Post-show thoughts for 1/10

Hi folks,

Thanks for watching the show last night, and thanks in advance to all of you who will eventually come across this thread after listening to the podcast. Sorry for spinning this off into a new post, but I felt like using my executive privilege to cut in line and not appear after 20+ comments.

I hear what you guys are saying about the positives and negatives of last night’s experiment. And believe me, this was definitely an experimental bit, and I didn’t have any idea whether this would be a good move or not. I suspect I will not really be sure until discussing it and reading feedback for a few more weeks. I’m sure there are things that could be improved.

I cut my intro short, because the obvious shuffling around on camera threw me off a bit and I didn’t want the introduction to seem phony. But I was intending to explain a little better why I decided to violate our usual stated reasons for not having Christians on the show. Obviously there are a lot of exclusively Christian shows out there, so we feel no need to provide “equal time.” But as we’ve noted often in the last year, it’s hard to get a reliable source of disagreement from the callers when so many people are internet fans who seek us out because they like us. I think yesterday’s show illustrated that very well, since all but the last two callers were atheists, and those two were a bit mediocre in my opinion.

So I have been wanting to see what would happen if we go offer an invitation to an experienced Christian speaker, rather than some clueless person who just happened to stumble on us. I sent out an email to everyone at Great Hills Baptist (which is among the biggest churches in Austin) and got feedback from Kyle right away. While acknowledging that this was possibly a stumbling first effort, I’d like to make a case for why this appearance was a success.

First of all, apologies to people who were hoping that they would see a full scale brawl and didn’t get one. I know that that’s a direction we could have gone, but that would have depended more on getting a guest who wanted to fight. We got Kyle. He’s a polite, friendly, non-creationism-promoting, non-atheist-condemning Christian, and that’s who we wound up with on the show.

At the same time, I completely disagree with somebody’s claim that this was so “softball” that it was like Fox News interviewing Dick Cheney. My opening statement was intended to point out that whether or not evil is a “problem” for God, there is no indication that there is any kind of God (whether Dionysus, Jonathan Edwards’ god, or Kyle’s god) taking an active interest in society; and what we see is exactly what we’d expect if every individual simply made up their own concept of god based on personal preference. To the extent that Kyle made specific claims about his god, we didn’t miss any opportunity to point out that there is no rationale for believing that this god actually exists, or that Kyle’s interpretation of God has any more weight behind it than that of Jonathan Edwards. And furthermore, Kyle didn’t provide any serious disagreement with this response, preferring to disavow any application of evidence.

Yes, the conversation still turned out to be pleasant and friendly. So what? The mission of the Atheist Experience is not to destroy Christians at every opportunity. It’s:

  1. To promote positive atheism — which wouldn’t have been as well served by hosting a Crossfire-style shouting match.
  2. To provide community outreach and clear up misunderstandings — which I think will only be helped if we can encourage more Christians to watch the show and not fear the atheist attack dogs.
  3. To present atheism as a rational point of view while pointing out logical inconsistencies in religion — which we most certainly did.

I must also report that Kyle was a fine dinner companion, listening respectfully to people who wanted to contest what he’d said, and talking about experiences that people were interested in hearing. That’s exactly why we regularly add “or atheist friendly” in our dinner invitations.

Finally, I hear some people saying that the segment wasn’t long enough, and that they were left wishing that we had left more time for it. Fantastic! I was initially worried that 30 minutes was going to be too much time. I was thinking that if it became a one-sided preachfest, at least we would have a time limit. Instead, the time I was on seemed to fly right past, and I was downright surprised when 6:00 rolled down. Apparently, so were our viewers. So if you actually wanted more, then that’s a good indication that this is something we ought to repeat.

Obviously I wouldn’t be averse to having a guest with a little more fire and brimstone in them. If you know a better way to get in touch with such people, post your suggestions.

Open thread on today’s show

Hey gang. I’m posting this one a few hours early, because, unless I’ve missed my guess (and I’ve just double-checked the schedule on the AETV site so I don’t believe I have), this will be the day that Kazim’s Special Thing that was announced for the show last month and then postponed will be happening. So consider this a heads-up for the program this afternoon, after which this will serve as the open discussion thread for what transpires.


So, now we all know what the surprise was: AETV’s first ever on-air theist guest, Baptist minister Kyle Miller. A soft-spoken gentleman, and not the sort of wild-eyed fundie cretin you’d all like us to tear from limb to limb, but nice to have as a guest. Part of Russell’s goal on today’s show was to demonstrate atheists and theists can have civil discussions on a topic of mutual interest without having the whole thing turning into a Bill O’Reilly screaming match, and in that I thought the experiment worked fine. As it turns out, the last half hour did not seem to be nearly enough time to broach the subject matter — the Problem of Evil — with any kind of depth. A big thank you to Kyle for taking time out of his day to be a guest.


Folks, if you just tried commenting on the more recent post that was up for a short time, please go ahead and re-comment here. I went ahead and deleted that as it was redundant to have two “open thread on today’s show” posts. I personally thought there were a lot of opportunities on the subject of the Problem of Evil that didn’t get broached, but maybe I’ll comment in more detail later.

Video games were invented by THE DEVIL!!

Oh look, this is original! Some crazy lady blogging for the Orange County Register, who aptly calls herself “Frumpy Middle-Aged Mom,” thinks that video games are horrible influences on her kids! And she blames Grand Theft Auto for the misgivings that negligent parents had after they allowed their underage kids to play it! (Props to gamepolitics.com for bringing this to my attention.)

She also laments:

This is a huge dilemma for me, because I always had this fantasy that my house would be the one that all the kids congregated at after school. I would be the “fun mom,” the one who made popsicles, the one in the TV commercial with all the kids crowded around the kitchen counter, demanding more of those little pizza nuggets.

Unfortunately, since we have neither video games nor a swimming pool, this does not happen.

Seriously? Your fantasy is to provide frozen foods for neighborhood kids? And that’s what you think they’ll find fun? What a barren fantasy life you must have, lady.

I’ve got some other theories about why this does not happen, actually. Those TV commercials are fictional. They’re designed to trick people who fail at critical thinking into buying their crummy food products because, hey, if you stock your freezer with pizza rolls then kids with perfect teeth and cherubic ruddy cheeks will beam at you just like on TV! Here’s some more information for perspective: Real kids do not barge into your home clamoring for “More Ovaltine, please!” Also, the Kool-Aid Man does not break down your wall to help you out when you’re thirsty.

My kid plays plenty of video games, often right alongside me. He is also a voracious reader and a great student, and has an active imagination that constantly amuses me with drawings and lego structures — yes, some of which are based on video games, and some are not. I’m just sayin’, maybe if you lightened up and figured out how to connect with your son, tried to understand his hobbies rather than ineffectually demonizing him, he wouldn’t be a C student.

Oh, and I bet some people will think that FMAM is a Poe. I considered that, certainly, because she’s just too perfect a target. Her picture even bears a striking resemblance to the Jeanie Teasdale character from The Onion. But I skimmed her other columns and concluded that they are far too dull to be anybody’s attempt at comedy. So I’m pretty sure she means it, mkay?

Ill-educated fools in charge of education

Yes, it’s another Don McLeroy post. This Washington Monthly piece is currently making the rounds. If you haven’t seen it, you aren’t aware of just how bad things are in Texas.

Seriously, this will make you ill. Is there no depth to the ideological delusions cretins like this want to enshrine in our schools? Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical.

In honor of McLeroy, and inspired by one of PZ’s headlines today, I thought I’d create a little article of anticreowear, for all your scientifically sartorial needs. I plan to wear mine proudly. Those of you obsessed with the whole “civility” thing will clutch your pearls and admonish me sternly about it, I’m sure. Go ahead and take your concern as noted in advance. Read the attached article — shit, just read the first two paragraphs — and you’ll understand, I hope, why I’m beyond any pretense of civility with the likes of McLeroy.

Scientist portrayal in Avatar

I’ve seen Avatar twice now. I already reviewed it on my personal blog. I didn’t love it exactly, but I had to see it a second time because, despite its flaws, I knew my seven year old would think it was awesome. He did.

However, I do want to add one quick thing about it. In the past, I’ve complained often about the way movies portray scientists as closed minded eggheads who don’t understand the way the world really works, and skeptics are regarded as blind fools who wouldn’t recognize evidence that’s whacking them over the head with a cricket bat. For more of this discussion, see the Atheist Experience archive, episode #530 about “Skeptical straw men in fiction.”

One thing that Avatar really has going for it is that the scientist characters were clearly right. The military wanted to charge in with guns blazing; the scientists just wanted to study the planet’s ecosystem and establish diplomatic relations. The scientists emphatically were not egotists filled with hubris who were tampering with forces of nature they did not understand. And when they talked nerd talk, it’s presented as charming. They got geeked out and excited about the stuff they were seeing, and this was treated with affection for new discoveries. When Grace visits a new part of the world in order to try to treat her serious wounds, the first thing she says is “I have to take some samples!”

So the movie itself was thoroughly implausible all the way through, and the political aspects were annoyingly oversimplified. But treating scientists as real good guys and giving them believable reactions counts for something in my book.

Why I usually don’t argue with YouTube videos

This isn’t terribly important but I’m airing a minor grievance. People frequently email the TV crew to say “I saw this video on YouTube. Can you refute it?” Here’s why I usually refuse.

Frankly, I hate dealing with videos. Text is an asynchronous mode of communication, whereas video is synchronous. (“Synchronous” is a fancy-schmancy computer science major’s way of saying “dependent on time.”) See, when you’re arguing, the entire argument is part of an interconnected whole. Bits are presented that rely on other bits for validity. Grasping an argument is not like reading a story; you have you to bounce back and forth and cross reference things in order to understand them.

In a way, I think that’s why members of the creationist movement are so much in love with live debates, while being such miserable failures at validating their stuff through rigorous scientific publication. A weak argument is much more easily exposed when you can scroll back to an earlier part and double check for inconsistencies. In live format, once a point whizzes past, the words are lost in time and you have to rely on your memory of what was said. Obviously we do this ourselves on the Atheist Experience, discussing issues with callers in real time, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it changes the viewer’s experience, and you have to rely a little bit more on the claimed authority of the speakers since you can’t fact-check effectively in real time.

So YouTube is not quite the same as a live presentation, because you can easily move the time slider backwards and forwards to review what was said. But I still hate doing that, because there’s no effective search tool. There’s no index. Also, it is much harder to accurately quote the passage you’re responding to. Text is something I can copy and paste. With video, all I can do is hunt for approximately the right spot on the video, sit through parts of the monologue that I’m not using for a while, and then painstakingly transcribe the text while pausing frequently and scrolling back to make sure I got it right.

And finally, it’s time consuming. In text, all the words exist simultaneously on the page, and you can flip through and skim to find what you need fairly quickly. If there are large passages of obvious nonsense that don’t need to be addressed, it’s easy to detect where they begin and end. With video, all you can do is… watch the video. In a real-time debate, you can at least respond and influence the direction of the conversation in real time. Video is a flat, dead expanse of time that doesn’t listen to you.

Incidentally, this is yet another reason why I can’t stand watching Zeitgeist. I don’t so much mind responding to all those horrible arguments when they are laid out in text format. But I refuse to waste two hours of staring at a screen if there is no effective attempt to entertain.

What I’m saying is that movies are simply a terrible format for holding a serious argument, and the majority of the time if I get a link to a movie saying “Watch this” and nothing more, it’s probably getting archived and ignored. Other people on the TV list might sometimes answer it. But if you want a response to a movie-based argument from me, all I can suggest is that you either find a written version of the argument and present that, or sum up the main points that you find difficult.

And don’t even get me started on YouTube comments. Whoever tries to hold a serious discussion with people through short soundbites that are presented ten to a page and cycle off the front within minutes… all I can say is, may the FSM have mercy on your soul.

End of rant.

Thugs without Borders

Christians are having a big impact in Africa, it seems–especially those from the US.

In recent memory, we have:

Now, we have Christians spreading their bullshit theories on homosexuality in Uganda. Selling hatred of gays has been a big moneymaker for the religious right. They have lost quite a bit of momentum, in the US though. They have having more and more trouble painting gays as evil child molesters, given that so many real child molesters are religious leaders. (Can you say “projection“? I knew you could!) People just aren’t afraid anymore of same-sex couples that keep their yards a bit too neat and just want to get married. Perhaps the religious thugs thought they’d get more mileage out of their campaign in another country.

Apparently, their campaign was a bit too successful. Uganda is considering implementing what Christians here in the US have always wanted: laws that punish homosexuality with death–just like the BUYBULL sayz (Lev. 2o:13). We all know conservative Christians want to inflict Leviticus on their enemies, but ignore it otherwise.

But wait. Now US Christian groups are saying that they don’t think Uganda is doing a good thing by following the US Christians’ advice. Even some of the hard core homo haters like Rick Warren have had to backpedal. Apparently, God’s universal and absolute morality changes minute by minute depending on the financial needs of Christian groups and their ability to spin to the morons that fund them. We supposedly immoral atheists can see through your con and call you on it.

The constant in this equation is the religious exploitation of the poor and ignorant in whatever continent. …Just as they’ve always done. We could make the world a better place by separating the US government from these exploitative efforts. Let the Vatican and US Christian groups stand alone without sullying the US’s reputation on these efforts. Let’s call the exploitation of Africa a Christian initiative when it is, as in these cases. Let’s stop giving government subsidies and tax breaks to religious groups that promote hate and exploit people–even if that’s all of them. Finally, let’s put some of these people on trial for their crimes against humanity.

The engagement bug: worse than H1N1

Man, that thing gets around. First it was Kazim and E.E.A. Now, word is in from the wilds of Australia (which I refuse to call “Down Under” because that’s so 25 years ago) that our pals from Sydney Atheists, Alan Conradi and Rachel McAlpine, are plunging into connubial bliss. Alan popped the question to Rachel at five minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve, which apparently hits about three weeks before it does up here, making this somewhat old news. Still, photographic evidence indicates Rachel was appropriately gobsmacked!


Awwwwwwwwww, hooray! Alan and Rachel were pretty much already unopposed contenders for Cutest Atheist Couple anyway, so this effectively seals the deal. In blood.

In related developments, Zach, the Conradi family mascot, was spotted by paparazzi being fitted for his role as Best Man.


“I can haz Armani?”

Now, it looks like the happy couple haven’t really been keeping up with their blog over at Critical Mass for a while (I’m guessing they’re distracted), but that doesn’t mean you can’t go over there and wish them well all the same. Conversely, you could just do it here too. Whatever you choose, the only sure way to nurse the engagement bug is to have your friends embarrass you on an international scale. No better time to get that started!