Haeckeling creationists

One of the more irritating arguments in the ‘crevo’ controversy are the lies of equivocation.  The game is played by a creationist pretending to be objective -when he and we all know he is not- while projecting all of his own logical fallacies onto the science-minded, who of course do not share any of those flaws. Typically that game has the creationist telling some or all of the following lies:

*Evolution is a religion.
*Science relies on faith just like religion does.
*Science is biased just like religion is.
*There is no evidence for evolution/big bang/abiogenesis, etc.
*There is evidence for creation/the flood/god/etc.
*Religion is reasonable just like science is.
*Religion can be confirmed empiracly and experimentally just like science.
*Creationism is scientific.

…and other erroneous allegations to this effect.

Some anonymous internet noob posted vague insinuations to the effect that science is a conspiracy and evolution is a fraud, that sort of thing.  So I posted the following response:

Here’s a challenge for you -in two parts. (1) Name one evolutionary scientist who ever lied in the act of promoting evolution over creationism. (2) Name a professional creationist who did NOT lie when trying to defend creationism or condemn evolution.

I have asked this of a lot of people, but got no answers to either question yet.

I have posted this challenge on several discussion boards and the like over the last several years, and I know that every creationist will chant the name of Ernst Haeckel, because that’s all they’ve got, and they all think that counts.  I tried to pre-empt the invariable knee-jerk reply by explaining why Haeckel does not satisfy the requirements of that challenge.  So some YouTube creationist tried to make a big deal out it, calling me and Richard Dawkins both deluded liars, and imagining that he was the first person I had ever encountered who knew about Wikipedia.  So I posted a more detailed explanation in the comments section of his response response video.  But those comments will be buried and forgotten long before this issue is, so I thought it might be good to start that conversation here.

To clarify my position, here are my 500 character or less responses:

As I explained in the video, ‘Ida Done Better’, a lie is a false statement presented as true, or a truth misrepresented to appear false, with a deliberate attempt to deceive. The problem with Haeckel in this case is that he didn’t think he was deceiving anyone. He was showing something he thought to be true. He made assumptions without references, and his embellishments were intended to make what he saw more obvious to others. I can’t say that is honest, but neither can I call that a lie

Despite his education, Haeckel wasn’t so much a scientist as he was an artist, and his fraud was a typical advertising ploy. It is as if he didn’t know that the scientific community considered it dishonest to embellish drawings to enhance or exaggerate your point. Whether that is really what he thought or not, once he was called out on it, he admitted that is what he did. He could have lied about that, but he didn’t.

Finding a dishonest scientist in the 19th century isn’t difficult. There is an evolutionary scientist still around today whom I consider to be dishonest, and I’ve brought him up in at least one of my speeches for that reason. But that person isn’t trying to promote evolution over creationism. One of his co-conspirators is a creationist, but he’s not making that argument either. You have to understand the context and requirements of the question.

Even if Haeckel conceded and corrected his mistakes in subsequent editions, it is still true that a half dozen of his drawings were deceptive. However I asked for an evolutionary scientist who lied in the act of promoting evolution over creationism. That means whomever you cite has to compare those two options. Haeckel promoted his own brand of embryology over another evolutionary alternative. I don’t think he ever even mentioned creationism. That wasn’t even an option still on the table.

I like asking this question because Haeckel is always the only answer anyone could show to be both dishonest and relevant to the topic. To your allegations against both Dawkins and Haeckel here, there is a point where their comments overlap, and you accusation is on that point. For clarification of that, I suggest you watch the first couple minutes (1:58) of target=”_blank”>this video, and target=”_blank”>this one from 5:47 to 9:14.

The point of both of my questions is to show that science doesn’t need to lie and doesn’t want to. That’s because science is a search for truth. Creationism on the other hand is not a search; it is wholly dishonest. It requires lies because it is based on lies. That’s why I can show you actual factual truths about evolution, but you can’t show me anything you actually know to be true of creation instead.

Now since I told this person -in advance- that despite everything indicated above, Haeckel was still the only attempted answer creationists could come up with, he tried to throw some mud at Richard Dawkins too.  So all you brilliant people, does Haeckel satisfy this challenge?

Will anyone satisfy -either part- of this challenge? 

A Mammoth Wager

There is one more thing I need Bob Enyart to be aware of before he posts his final submission to our debate, because this is going to matter, and he should know that he’ll have to address this particular point or it will cost him.

Now I don’t really expect him to honestly concede EVERYTHING he got wrong in our debate.  He’s a pastor.  Think about it.  Having to admit that you lied -about everything- to all those people in the pews who’ve been paying your bills for all these years!?  It’s unthinkable.  Look at his website, and his donation page.  He’s got a lot invested in some of his lies.  If he were an honest man, he would of course concede and correct every point he got wrong with me on his show, which was everything he said at that time.  That implies a continuing pattern, a life-long commitment to Wrong.

If Bob were to owe up to ALL the errors saved in his archive, he’d have no ministry left.  He’d have to get a job and work for a living.  So no, I’m not trying to take away his indoctrination station, his church and his radio show, his online store,   I just don’t want him marketing our argument on a DVD for $24.99 like he did with so many other science-minded people.

I’m gonna focus on one particular point.  It’s not as good as proving he was wrong about phylogeny, or forcing him to admit that no one ever found undecomposed dinosaur blood.  This is a classic, so plainly disproved that even AnswersinGenesis lists that as one of many arguments creationists should not use anymore.  Amazingly Bob is still clinging to it.

In Part5 of our argument on the radio, which can be heard at 15:15 of his radio link, Bob and I had the following discussion.

(I’m in bold type; Bob is in italics.)

Here’s the way science works, because accuracy matters: When you have two guys like us and we’re talking, -and it’s always been this way with me- I mean, when people say “you know, they found this or that or the other thing and, it’s been since like I was a little kid, I keep hearing the story of like, say for example millions of mammoths flash-frozen with tropical flora in their mouths. And then eventually, when you get to a point where you have access to the internet for example, you can start looking up these things to verify who ‘they’ are, and how many mammoths they really found, etc. etc. I found that there were fifty-one mammoths, not millions, and that none of them, not one was found with tropical flora in their mouths unless a tulip from Denmark can be considered ‘tropical’.
OK I actually have the data. I’ve got the data. The tonnage of mammoth tusks that were sold on the world-wide market indicate that there were millions of mammoths that were buried in Siberia and at the Arctic circle and north of the Arctic circle, and there were mammoths that had the seeds of tropical plants, the seeds, in thier digestive tract.
Well I could give you the data.
I challenge you.
Hey, you think I’m wrong…?
Yeah I do.
…about over a million mammoths buried?
Yeah, I definitely do, and yes, it’s a formal challenge.
How about we have a bet? Five hundred dollar bet to your favorite charity -or mine- that the documentation shows that over a million mammoths have been buried?
With tropical flora?
No, no, there was one of that!
…in their mouths?
There was one of that. There was one of that.
Yeah, tropical.

We then argued the definition of ‘tropical’ -just to be clear, and I clarified again:

OK so you’re gonna tell me that you found, or that somebody found multiple millions of mammoths in the Arctic circle and that ANY of these mammoths were found with flora in their mouths that are only found in tropical regions?
Yeah, I just said that one mammoth was found with seeds of tropical vegetation.

At that point, we agreed that the number of frozen mammoths was in the dozens only, and we both agreed that there were likely millions more buried mammoths that were not frozen. Yet I still challenged Bob to show his data on one last point, that none of them were found with tropical flora in or around them.


I don’t want to go into all the silly reasons why Bob perpetuates this particular urban legend.  It has to do with Walt Brown’s rationalizations for the flood that never happened. So Bob asserts that whole world was tropical then -even at the poles.  He says that mammoths couldn’t even survive where or how we know that they did.  Suffice it to say that everyone knows that Bob’s claim is not true, and he should admit it.

Now I’ve been told not to expect him to do anything that was kind, sporting, charitable, or altruistic.  What I’ve seen of him online implies that he’s not that sort of person.  But that might be the one thing he might actually be able to prove me wrong about.   Here’s how he could do that: When Bob posts his response to my list of his contested errors in our debate, he needs to present adequate proof from verifiable sources showing that any of these frozen arctic mammoths had tropical flora in or on them.  If he can’t or won’t do that, then I will remind him that my favorite charity is Médecins Sans Frontières.  They have an up-coming  target=”_blank”>benefit this September 8th – 9th on DPRJones’ BlogTV channel.  The Richard Dawkins Foundation described this occasion as the largest atheist charity event in the world.  P.Z.Myers, James Randi, Matt Dillahunty, Seth Andrews, Mr.Deity, and many others will join me and ZOMGitsCriss and a number of other ‘YouTube’ atheists for a 24 hour annual telethon which has, over the course of the last three years- raised over $100,000.00 for Doctors without Borders.  I doubt Enyart would do anything to contribute to this, but if he is a man of his word, as I am, then when that time comes, he should honor his wager in response to my formal challenge, and donate $500.00 either by the JustGiving or FirstGiving links provided for that purpose.  100% of all donations go directly to MSF with no deductions for anyone.


Open letter to Bob Enyart

Three weeks ago, I posted a notice about the online debate I’ve been having with Pastor Bob Enyart of Denver Bible Church.  There hasn’t been much direct communication between us since this thing began.  One of his minions occassionally checks the boards for messages, and recently relayed a notice from Bob.   He says he is about to post his 6th submission -nearly two months after my last one to him.  The only reason I mention that is whenever I have taken more than a couple weeks to reply to him, his people start posting comments accusing me of cowardice.  Anyway I suspect that his next post will be what all his previous posts have been, irrelevant filibustering. 

This debate was supposed to be over how accurate he and I both were while we were arguing on his radio show last November.  We were only supposed to see which of the claims we made then were right, wrong, distorted, or deceptive.  I don’t know why he accepted my challenge.  He can’t defend his position and can’t honestly concede that he was wrong about everything either, so he keeps trying to change the topic, or raise peripheral issues, introducing a mess more urban legends and media-mangled propaganda that I shouldn’t have to deal with.  I’ve tried to get him focused on the original topic several times, but he will not acknowledge that, and certainly won’t admit that any of his claims were false or that each of his assertions have been disproved.  Thus far, Bob has repeatedly ignored every direct question and every argument of evidence ever presented with regard to the actual comments made on the show.  That’s all he was ever supposed to respond to, but he just won’t do it, and I think he’s trying to obfuscate that.   

I can’t waste this much time on him anymore, and I don’t intend to post to that debate again.  As far as I’m concerned, I won with my first post in December, and have no need to keep winning the same argument.   But I am concerned that anyone here who reads his next post (of whatever new pseudoscience he can scrape together) won’t know what this debate is all about, and what points he is still avoiding.  So I have a suggestion as to how to hold him accountable.  I’ve posted this to the debate already, but he has previously admitted that he doesn’t follow the forum, and won’t check the thread before posting to it.  So rather than relay a private message back through his lackey, I don’t think this message should be private; I think it would be better to make a more public statement, one that he’s not as likely to miss -or dismiss, so that everyone else knows what his next entry had better be.  Hopefully someone will alert him to my reply to his recent message: 

Please feel free to ask AronRa if he’d like to set a limit between posts, say, 48 hours or one week (as I think I proposed),

Now we have a problem. I’m booked up nearly every week over the next few months, with events in Denver, Boston, Austin, Houston, Chicago, Springfield, Tallahassee, Little Rock, and Baton Rouge, to say nothing about a few pod casts, and a couple of charity benefits, on top of my usual commitments. I have so many promotions and presentations to prepare in the interim that I won’t have time to reply to you until some time in December, and I’m supposed to have my book published before then too!

Let me suggest an alternate plan. You make your next post your last. In that post, you will reply to my 4th post to this debate. Therein I repeated a summarized list from the first post to this thread, which was itself a summarized list from the first thread, which you chose to ignore.  I can’t make this any easier for you. As we agreed back in November, you must actually answer all of the questions directed to you, (just like I always do) and properly address each of the charges and challenges therein. Your last submission will be the last word, and the last post to this debate, but it will also be your last chance to do the one-and-only thing you agreed to do when we decided to do this. As you have utterly failed to defend any of the many errors you made on your show, and here as well, and since you haven’t been able to rebut any of the points I made then or since, dispite all the months we’ve been at this, then this will be the moment of truth, the truth you’ve been trying to duck or dodge since this discussion started. It’s time to put up or shut up. If your next submission does not adequately address or acknowledge the errors you made while I was on your show -which is the whole and sole reason we’re even having this debate in the first place, I will take that to mean that you won’t, and others will take that to mean that you can’t. This debate will then be over, and we’ll just leave it to public opinion to agree that I won.

Someone see that he gets that.

Academic Study of Atheists

I’m sure I’m not the only one here on FtB participating in the academic study of atheists conducted by the sociology department of Berkeley University.  I just want to share my answers to their questionnaire.

Background Questions:

1. Were you raised atheist or did you have a religious upbringing of some sort?

I was raised in an exclusively creationist environment.  Most of my family were country redneck Christians of no particular denomination.  Many never read the Bible and never seemed to question their own beliefs either.  Nor did they have any interest at all in topics outside their insular little sphere.  A few of my family were Mormon.  There were two advantages to that.  First, Mormon doctrine holds that children not be indoctrinated until they reach the age of reason, which they decided to be eight years old.  By then, I was already in the second grade, and had studied enough about dinosaurs and evolution.  Once Genesis was presented to me as the ‘absolute truth’, the most credit I could give that was that the fables in that book were parables meant to represent concepts that Bronze-age tribes in the middle-east might understand.  The second of being raised Mormon was that it was not a popular religion.  This was an advantage for me because it enabled me to witness bigotry within and between the different denominations of Christianity.  This was another excellent way to wear away at the absolute truth claims.

2. If raised religious – When and why did you become an atheist? What was this transition from religion like for you, for your family, etc.? Was this a quick transition or a slow one? Was it easy for you or difficult?

I was raised by people who believed that gullibility was virtuous and wise, and that skeptics were foolish and cynical for missing out on the bigger picture, the one that required imagination to see.  Consequently I was raised to believe in all sorts of unsupported assertions; UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis, everything required to be hired as a ghostbuster.  But I never believed anything on faith.  I believed all these things because I saw a lot of pseudoscience growing up, and I thought all these things had evidence to support them.  So when I wanted to learn more about them, I looked into them deeper, and one-by-one, all these things turned out to be falsehoods, frauds, and fallacies.

3. If raised atheist – Have you ever been drawn to religion at any point in your life?  Why or why not?

My son was raised atheist.  The only religion he cares about are jokes like the Church of the Subgenius.  For example, he joined with the protesters at the Reason Rally, but instead of chanting for Christ, he was  yelling for the cult of Cthulhu.  This confused the Christians next to him, who said, “but Cthulhu doesn’t exist”, to which my son cocked his head and said, “Yeah”.

Thinking About Atheism:

1. Do you identify yourself as an atheist? If so, what does being an atheist mean to you? Also, how does it feel to be an atheist . . . optimistic / pessimistic, hopeful / cynical, happy / sad, connected to / isolated from other people, etc.?

I define an atheist as someone who is not convinced that any actual deities necessarily or probably exist.  An agnostic is one who admits that it is impossible for humans to have certain knowledge of the true properties of the supernatural.  Most atheists tend to be agnostic also, though there are a very few exceptions.  Most Theists tend to be Gnostic, meaning that they pretend to know the unknowable.  So they not only claim to know that a god exists, but they also feign knowledge of which god it is, and many other specific details about it -which cannot be verified by anyone. I have often said that it is impossible for humans to know whether anything supernatural actually exists.  At the same time, deities seem absolutely impossible.  I don’t believe in any magical scriptwriter for everything that ever happens to everybody everywhere because, how could I?  Worse, it is dishonest to assert as fact that which is not evidently true, and that is what theism does. Remember that evidence should be objectively verifiable, demonstrably factual, and positively indicative, and no religious belief is supported by anything like that.  Likewise, it is never wise to believe anything completely with unquestioned inerrant authority either, but that too is what religion demands. Belief in God requires the utmost gullibility. More than that, defense of faith also requires a dependance on a compilation of logical fallacies.  These begin with circular arguments routing back to an assumed conclusion, and they end with confirmation bias refusing to acknowledge evidence proving where they’re wrong.  That’s why there are only subjective impressions, deliberate lies, and logical fallacies at the source of all god-claims.

2. Why do you think most people in the United States believe in God, practice some form of religion, and do not identify themselves as atheists?

Cultural indoctrination from childhood.  There is an old saying, “Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man.”  If one can sufficiently instill religion in the formative years, the damage might never be undone.  Remember that my family didn’t begin to indoctrinate me until I was eight.  By then it was too late.  I was already able to think critically.  That ability hadn’t already been diminished or restricted by years of authoritarian conditioning since birth.

3. Do most people who know you – family, friends, co-workers, etc. – also know that you’re an atheist? Why or why not?

Everyone knows that I am an atheist because I am so open and vocal about it.  I am a political activist making videos and giving speeches on this subject, as well the advocacy of secularism, science education, and other related issues.  My wife however is a public school teacher in the Bible belt.  If her overtly religious co-workers knew she was an atheist, she would likely be subject to discrimination.  So she keeps quiet about that.

4. Are most of your friends atheists? Why or why not?

Very few of my friends identify as atheist, including some who obviously are.  Among my oldest friends, there is one who calls himself Christian because he has always worn that label, and won’t discard it, even though he doesn’t appear to actually believe in any of the Christian doctrine.  Another of my oldest friends is unambiguously atheist, but he refuses to adopt that label, because that word means something else to him –regardless what a consensus of published definitions all say.  In fact, the few my personal friends who now identify as atheist never would have if I had clarified the definition for them; they’d all still call themselves agnostic otherwise.

5. Have you ever been treated differently by people because you’re an atheist? If so, please describe this in detail.

Yes, I am treated unfairly specifically because I am an atheist.  When someone tells me to have a blessed day, I’m not allowed to explain to them how that literally means that I should have a ‘magically-enchanted’ day.  They’re able to feign knowledge of God’s plan for me –even if it means torturing me for all eternity –in his mercy, but I am considered rude if I say –quite correctly- that they don’t know what they’re talking about, that no one deserves that, and that their god isn’t remotely realistic, and apparently does not exist.  My children can be forced to be complacent with religious traditions in public school, and will be ostracized in some manner if they refuse.  And proper lessons are not taught on science, sex, or social studies in this state, because the religious right enforces their wrong on everyone here.  Atheists are certainly misrepresented and abused in the media too  –especially in the news, but the worst judgements against us tend to come from actual  judges –particularly in family court cases.

Thinking About Religion:

1. Overall, would you say that other people’s belief in God is a good thing, a bad thing or something you’re indifferent about? Why?

Believing in anything that isn’t even partially true is pointless.  Only accurate information has practical application.  Otherwise the most faith can offer is an emotional placebo.  Belief in God is too often used as a means of escaping responsibility for our own actions and behavior.  It is a way of pretending that reality doesn’t matter, of wishing things would be better without actually doing anything to improve the situation.  Belief in the supernatural isn’t just unproductive, it’s counter-productive.

2. Overall, would you say that organized religion is a good thing, a bad thing or something you’re indifferent about? Why?

Faith is the most dishonest position it is possible to have.  Religion has been predominantly and overwhelmingly negative throughout human history.  Where it pretends to inspire morality, it has completely failed with negative statistical correlations across the board.  Despite its claim to support education and scholarship, religion has added nothing to the sum of human knowledge and ultimately retards, reduces, or rejects much of what we do know.  It has evidently been an impediment to social and political progress since inception, and is commonly cited as unifying hate groups.  As Voltaire said, “Those who believe in absurdities will commit atrocities”, and that comment has been vindicated by history.  Whenever religion has had rule over law, the result has been an automatic violation of human rights which has only ever been diminished by education of the masses.  Since religion offers nothing we could honestly call knowledge or wisdom, then there is nothing of value in anything religion pretends to teach.  Weighing the overwhelming damage done by religion against its comparatively pitiful attempts to appear charitable or moral, I would have to say that there is neither anything useful nor good in the doctrines or policies conceived and promoted by the world’s major religions.

3. If not a religious person, do you consider yourself to be a spiritual person? Why or why not?

For decades, I was both atheist and spiritualist in that I still believed in things like spirits. Shaman and Taoist spiritualism could be considered atheist religions in a sense.  I don’t believe in anything commonly described as supernatural anymore, but I once believed in a life-force akin to that in the Jedi religion.  For a while I believed in some other elements of paranormal manifestations too, but these all systematically fell away one-by-one upon investigation. Belief in a deity was only the third of many in my list of supernatural notions to be discarded, following the concept of Hell, and then of Satan.  At this point, I believe our ‘soul’ exists only in the context of music, like when I hear a really good riff of blues guitar.  The dissipation of my soul has not diminished my spirituality, but enhanced it.  I am literally awed by the wonders of the natural universe, both in what we have discovered so far and what we still don’t understand.  There is a grandeur in this view of life. Imagining anything else is just cheap fiction.

Living as an Atheist:

1. Many people say that belief in God provides a foundation for their morality. As an atheist, on what do you base your morality? How do you decide what things are good or bad, whether you’re behaving rightly or wrongly, etc.?

Psychiatric studies seem to define ‘morality’ as ‘prosocial behavior’, and ‘immorality’ (or “evil”) is apparently when one person or group victimizes another unnecessarily.  It’s a simple matter of population mechanics to see that society as a whole (I’m talking about species-level populations here) benefits from those who are naturally altruistic, being supportive of their family, friends, and fellows.  This can be extended to care of animals, artwork, and other things too, both artificial and natural, even the environment.  The greater the degree of care provided, the more net benefit is cultivated.  That’s the real reason why human society succeeded out of the stone age.  Technology alone isn’t enough without empathy and solidarity.  Obviously less compassionate individuals, (also known as sociopaths) will find themselves limited in, or eliminated from the parent gene pool.  So there are two powerful pressures of natural selection working here even in lieu of anyone’s concept of law or authority, and this provides the real source of human morality.  It certainly didn’t come from any vengeful racist sexist authority who demands that people be enslaved or killed for not preserving some backward tradition.

2. Many people consider belief in God and religious practice to be essential for raising well-rounded children with a connection to a tradition that helps them to see meaning in the world. What’s your opinion about this viewpoint?

Humans tend to value that which is rare and fleeting, and that includes our lives.  Imagining a posthumous eternity devalues the life we really do have.  If the Abrahamic concept of God were true, then we exist only to cower and serve an inescapable and indomitable despot, an omnipotent djinn which will keep us either imprisoned in Hell or enslaved in Heaven for all eternity.  It doesn’t matter whether we are good or bad; gullibility is the only criteria.  The fables are all lies, and their morals amount to abominable atrocities.  All these dogmatic beliefs do is quell curiosity and nurture bigotry.  This cannot give meaning to life, the universe, or anything.  Since we are to believe all these atrocious absurdities without question, without reservation, and without reason –against all sense or wisdom, and since we are even compelled by threats of torture to maintain this belief against tests of our faith in the form of reasons to the contrary, then facts don’t matter either.  If facts are meaningless, they can’t equate to evidence.  If evidence is meaningless, then nothing means anything anymore; everything is meaningless.  The only way our children will benefit is if the fables are NOT true.  Then life becomes so precious that what we know and what we can actually do must count for something.

3. For many people, belief in God provides an explanation of how the world came into existence and why we’re here. As an atheist, do you have answers or insights pertaining to these questions? If so, what are they?

We once believed that epilepsy was the result of demonic possession. The father of Protestant Christianity argued that diseases were some sort of spiritual curse, and that doctors were fools for treating illnesses as they come from some natural cause. Many Asian religions believed in the firmament, which was a giant dome over the earth with windows in it, and water above it, and that’s where the rain came from. Comets were an omen, and the stars and planets were anthropomorphized even in the Bible. Lightning was blamed on Zeus or Thor, depending on where you lived, and the part of the Abrahamic god was played by a volcano in the book of Exodus, which was obviously written before anyone knew about plate tectonics. Even if a supernatural belief were actually correct, there is no way to know that because it can’t be tested, and it would be of no benefit because it still wouldn’t explain anything. Supernatural explanations have always been literally useless, if not counterproductive and detrimental too. Every time we have ever tried to evoke the supernatural to explain anything we did not yet understand, we still didn’t understand it; all progress stopped until we became dissatisfied with those excuses. And in every case, once we discovered the real explanation, it revealed a whole new field of study with benefits previously unimagined. The natural explanation always turns out to be more complex and fascinating and far more valuable than our earlier notions of gods and magic. So I think it will be if we ever discover the true origin of the universe. That too will cause gods to appear useless, senseless, and silly assertions by comparison.

4. For many people, belief in God provides hope or comfort with respect to suffering in the world and to the inevitability of death. As an atheist, how do you come to terms with these things?

When my granddaughter was seriously ill, a lot of people tried to seem sincere when they said they would pray for me.  How can I respond to that? They might just as well tell me that they’ll write a letter to Santa for me.  That is exactly what their ineffective wishes sound like to me, and I can’t pretend otherwise.  So for a few of them, I said, “Don’t bother praying, because prior prayers did not prevent this situation, and I’ve noticed that your prayers won’t take effect only after  the medicine is administered”.

Conclusion: No questionnaire could possibly cover all dimensions of this topic. So, do you have any additional information or any further reflection that could help us to understand your experience as an atheist better? If so, please feel free to add this now.

There are those who have a deep-seated need-to-believe, and there are those with only a desire to improve our understanding.  Honestly, I am an atheist not because I believe in God but hate him.  Do not believe the lies of religion; I don’t.  I am atheist only because finding out what truth really is matters more than whatever I would rather believe.  I am an atheist because there has never been even one credible proponent of religious knowledge anywhere, No one can honestly claim to know anything of what they only believe because there is no religious belief that anyone can actually show to be true.  Thus there is no truth in it, any of it.  What I believe instead, I believe only tentatively, conditionally, and I know that my knowledge is incomplete, even though I can also prove what I know so far beyond all reasonable doubt.  Ultimately though, it boils down to this; if it requires faith to believe it, and we’ll be punished if we don’t believe it, simply because we don’t believe it, that’s enough to call it a lie -and discard it.

Your great exponential grandfather

P.Z. Myers and I first became acquainted with each other many years ago through a Usenet group called Talk.Origins.  My wife suggested that a couple of those all-but-forgotten articles should be revived and posted on my blog.  OK honey, whatever you say.  One of the two I would like to show is from the 4th of July 2002 that was awarded Post-of-the-Month.  Amusingly, my wife  found out after reading the post  that it had already been referenced just last year, right here on FtB, byStephen ” DarkSyde” Andrew of Zingularity, another Talk.Origins alumnus.  His article looks pretty good and even has an updated follow-up.   Here is the [edited/updated] original.


A few days ago, “Joe Cool”, [email address withheld] wrote the following;

>man, if you want to believe your great^100 grandpa was a rock, be my
>guest…but it’s STUPID!

Well yes, that would be pretty stupid. Clearly you don’t have an adequate grasp of either the actual concept of evolutionary ancestry or of the significant time factors involved. I think you need a whole lot more zeros as well as a more realistic ultimate original entity.

I figure at 20 years per generation, 100 generations of grandfathers would equate to twenty centuries. That means the grandpa you’re talking about was a contemporary of rabbi Yeshua bar Yosseff just 2,000 years ago. Not quite an adequate evolutionary time-scale and certainly far from the mark when talking about the origin of life on Earth. But even 100 years ago, 16 years per generation was more the norm, as it was with my grandparents and many of their ancestors. That would have put your great^100 grandpa in the time of another wildly exaggerated hero, King Arthur, the other “once and future king” in about the 5th century of the common era.

Increasing the multiple, your great^1,000 grandpa would have had even shorter generation gaps, being about 14 or 15 years apart on average. He would have been a Paleolithic nomad in about 13,000 BCE, just shortly before the foundation of the most ancient cities like Jericho and Damascus. He still would have been fully human and already a member of the only surviving human species, Homo sapiens.

Your great^10,000 grandpa would have been everyone else’s great grandpa too. (Everyone alive today that is) He would still have been definitely human and visibly different from his Neanderthal neighbors. Whether he would be considered Homo sapiens yet 140,000 years ago or still classified as Homo antecessor or heidelbergensis doesn’t really matter. All are still obviously people, albeit primitive.

Your great^100,000 grandpa might now be called Homo ergaster or erectus having lived some 1.3 million years ago. And his great^10,000 grandfathers would have been called Homo habilis or maybe rudolfensis. Any or all of them would have appeared to be a bit more ape-like than the most monkey-faced modern guy, but he still would have been definitely human, especially when compared to the other fully bipedal apes that were wandering around a million-and-a-half to a couple million years ago. If you were to put your erectine or habiline grandpa on a crowded pew in your church, he would have looked like an ape-man. But if you saw him amongst his natural neighbors, the paranthropines, you would have seen him as nothing less than a man. However, the generations would be shorter, now being something like 13 or 12 years apart on average.

Your great^1 million grandpa on the other hand is quite a leap away from Homo erectus. A lot can happen in 900,000 generations and the world was much different 10 million years ago. There were no definite humans yet, but there were other hominids even though none of them could walk on two legs for very long. There were creatures similar to modern gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans, but they were different than the ones we have today. One of the orangutan relatives for example stood as much as 8 feet tall. The space between generations would have been only eight to ten years, and much less as time goes on in reverse.

At six or seven years between generations, your great^10 million grandpa would have been barely recognizable as a primate, looking almost as much like a squirrel-like sort of thing. He might have witnessed the demise of the dinosaurs, or he would have grown up in the harsh wasteland that was the wake of the KT impact for so many years. Now the generation gap really begins to close. For most of the Mesozoic era and a long time before that, the age difference between father and son would only be about a year.

Your great^100 million grandpa was a shrew-like mammal darting through the Jurassic underbrush 170 million years ago. The amniotic sacs his great^10,000 grandchildren were born in didn’t have quite the same integrity that his great^10,000 grandfather’s birth-sacs had. Although leathery and easily torn, they would still have been considered egg “shells” much like some snakes are born in today. This grandpa would have already been mammalian, but not yet placental.

Your great^1 billion grandpa would have lived under water along with everything else, including trilobites and some really alien beasties a few hundred million years ago, and at least a couple hundred million years before the first dinosaur. The generation gap is now a monthly rather than yearly division. But for most of the last half-billion years of our genealogy, that wasn’t the case. In 400 million years, your ancestors went from toothy swimming worms like conodonts and pikia and became crossopterygian fish and then tetrapoidal amphibians, synapsid “reptiles”, and even amniotic proto-mammalian cynodonts. But the generations before that were far less interesting.

The world of your great^10 billion grandfather wasn’t much different than that which was already described, although there were a lot fewer trilobites then. He wasn’t even a swimming worm yet. He would have been more like a roundworm, if he would have been considered a worm at all. He may have looked more like a jellyfish with a sense of direction. Before that, he may have been something even simpler, like a microbial sponge-nymph, but still definitely a metazoic animal, even if he wasn’t really a “he” in the sense of discernable gender anymore.

Your great^100 billion grand-whatever ancestor may not have even been an animal yet, but a kind of slime-mould, which is still a eukaryotic organism.

Your great^1 trillion ancestor would have been bacteria and your great^10 trillion ancestor would have been bacterial too, although we are no longer talking about anything recognizable as an exclusively evolutionary phylogeny. Instead your genealogy would be completely befuddled by an intractable mash-up of horizontal gene transfer and endosymbiosis, not really an ancestry at all.

Your great^100 trillion -um- predecessor may have been an even simpler replicative protein in an inhospitable world unrecognizable as Earth.  Now we’re no longer talking about evolution or endosymbiosis, but abiogenesis, another wholly different string of processes.  In any case, none of your lineage would ever have been rocks. Rocks tend not to reproduce for some reason and therefore cannot evolve.



I know elements of this tend to be confusing for a lot of people.  A decade ago, some of it confused me too.  So I intend to flesh out species-level classifications from a paleontological perspective in an up-coming lecture, either in Houston or at LSU, but neither date has yet been set.

Time to ascend

I don’t often promote these events, especially when it seems like everyone knows about it already, but at the moment, I just want to think about good things I can look forward to.

On Labor Day weekend, August 31st thru September 3rd,  three weeks from now,  I will be in Denver Colorado for the Ascent of Atheism.  I have been invited to join in a panel between Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist and Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Experience.  With Seth’s years in radio, and Matt’s years on television, I’m sure I will pale compared to these men, but it will be an honor to share the stage with both of them.

Of course there will be quite a lot of other people there worth seeing too.  This will be a more family-oriented convention than most, with child care being provided for the kids who are too young to join the planned outing with Camp Quest.  We will be in Colorado after all.  My wife and son are coming with me, and I’m hoping my brothers will turn up too as they both live there.  If you haven’t attended any of these atheist or skeptics conventions before, this promises to be a good one to start with, and more good ones are upcoming.

Don’t read this if you’re a Misogynist, MRA, Feminazi, Femistazi, FTBully, Rape Apologist…

By Aron’s wife

…Groupthinker, Troll, Person Blinded by Privilege, Leg-Chewer, and especially if you are Thunderf00t (that’s honestly a joke TF).  Do read this if you are tired of reading vitriol, and would genuinely like to know whether our community really feels welcome to women.

Sometimes labels are a useful shorthand for having a nominal understanding of a topic you are not familiar with. For example, people frequently refer to me as Asian because of what I look like. In a lot of ways the label is useful,because I was raised by an Asian parent and I have Asian physical characteristics. I really don’t discourage it for the most part, because it is more convenient than trying to explain to people that I am really not Asian in any real sense of the word.

I’m actually Eurasian and also raised by a white parent, and have yet to set foot outside this country.  It is a chore to explain this even to people, who know me well.  Especially because people can dismiss what you are saying as you being too sensitive. Also a lot of people don’t like ambiguity, and they don’t like doing the mental work about something they can’t be bothered about.

More seriously, we make labels like “misogynist” and “feminist”(only you have to mentally hiss that when you read it for the purposes of this discussion) that become more charged every time they are repeated.  Pretty soon the labels start meaning different things to different people.  At this point it can be more useful to show and not tell what action you are referring to and abandon the labels.  Realistically not everyone is equally invested in putting time into learning about things that they don’t think directly affects them.

However not learning about different groups has become more and more impossible in a growing and increasingly diverse community.  In fact, we live in a more mobile age where it is increasingly impossible to maintain a homogeneous, isolated community. (Notice the Chick Fil A President’s struggle to maintain a homophobic tradition) Friction is inevitable.   I have been warned by some community members not to speak about this.  I’ve been told it will blow over, and that it is drama intended to get more blog hits and video views. The problem with this opinion is that in the mean time people that are for the most part good are getting hurt.

Obviously if you are not a decent human being-meaning you fit neatly into one of the labels in the title, this post is a waste of your time.  It is also a waste of your time if you can’t be bothered to understand what other people think and want to make a quick snap judgment and leave.  If you are a decent human being and you genuinely care about how your actions may affect others; you’re going to take time to understand an issue before drawing a conclusion.  Speaking of snap judgments there are a few common ones that are often repeated. These are a few from a Facebook discussion that are getting in the way of meaningful discussion.  These are freshly minted comments; they were posted this week.  I am posting these without naming names.

Stop talking about Rebecca Watson and Elevatorgate comments that are all basically saying this…

The elevator thing is still going on? Wow.

I hate to see an important movement collapse into itself over stupid bickering.


Don’t like the guy but I’m with tf00t here. The whole thing caused by that ridiculous elevator incident and Watson acting like an offended child, saying she now hates Dawkins and everyone who disagrees with her. Its now months that you guys have talked about nothing else but some supposed hatred against women. Just stop the bullshit.


You know what would provide some solution to all this, is if elevator guy actually came out and told his side of the story, in public. Because I like many others do not think that he actually exists. At least not outside RW’s mind, because

you have to admit if he only exists in her mind, it is an excellent tool to use to promote the views that she is talking about. She can imply whatever she wants about this person and not have him come out and rebut it. Well done, RW you have won so far, until people start to think about the issue and not just take your word for it. Take a step back and have a look everything is working out for RW and her click, she can do no wrong, so far. But when the crash comes and it will, her public will make her cry worse than Roth.
This is not just about elevatorgate, it is about one group creating dislike against another group. I can bet the real enemy is out there eating their chicken sandwiches and enjoying the dissent among the ranks.
These are just three examples of how badly misunderstood  gender-related issues are in the freethinking community.   Way too many people are minimizing gender-based harassment to a single incident that Watson admitted herself wasn’t a major big deal.  Ironically, they are the ones that need to stop obsessing over a single incident, so they can see that there are numerous examples of hatred directed specifically towards women both in our online communities and in communities everywhere.  This is another related example of oversimplification of the problem…
There is no problem with hate in the skeptics community…

“do you think there is a real problem with ‘hate against women’ in this community? “

I’ve got to say I’ve seen essentially NONE.

This is the thesis of a rant that denies there is any problem at all in the skeptic community with “hate against women”. You can eviscerate this argument easily with only one example of hate against women.  Like for example, a co-founder of a skeptic online forum pondered this in a public forum…

Would it be immoral to rape a Skepchick?

Not for sexual gratification or power or anything like that, just because they’re so annoying.

I’m really torn on this one

After being a few rounds of laughs at the Skepchicks expense, his own forum members criticized him and he apologized for the joke’s offensiveness and “lameness”.  (*edit this is the word choice in the apology not mine)However, to date I haven’t seen an apology for publicly shaming the Skepchicks, and having a laugh at their expense in the skeptic community.  Whether you agree with Skepchicks or not do they deserve gender based hatred directed at them in the form of pondering raping them as a joke to shut them up?

The original ranter I quoted continues trivializing the numerous rape threats Watson got as mere trolling, and to be expected as a public personality. Is anything Watson ever said or done worthy of hundreds of threats written with the intent of shaming her with threats of violence?

The problem of gender based hatred wasn’t created by Skepchicks and Rebecca Watson. In fact, rape threats are widespread all over the internet to silence women from speaking publicly. Someone in the same online Facebook discussion shared this article from The Guardian with me…


Crude insults, aggressive threats and unstinting ridicule: it’s business as usual in the world of website news commentary – at least for the women who regularly contribute to the national debate.

The frequency of the violent online invective – or “trolling” – levelled at female commentators and columnists is now causing some of the best known names in journalism to hesitate before publishing their opinions. As a result, women writers across the political spectrum are joining to call for a stop to the largely anonymous name-calling.

The columnist Laurie Penny, who writes for the GuardianNew Statesmanand Independent, has decided to reveal the amount of abuse she receives in an effort to persuade online discussion forums to police threatening comments more effectively.

and specifically…

Lewis-Hasteley has also been surprised by some of the reaction to the growing campaign to protect women writers from this verbal abuse. “Someone asked me if I didn’t realise that I wasn’t really going to be raped. But the threat of sexual violence is an attack in itself, and some commentators have their Facebook pages searched, and their home addresses tracked. It’s a real feeling of being hunted by these people.”

If you’re still reading this post, my intent is to help promote a better understanding of why people are speaking out so strongly on gender-based hatred.  I sincerely hope that more good people will be able to see beyond the labels, insults, and slurs to see the actual problem. Although, I do understand that many decent people are weary of the controversy, and would love to see it blow over.  I really do hope that before it does our community will benefit from a better understanding of this issue that affects all of us.