leaving us. Joe's hard work on the show over several years has been invaluable. The old cliché that we couldn't have done it without him here holds true, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude. So this coming show will be his last, after which we wish him happy trails! I'm sure there are enough AETV fans in that area to make him welcome when he settles in.

The Biblical Spin Continues

ACA member and frequent commentator David Tyler went on the campaign trail briefly with Mark Loewe to John Hagee's Cornerstone Church. David's trip report is in our November Austin Atheist Newsletter (p. 2). I'm sorry I couldn't go to this service. I've always wanted to see John Hagee in action. If you missed my 2008 Atheist Experience episode on John Hagee (episode #557), he's a major wackjob with a large following in San Antonio. His main shtick is promoting end-times theology, complete with apocalyptic theology books, a major lobbying effort to bring about the end times, and an insistence that Hitler was inspired by God to bring Jews together (so good Christians can be raptured).

The speaker was co-Christian lunatic and propagandist, David Barton, of "Wall Builders" fame. I'll be talking about Barton on this Sunday's episode, but I wanted to draw attention to his "4 values" that he promoted to get the flock to vote his way:
1. Open display of worship (prayer in schools and government functions).
2. No killing of innocents (abortion, Pro-life).
3. Honor your father and mother (traditional marriage, family only - no gays).
4. Protection of private property (no government eminent domain seizures).
Barton allegedly got these directly from the Ten Commandments. I wanted to point out how self-serving his interpretation is.

1. While proselytization is nothing new to the Christian faith, the 10C in the Exodus fable was directed at the Israelites, God's supposedly chosen people. If you weren't part of that chosen people, advertising wasn't going to help you. For Christian "leaders" like Hagee and Barton, advertising is necessary to sell that lemon of a religion. Who cares if you have to embrace the tactics of the Pharisees condemned in Matt. 6-5.

2. When did "Thou Shalt Not Kill" get turned into something about killing of innocents? Innocent by whose standard? I guess to these Christian leaders, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans is completely just. The abortion thing is simply made up (bearing false witness). There's no mention of abortion anywhere in either the Old or New Testaments. The penalty for causing a miscarriage is a fine (Ex. 21:22)... paid to the father--the one whose property has been taken. Remember that the wife is property herself and has no real rights under Biblical law.

3. I was amused by the "honoring thy father and mother" turning into a slam against gay rights. That one's new to me. Jesus never said anything about gays, but he did make it very clear in Matt. 10:34-38 that people should disobey their parents, leave their families, and follow him. Jesus should have been killed for his contempt of Jewish law. Too bad there were no serious followers of Jewish law around to extract the penalty of death. But what drama would there be in that?

4. Let's take a look at Biblical property rights, especially in that "coveting" commandment (Ex. 20:17). Wives, slaves, animals, and tangible property are all listed as a man's property. Elsewhere, it's clear that his children are a man's property, as well. It would seem that would make Barton pro slavery, against women owning property, for multiple wives, and against anyone interfering with a man's desire to have his own children aborted, should he so choose. Christians self-servingly never associate the "coveting" commandment mentioned their meddling with others' reproduction--others' property, according to their own Bible.

You'll also never hear Barton associate his pro-Christian twisting of American History with the commandment about bearing false witness. Lying is his livelihood just as peddling Christian snuff porn is Hagee's. So Barton's plug for the 10C is really about promoting the Christian agenda of advertising their crap, the manufacture of future tithers, selling hatred of gays as red meat for rabid followers, and making sure Christian leaders keep their profit$ and tax advantages. They'll both say and do anything to make a buck and their followers are too stupid to know they're being conned.

Another year, another Hell House

Lynnea's still relatively new to Texas, with just over a year clocked here, and she told me she really wanted to visit a Hell House this Halloween. Long time readers may recall that I had a terrible experience with a Hell House a couple of years ago -- seven of us stood in line for about 4-5 hours, for an attraction that was generally not worth it. I didn't want to go back to THAT one.

There are no Hell Houses that I could find near Austin. There is one in Temple, TX, a place I'm unfortunately familiar with thanks to an extremely unpleasant six month software contract job (in a company where all workers are contractually obligated to adhere to "high Christian principles"). However, we're now in South Austin, and Temple is more than an hour's drive north of us.

Fate intervened though... Ben's best friend had a birthday party at his grandma's house near Temple, and we decided that the two events together were enough reason to make the trip.

We got there pretty early, soon enough to see the first group of people go in. The line this time was not five hours -- it was two. We chatted up a pleasant fellow behind us, who had two kids in tow. He turned out to be an Iraq veteran who had a law degree and was going after a sociology Ph.D. He had a lot of funny things to say about being always surrounded by morons, by which I think he meant both in the army, and in Temple in general. I didn't have the nerve to ask his religious position. I did make some wisecracks about the Hell House theme, and he laughed about it but said that supernatural stuff does scare him.

We wound up going through in a group with that guy and his kids, and about fifteen high school kids, mostly African-American and fairly loud and boisterous. I'm not going to completely rehash the experience inside, which was pretty similar to the one we went to in 2008. "Demons" -- kids wearing black capes and various skull masks -- pranced around various scripted scenes of "sin" and death, giggling gleefully and egging the participants on. Among the highlights:

  • A husband had an affair, and he and his mistress were shot in a bar by his betrayed wife. This struck me as an insanely stupid and random way for the wife to handle it, openly shooting two people in full view of half a dozen witnesses. Why not get a divorce and soak him for everything he's got, instead of getting a "go directly to jail" card and leaving the kids with neither parent?
  • Our group got "kidnapped" by a black soldier with PTSD. One teenager with us, obviously a plant, was yelled at to shut up, then dragged behind a dumpster and shot. This was actually the most fun part of the experience, as we got herded into the back of a windowless van at gunpoint and driven wildly around a field, with lots of swerving. I likes me some showmanship. Despite the amateur acting, it seemed like some of the high school girls were actually fooled, as I heard many of them screaming and crying a lot. I should also mention that one of them had approached us with a worried look on her face before we went in, and asked if we had seen anyone come OUT of the Hell House. I thought that was hilarious.
  • In a scene nearly identical to my last trip, a girl met a guy on the internet, agreed to meet him at his house, and got drugged and then violently raped. (Question: why drug the girl at all if you are just going to violently force yourself on her before the drug has any time to take effect? Huh? Isn't the point of the drug... oh, never mind.) Anyway, then in the next scene, she's already discovered she's pregnant, gotten an abortion, felt guilty about it, and then -- with demonic encouragement, of course -- she slits her wrists. The end. The moral, of course, is that she should have gone ahead and borne her rapist's baby.
  • A kid gets picked on in school, and then shoots people in the cafeteria. Then himself.
  • We go to hell (dark room where demons gesticulate at people in the foreground, while the Devil gives us a Hannibal Lecture about how we'll never escape). Then we go to heaven (cottony room where the torture porn scenes from Passion of the Christ play, because that's what's ALWAYS playing in heaven).
  • And then we get preached at, by a woman who first apologizes for scaring us so much, then talks about how Jesus changed her life, and finally she invites us to go to the prayer room and get saved. Out of our group of twenty, only one or two went to the other room. Can we call this progress? I'm thinking that at this point, far more people attend Hell House for the camp value than to actually take the message seriously.

As you can tell if you read my previous report, not a lot changes from city to city, or from year to year. They change the themes, just barely; this year's excursion was called "Beneath the Skin," and also featured the Devil at the beginning of the tour comparing life to a game of chess, where we mortals are all pawns waiting to be captured one by one. But really, it's mostly like a well worn stand-up comedy set that gets polished a bit between performances but mostly stays the same.

To drive this point home, we watched the movie Hell House on Netflix instant queue the next night. The documentary was released in 2000, and it still looked like they could have been filming the stuff we just saw. I watched about an hour of it and it was interesting for a while, but I got bored of it as it was mostly just following the lives of a bunch of misguided evangelicals who really think their messages make sense.

Now that I've been to two Hell Houses and Lynnea's already seen it, I think I can do without any more. In any case, here are a few stray observations from our trip.

Hell House is based on something I've come to recognize as one of the most standard evangelical ploys. Basically you spend an hour shouting the message "Life sucks! Life is miserable! Everything sucks! You suck!" And then in the last five minutes, you switch to: "...Unless you have Jesus."

As a lifelong atheist, I don't identify with it. At all. But I do see the effects of this type of thinking on people all the time. You know, it's the people who ask "You're an atheist? Why go on living?" Or "You believe in NOTHING?" I know exactly where this is coming from. People listen to the message "There is absolutely nothing in this life worth living for, except for Jesus." Then, never having taken the time to look for something worth living for, they're baffled by an atheist who doesn't appear to be an emotional basket case.

If you take everything that is good in life and focus on aspects of it that are bad, then you can easily wind up with an attitude where perpetual misery is unavoidable. Take food, for instance. Most people enjoy the act of sitting down to a meal. But if you went to a church every week where they preached an anti-food message, they could probably make you hate it. They'd show you pictures of morbidly obese families. They'd show people with horrible table manners, shoveling in some kind of completely unappetizing food, like watery porridge and square colorless lumps of something. They'd describe the terrible food being prepared in the most graphical detail, with lard being dumped on a grill and grease dripping everywhere and burned bits flaking off, and pretty soon the very prospect of eating food could make you sick.

But this is unfair, because it doesn't capture the experience of a delicious steak off the grill, or a fresh salad, or the way your taste buds feel when something is just pushing the limits of how much spiciness you can handle. It doesn't mention what it's like when you haven't eaten for hours, all you can think about is a good meal, and then you eat a feast of something you love until you're satisfied.

Or take sex. In the world of evangelicals, sex is a filthy, nasty, disgusting business. Until, of course, you get a priest to say a few stock phrases, and hand you a piece of paper to sign. Then it's magically transformed from an unspeakable sin to a beautiful act AS LONG AS YOU'RE NOT SUBVERTING GOD'S INTENTION FOR YOU TO GET PREGNANT, YOU PERVERT.

In Hell House (not to mention the universe of horror movie rules), all mention of sex is in the context where it is shameful, or sneaky, or dangerous, or violent. People act stupidly, and are punished and probably dead at the end of it.

The Hell House's abortion sequence is a great case study. In the scene, the abortion has already happened, and the only question up in the air is what's going to be done about it. And in the scene, the demon yells at her "YOU'RE A MURDERER! YOU KILLED YOUR BABY! HA HA HA!" And the girl kills herself because she can't take it anymore. But, who told her that abortion was murder in the first place? The church, that's who. They're the ones showing tiny like slimy things in the shape of hands and feet, and telling her, "This was a person, with a soul." For someone who doesn't believe that souls exist, or that removing tissue without a fully formed brain or nervous system is the moral equivalent of being Hitler, there's no reason to kill yourself. They're trying to offer a solution to a problem they created.

In the scenes they created, there were a lot of opportunities for positive social messages. Like, for instance, "If you meet a dude on the internet, maybe your first visit should be in a well lit public place." That seems like an adequate precaution, especially given that most men aren't rapists. Or how about: "When you cheat on your wife, your lies are hurtful and the resulting bad feelings can put your family in jeopardy, which isn't good for the kids." That seems like a really sound, rational approach even without tacking on the whole "AND THEN SHE'LL SHOOT YOU AND YOU'LL GO TO HELL" angle. And perhaps: "Be nice to the other kids in school, even weird nerdy kids, because they have feelings too and maybe they're worth getting to know."

But that's not the primary interest of Hell House. The message is that this world is a cesspool, and you're not getting out alive, so you might as well prep for the next one.

And they say atheism is a negative philosophy.


Update: Lynnea has now written her own account of the trip.

Chirp...chirp...chirp...

Yeah, I know, it's been dead around here lately. I've been busy, I guess Russell and Tracie and the rest of the gang have too. Not much to talk about at the moment...except go vote! As Patton Oswalt asked so eloquently, who will win today: the spineless pussies or the psychotic loons? What lovely choices we have each election cycle.

We'll try to kick it back into gear soon, gang. Anyway, how are you?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What Does Appeal to Pascal's Wager Really Say?

Is This about Me or You?

Imagine this conversation:

Woman 1: So, anyway, at the end of the argument I just told my husband I thought he was wrong.

Woman 2: I can't believe you said that. Aren't you afraid he'll hit you?

When I put myself in Woman 1's place, I have two immediate thoughts:

1. Not in a million years would I be afraid my husband would strike me for any reason short of his own self-defense if I went violently insane.

2. How long was Woman 2 abused? Is she still being abused?

I wouldn't expect Woman 2's comment from a woman who has no history of abuse whatsoever. I suppose I could imagine a situation where someone was under a mistaken impression I was being abused, and was concerned for my safety? But as a general rule, that question would not be raised in seriousness by a woman who is not or has not been in a situation where she's been battered.

The question, while aimed at Woman 1, actually speaks volumes about Woman 2, and tells us nothing at all about Woman 1.

Language, questions and comments aimed at others actually carry within them information about those who are speaking. Even the most innocent language does this. If I see a friend making a Lasagna, and I see her using cottage cheese, and I ask "Oh, you don't use Ricotta?" I've just said, "I don't use cottage cheese when I make Lasagna, I use Ricotta." We spend our conversational time telling people all about ourselves, often without even realizing we're doing it.

What Pascal's Wager Tells Me about You

When we think of Pascal's Wager, we generally think in brief of someone asking "What if you're wrong?" The stakes generally are "something bad" if you're wrong (that you're risking), and either gaining reward or simply avoiding the "bad" if you're right.

The Wager itself has a host of problems. But that's not what I'm concerned with here. What concerns me here is what the Wager tells me about the person who puts it forward. When people ask, "What if you're wrong?," what are they telling me about themselves? What I hear when they ask this, is purely heartbreaking. And a letter writer recently put it in a way that evoked honest pity from me. Clearly directed to Matt, he asked:

I have watched many of your you tube videos, and from what I gather, you are a very intelligent man and you seem well educated.

But I wanted to ask you a question, just a simple question, perhaps a question that I myself toil with from time to time.

Q: "when the day is done, and you are sitting alone, or lying in bed, do you ever question your decision to be an atheist, are you ever scared at times, do you ever think that you might be wrong or fear what may or may not happen to you when you die"

Now, this question has no real direction, I just wanted to know if you were like so many others including myself, who at the end of the day either have a longing for an answer or experience doubts or concerns about the decision(s) you've made.

While he states the question has "no real direction," it does, like all communication, carry a message — and more of a message than what is merely being asked. It carries that message about the speaker, which I'm describing.

Matt submitted back a very thorough and well-thought-out reply. However, I kept thinking of this letter after I'd deleted it, and this morning I sent by a separate reply myself to the writer:

I know this was directed at Matt, and he answered it quite thoroughly. But I would like to add something. There are a number of people who have reported being horribly tortured at the hands of malevolent alien abductors. I don't believe these people's stories are true. They could easily ask me the same question:


Don't you ever worry about being abducted yourself? What if you're wrong?


Certainly if I'm wrong, I could also be abducted and tortured, but I can promise you I don't lose an ounce of sleep on it. I don't expend a moment's concern over being a victim of such an event. And I'm going out on a limb to wager that (1) you've heard these stories I'm describing and (2) you don't worry about being abducted by malevolent aliens any more than I do.

If I'm correct, then you have just experienced what I experience with regard to fear of being wrong about god. It's the indoctrinated believer who fears and who thinks that fear must plague others who weren't indoctrinated with that same fear. Just as it's the "alien abductee" who can't understand why I don't seem concerned about what these aliens are doing — not others who don't believe in alien abduction; it's the person either still in, or still suffering from the side effects of, indoctrination who can't fathom life without that fear, which was most often burned into their heads as defenseless children. It's put there as a mechanism to stop people questioning: "Even if you stop believing...you'll be plagued by fear and doubt the rest of your life...WHAT IF YOU'RE WRONG?!" But the truth is, as Matt pointed out, and as I provided an example, if you don't believe, then you don't believe in the consequence either. And it's just very hard to fear that which you do not believe exists.

This is why I consider religious indoctrination of children to be abusive. It scars people and they carry that fear of questioning well into adulthood far too often. Nobody should be made to fear asking questions, doubting, or not believing. Free and independent inquiry should be the basis for any sound ideology. Any ideology that puts mechanisms in place to impede free and independent inquiry — such as severe and exaggerated mental fear of such investigation, should be viewed very skeptically. After all, what sort of "true" ideology incorporates an avoidance of examination?

And I suppose that's all I had to say about it?