A response to Ravi Zacharias’ “Six Questions to Ask an Atheist”-

Someone sent me a link to this via Facebook and after spending some time addressing it, I thought I’d post it here. It’s another long (though not insanely long) post, but it addresses the “questions” of a popular apologist that is often cited in e-mails from Christians.

Zacharias’ original text is in black and my responses are in red.

Many times, as Christian theists, we find ourselves on the defensive against the critiques and questions of atheists. Here, then are six key questions you can ask of atheists as you engage them in honest conversation about the trajectory of this worldview:

First, we need to clarify that atheism isn’t a worldview. There are no tenets, dogma or edicts because atheism isn’t an “ism”…it’s simply the label we use to identify a position on a single question; do you believe a god exists? If the answer is yes, you’re a theist, if not, you’re an atheist.

Atheism can be the result of a worldview and it is certainly consistent with a number of secular philosophical worldviews, so for the sake of this discussion I’ll address the questions without quibbling over that detail but it’s essential to point out that there’s an underlying misconception that tends to encourage theists to frame their questions in a way that doesn’t really make sense.

1. If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Where did everything come from, and why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life? Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end? How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier? If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, where do we look to determine what is good or bad, right or wrong? If you are content within an atheistic worldview, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?

The entire paragraph is an implied argument that if we haven’t yet explained the big questions (without making an appeal to the god hypothesis) that we’re then justified in accepting that a god exists. This is a thinly-veiled argument from ignorance, a classic logical fallacy.

In addition to that problem, the god hypothesis has no explanatory power. Explanations increase our understanding and we tend to explain things in terms of other things that we already understand.

Attempting to ‘answer’ the big question by appealing to the supernatural doesn’t accomplish this because it’s an attempt to solve a mystery by appealing to another mystery. That’s not an explanation; it’s a gap-filler. It doesn’t solve a mystery; it obscures it in an attempt to assuage our discomfort with the unknown.

How do we answer the big questions? The same way we’d answer any other question. First, we acknowledge that we don’t have an explanation and then we investigate until we do. The time to believe a proposed explanation is after it has been supported by argument and evidence – and not a moment before. Explanations are supported by evidence; they’re not supported by a failure to come up with a better response.

In the end, this question isn’t an implied argument for the existence of god; it’s an implied argument for belief as a means of placating curiosity and xenophobia. Accepting a pacifying non-answer retards progress toward discovering the real answer.

2. If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists taking their worldview more seriously like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault? These three atheists recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes. The experience of atheistic meaninglessness is recorded in Sartre’s book Nausea. Without God, these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.

The implication in this question is that if there is no transcendent, ultimate, externally imposed meaning that there can be no meaning. That’s a bit of an equivocation fallacy – conflating “meaning” and “transcendent meaning” and then spinning it into “atheistic meaninglessness”.

I have no crisis of meaning. A secular worldview doesn’t result in meaninglessness. My life has whatever meaning I attribute to it, and this would be true whether a god existed or not. Value is the result of desire and while he’d like to dismiss our “selfish interests, pleasures, or tastes” as negatives, that’s not the case. Our selfish interests can result in benefit or harm, all with respect to the things we value. He dismisses the very foundations of meaning in order to claim there is no meaning… that doesn’t sound like the “honest conversation” I’m looking for.

The broader, implied argument is that one should believe in a god because it’ll prevent you from feeling as though your life has no meaning. This is not an argument for the existence of a god; it’s an argument for belief which has no dependency on the object of that belief being true. It’s like arguing that one should believe that they’re holding a winning lottery ticket if it makes them happy.

The problem, of course, is that our beliefs inform our actions and our actions have consequences for ourselves and others. The person who sincerely believes that they hold a winning lottery ticket may well take actions that prove devastating when they discover they actually don’t have a winning ticket.

3. If people don’t believe in God, the historical results are horrific, so how do we deal with the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it? Countless millions lost their lives under these godless regimes, regimes more influenced by Nietzsche’s concept of the ubermensch (superman) than they were by transcendent morality.

Once again, we have an implied argument that has nothing to do with the actual existence of god but rather on the purported benefits of believing that a god exists; if people stop believing in gods, bad things will happen, so don’t stop believing.

The assertion that atheism leads to horrifying atrocities is simply not true. It’s a vile, slanderous charge, rooted in ignorance and deception that isn’t the slightest bit softened by Zacharias’ stylish, questioning form.

In the case of the examples given, atheism is neither necessary nor sufficient to be identified as the cause of the actions taken. In truth, the atrocities were the result of belief systems which, while consistent with atheism, are not caused by atheism. You simply cannot draw a causal chain from “I do not believe a god exists” to “I’m going to destroy religious organizations and religious people” without an additional belief — and it is that belief that would be the cause of the atrocities.

To claim otherwise is to claim that atheism necessarily leads to horrifying acts (which is what he’s trying to do) and there are millions of secular people who testify to the false nature of that assertion every single day.

Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot took actions based on beliefs that are akin to religions. They were powerful
zealots of socio-political ideologies and a belief that the opposition must be eliminated. To claim that those beliefs were caused by atheism is as much a non sequitur as claiming that they were caused by a stomach ache.

Hitler, on the other hand, gave conflicting reports about his beliefs. He publicly and privately identified as a Catholic, yet there’s also testimony that he was anti-religious or anti-Christian at times. If he had done great work, I suspect that the Christians would claim that he was opposed to organized religion, but a devoted, personal believer. Because of the atrocities he committed, they take a different tact, labeling him an atheist.

We can no more know Hitler’s true beliefs about the existence of gods than we can know the mind of any other. What we can know, though, is that even if he was an atheist, that wasn’t the cause of the actions he took. As Zacharias points out, it was the ideology of the Übermensch (among other beliefs) that encouraged those actions.

While that ideology is consistent with atheism (everything except for a belief in a god is consistent with atheism) it is not caused by atheism nor is it necessarily connected with atheism. It is not, though, consistent with modern secular humanism.

4. If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer? Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of it being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable, since no interventions in this life or reparations in an afterlife are possible. It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort. There is only madness and confusion in the face of suffering and evil.

His claim is that suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, if there is no God. This is another roundabout way of saying, “Hey, you might as well believe, you’ll be no worse off” — another argument for belief with no ties to the truth of the proposition one is being asked to believe. It reminds me a bit of the people who try to claim that atheism is “just another religion” without realizing the implication of what they’ve just said.

I disagree with his assessment, though, that suffering is just as or more tragic if there is no god.

If there isn’t a god, then suffering isn’t the result of original sin or impious thoughts and it isn’t a test from God or a torment from demons and devils. If there is no god, then suffering is a natural part of reality and that means that we can equip ourselves to alleviate unnecessary suffering by learning more about reality. We can also take comfort in knowing that the unavoidable is actually unavoidable and not punishment.

If there is no god, then those who blame natural disasters on immodest women, abortionists, homosexuals and atheists are simply arrogant bigots and not the voice of a deity. That’s no small comfort and, since we’re talking about the impact of suffering, that’s a valid point.

We do not require a god for comfort, we can reach out to other people and we can reach within, to the confidence and security that is bolstered by the understanding that one is not simply a plaything of a transcendent being.

5. If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most? Whose voice will be heard? Whose tastes or preferences will be honored? In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway? Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong — really wrong? Where do those standards come from? Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy. Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.

This is simply false. The standard by which I critique religion and religious people is not contingent upon the existence of a god. This is a thinly-veiled claim of “no moral authority” and it’s a bit like saying that a room full of people can have no opinions or shared principles without someone outside the room telling them what those views should be.

Secular morality is superior to religious morality in every regard, save one; religious morality is simplistic. Secular morality requires thought and effort, religious morality is for the lazy and the thoughtless — those who would be duped into thinking that something becomes ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for them, simply because of an edict attributed to some other being.

Religious people already intuitively recognize the superiority of secular morality and they’ve been adopting the moral views of the secular societies that surround them.

The Bible, for example, clearly and explicitly endorses slavery. For those who believe that the Bible is the ultimate source of moral law from the ultimate lawgiver, there is no moral justification for opposing slavery — yet that’s exactly what some of them did and what most of them continue to do. Nowhere does the Bible denounce slavery, it’s supported in Old and New Testaments; so why do Christians generally oppose slavery?

It’s because we live in a cooperative society which helps form and shift our values. While dogmatists were blindly proclaiming their god’s endorsement of slavery, freethinking people (religious and non-religious) were actually considering the subject and evaluating its impact on the health of society.

It was the application of reason that changed the moral landscape, not the God of the Bible.

6. If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent? How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why I am so unfulfilled or empty? Why do I hunger for the spiritual? How do we deal with these questions if nothing can exist beyond the material world? Atheists, particularly atheistic scientists go way beyond their scientific training when they depart from the “how” questions to prognosticating about the “why” questions. Even terms like “natural selection” seems a misuse of words, since only an intelligent being can assess options and choose. How do we get laws out of luck, or predictable processes out of brute chance? If all that makes us different from animals is learning and altruism, why do the brutish still widely outnumber the wise in our world?

He’s basically arguing that his desire for the transcendent can only be explained in a case where the transcendent exists. This is an obvious fallacy. If there are no aliens, why do people long for alien encounters? Does their desire only make sense if aliens are beaming messages to their brains?

More importantly, I have no longing for the transcendent and no hunger for the spiritual. If Ravi’s desire is sufficient to support the existence of the supernatural, then is my lack of desire sufficient to refute a claim of existence?

Finally, there are no “how” questions or “why” questions
— you can form the questions either way:

Why is the sky blue? How does the sky appear blue? What makes the sky appear blue? Where does the blue in the sky come from? When…well, maybe we can’t use every interrogative.

What he means by “why” would be better labeled “for what transcendent reason…”, but if he says that, he exposes a flaw that we can expose with another “why” question: Why do you think there must be a transcendent reason?

His answer to that question is obvious. He thinks there must be a transcendent reason because he can’t imagine that there couldn’t be and wouldn’t want to live in a world where there wasn’t a transcendent reason… yet another argument for belief or against the consequences of disbelief, with no bearing on the truth of the issue.

His claim that “natural selection” misuses words is a bit obtuse when you realize that the term is a metaphoric response to unsupported claims of supernatural mechanisms. Only someone unfamiliar with evolution or willing to misrepresent it to make a point would claim that this is a misuse. Would he object to someone claiming that something was “decided by a coin toss” since only an intelligent being can “decide”?

In the end, this is really the same as the first question: if there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered…

I think “does some god exist” qualifies as one of the big questions. If Zacharias was as interested in examining the truth of his religious beliefs as he is in defending his belief with appeals to the fictitious consequences of disbelief, he might see that.

We’ll have a hope of answering those big questions when curious thinkers, dissatisfied with appeals to mystery, question the claims of religion and investigate with any eye toward truth, rather than comfort.

We get email: another creationist punching bag

So today, there’s a fellow who’s shown up in our inboxes claiming, at different times, to be a “Christian Psychiatrist” (both words capitalized), a neuroscientist, and a physician, though his nick is “risky-kid,” which doesn’t sound like any doctor I want to see. I call bullshit. But maybe the guy got his degrees from Patriot University and that’s how they do things. Anyway, he caught me at the right time, and so if you wish to amuse yourself reading my beatdown, here ’tis. I’m in italics.

Caveat: you are likely to find the tone of this response extremely condescending and rude. This isn’t an apology, merely a heads-up. I’m afraid public displays of smug ignorance bring out the worst in me. It’s not a thing I feel I need to work on.

Subject: RE: I am a thiest I come in peace
To: [email protected]
Date: Thursday, May 13, 2010, 4:37 PM

My approach it an integrative evidence based approach, in which scripture and nature rightly understood always harmonize. If there are apparent contradictions I look for errors in both my understanding of scripture and my understanding of nature. I have found errors in both places over time.

What is your basis for considering scripture valid as evidence of anything in the first place?

I find Darwinian evolution held together only by an insistence on forcing evidence to be interpreted in ways that are favorable to that theory rather than actually letting the evidence speak for itself.

Good for you, but that only shows you fail to understand the evidence for evolution and how it shores up the theory.

The list of scientific evidence which refutes Darwinian evolution is enormous, but this email isn’t a place for me to recite all of such evidence.

Nope. Sorry. You don’t get to show up here and spout the same tired creationist canards without backing them up. And yes, we’re aware that there are loads of creationist websites out there making arguments against evolution that sound very scholarly and scientific. But has any of their research actually been reproduced by other people without an agenda to push? Where are the peer-reviewed articles demonstrating that evolution by natural selection has been refuted? I mean in legitimate, recognized scientific journals, not those the creationists print up to circulate amongst themselves.

Those biased by years of evolutionary education however have failed to see how subjective their thinking has become and instead criticize any interpretation that deviates from the “accepted” norm as “blind” or “faith” based.

Perhaps the “accepted norm” is “accepted” because it’s what the evidence actually supports. Seriously, you started out with basic scientific illiteracy and now you’re projecting the attitudes of creationists onto scientists, and you’re not even trying not to be lame about it.

Sorry, but until you show you actually know a damn thing about evolutionary biology, I see no reason to take any of this drivel seriously. If you wish any credibility for your claim that you have “read widely in the scientific literature”, simply demonstrate that you’re right and that you have the expertise you claim to have. Here is your assignment:

1. Explain endogenous retroviruses using the evolutionary model.
2. Explain the creationist alternative.
3. Demonstrate precisely how the latter refutes the former, with citations.
Extra Credit: Submit your work to Nature and win a Nobel Prize.

But when one has already concluded that creation didn’t happen, and evolution did, then all the evidence is filtered through a bias which prevents real learning.

Yeah, again, you seem to have covered the whole subject of projection pretty well in your training to be a “Christian Psychiatrist”. Of course, it could never be the case that someone who has already concluded there’s an invisible magic man in the sky filters evidence through that preconception, and has “real learning” prevented thereby.

As a physician, and particularly a neuroscientist, I do find the common theory that the brain evolved over millions of years to be unscientific.

Then I’m going to take a wild guess and conclude that you’re either A) not a neuroscientist B) a lousy neuroscientist.

I have never seen one scientific experiment, reproducible, in which any species, by forces of nature and environment grew new lobes onto its brain. This is what is commonly taught in the neuro literature and I ask what evidence to support this – of course there is none.

I thought you were familiar with the scientific literature. It took me precisely 2 seconds to Google this.

But tell me, where are the reproducible experiments that have shown Godidit? I mean, clearly, the scientific literature must be overflowing with them. Or is it that the Big Science Conspiracy has struck again, I wonder?

Really, only three things need to exist for evolution to occur, and they’re all things that we know exist: Sexual reproduction, heritable variation, and selection pressure. Perhaps you have some research that shows none of those things come into play in the process after all…?

Another equally resonable intepretation of the evidence is that a designer built and expanded His design to create variations on a theme. When we consider all the vehicles on the road from carts, to carriages, to bicycles, to autos, trucks etc. We can see various elements in common to all and order them from simple to complex, yet none would argue that these vehicles evolved on their own, all would rightly realize that designers included elements that are essential to the function of each (wheels) etc.

Yeah yeah yeah. And if you found a watch on the beach…

Honestly, there are 18-year-old biology freshmen who could explain selection to you. You’re making the basic creationist fallacy of comparing artifacts to natural organisms. The development from simplicity to complexity in evolutionary science really is Biology 101 stuff, and very widely understood by those, unlike you, actually versed in the field. Seriously, your remedial education begins here.

If that doesn’t interest you, then demonstrate, please, that the concept of a designer is scientifically falsifiable. What would a non-designed lifeform look like?

Therefore, I do not believe science has provided reasonable evidence to conclude a naturalistic explanation, and rather I find the weight of evidence for a designer

Huh? Then where is that evidence? All you’ve shown us is what you consider “reasonable interpretations” of evidence you haven’t even convinced us you understand at a baseline level. (Indeed you’ve shown pretty unambiguously that you don’t.) And all you backed that up with is whining about how you think scientists are all biased and subjective for not seeing your god in everything. You also seem to think that “integrating” modern scientific evidence with the writings of a Bronze Age holy book produced by an ignorant, pre-scientific, and primitive culture that barely even had indoor plumbing to be a valid approach to researching this vast and complex field. Which, frankly, makes about as much sense as figuring out how to get a girlfriend by integrating your actual interactions with women with the experiences of Archie and Peter Parker in comic books. In other words, you have something of a credibility deficit here.

and in fact find two antagonistic principles at play throughout the entire earth ecosystem – what I term the law of love, which is the principle of life, and the survival of the fittest principle (fear and selfishness) which is an infection which damages and brings death. Viruses, as I see it are examples of the infection to creation which damages and destroys, their very function is merely self replication and take without giving, and results in destroying the host and
itself in the end. This is exactly what sin is and does, selfishness, taking, destorying and dying.

Well I guess I have gone on long enough.

Long enough for me to conclude you are either not being truthful about being an actual neuroscientist widely read in the literature, or that academic standards for people in your profession have crashed through the floor. Perhaps you got your degree from Patriot University?

Talk about last minute…

…But the Texas Freedom Network has sent the information for registering to speak at the next Texas SBOE hearings on social studies curriculum standards. So if you are in Austin and wish to speak — and the fundies who simply love the new “it’s all about white Christians!” standards will almost certainly be trying to fill the rolls — you gotta get up pretty early in the morning.

1. You have to register to testify with the Texas Education Agency. TEA will accept registration on Friday, May 14, 2010 from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Registration is on a first-come, first-serve basis, so it is beneficial to register as early as possible on Friday. You can either register by phone by calling 512-463-9007, download a form by clicking here and fax it to 512-936-4319 or hand deliver the form to the William B. Travis State Office Building. The building address is 1701 N. Congress Ave. Austin, TX. (Click here for a google map).

2. Click here to download the form you will need to register with the TEA. Here is some information to help you fill out your form. The hearing date is May 19. Item to be addressed is Social Studies TEKS, and the grade level you will be testifying about: elementary, middle school, or high school. You will need to bring 35 hard copies of your testimony with you to give to the board members. If you represent an organization or business, please indicate that in the section marked “affiliation”; otherwise indicate “parent” or “self”. Do not mark your affiliation as TFN. TFN will have only one official spokesperson that day.

3. The hearing will take place at the William B. Travis State Office Building, 1701 N. Congress Ave., Austin. The hearing will be on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 9:00 a.m. (Click here for a google map). The hearing room is 1-104.

4. Parking is limited. There is street parking around the William B. Travis State Office Building that is metered, and we recommend parking at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum garage. (Click here for information on the parking garage).

5. We suggest you also look over the general rules for public testimony and the registration process created by the Texas Education Agency by clicking here.

6. You only have 3 minutes to give your testimony, so it is important to state your main points clearly and quickly.

7. Please click here to read the proposed social studies standards.

The narrow window is to keep the rolls thin so everyone won’t be there till one in the morning, and I’m sure the McLeroy/Leo bloc hopes they can pack it with the church crowd. If you wish to speak, well, I hope this post gets to you in time.

A Surprising Opinion

I met a professional paleontologist recently. We seemed to share some similar opinions on the Texas State Board of Education. But we parted views when I heard that he has presented before to Evangelicals, and that he has told them, when confronted, that he cannot comment on the validity of the theory of Intelligent Design.

“Really?” I asked. “You can’t assess the validity of ID as a theory? But it’s not falsifiable—it makes no predictions.”

He said that Evolutionary Theory makes no predictions. And this stunned me. He qualified it by restating it “makes only contingent predictions.”

We were walking as we talked, and had to quickly part ways based on where we were each headed, but I decided to look up his statement to see the meaning of “contingent prediction.” It appears that this means that it doesn’t make predictions along the lines of a physics formula—mathematically precise. I found this odd, because this, to me, would be an irrelevancy whether true or not true.

The actual concern, in my view, is that we do know there are things about this world that would be very different, indeed—demonstrably so—if evolution were not a reality. And the same cannot be said for Intelligent Design—because the mechanism—the intelligent designer—is not examinable. Evolution as a mechanism, on the other hand, is very much examinable.

If evolution were untrue, for example, I would not expect to have successful domestic breeding programs. How would breeding individuals with certain, specific phenotypes even hope to produce increased numbers of offspring that also demonstrate those phenotypes, if phenotypic data is not relayed by reproduction in some fashion? If humans did not observe or discover that you can relay traits from one generation to the next with increased frequency by artificially selecting for them in breeding—domestic breeding would never have even been attempted. Evolution through artificial selection is tried and true. Who could possibly deny it?

Or, what if we had discovered that organisms of different species, at a genetic level, bear no evidence of relationships to one another? What if my biology was incomparable to that of a chimpanzee? As distantly related as to a squid or a fly? Or what if none of us appeared to be related at all? Why should some animals be more or less “like me”? Why would we do medical testing, for drugs or treatments ultimately intended for use in humans, on animals like rats and chimpanzees and pigs, rather than spiders or goldfish? Would you feel as safe using a drug that was tested on a spider prior to use in humans, rather than on another mammal?

Or, how is it that, in digging for fossils, field scientists can predict the types of life forms one will find in a given area at a given depth representing a specific point in our Earth’s history? Would you think it a good prediction that we would find human fossils digging in a location known to represent the Mesozoic Era? Why not?

How has speciation been observed in both natural and laboratory environments—if it doesn’t occur naturally via evolution? How did it happen?

Any of these things, and I’m sure many others not mentioned, would be a problem for Evolutionary Theory if it had turned out to be different than it was. That is because Evolution does predict a particular type of reality that can absolutely turn out to be different than predicted.

But what does Intelligent Design predict? What sort of world is not the type of world an intelligent god would produce? Would horrid birth defects throw a wrench in it? Would flightless birds? Blind fish with residual eyes? Volcanoes? Tsunamis? Earthquakes? Plagues? Famine? Pestilence? Utopia?

Seriously—what is the difference between a world nature and natural laws would have generated without an intelligent designer, and one that a god—or intelligent designer—would have produced? What would falsify Intelligent Design? Evolution has put its cards on the table; and, over the decades, the findings have only upheld Darwin’s core concept: Populations absolutely change over time due to variation in information that is passed from one generation to the next.

Evolution is a reality—a fact anyone can observe. We all understand—or should by this time—that we don’t find the exact same sets of animals going back through the fossil record, as the ones we have today. The changes have been demonstrably grand, resulting in very different life forms in our modern world than what existed long, long ago.

I wish I would have had time to ask on what grounds a man of science scoffs at the Texas State Board of Education for it’s handling of biology textbooks, if he truly believes that science cannot assess the validity of something like Intelligent Design, and also that it offers no more in the way of falsification than Evolution? Since he and I agree the Board mishandled the biology standards—what is his basis for his view, if religious “theories” are just as valid, in his professional opinion as a paleontologist, as demonstrated models used in modern biological research?

Ray Comfort recovers World’s Stupidest Christian™ title from Denyse O’Leary

Just in case you were worried. See how much pure, unadulterated Raytardation you can catalog in this single passage.

Evolution has no explanation for man’s beginning. Some of its believers think that perhaps there was a big bang, but they don’t know where the materials came from for it to take place. They don’t know what was in the beginning, but they are certain that there was no God. They believe the scientific absurdity that life rose out of non-life. It was simply a case of evolution-did-it.

Truly, I’m amazed the guy survives from day to day with such a profound lack of basic intelligence.

Here’s more, if you think your poor skull can take it.

How to mismanage a call on live TV…

I knew we’d get feedback about one of the calls from yesterday’s show and I’d like to post a brief comment in order to avoid getting a ton of feedback.

There’s a serious problem with the phones. In short, there are many occasions where the caller simply cannot hear us when they’re talking. The studio’s Telos system is supposed to be full-duplex but most of the time it doesn’t work properly. There are several possible causes:

1. The audio system simply isn’t wired correctly (no mix-minus setup).
2. The Telos device simply isn’t adjusted correctly.
3. Some other part of the audio system is over-driving the Telos such that it can’t be adjusted correctly.
4. The device simply won’t work effectively at all times due to the nature of taking calls from all around the world on both land lines and cell phones.

I’m not an audio engineer, so I can’t say for certain, but we have the exact same device at my place for the Non-Prophets show and it took a great deal of tweaking to get it to work correctly (and it still acts up from time to time). We take a test call before every show and attempt to make sure that everything is working correctly…but we’re unable to identify the problem. (The test calls tend to work just fine.)

Yes, I’d happily pay for a real audio engineer to come in and fix the problems in the studio – but I’m not allowed to do that. We are, though, doing everything in our power (which may not be much) to get it fixed.

So, what happened yesterday? Well, the caller couldn’t hear us talking when he was talking. Jeff didn’t realize this and thought the caller was being rude (not much of a stretch when he called to talk about how dangerous “new atheists” were and then failed to support the claim at every point)…so Jeff got irritated. The caller responded in kind, and things spiraled downward from there.

At some point, I lost my cool and yelled at everyone to shut up. Sorry about that, luckily the compressor/limiter works and I doubt I blew out anyone’s eardrums.

What I should have done was just put the caller on hold, take a moment to explain the problems to everyone and work out a plan that would actually allow both of them to talk…but honestly, I was already sick of the caller’s dishonesty.

He had called in to claim that “new atheists” were dangerous. He shifted this claim, when it was shot down, to “reductionist materialists” were dangerous, yet the only danger he identified was a danger to his ability to be comfortable with ideas that departed from his own…followed by the tired old slippery slope claim that if we recognize that humans are “merely” matter and energy, then we’re no different from a rock and we must then toss aside our humanity.

He claimed to “know” that humans are more than matter and energy, because he’s somehow managed to discover that it’s impossible for us to “merely” be matter and energy and then he announced that he was a solipsist.

We hung up on him. A later caller wanted to clarify solipsism by defending philosophical solipsism (soft solipsism?) – which is, for me, a waste of time. That position is almost tautological (it’s flawed in ignoring logical absolutes) and largely irrelevant as it simply points out that we can only be absolutely certain about the self. Jeff and I had initially responded to the more colloquial usage of solipsism (hard solipsism?) that expands on this to establish a belief that only the self exists or is likely to exist.

In any case, I’d like to apologize to everyone, including Jeff, for losing my cool. We had an annoying caller, a problem with the phone (that I’ve been frustrated with for quite a while) and it all led up to a mismanaged call.

I’ll make more judicious use of the hold button and we’ll keep pushing for them to fix the phone system.

George Rekers is a bigger whore than his own rentboy

Whenever one of these secretly-gay fundamentalist homophobes manages unintentionally to out himself with the usual Keystone Kops subtlety, one thing can be counted on always to happen. Folks like us will be passing around yummy slices of schadenfreude pie, and at some point during the party, amidst all the gloating and off-color jokes about a man’s “luggage,” someone will sincerely wonder why the secretly-gayest of all Christians are the most virulently, vocally homophobic.

There’s a complex psychological answer to this, of course, having much to do with the cognitive trauma endured by a lifetime of Christian indoctrination that is often and repeatedly at odds with reality, and the way such indoctrination is designed expressly to tear down the believer’s self-esteem so as to rebuild it with Christianity at the center of it. But in some cases, there’s also a painfully simple answer as well. Take old George Rekers. In a very meaningful way, what prompted his homophobic crusade was the crassest of all human motives. It paid big bucks. Your big bucks, if you happen to be a Floridian.

Turns out that Rekers banked a handsome $120,000 of taxpayers’ money when the state of Florida paid for his services as an “expert witness” against a gay man trying to adopt a child. Money, as the writer of the linked article points out bitterly, which could have gone to some needy school district or something. And he’s done it before, once in Arkansas where his input was dismissed as “worthless” by a judge. But Rekers still got to keep his fee. That kind of money will certainly pay for a lot of high-end designer-label cock luggage.

Rekers has made his living as a homophobe-for-hire, spewing worthless, unscientific opinions in courtrooms with the goal of destroying peoples’ dreams of a family of their own. And he did it for money. All the while living the life he condemned, smugly convincing himself, I have no doubt, that by punishing others for his own “sins” he was balancing the moral books. Congrats, George, you just leveled up your “Scum” attributes as high as they can go. At least your hunky “Lucien” never pretended to be something he was not!

McLeroy’s moronity gets press across the pond

Just in time for the end of his SBOE career, Texas’ moron du jour Don McLeroy is profiled in this piece in the Times. Unlike the mealy-mouthed faux journalism of the US, where everyone is expected to play nice and all views no matter how foolish are to be accorded “respect,” McLeroy here is unambiguously painted as a pants-on-head ignorant ideologue openly attempting to politicize education. Just another reason to be grateful he’s been shown the door.

“I love science,” he protests. Of course you do, Mac. Like priests love kids.

But…but…it makes no SENSE!

Welcome to Florida, where they hate teh gayz, but are apparently pretty open-minded about furries. The Sunshine State goes out of its way to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying or even adopting (though their adoption ban has been ruled unconstitutional), and yet they just can’t seem to muster up the energy to ban bestiality.

But here’s what I find confusing, even by the standards of wingnut tomfoolery. Aren’t these folks the ones who believe that homosexuality leads to bestiality? Aren’t they the ones telling us that buttsecks and being fabulous is just a gateway drug to boning Fido? I mean, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and our ol’ buddy Pat seem to think so, and many others in the I’m-Not-Repressing-Anything-No-I-Mean-It Brigade agree. So is it Florida’s position, then, that while The Gay is a threat to the very fabric of our society that must be eradicated at all costs, the presumably-ickier kinks it apparently leads to aren’t really much to be worried about? Wouldn’t it follow that if homosexuality really corrupts society, then bestiality would be a total apocalyptic leghump for the whole planet? But if they’re now saying bestiality is a “rare crime” that it would be a waste of time dealing with legislatively, then aren’t they admitting that Huck and Pat and Rick and those guys are (gasp!) wrong!? But how could they be lying to us? They’re good Christians! Gah! Dealing with these people makes my poor head* throb. I need a cookie.

*I mean the one on my shoulders. Geez, you people…