Loaded question

So I got the following email from a financial adviser in New Zealand:

Hi.

As you strike me as an honest and sincere authority in the atheist worldview, could you please help me by advising me:

How can I be an intellectually honest atheist when it seems to me that atheism itself, logically demands that I distrust my brain, because it’s merely a cosmic accident –  evolved from a random, mindless and unguided process in the 1st place?

I’ll donate $10,000 to a mutually agreeable charity for the 1st person who can answer my honest dilemma.

Your help would mean a lot to me.

Thanks in advance.

So I replied:

It’s not an honest dilemma for two reasons.

(1) Being a product of undirected incidents and natural processes is no indication that you shouldn’t trust your brain.  On the contrary, your ancestry of survivors of life-and-death struggles is one good reason why you should trust your brain.  There are two basic perspectives here, those with a deep-seated emotional need to believe impossible nonsense, and those who have a desire to understand reality. The latter group has a very different way of judging information. The only value any claim can have is how true we can show it to be. If you can’t show that it’s true at all, then it has no value at all; it is only an empty assertion unsupported by anything, and therefore beneath serious consideration.  The fact that no one can show that religion isn’t just a product of human imagination is further exacerbated by the fact that there is so much that we can show religion to be wrong about. Then there is the point that the only way to improve understanding is to seek out the flaws in your current perception and correct them.  You can’t do that if you believe anything on faith.

(2) Religion is the only thing telling us not to trust our brains. Faith is an unreasonable assertion of complete conviction which is assumed without reason and defended against all reason.  You’re supposed to believe things that are not indicated by any evidence, and you’re supposed to maintain that belief despite all evidence to the contrary.  It is already dishonest to assert as fact that which is not evidently true, yet that’s what all religions do. They pretend to ‘witness’ things they’ve never seen, saying they know things no one can honestly say they know, and they claim facts that are not facts.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, faith also requires an unreasonable resistance to reason itself, in the form of apologetics.  This is the practice of making up excuses to rationalize, justify, or dismiss all the arguments against your position.  That’s where your challenge comes from, prompting you to misrepresent the situation as if there was ever any reason to distrust our own brains.   That’s also why you won’t really donate $10,000.00 to Médecins Sans Frontières.  You never intended to do that.  Instead your goal was to pretend to present an unanswerable dilemma and arbitrarily dismiss every perfectly good answer you get -without any transparency. So there is no way for anyone else to see all the answers like this one that you actually did get.

So I’ve decided to post your question to my blog, just so that people have some way to know that I did answer it.

Monster on Sunday

There’s a new hard rocking atheist band called Monster on Sunday

On Friday, August 7th at 7:00pm, they’ll be at Ramona Mainstage with my friends, recording artist Shelly Segal and comedian Steve Hill. Seth Andrews told me he saw the band live in their home town of San Diego, and said they were amazing.  Steve and Tally Cass are something new, sort of a mom & pop metal band, and they’re strident atheists.  I’ve had a chance to listen to their new album, and I’m happy to review my favorite tracks.

The vocals in the title track, Baby Eater pick up strength as the song progresses, and the guitar is strong throughout, classic hard rock.  The 2nd track, Stardust harkens to episodes of Cosmos.  I featured a clip of that song at the end of my video presentation from the Imagine No Religion Conference in Vancouver Canada -since I was talking about, you know, the cosmos.

Make a Believer has a Mötley Crüe sort of ring to it -if Crüe knew how to pwn the anecdotal testimony of religious “witnesses”.  The 4th track is the new single, Just Like You.  This tune illustrates how everyone’s god tends to hate exactly the same things as each believer claiming a personal relationship with that deity.  I featured a clip of this song at the end of my video presentation at the Oklahoma Freethought Convention.  It was appropriate because that speech was about all the religious hate just prior to the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

Pain is a bluesy old school metal tune, appropriate to the title.  The namesake song, Monster on Sunday is a slower sort of a dark ballad, again as might be expected by the title.  Believe in Yourself shifts from softer girly vocals to power ballad style, reminiscent of both ’80s glam and ’90s grunge. I will probably feature a clip from Christian Terrorist on an upcoming video too, especially for the spoken monologue between the riffs.  Influences from Bad Religion and Alice In Chains are evident; the latter especially in Shunned, which is a heavy ballad of lament, heartbreak, and abandonment, again just as one would expect from the name.  This leaves the 10th and final track, and my favorite of the whole album.  God is Dead sounds to me like old original Black Sabbath, dark and creepy, and a bit eerie; that’s more how I like it. [Edit: Foolish me. God is Dead is a Black Sabbath cover. ]

Show Flyer 1 copyGet tickets here:

Actually my favorite metal either sounds like the background score of a Godzilla movie, or it sounds like Godzilla himself, with heavy plodding drums and growling guitars.  Obviously, I never listened to music with the intention of dancing to it.  Never did understand dancing.

 

Debatable

I used to get a lot of challenges from anonymous internet nobodies wanting to debate me; not just to argue with me online, but to “call me out” in some public forum where they thought they could ‘win’ me.  I’ll already argue with pretty much anyone as long as there is some indication that that person is being somewhat sincere and not just a troll out to waste my time. So how do you weed out the trolls?  I came up with this rule that I wouldn’t debate anyone who nominates his or her self.  I’ll only do it if some collection of people nominates someone else to represent them, someone who will debate me on their behalf.  That way, if I beat that person, I’m effectively beating everyone that person represents. That is also the only way to force accountability, something creationists consistently lack, and which is the biggest hurdle when debating them.  Disingenuous willfully obtuse or childish behavior may work for an individual, but not so much when representing a group of other people; because some of their own following are likely to call them out for that.

I don’t need to debate anyone, because most of the time, it’s pointless.  There are few instances where debates can determine the truth of a matter, and science is never in that situation.  So if I’m going to debate at all, I need to get some value out of it.  You’ll never change the mind of your opponent, which is why debating an individual is a waste of time; but it is possible to show the audience what the facts really are.  So I’m never going to consider invitations from random people who may only be trying to promote themselves, but who don’t have any real following to motivate me.

Consequently I’ve never had an actual live moderated debate. I had a moderated written debate back in 2005. That was against a couple ministers and a couple people on the Texas State Board of Education. Complete records of that debate no longer exist. The archive was hosted by someone else, and the data was lost when that dot-com went out of business.  Only fragments of it remain, quoted by different forums that were discussing it at the time.

I’ve also ‘debated’ a handful of famous fundies on the radio, but each of those shows wasn’t an actual debate as much as two guys arguing with each other on someone’s podcast.  Matt Dillahunty and Dan Barker and a few others have formal debates with a live audience all the time, but not me; never once; and if it never happens, I’m fine with that too.

I did agree to debate Ken Ham once. I was invited by the Houston Atheists, the world’s largest geographic atheist meet-up group, with over 2,000 active members at that time, but Ken Ham refused to debate me. Nor would he let any of the PhD minions on his payroll face me on stage.  A few months later, he debated Bill Nye instead.  It seemed to me that Bill Nye was my replacement.  Either of us would have beaten Ham of course, but AnswersInGenesis ministries wouldn’t have made tens of thousands of dollars by having Ham debate little ol’ me, because I’m nobody. I’m not even on Wikipedia. I also wouldn’t have done it in Ham’s own venue where he gets to charge for tickets. Instead it would have been a neutral location, and it have cost him. That was my goal.

I was asked to come to a high school in east Texas, to debate some local preacher there.  Interest was so high that they were even going to move the event to a church, which had a bigger stadium than the high school, (how sad is that?).  That fell through when each of their ministers looked me up.  “Oh that guy?! Nevermind, not in our town.”  Suddenly both venues retracted their offers.  The school who issued the challenge suddenly decided that to have one of their clergymen debate me would have been a violation of the 1st amendment. Religion is full of little ironies like that.

So last week, someone finally tells me that he’s part of some group of people who all want me to debate some other guy, someone they’ve nominated to represent them and debate me on their behalf.  I’d never heard of that person, but that doesn’t matter, and I told them so.  Then I inquired as to the when and where, who would moderate, and so on.

As I waited for my answer, I looked the guy up.  Turns out he’s an underling of Ray Comfort, and promoted by Matt Slick.  I’ve already argued with both of those people and neither one warrants any further attention.  So if I’m already prepared for them (and who isn’t?) then I’m prepared for this guy too.

This is where it gets funny. I get an email back from the person who invited me, and I’m expecting him to give me a city and a venue and a schedule, perhaps sometime in December.  Instead, he doesn’t have any of that because their representative won’t answer their calls.  Turns out he never even accepted their nomination either.  They issued the challenge to me and named him as their champion, but without his knowledge or consent!  So they asked if I would contact this guy out of the blue and challenge someone I’ve never heard of, and who probably never heard of me either, and I should do this because he won’t talk to his own followers otherwise.  Why should I do this?

So I refused.  I said I’m not going to do this backwards, and it took six more email exchanges to explain to that person why you can’t put people on the spot like that.  If that guy hadn’t accepted their nomination, then it isn’t a sincere challenge. They shouldn’t already have me ready before they let him know what they’ve gotten him into.  They didn’t even give him any way to refuse discreetly without losing face. With friends like that, who needs enemies, right?

So the next time some organization (that I can actually confirm) asks me whether I will debate whoever your nominee is, make sure that person already knows who I am, and has agreed to debate me anyway.

Comparing Secular Conferences

I’ve been booked for a different conference or convention or similar function almost every month for the last few years, and sometimes a couple in the same month.  Of the bigger, better ones repeated annually, I’d say the most ‘posh’ would be the American Humanist Association, particularly regarding their elegant banquets and choice of lavish hotels.  I’ve attended two of their national conventions, (in New Orleans and San Diego) but they never invited me to speak.  That’s how posh they are!  Not far behind is American Atheists. Their conventions seem to have the most peripheral activities going on outside the formal scheduled events.  Skepticon is a ‘must do’ at least in that it is free and informal and favored by college kids.  Apostacon is probably the most fun one, or at least the silliest; because it’s hosted by devotees of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and everything they do tends to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, meeting the big stars may require an additional ticket.  It’s not like the Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas.  I’ve never been invited to speak there either, but when I went anyway, the leading skeptics’ conference had all their celebrities hanging out in the hallway. The bacon and donut party was fun too.

That’s the run-down of heathen gatherings, divided into humanists, atheists, skeptics, and pastafarians.  I’ve been to a couple secular conferences too, but they were at the state level rather than national, global, or world events. I’ve also been to those as well, but they’re usually not annual, or not hosted by the same group every year.

To my experience, the best of the international infidel conventions overall is Imagine No Religion in Canada.  I’ve been to that one twice, and was so involved in the event that I didn’t take time to get out and see the surrounding area; which is too bad because British Columbia is among the most beautiful parts of this whole continent. On the coast, there’s a majestic mountain range on one side and a lush archipelago on the other.

INR seems the best organized of all these events, with everyone reporting a positive experience, whether from the stage or in the audience; but then you have to consider who is in the audience.  There were respected scientists, politicians, and even a couple of TV personalities in attendance.  So this is where I want to give my best performance.

Bill Ligertwood, the event coordinator knows how to provide for attendees, and he knows how to take care of the speakers.  We were met at the airport by a huge stretch Limo, and that was just the beginning.

VancouverLimoOur suite was a fully-equipped apartment; it was the biggest and nicest room we’ve ever had.  That’s something when you consider how many hotels I’ve seen so far.  We were also hardly ever there.  There were special luncheons, and a dinner just for the speakers to meet each other, but we were also urged to be available to the patrons and to mingle with them.

This event is a more intimate gathering than most. At the same time, it is also a more comfortable atmosphere, with very good presentations covering the breadth of the irreligious perspective.  There wasn’t anything that wasn’t interesting, and much of it was inspirational.  It’s not specifically a promotion of atheism, or humanism, or skepticism. It’s not all about activism, and it’s not just a promotion of science either; its all of that, the full range of topics relative to the theme of the title. It’s a warm and intellectual meeting of the minds. Speakers come from diverse backgrounds all over the world, and the audience does too. I met attendees there who came from New Zealand, Scotland, Singapore and Japan. That’s quite a ways to go for a conference, but as I said, this is about the best gathering of its kind.

‘scientist’?

Someone I don’t know tweeted this to me:

Hello my friend Aron. What is your opinion about this short conversation between a Christian & a scientist: ?

Not even an hour later, that person (called Bieber) posted “still waiting”, as if I must be aware of the tweet, but that am perhaps intimidated or otherwise hesitant to respond.  I guess they think I live on Twitter and that I don’t do or see anything else. I rarely even check it, because Twitter is NOT the place to have a discussion.  But I replied:

Me: That conversation was copied wrong. They labeled ‘a Muslim’ as though he was ‘a scientist’, and said things no scientist would say.

Bieber: OK. Lets say: he is a Muslim. What is scientifically wrong with what he said if there is any thing wrong?! :-)

Me: No scientist should say that *any* prophesy is “100% accurate”, much less “all” of them.
Not only can no alleged prophesy be verified to be correct; a lot of them have been proven wrong, including some Islamic prophesies.
For example, I remember when Muslims argued with P.Z. Myers about embryology, and the Qur’an was wrong.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3T5Pm7qLH50
Hamza Tzortsis later argued with me about isostasy, and the Qur’an turned out to be wrong then too.
Your alleged scientist found coincidental numbers in an unrelated verse and merely imagined a correlation interpreted as prophesy.
Your citation pretends that no one would have believe we’d land on the moon, yet Muslims believed that Muhammad rode a flying horse.
You asked me what’s wrong with it. Now that I’ve answered, let me ask you, what’s right with it?

I only addressed a tiny portion of this absurd conversation that would never take place between any Christian and any scientist, but I’d like to see hows others would address the rest of it.

My take on the Abrahamic triad

This is just my opinion, but when I listen to Muslims explaining their religion to each other, I get the impression that Islam is hateful and violent, but that it’s also pretty stupid; “full of shit”, as my dad would say -because none of it can be justified or shown to be true, and what little they do know can’t really imply what they say it does.

The same thing goes for Christians.  When I listen to Christians discussing their religion, I get the impression that they’re hateful too, but their violent reactions are culturally inhibited.  So they compensate for that with a staggering level of bewildering stupidity, coupled with dishonesty.  It sounds to me like pots and kettles accusing each other in the perfect example of the blind leading the blind.

But when I listen to those Jews who still believe in God and the Bible, and I hear them arguing aspects of their beliefs, it strikes me that the foundation of Abrahamic religion is utterly empty, devoid of any possible meaning or value.  I don’t want to say “who cares?”, because way too many people do.  That’s what confuses and alarms me!  How could anyone imagine that any of this is really true or really matters?

I mean, think about it this way:  If you listened to two grown men arguing about what Zeus really meant by what he supposedly said to Hera according to a confused mystic’s interpretation of man-made mythology, would you, could you manage to feign any interest in that discussion?

Christians Against Dinosaurs

At one point, I would have thought that Pat Robertson of the Trinity Broadcast Network was a perfect example of a mind befuddled by willful ignorance.  But Robertson publicly criticized Ken Ham of AnswersInGenesis for being “deaf, dumb, and blind”, because Ham doesn’t believe there was a Mesozoic era.  Ham believes that dinosaurs once lived with people just a few thousand years ago. But Ham in-turn also publicly criticized Kent Hovind of Creation Science Ministries for the same sort of unrealistic stupidity.  This was because Hovind believes dinosaurs are still alive today, and he’s not talking about birds!  So it seems that the only way to be even less reasonable or rational than Kent Hovind is if you’re such an extreme science denialist that you don’t believe dinosaurs ever existed at all.

Recently one young woman has gotten a lot of attention as the admin of an organization called CADministries or ‘Christians Against Dinosaurs’.  As unbelievable as it may seem, they profess that the concept of dinosaurs was invented by Sir Richard Owen back in the 1842, but that the first fossils of dinosaurs didn’t exist until 1854, and that every fossil ‘found’ since then was actually manufactured by paleontologists, using adhesive spackle and random bits of rocky rubble.  They say every dinosaur we ever heard of was created this way, and that each fossil is worth a million dollars to whatever paleontologist can sculpt one together.  Yes, we’re talking about yet another impossibly cohesive centuries-old secret global conspiracy at every level – allied against belief in the Bible god.

Now, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone could be that stupid, and I’ve debated Ray Comfort!  So I’m inclined to suspect that this whole organization is a joke, and that the admin is a poe.  But if she is, she’s persistent, and the joke isn’t funny.  She’s already been banned from Mumsnet, a website dedicated to parenting, because she complained that teaching children about dinosaurs is a lie that causes them to act like monsters.  Even ChristianityToday.com warns about how CADministries is trying to impede or disrupt childrens’ education.

Remarkably, Kristen Auclair, the self-described admin of Christians Against Dinosaurs, has agreed to an hour-long live interview on a special episode of the Ra-Men podcast.  She will have a discussion with myself and Rachel Nanon Brown, who used to do the science segments when we were both on Dogma Debate.  I told Ms Auclair that I was a geoscience major, that I’ve been to fossil digs and worked in the paleo lab at the University of Texas, preparing and examining fossils I found myself. I told her my daughter worked in the Dallas Museum of Natural History, and that my former co-host, Rachel is a paleontologist working at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.  So we all have direct hands-on experience to know that nothing Auclair says in any of her videos is even close to true.  I told her I wouldn’t try to convince the audience of that.  They already know.  So we’re going to prove it to her.

Tune in and see how we do.

 

Bosche – irreligious detective?

I haven’t seen this, because I haven’t turned on a TV since the turn of the century, but according to this ad that keeps popping up on every video I try to watch, we have a new leading good guy portrayed as an atheist.  That’s good, I guess.  It doesn’t happen very often.  I guess Hugh Laurie’s House M.D. must have done pretty well if they’re doing Bosch P.D. now.

50 Shades of Meh

Yeah, spoilers.

My wife just wrote a review of this movie, so I guess I will too. We only went to see it because some Bishop at the Catholic church urged people not to.  Prior to that, I asked my wife if I could pay her not to make me see it. I went into the theater, certain that I couldn’t possibly enjoy this film.  It really wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, but it still wasn’t any good.
The movie struck me as sort-of a remake of Pretty Woman, except that it wasn’t even THAT good. I didn’t like pretty woman either, because I don’t connect with the fantasy of a billionaire who buys a penniless woman lavish gifts for two hours until the movie ends.  Nor could I consider it ‘erotica’.  It’s too disproportionate.  He’s young and good-looking, but impossibly rich and powerful at the same time.  However she is plain and mousey, with no strength or passionate interests; she didn’t have any charm to her personality, and she frankly doesn’t have a good enough body for an erotic film.  Really gorgeous women can be captivating, even with no other attributes, but she just wasn’t that pretty.  Speaking personally there was nothing there to pique an interest, especially not the interests of a handsome physically-obsessed corporate tycoon.  Not a psychologically healthy one anyway.  So it was like watching a predator toying with his prey, except that somehow she was in control of him throughout the whole movie.  So there wasn’t really anything to like from either angle.

Just let me rule you, and I will be yours.

Yeah, it reminded me of that movie too.

Throwing money at a woman when you have an inexhaustible supply of it is, ironically a cheap fantasy. Otherwise I winced at everything he did wrong, which was almost everything he did.  Controlling her through monitoring and following her, creating dependance and being visibly jealous of anything that didn’t directly involve or revolve around him. I know people like that, and I’d rather I didn’t.
Ultimately the movie was not erotic and not fun or funny either.  And it’s strange that Catholics would object to it, because, (in a sense) it was the first time for both of them, as improbable as that is.  She was still a virgin in college?  He had never been photographed with a woman despite owning 15 prior sex slaves?  He was indomitable and in command, and their sex was portrayed as an uncomfortable experience resulting from some form of self-loathing. That’s what the Catholic clergy teaches, isn’t it?