Pretty crappy for a miracle, I’d say

Following up on our earlier miracles post, a viewer emailed Tracie with some other examples of miracles and, while not entirely endorsing them, still seemed to think there might be something to them. One of these was the story of eight Catholic missionaries who supposedly survived the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima without so much as a scratch, or any trace of radiation poisoning in their bodies. I responded to the effect that, if this story were true, it would paint a rather unpleasant picture of God.

First, I couldn’t find any source for this claim that was not from a Catholic site, or that didn’t simply copy-and-paste the exact text from said sites. So until I see something credible from a neutral, scientific source, I have to remain skeptical of the claim, since I am well aware of religion’s history of coming up with all kinds of miraculous claims.

But it’s known that some people survived the bomb, even those very close, if they were in structures that managed to absorb the worst of the explosion. In fact, this year marked the death of 93-year-old Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. I just happened to know about him because he was featured in a Cracked.com article a few days ago.

But think again of what this miracle claim is really saying below the surface. The atomic bomb at Hiroshima killed an estimated 150,000-200,000 people instantly. Many of these people were women and children.

And we are supposed to be in awe of a “miracle” in which, out of all those people, God chose to save not any women, children, or little babies — but eight missionaries!? Uh, thanks a lot, asshole.

If this were actually a miracle, it would be the miracle of a god so completely morally reprehensible and evil that it would not be sufficient to disbelieve in him. The only morally appropriate act would be to angrily repudiate and reject him. Seems to me the Church really ought to rethink using this one as part of their sales pitch.

Presenting the most offensive email we’ve ever gotten

And it’s not even Christian hate mail. Hell, that stuff’s almost always penny ante.

No, this is someone who claims to be a fan, but who has his head…well, let’s just say that the attitudes expressed here reflect a level of clueless douchebaggery and stupidity that I’ve rarely seen. I suppose this way of thinking might fly in the Christian Quiverfull community, or among 13-year-old boys who’ve learned everything they think they know about females from torrenting Girls Gone Wild videos. But to hear it coming from an (choke) admirer of ours is creepy to say the very least. One gets the impression he’s the sort of fellow who wonders why women only want to go out with “jerks” and not “nice guys” like him.

Why post it here? Simply because I think this is the sort of thing that deserves public shaming. Rock-stupid condescension and male-entitlement attitudes like this continue to thrive when those who express them are brushed off with a “boys will be boys” dismissal, rather than being subjected to the castigation they deserve. So, castigate away.

Subject: message for jen peeps

hi,

I think you’re great, and your current look is excellent suits you very well.

I am only saying the following advice because you’re good and thus deserving of my advise

You look hot here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7w7hOv47Y4
this seems to be your current look

Long hair is very important.

It’s a minority that look reasonably good with short hair, and even those that do, would almost always look better with long hair.

You look bad with short hair.. As in
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsaOL85jx9Q
It might be better if I don’t elaborate on that or get too blunt, because women can burst into tears over that kind of thing.. and you’re nice I don’t want you to burst into tears or even to get upset. And there’s no reason to, this is a very positive message that you look hot -now-. and that it’s so easy for you just don’t cut your hair short. And since you’re so logical, I know you will take this message as a positive thing since it should be, and it’s not spun either.

A secondary issue, is your clothing in that older video is frumpy rather than modern-sexy.. women usually look sexier in a t-shirt than in frumpy clothing, and you are no exception. I know you’re not trying to look sexy even when you do.. but no point dressing in a frumpy way. Really since i’m a guy I don’t care about type of clothes.. but as a woman you’re familiar with clothes and you’d understand if I said your clothing there was frumpy.. and it was. The recent video where you wore the t-shirt is better than the frumpy clothes.. though you’d look hot either way.. since as I said clothing was secondary. From a guy’s perspective, something less frumpy might not hide you as much. I hope you get a nice partner, like Russel , a particular hero of mine, and have lots of intelligent logical discussion and kids like you two! or like almost any on AE, at least 5 or 6 of you are incredible and really leading atheist thinkers.

In 15 years you’ll look quite bad.. and after that you’ll look as disgusting to a man(A man with standards) as any other very middle aged woman is just expired and at different stages part their expiration date. So look good and sexy and enjoy the experience while you can. And be glad that you can..

I am very happy that you are hot, because you deserve to be!

Having too good a day to be annoyed by religion

It’s a gorgeous day in Austin today. Cold, but sunny and blue. In a few minutes, I’ll throw on the old hoodie, fire up the old iPod, leash up the old dog, and take a walk in the old park. Might even look for that old geocache that eluded me last time. In all, it’s simply too awesome a day, and, as the sort of godless person who does his best to make each day count knowing I don’t have an eternity of them waiting for me in Candyland, it’s entirely conducive to my best of moods.

Which is why I just don’t have any incentive to get all riled up by a text I got from a Christian acquaintance of mine this morning which read Merry christmas. Thank god for the gift that keeps on giuing ‘jesus (Errors in the original, but most people text without regard to proper spelling, capitalization and punctuation.)

The confrontational nature of communication between believers and atheists is a matter that often takes center stage. Having been involved in AETV since 1999, it’s not as if I shy away from such confrontation. I frequently enjoy it. I’m also a firm believer in holding the feet of believers to the fire, so to speak, to force them to argue competently for their beliefs and listen with some degree of actual understanding to atheists’ rebuttals.

Still, sometimes I find it fun to sit back, watch a believer do what he does, in situations where no forceful rebuttal is needed because the fail is apparent from the outset. Take Mike (not his real name), this fellow who texted me. Now, he and I get along in person. He knows I’m an atheist. When we talk, we don’t argue religion, not because I don’t want to, but because I’m perfectly happy to let him make the choice of whether or not to do that, knowing I can pretty well deflect anything his ORU theology degree can throw.

What Mike does is, in a way, more entertaining. He tries very passive-aggressive — often to the point of indifference — forms of proselytizing. You’d think a fellow armed with a bachelor’s in theology (which I don’t see as being any more relevant to reality than a similar degree in Star Wars Trivia) would have few worries about his game. But instead of taking me on with overwhelming force and shock and awe, he’s done things like play soppy Christian pop and R&B on the occasions we carpooled. (There are some good singers on those R&B tracks, I will admit.) So, it’s like a challenge. But it’s more like throwing down a mitten than a gauntlet.

When it was my turn to drive, I wouldn’t play Dimmu Borgir or Scandinavian death metal in retaliation. I wouldn’t play music at all — so he could sleep. Did he notice that gesture? Did he notice I was taking the high road? Did he notice, especially, that I was saying to him, “Okay, your approach here? It’s so not working.” Probably not, I don’t know.

It’s like this. You’d all agree that as atheists, we live good and happy lives without gods, invisible or otherwise, guiding our days. Christians see this, and it disconcerts them. It doesn’t fit the narrative they’ve been sold all their lives. So here we are, living the positive atheist life, and religion is this thing that people keep wanting to put in our way. It’s like the old story (is it one of Sagan’s? it might be…) about the two guys admiring a beautiful garden, and one says to the other, “You know, there are fairies tending this garden, that’s why it’s so beautiful.” Huh? Why can’t the beautiful garden be admired on its own, without introducing imaginary and superfluous fairies into the picture?

I get the idea Mike has been looking for that opening with me, but not in such a way that I’ll be alienated. In its way, this text marks something of an escalation, in that it’s the first time he’s come right out and directed a Jesusy remark to me. That it’s the kind of thing you’d read in a greeting card means the level of conviction he’s willing to put behind it still doesn’t entail too much risk. But the point is I saw this coming, more or less, and am utterly unruffled by it.

I’d be the last person to deny that many forms of Christian proselytizing are not nearly so harmless and feeble. In fact, just this morning we got an email from a viewer describing a distressing situation a friend of his is facing and asking for advice.

My question is in regards to a friend’s situation at work. He was told by his boss that his hours were being cut from 3 twelve hour days to 2 twelve hour days per week and that he needed to use this time to find god. He was also told to email a response to his boss about how he was going to find god. His boss is a fundamentalist Christian and we live is South Carolina. I know that this is illegal and completely asinine but I need some advice on how to encourage him. He needs to keep his job to support his family but he does not want to conform to his boss’s demands. He is not an atheist or if he is he is not out yet. His wife is a Christian and even she knows that its wrong. How can I help him?

This is, of course, the most egregious sort of bullying. I hope our correspondent takes my suggestion to have his friend contact the ACLU at once. More often than not, religion is exactly this appalling in its disregard for common decency, and in all such cases it must be smacked down forcefully.

But then there are situations like Mike and his text message, that put a little grin on my face because they reveal just how weak the whole enterprise really is. Did Mike think hearing CD after CD of silly Christian songs might woo me to the Lord? Mostly, I couldn’t help noticing how the lyrics of every single one of these songs had the same trite message: “My invisible friend is totally awesome!” And then all I could think was, “Dude, you went to college and got a degree in a discipline designed to do nothing more than slap a veneer of intellectual respectability on the inane sentiments of these lyrics? Yeah, ‘heaven’ forbid you’d actually want to be a doctor or scientist.”

I mean, when it’s all shown in this light, proselytizing is simply funny. I look at the sort of half-hearted evangelism reflected in this text message, and I find myself playing the role (okay, work with me here, people) of an attractive woman in a bar who’s just heard Lame Line #563 from the fifteenth clueless beta-male who’s tried to approach her all evening. What do these women do in situations like this? Sure, they could laugh in the guy’s face, berate him in front of his and her friends until he dissolves into a puddle of ectoplasmic humiliation on the floor. But what these women usually do is simply walk away. Lameness of such lameitude barely merits notice, let alone an impassioned retort.

I’m sure some atheists would get a text like I got, and fire back with everything they’ve got. Dude, fuck u! I’m an ATHEIST and Christmas is bullshit ripped off from Saturnalia anyway. So stick ur Bible up ur ass sideways!!! Again, I saw this coming, and I don’t rise to the bait quite so easily. I did finally text Mike back: Hope you’re having a great Christmas! And I’ll just leave him scratching his head over that.

Like I said, I’m having a lovely day.

A belated note on Isaac Newton’s birthday

Happy Newtonmas, everyone. (And most importantly, happy birthday to my Non-Prophets partner in crime Gia Grillo!) Here’s an announcement I epically borked, but hopefully I can make up for it. The fine crew of Seattle’s Ask an Atheist is shifting to AM radio in January. They have run up against a phenomenon that is sweeping cable television nationwide: to wit, the loss of public access channels. Very few cities now have those any more, let alone the ability to offer shows that take live calls. In that regard, we’re still quite lucky down here Austin way.

The gang held a benefit comedy show earlier this month, which I totally failed to announce in time. But they are still accepting donations on their site to make the transition easier. Best wishes to Mike Gillis and the rest of the SeaTac crew in the continuation of their fine contribution to godless media! We need more dedicated shows around the country and globe. And not so long ago, AETV felt like a tiny oasis in an endless desert…

On changing minds

In a previous thread, someone wrote: “While debating with a theist can be as invigorating as playing chess, one should bear in mind that it’s doing them harm. It’s driving them deeper into their psychosis.”

This is simply not true, and yet it’s unfortunately a very common meme among the “Don’t be a dick” crowd. As a counterpoint, I’d like to share a letter we received a few months ago. I don’t post stuff like this often, as it would come across as too self-congratulatory, but I do want to remind everyone that people sometimes change their minds.


For context: This guy originally wrote to us in January. He wrote that seeing the show was causing serious doubts in his own Christian beliefs. He then went on to say:

I was wondering, if there is no higher power, how you would justify morality in an atheist at all? Please don’t misunderstand, as a young person on the verge of apostasy, I’m not saying that atheists have no morals, although I have met ‘christians’ who have claimed as much. After all, if there is no higher power, then there is no objective truth, ergo no objective morality, meaning all morality is subjective. If that is the case, then to say that a murderer is immoral is surely a fallacy, as he no doubt acted as his morals saw fit. If morality is subjective, then he is as moral for acting out the murder he saw as moral as you are for not acting out a murder you saw as immoral.



I wrote back and we discussed the morality issue for a while. The angle I took on this was the Euthyphro Dilemma, though I usually don’t refer to it by name. I like to explore the concept that a God-given morality is somehow objective in a way that human consensus-derived morality is not. In the course of three more exchanges between us, and some messages from Tracie thrown in, we discussed slavery; we discussed the story of Jephthah; we talked about what kind of commands God could issue that would be considered by this person to be immoral.

After a while he said that they were hard questions but he still felt like there must be a god. The conversation petered out.

In September I received this:



Hi, Mr. Glasser,


I doubt you remember me, but we had a discussion about religion and so on just under a year ago. I have since become an atheist and I thought I’d drop you an e-mail to thank you. The video I e-mailed about in the first place was the first real faith-shaking material I had come into contact with, and from there I kept investigating my religion scientifically, historically and morally. Obviously, I found it wanting and, as I said earlier, have since renounced it. I thought I’d let you know a few of the final arguments in convincing me that the bible, at least, is wrong, not really in case you hadn’t heard them (I’m sure you have), but rather because, since our discussion must have been frustrating for you, I’d like you to know. One is that the God of the bible forced us into sin, and therefore knowingly and willingly condemned literally billions of people to hell by creating the Eden situation in the first place, for he knew what would happen but did nothing to change it. This is an act of incredible cruelty, and is unjustifiable, giving trouble even to my own father (a minister). That’s a moral argument, I suppose, but also shows a biblical contradiction (if God is all loving and unchanging then this act (among dozens of notable others) should be impossible). The second is the fallibility of the bible. I wonder if you knew that Luke, in his gospel, lists 28 generations between Joseph, Jesus’ father, and David, whereas Matthew gives 41. On top of that, the census Luke wrote about never happened, and the local census upon which it may have been based happened long after Herod’s death.

Those are just a few, but anyway, thanks again for showing me another way of thinking, and it’s thanks in part to you guys and what you’re doing that I am being fascinated and amazed every day by the way that the world works without resorting to the ‘Don’t ask questions, God did it’ train of thought.





So. I have been asked, on a few occasions, whether arguing with people about atheism ever changes people’s minds. My answer is always “Very rarely, and the changes are usually minor but positive.” This is what I would consider a happy exception.

How useful is faith for obtaining knowledge?

This is a typical conversation between a theist and an atheist, and in fact something very much like it occurred over a lengthy series of back-and-forth comments on this blog last week. Please excuse this paraphrase; I want to boil the conversation down to its most important features, and I hope I’ve portrayed the theist accurately.

Theist: “God must exist. Unless there is a god, many features of the universe are unexplainable.”

Atheist: “What’s your explanation for God?”

Theist: “Don’t be ridiculous! We can’t explain God. He is outside of time and space, and cannot be understood by mere human minds.”

Atheist: “But then how do you know that a god exists? Do you have evidence?”

Theist: “Of course I do! The universe is evidence for God.”

Atheist: “The universe definitely exists, but that’s got nothing to do with providing positive evidence for god. Your argument about having ‘no other explanation’ is just special pleading, granting yourself the authority to invent something that is also unexplained. Not only does it not solve the problem, it invents new ones. So again: Do you have evidence that there is any such thing as a god?”

Theist: “Don’t be absurd! Since God is beyond our understanding, we must rely on faith.”

Atheist: “That seems like a really bad strategy for actually finding out what is true.”

Theist: “Nonsense! Just think about all the other things that scientists accept without complete evidence.”

The theist then proceeds to list some of the usual suspects, starting with abstract concepts like “Love” and “Beauty,” and then including some of the vaguer outliers of speculative scientific theories such as aspects of quantum mechanics and string theory.

Let me set aside for a moment the issue of how some things are more or less firmly accepted within the scientific realm based on how good the evidence is; how there are “hard” sciences and “soft” sciences; and how the ideas that individual scientists hold to be true personally is often separate from what they claim as scientific knowledge. I just want to ask some stuff about applying faith to claim knowledge.

Is faith sufficient? If you hold a belief in something without evidence deeply, sincerely, and completely, then does it follow that it is true? Or do you require faith and some component of evidence in order to accept something as true? In what ratios do they apply?

If the answer is “Faith alone is sufficient to establish truth” then let me ask this. Suppose that a Muslim comes up to you and says the following:“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet. Allah has no son and there is no other god accompanying Him. All that we know of Him is revealed in the Qur’an. Believers in Christ are heretics and infidels who tell lies about the one true God. The reward for faith in Allah, Muhammad, and the Most Holy Qur’an is Jannah, an eternity of pleasure and sexual delights.”



Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this fellow is sincere and earnest in his belief, and holds his faith every bit as strongly as you hold yours.


My question is: What is it that would compel an outside observer to accept your faith as correct and his as wrong?

Today’s Show: Deconstructing a Miracle

Since we’re only on for an hour now, I’m not sure how much time we’ll have for a topic, but if we have time, I would like to address the following miracle claim I was confronted with in a recent dialog:

Out of curiosity though, I ask how you can scientifically prove how this happened:

A young girl, between the ages of 3 & 4 drowns and dies. A man who has failed every CPR test in his life, brings her back to life. Later on, she tells her mother that she has a little sister named Emily. Emily does not exist. The little girl says she does. When asked who told her this, she said a lady in white did in a white room. Keep in mind the hospital had no white rooms where she was at and the nurses were not wearing white. Later on the mother is pregnant, the little girl says this is not Emily. It is not. It is a boy. Later on the mother is pregnant again, same thing happens, another boy. The family decides they are not going to have anymore children, but then the mother gets pregnant one more time. The little girl says this is Emily. A girl is born.

For the record, this is a true story, with many witnesses. How is it that this little girl saw this lady in white in a white room while she was dead and then predicted the birth of her sister?

This is why I am not atheist because I believe something or someone does exist and there is some kind of place after death besides six feet under or ashes.

Not to give too much away, but to skip to the end of the discussion, after making a few requests for clarification from the claimant, this miracle is exactly as impressive as saying “Yesterday I flipped a coin, and before it landed, a little child shouted ‘tails!’—and it did land on tails. How do you explain this?!”

Hope you’ll be there for the live feed!

Oh, we’ve hit the big time now for sure!

Today I was made aware of a Facebook group called — are you ready? — “catholics against ‘the atheist experience'”. That I know of, this is the first expressly anti-AETV Facebook group yet formed. Not that it’s a big thing or anything, with only 55 members at this point, the vast majority of whom appear to be atheists. The Wall posts are a blast to read.

Saith the group’s creator, Nathan Boucher, who is only two years out of high school…

so i came across this video today on youtube about these atheists who have a show…Now it is freedom of speech but what really annoyed me was the host was totally bashing catholics and he actually gave out the audience consecrated hosts or what he said were.

its not right to make fun and mock that which you don’t understand!

Which I do believe can be roughly summarized as “hurr de durp durrr.” I suspect Mr. Boucher is referring to this clip here.

First, the fact that students in this country continue to graduate from high school with writing skills as abysmal as the above remains this country’s greatest shame. Secondly, we don’t make fun of and mock the church and its practices — both spiritual, like communion, and material, like boy-fucking — because we do not understand them, but because we do. Religion promulgates ignorance, medievalism, tribalism, and anti-intellectualism, and protects the grossest immorality under the shield of its authority. Frankly, mockery of such vile filth is fairly light treatment. What we should be doing is arranging to have Pope Ratzo arrested and imprisoned for life. We’ve been letting the Church off lightly if all they can whine about is mockery and ridicule.

No Phones for next Sunday’s show

Many of you are probably aware that the phone system in the TV studio wasn’t working last Sunday and the crew did whatever they could to make a workable show out of the situation.

I’ve just been informed that the phone situation will not be resolved in time for next Sunday’s show. Tracie and I are scheduled to be on that show, and it’ll be the last show of the year. I don’t want to try to find a last-minute solution using Skype (though we’ll look at this for the future) and I’m not going to try to wade through the muck in the UStream chat to find something interesting..so here’s the plan:

I will pick out a few relevant news stories and a few interesting e-mails (Tracie is welcome to have a few of her own), and we’ll spend part of the show discussing these.

I’d also like to have a bit of fun, so I’ll keep thinking about this during the week and the entire plan may change before showtime….