Astrogenericus

Good post right now over at Skeptico, where he tries to corner some astrology believer who, typically, generally plays dodgeball with every hard question Skeptico throws at him. In the comments section, someone (not a believer) pointed out Astro.com, which touts itself as “the best (computer-generated) horoscopes world-wide.” Naturally, they don’t explain the way in which computer-generated horoscopes are any different than any other, or what methodologies they use to reach their conclusions. But as the Skeptico post and subsequent comments thread makes clear (for all those who didn’t already figure it out), this shite’s all made up anyway.

So for the hell of it I went over and entered my personal information to be “surprised by the clarity and depth of these comprehensive and accurate interpretations.” I entered everything except the hour of my birth, which I don’t actually know. This is what was spat out for my daily reading:

Weak, transient effect: It is unfortunate that this influence is so brief, because it gives you such a pleasant sense of well-being. Today during the day you feel very warm and friendly to the people around you, and you are willing to offer emotional or physical support to anyone who needs it. You are generous and giving. People will warm to you, and you should get from others exactly what you give, that is, warmth and affection. You are likely to attract basically happy and positive people with whom you will have an enjoyable time. This is not the result of a “Pollyanna” view of reality that refuses to recognize trouble and pain in the world, but of a real sense of belonging and oneness with others. In a very important sense you feel that helping others helps you. On another level this influence indicates a concern with the general welfare.

Um, so basically I’m a nice person who tries to be nice and get along with everyone around me. Well, yes, but I fail to see how I needed astrology to tell me that. This is, of course, a wholly generic “reading” that can and does apply to most people in most life circumstances. But because of the Forer Effect, the woo crowd who actually believe this drivel will think this assessment applies uniquely to them, and will dutifully be amazed and surprised. Perhaps they’ve had a fight with their spouse, or have been sassed by the kids, or are feeling underappreciated at work. So they hear the stars tell them they’re really, really nice, and they’re relieved! And they tell everyone, “I don’t care what you say, I just know astrology works.”

This is elementary psychological manipulation; there’s not even any level of sophistication or finesse to it. It’s feel-good pabulum for the drive-thru, instant-gratification culture. How sad it is that there are so many people lacking in basic self-esteem that they will grasp things like this only to hear the most trite, greeting-card level personal compliments to get them through the day.

Go on, head on over to Astro.com and try yourself, and see how accurate their assessment is of you.

Discussions, reasonable and otherwise…

I get a lot of e-mails at my various addresses and some of them are requests for discussions or debates from people who are convinced that something I reject (god, supernatural, afterlife, etc) is not only true, but easily provable if I’ll just have a discussion with them.

The most recent of these requests came from an Austin resident (we’ll call him Larry) who stumbled across our TV show a few weeks ago. His initial mail to me included the following:

“I’m a Christian but I’m not trying to redeem you. I respect your decision. Instead, I’m merely seeking a rational discussion of objective facts because the world seems to be operating under a strange delusion and I thought maybe you could help me sort things out.”

Fair enough. I’ve had some really productive discussions with believers in the past, so I thought I’d give this guy a chance. I’m curious about what people believe and why – and I’m a big fan of “objective facts”, so this discussion seemed to be one I might enjoy.

I’ve taken clips from his e-mails and summarized my responses to constructed the following pseudo-dialog, which gives an accurate picture of the discussion without expecting anyone to read a dozen long e-mails:

“There’s not an organized religion on the face of the earth that advocates/believes the God of the Bible yet atheism perpetuates the fallacy that there is.”

I clarified what atheism is (and isn’t) and that I’m not making a value judgment on whether or not someone is a “true Christian”, I simply refer to people by the titles they choose.

“When I first saw you on TV I thought, “Here’s my kinda guy!” I appreciate your taking the time.”

“All religions/denominations–no exception–are variations of Baal worship calculated by men to lead people away from the God of the Bible and under the oppression of theocracy. Baal is self-worship, the “imagination of men’s hearts,” and this includes making the God of the Bible out to be anything you want Him to be.”

I pointed out that he’s really just claiming that he’s a “true Christian” while others aren’t – something he’ll need to justify, not just claim. I also corrected many other misperceptions about atheism and tried to get him to better define some of his claims to avoid confusion.

“Atheists claim that Bush and his cabal are Christians yet it’s common knowledge that Bush was “born again” into Yale’s Skull & Bones and the cabal worships Asherah each summer at the Bohemian Grove.”

I pointed out, again, that atheists don’t claim that Bush is a Christian, I simply use the label he’s chosen. Additionally, I don’t believe in Asherah any more than YHWH and I have no method for determining how any other individual is going to view someone else’s religious claims. At this point, I’m a bit concerned about where this conversation may be headed. Larry has made several “absolute” statements and has started to refer to his own value judgments and opinions as “common knowledge”. Unfortunately, my concerns seem to have been justified…

“…history shows this country was set up as a Masonic (Baal) institution from the git-go.”

“The very concept of “one nation under God” is Masonic theocracy.”

“I recently had a Baptist friend tell me that I was going to hell because I believe Christ fulfilled all prophecy. Such is the effective brainwash of the Southern Baptist Convention. My friend would rather believe the Pharisee Scofield’s interpretation of the Bible instead of the Word of God.”

“…the world is relentlessly, systematically going under the bondage of Talmudic law and I see organized atheism as contributing its fair share to speed the process, but you are a gentleman and a scholar and I hope to hear from you soon.”

I informed Larry that I wasn’t interested in unsupported conspiracy theories and that I thought we were going to have a rational, intelligent discussion about theology and doctrine. We had a quick side-discussion about his thoughts that Christ had fulfilled all prophecy. His religious beliefs mirror those of the Southern Baptist Convention with one huge exception; he believes that the “second coming” occurred in the first century and all of the current “end-times” beliefs are heretical nonsense which is part of a global conspiracy perpetrated by Pharisaic Jews.

His comments could easily be viewed as anti-semitic, though I’m sure that he’d claim that he doesn’t “hate” Jews – just everything he thinks they stand for. The scope of his conspiracy accusations make Larry an “equal-opportunity” bigot and afford him the opportunity to claim that he’s fighting the good fight against evil – and not simply spewing venom against those who disagree with him.

“You say that absolute, literal Bible belief is impossible. I say it’s a piece of cake and I encourage you to challenge me.”

At this point, I provided examples of contradictions, inconsistencies and logically incoherent passages in the Bible which make literal belief impossible or raised doctrinal contradictions. I asked a number of conventional, difficult questions specifically designed to show that he doesn’t really have an absolute, literal belief like:

  • Do you believe that unruly children should be stoned?
  • Do you feel that infinite torture is a just punishment for a finite crime?
  • Do you believe that it is just to punish someone for the crimes of others?
  • Is slavery morally correct?
  • Would God accept human sacrifices?
  • Have you sold all of your belongings and given them to the poor?
  • Do you have health insurance? If so, why – if prayer can heal?
  • How many languages existed prior to the Tower of Babel?
  • If God cursed Cain to be a wanderer, how is it that he immediately settled down and established a town?
  • If Abraham’s mental picture of God included the concept that God could, would and did demand that he kill his own son, why do we currently punish people who commit similar crimes that they claim were ordered by God?

I also asked Larry to provide his definition of a “true” Christian and to justify why his definition is correct while others aren’t. Larry was so thrilled that I bothered to seriously consider his claims and compose responses to his e-mails that the subject line of his next e-mail read “An Answer To A Prayer!” and his entire response was:

“God sent me you! I’ll be back to you soon!”

His next response didn’t really address any of my questions, though he promised to do so, repeatedly. In his last e-mail, he explains why he didn’t, but we’ll get to that shortly.

“I love atheists because they’re such an integral part of God’s Plan (I Cor.11:19 AV).”

He also included a few quotes from an eschatological encyclopedia that supported his idea that the Jewish concept of God is fictional and sets the Jews up as the ultimate divine authority.

I was a bit frustrated that Larry had avoided all of my questions. I tried to explain that he still hadn’t demonstrated anything and had simply responded with more unsupported claims, hoping that the authority of an encyclopedia would sway me more than the authority of the Bible. I reminded him that no book, be it the Bible or an Encyclopedia is “proof” of anything – the reliability of the contents must be established before they can be considered an authority or reliable source.

“Matt, I think you’re ready for the next step. There’s a little booklet on the Web that reads like I wrote it. Just Google “Charlie Samples The Greatest Hoax.” After reading it, I assure you I will address any loose questions you may have.”

“By the way, don’t atheist organizations get tax-exemp
t status from their oppressive Christian theocracy because they’re religious institutions? I thought so.”

I cleared up the tax-exempt status question and pointed out the case law which defines atheism (non-belief) as protected by the First Amendment yet doesn’t establish it as a Church. Additionally, many secular organizations have had difficult getting proper tax-exempt status in various states (including Texas) specifically because atheism is not a religion.

While I agreed to review “The Greatest Hoax”, I pointed out that I’d been doing most of the work in our discussion while he still refused to answer questions and some of his comments had started sounding snide (the “I thought so” comment was only one example).

“I apologize for any possible trace of snideness/sarcasm because I’m sincere when I say I appreciate your time and I have prayed to have a dialog with someone like you. You are a very sharp cookie! Have a great weekend!”

While working on my review of “The Greatest Hoax” (and waiting for any hint of an answer to the questions I raised) I pointed out that I had been a bit baffled by claims that God could take action in the material world yet these actions were somehow beyond the scope of empirical confirmation. After all, for someone who has a literal belief in the Bible, it’s clear that God interacts with the physical world on many occasions – in distinctly observable ways. Pillars of fire, parting of the sea, wrestling with humans, walking on water – all of these are testable interactions.

“I agree with you. There’s either a true, supernatural, DEMONSTRATABLE God OR there’s every conceivable concoction of god that the mind of man can conjure, i.e., there is no God.”

It’s a bit rude to consider this the “gotcha” moment, but it appears to have been the case. I immediately asked Larry if he could demonstrate God’s existence and he assured me that he could – and would. Great! Now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe he’d finally drop the conspiracy stuff and provide the evidence for this “demonstrable” God… it’d go a long way toward getting us on the same page.

“Christ said He is the way, the truth and the life. If He is not the truth then He can’t possibly be the way and the life. Conversely, if He is the truth then, by definition, He most certainly is the way and the life. Let’s prove Him first THEN ask Him some questions.”

Great! Please prove him and I’ll be happy to address your other questions and comments. Larry replied that he wouldn’t actually provide proof of God until after I’d submitted my analysis of Charlie Samples pamphlet. I immediately pointed out that this felt dishonest and that if he had absolute proof of God he may actually have a duty to provide that proof to any interested party without caveats and stipulations.

However, I had promised to review the Samples’ pamphlet and with all of his dishonest ducking and dodging, I didn’t want him to be able to claim that I hadn’t more than lived up to my end of the discussion. So I provided him with a lengthy analysis of The Greatest Hoax.

Larry responded with a handful of bible verses and added the “Global Bank” to his Pharisee/Talmudic Jew/Mason/Rhodes’ scholar/Illuminat/Olam Ha-ba/New World Order conspiracy, adding the Rockefellers and Rothschilds (along with anyone who has “old” wealth and influence).

Um, where’s the beef? I’ve answered his questions, provided an analysis of a 30-page manifesto and patiently pointed out that his nonsense lacks any support – while I wait for him to do anything he promised to do, specifically in proving that God exists. I told him that if his next e-mail didn’t include a proof that God exists or if it included unsupported conspiracy claims, our conversation was over.

“No offense, but I have heard your same canards and derash Bible exegesis from so many different sources that I want to hurl vomit out of my nose. I honestly think you all check in everyday with a centralized disinformation source that could only, of course, be traced back to Tavistock. I teased you with reponses to those “dilemmas” because I didn’t want you to tuck-tail on me and I SURE didn’t want you to bog us down! You need to find God first THEN your dilemmas will be answered!”

So, Larry admits the he’s a liar. He isn’t interested in responding to the questions I posed and only “teased” me with responses to string me along so he could help me find God. Yet he still refuses to demonstrate that God exists and now expects me to “find God”. Looking back at his original message, it’s clear that he was lying from the start:

“I’m a Christian but I’m not trying to redeem you. I respect your decision. Instead, I’m merely seeking a rational discussion of objective facts because the world seems to be operating under a strange delusion and I thought maybe you could help me sort things out.”

Larry continued his little tirade with:

“YOU need to educate youself that the supernatural concept of “evil” exists and when you do THEN you will have found God! THAT’S HOW I FOUND HIM! I will guide you, my brother, but you’re going to have to do some homework. I can’t wet nurse you. The first step is to quit washing that magnificent brain of yours with the twaddle of Pharisee whores like Voltaire and start getting in touch with the REAL world.”

Hmm, so I need to simply accept that supernatural “evil” exists and then I will have found God? Where’s this “demonstrable” evidence for God? Wouldn’t it be quicker to just accept that God exists, rather than accepting evil to find God?

It’s a bit sad that when his true nature is finally revealed, he goes off on a rant which includes even more conspiracy nonsense. Voltaire is a Pharisee whore? I suppose Ingersoll was also? It’s amazing how many atheists and freethinkers must have been Pharisee whores. I suppose I’m just another one.

I found it particular amusing that his first two sentences are sufficiently ambiguous to allow the reader to view it as “when you find evil, you’ve found God”. Oddly, if the Bible is an accurate representation of the “one true God”, I could agree with that statement.

Larry concludes with one final conspiracy theory and seems to think that I’m actually going to continue the discussion, despite the fact that I was very clear that a response like this would end the discussion.

“The Jesus Seminar was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. What an amazing coincidence! Could it have been conducted with “preconceived” notions? I’m all excited! Come on, let’s go!”

My response: “Yes, let’s go. You go your way, and I’ll go mine. This conversation is over.”

I’m sure Larry is still convinced that God sent me to him, and I’m convinced that Larry is insane. While he didn’t opt to use the secular New World Order conspiracy theory, (which is more fun because it’s just like Larry’s except that reptilian aliens are controlling the key players) he’s still a nut.

In conclusion, I’m sure that Larry discovered some of the same biblical problems that many atheists have discovered (which would explain his refusal to address them) – but his refusal to give up supernatural beliefs promoted rationalization instead of rationalism. When it was obvious that Jesus’ comments were directed at 1st century people and that he promised to come back in their lifetime, Larry just took Jesus at his word. For him, the second-coming came and went – and he’s managed to create this collage of supporting nonsense – which forces him to accept more and more craziness.

At one point during the discussion, I followed a few links that led to a conspiracy site. After about 15 minutes, I wa
s so overwhelmed that I nearly cried. A minor anxiety attack, to be sure, but it was simply so sad that so many people seemed willing to accept any wild claim if it had the ability to explain any of their observations.

The thought process seems to be similar to; ‘The world is evil – so there must be some evil behind. Some people have lots of money and power, so they must be promoting this evil.’ Etc.

I’ve never been happier that I managed to “escape to reality” than I’ve been during the past couple of weeks.