Open Thread / Show #693: Jen & Tracie

As always, we air at 4:30-5:30 PM (CST) today (Sunday). You can watch live on ustream:

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/the-atheist-experience

My plan is to discuss a few of the willfully ignorant things theists say in response to discovering people are atheist activists, including statements such as “why are you so angry at god?” and “I think you’re just searching for god.”

Example: Person X has a loved family member who swears by a particular homeopathic doctor, who is conning them out of their money and resources and “treating” them for a dangerous and potentially fatal illness. The family member will not seek demonstrated effective treatments from a conventional doctor, because the homeopath has convinced them that modern medicine is a hand-puppet of Big Pharma and therefore an untrustworthy conspiracy. Eventually the family member dies. Person X begins a blog and a youtube channel to tell their story to help expose the dangers of homeopathy. They are contacted by others with similar stories, and they form an association to spread information to people about the lack of support for homeopathic claims and hopefully to help others avoid the same suffering they have experienced at the hands of charlatans.

They should expect to get letters from believers expressing they are wrong. They should expect to be accused of being cogs in the Big Pharma conspiracy. They should expect to get testimonials from well meaning people with anecdotes about their “successes” with homeopathy and the “good” they are convinced it does.

But I’m sure they would never expect some willful idiot will suggest that they are fighting homeopathy because they secretly want desperately to find evidence showing it really works, or that they secretly already believe it does work, and are angry about the fact it works.

These particular rebuttals to the anti-homeopathy movement would be ridiculous. It seemed to me time to provide a link calling it out as “stupid,” for people to use. I’d rather atheist skeptics, anti-theists and activists spend their time letting theists provide their demonstrations for their claims of gods existence, than spend their time having to defend against accusations that even a fool should recognize as foolish.

I have heard theists confuse hypothetical uses of “god” with belief in god. But I find this utterly dishonest, because we all use hypotheticals routinely. There is no reason someone should suddenly be unable to recognize a commonly used method of examining a claim. I might say to you I think a problem with your car is that you have an oil leak. But you know of some reason that isn’t correct. You say “If it were an oil leak, though, I would expect XYZ to be happening, too, right?” That does not mean you agree it’s an oil leak. And nobody should misunderstand that. In the same way if an atheist says “If there were a god that killed all these people that would be morally inexcusable,” the atheist is not asserting believe in god and belief in the claims of the Bible. It’s clearly a hypothetical, and even more-so due to the fact he wears the clear label “atheist” to alert the theist he doesn’t accept this god is real. There is no excuse for any misunderstanding in these dialogs. I’m convinced these “misunderstandings” are willful dishonestly and red-herrings to get the atheist off track and in a defensive mode so that the theist is then relieved of having to defend an indefensible position.

So, if it helps, save the link to this blog post. Whenever you’re told you “hate god” or are “searching for god,” copy-paste and tell them atheists are worn out arguing dishonest stupidity and unless they have something of actual substance to offer in support of their unjustified beliefs, you aren’t going to waste your time debating people who can’t grasp basic levels of communication such as how to recognize the use of a hypothetical, the meanings of common words (“atheist”) or how to apply the simplest context (“I don’t believe in god, therefore I cannot hate god”).

*Correction: I updated the headline to reflect Jen replacing Matt today as host.

More Blogger wackiness

While scanning the dashboard tonight, I noticed quite by chance that some legitimate comments had been snagged by the spam filter. So far Blogger’s been doing a fine job of ferreting out the Asian pr0n and Markuze ravings, but there are some decidedly non-spam comments stuck in there as well. I’ll go through some of these and try to clear the ones that are indeed legit, so if you’ve tried to comment here and wondered why it hadn’t appeared, this may be why. One pointer for future reference: comments that include an inordinately large number of links seem to get autoplonked.

“God Exists” and “The Bible Is True”

Following is a synopsis of some responses to a viewer mail we received from “Aaron.” I gave up hope that Aaron would be able to go very deeply into a dialog about his own beliefs, but felt it was worth recording for the edification of blog readers.

Hello Aaron:

This may be my last reply, because you demonstrate a level of understanding of the history and reality of your own religion and holy book that really requires a “Bible and Christian History 101” course, not a few letters from an association volunteer. And even though I am involved in Austin with an Educational Foundation, I’m not here to spoon-feed you a semester’s worth of information you could easily find online if you honestly even wanted to know how your Bible came to exist. I suggest you start here and follow the links to educate yourself on at least the basic facts about your own holy book:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_Canon

There have been many versions of it—including many “final” versions of it. And today there are in fact at least three “orthodox” Bible versions that are accepted in mainstream Christianity; and these are not all based upon the same set of base manuscripts for their content. When you say “The Bible,” then, you are using a word that refers to at least three different widely used anthologies of early Christian writings that are all considered “THE” holy Bible by different, large groups of people who all call themselves “Christians.”

>The Bible was written by Moses – who yes, was a shepherd

There is no compelling evidence that Moses even existed, let alone that he wrote any part of the Bible. We have wildly exaggerated tales about him, mostly in Jewish mythology, but nothing to confirm this was ever a real man, any more than a figure like Paul Bunyon.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses#Historicity

The idea Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament is a Jewish myth. Christian Bible scholars know this. May I ask where you obtained this information and who told you this was true? Further, can I ask you why you believed it without researching it yourself? Many Bibles today come with Translator’s notes which would tell you—right there inside your Bible—that we don’t have the identity of the author of the Pentateuch—the first five books that Moses is said to have authored.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentateuch
“Modern biblical scholars see no signs of Mosaic authorship, but indications of much later writing”

>but also by a doctor/historian (luke)

Again, this is not a valid claim. It is not known who authored the gospel of Luke. It’s just an old church traditional tale:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Luke#Authorship

> and a guy who was a master of Jewish law (Paul).

Again, some books are attributed to Paul. But authorship assignment still requires speculation. There is no “fact” of who wrote the books within the Bible. But it is an undisputed reality that whatever is in there now is a revision of whatever was originally composed (which we no longer have).

Whoever is feeding you your information is unreliable and/or lying to you. Go to a Bible shop and open up the first page of each book in a NIV. You will see a page that tells you who the authors are *suspected* to be (if there is even a suspected author) and whether those assignments are based on scholarly guesses or just old religious traditions. What you will not find is anything conclusive to identify authorship to any high degree of certainty. And what you will not find is any credible Bible scholar who has studied these texts—believer in god or not—claiming they know who the authors actually are.

>Why would guys like Peter put embarrassing things about themselves in book where they’re just trying to gain followers (Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” peter deneies Christ). If you’re tyring to lie to build a following, you don’t do that.

Can you demonstrate Peter authored any book of the Bible and explain how you can be sure he did?

More importantly, when did I claim to know what anyone’s motives were for authoring 2,000-year-old letters? I have no idea what motives some anonymous author had 2,000 years ago for writing a letter—and I am sure you don’t, either. More importantly though, whatever was originally written is now gone. What we have now are altered texts that are no longer representative of the original writings.

I don’t know if you’re inclined to read more. I had been giving you very brief replies. My thinking was that if you couldn’t even recognize your own reasoning was absurd (in my examples of how you reasoned about Gremlins vs. god), I wasn’t sure a lengthy and densely informational response would be of any use to you (and would just waste my time). That said, I did put together a response to you, but mainly to post to our blog for the benefit of others who might actually be inclined to learn from it. However, if my assessment of you is incorrect, and you can follow the information below, here it is for your edification, broken down into three (hopefully easy-to-digest) parts.

1. Your support for your belief using “you can’t prove it’s not true” is irrational. And here is why:
You asserted god exists and the Bible is true; and you challenged someone who does not believe god exists and the Bible is true by asking if the claims “god exists” and “the Bible is true” could be disproved. However, you admitted you could not disprove gremlins exist; and when you admitted that, you acknowledged only that “maybe” they exist, but you “don’t know” (meaning you aren’t committed to saying if they do or do not exist).

But as someone who did not believe gremlins exist, who admitted he could not prove they do not exist, if your argument (i.e., I believe god exists because that claim cannot be disproved) is convincing, why do you not now believe gremlins do exist? Until you say it is true that gremlins exist, you are not a person who believes gremlins exist. That is you are still a nonbeliever in the existence of gremlins. Your position is merely it is possible they could exist, not that you believe they, in fact, do.

If you do not find an inability to prove gremlins do not exist to be a convincing argument for their existence, why did you use that same line of argumentation with me for your god, repeatedly? If even you demonstrate you don’t accept it as compelling–what on Earth made you think anyone else would find it compelling?

2. “The Bible is true” does not make sense based on my understanding of the word “true.”
“True” as I understand it, generally means “correlating to demonstrable reality.” So, when you say “the Bible is true,” I assume you mean that if we examine all of the best evidence for things claimed in the Bible, it will show a consistent positive correlation to what the Bible claims about reality. Since this is not the case, I don’t know how you’re using “true.” Here are two examples of what I mean, one addressing extra-Biblical reality, and one addressing internal Biblical reality.

Example 1: Extra-Biblical example:
You asserted not that evolution is false, but that you believe god was the catalyst for evolution. If you aren’t disputing evolution, then we can say that, in fact, we agree the Bible is not true in the case of Genesis and the account of how humans came to exist on Earth. According to the Bible, man popped fully formed and already communicating using language. And ultimately this same first human was wearing clothing and using agriculture–straight from his magical beginnings from dirt.

If we look at what evolutionary biologists put forward as the model of human evolution, then the Bible is not “true.” There is fossil evidence, DNA, and beyond b
iological evolution, a demonstrable history of how and when human agriculture is first evidenced compared to how long humans had existed previously in nomadic or hunter-gatherer cultures. Additionally we can tell from excavations approximately when people began to fashion tools (and by proxy when the idea of “manufacturing” things, such as clothing, may have been introduced), and there is simply no evidence to support that the earliest humans would have been “truthfully” represented by the Genesis account. All of the evidence appears, in fact, not to correlate to that account as “true.”

Example 2: Internal Biblical Example:
The New Testament passage (Gospel of) John 7:53-8:11 is as good an example as any. As an atheist, I have no objection to agreeing that the men and women who are hired to translate the best modern translations of the Bible are qualified people for the job. They are expert at reading and interpreting ancient languages that the average person wouldn’t begin to have a clue about. Additionally, they are devoted specifically to the texts used within the Bible. These are men and women who have devoted significant portions of their lives and careers to the Biblical manuscripts specifically. And I accept them as “expert” when it comes to claims about those manuscripts.

In the NASB and NIV versions of the Bible (both reputable translations), if any person takes an interest in doing so, they have a wealth of input from these experts, literally, at their fingertips. There are marginal notes, footnotes, endnotes, etc., right on the pages where the text appears. Anyone can see what the translators have to say about the texts Christians are reading in their Bibles. And I can’t imagine anyone claiming the people inserting these notes are not qualified to giving the best opinions of what the best and most current data demonstrates about what is “true” about these texts.

Throughout the pages, there are many insertions of notes that alert the reader that the text is in question or is disputed. It will alert you that this or that verse here says X, but in some other available manuscripts it does not say X (or says Y instead).

I chose John 7:53-8:11, because it is probably one of the most famous stories in the Bible about Jesus. It is the story of the adulterous woman–who is brought before Jesus for judgment. He there puts forward the famous line “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” This has become a very popular story with Christians.

Yet, according to the translators’ notes, it isn’t included in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts. They say outright and boldly, right on the pages of the NASB, that the story was added to the text later. These are translators who have a vested interest in the production and sale of Bibles being a successful industry. They have no cause to undermine their source of income by claiming “it’s a fake!” And yet, that’s what they’re saying if you are someone who accepts this book as “true.” If any group had a reason to lie or be biased about the Bible including reliable content, it would be people who work in the Bible-selling industry, selling to people who, like you, want very badly to believe it is “true”–and yet they’re telling you (and me) it’s not.

So, the best and most reliable evidence, considered by the best experts in the field, with no reason for bias against the text, does not align with your claim “the Bible is true.” And you can see this yourself–as any Christian who is interested can also–just by opening a good Bible translation that includes translator notes.

So, I have no idea what you mean when you say “the Bible is true.” I see no evidence that it should not be considered to include lies, errors, falsehoods–whatever you want to call them—basically statements that do not correlate with the best evidence we have to judge against in reality.

3. Your claim “god exists” is so far a meaningless statement, to which I cannot respond—since it makes no sense as you have stated it.
So far you haven’t really explained what this claim means. I don’t know what you’re calling god, so I have no idea what to say about whether it exists or not. But for example, I accept the existence of many things—books, water, chairs, even oxygen (which can be demonstrated using balloons and fire, and many other methods). To me, “exist” is a word we use to assert that a particular item manifests in some way in demonstrable, material reality.

This is why it’s interesting that you said only that “gremlins may exist” after admitting you could not disprove them. If I were to go into a classroom of 10-year-olds and ask them if gremlins exist, they would inform me gremlins are fairytale, mythical creatures that do not, in fact, exist. Their assessment has nothing to do with gremlins having been disproved. It would be a statement of the extreme lack of evidence for the existence of gremlins. In other words, the people who assert gremlins cause machines to malfunction, have never been able to produce a demonstration of what they’re talking about. This leads the reasonable 10-year-old to assert that gremlins do not exist. That is, their manifestation within reality so far cannot be discerned from nothing.

So, we have two bins. One labeled “nonexistent” and one labeled “existence.” Everything starts off in the “nonexistent” bin. And once it unambiguously manifests in reality in some way—either on its own, like the sun, or by some demonstration, like oxygen–it goes into the bin of “existence.” What we don’t do is put items into the “existence” bin BEFORE they are demonstrated to exist or before they manifest self-evidently in some measurable fashion.

Interestingly, a 10-year-old gets this, but you are so unwilling to admit your argument “you can’t prove it doesn’t exist, ergo it’s reasonable to accept that it does” is a fail, that you have demonstrated you will even dishonestly assert you can’t really say gremlins don’t exist—even though you and I both know that if you were honest, you’d admit you don’t give a second thought to asserting gremlins are myths. A 10-year-old is not only more reasonable than you, then, but also more honest.

My question to you is whether this thing—whatever it is you’re calling god—”exists,” in that it demonstrates a manifestation in reality that we can discuss. Or whether it is indiscernible from nothing? And if it’s no different than nothing, I can’t agree that “nothing exists.” And I can’t really examine what we’re supposed to be talking about in such a case—and I can’t see how you could, either? I have no data points to confirm to even begin a dialog with you about it. When you have some manifestation or demonstration, come back and we’ll have “something” to talk about (rather than “nothing”).

Thanks for writing.

-th

###

I’m sorry to say that after this exchange Aaron replied that he’d rather believe in god and be wrong, than not believe. That’s right, he threw Pascal’s Wager at me, after all this trouble I went to jotting down these notes. But knowing it would go to use at the blog allowed me to avoid feelings of futility and disappointment.

When I replied that Pascal’s Wager is a fail, but that he’d have to research it to find out why, he sent back a fairly large cut-and paste-apologist’s Web site content that asserted Pascal’s Wager was a fail because god demands devotion and real belief, not just someone playing a part.

I congratulated him on finding one reason Pascal’s Wager fails, and gave him a few others as a bonus point for having looked it up at all. Then alerted him that copying and pasting without giving credit to a source is plagiarism, because it’s like trying to claim someone else’s ideas as your own. He had asked me if maybe
Matt would write back to him. I told him Matt is copied on all the tv e-list correspondences, but that his probability of a reply from Matt was quite low for two reasons:

1. He’d already said he’d rather believe and be wrong. If someone asserts they don’t care if they believe falsehoods, what is the point of anyone arguing with them about the their beliefs? I can’t imagine a greater waste of time to enter into.

2. The last copy-and-paste note (paragraphs and paragraphs of material) was indicative of a problem we often see with some mail correspondence. We ask people to contact us to discuss what they believe and why they believe it. Sending us reams and reams of what someone else believes for us to rebut is senseless. If they can’t explain what they believe and support what they believe, providing their own reasons, then maybe they’re not ready to assert it as their belief? If the person who wrote the content Aaron had stripped and sent to us wanted to challenge us about his beliefs, he’s welcome to do so. But nobody on our list is interested in arguing with random apologists’ web content through Aaron’s endless relays. What an easy conversation that would be from Aarson’s perspective? He wouldn’t have to think or type or explain anything—just copy and paste while we spend time crafting thoughtful responses using our actual reasoning.

To summarize: Nobody on our list is interested in a one-sided waste of our time.

That so-called “Christian morality” in action yet again

Sometimes, by happy serendipity, you discover something that, in a totally non-conspiracy-theory kind of way, allows you to connect a few dots and go, “Ah soooo!” Being someone who makes something of a close-to-full-time hobby of science fiction and fantasy literature, and knowing as I do a number of writers both professional and aspiring, I came across news recently of a potential scam targeting the latter group.

The sad truth of our world is that there are hucksters and con artists out there who latch onto your dreams and hopes and insecurities in order to rob you blind. Religion has refined this so expertly all you can do is stand in awe.

Aspiring writers are easy pickings for vile charlatans. And it is via the blogs of award-winning science fiction novelist John Scalzi and literary agent Janet Reid that I learn of a writing contest for newbie talents, the fine print of which can be summarized as “We Are Going To Fuck You.” (What does any of this have to do with atheism and religion? Wait for it.)

The contest is run by one Karen Hunter of First One Digital Publishing. Immediately, to anyone who knows anything about the legalities of actual publishing, red flags are flying all over the map. First flag: entrants must pony up a $149 entry fee. An entry fee isn’t problematic in itself, but this one’s exorbitant, to put it mildly. I just entered an online screenwriting contest for the princely sum of 12 bucks.

Then there is this tiny little rider that they hope you don’t notice, buried deep within the rules.

All submissions become sole property of Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned. By submitting an entry, all entrants grant Sponsor the absolute and unconditional right and authority to copy, edit, publish, promote, broadcast, or otherwise use, in whole or in part, their entries, in perpetuity, in any manner without further permission, notice or compensation. Entries that contain copyrighted material must include a release from the copyright holder.

For those of you not up on writing or intellectual property stuff, what an entrant is being told here is that First One Digital Publishing expects you to give away all of your rights to the story you submit, forever. Once they have it, it’s no longer yours, and not only will you never get paid a dime if, say, they sell the story to film or TV, you cannot even ask for it back if they do nothing with it. And you’re expected to shell out 149 bones for the privilege. I’m reminded of Sarah Palin suggesting that women should be charged for their rape kits.

As Scalzi points out, with rules like these, why would any writer with a story good enough to submit to this contest not simply submit it to a real agent or publisher? Because you see, in traditional publishing, a writer is never expected to sign away all rights. When, for instance, Random House accepts your story or book, they are never flat-out buying up the story, lock stock and barrel. They are simply buying first publication rights, which is a license allowing them to be the publishers of your story, to which you retain full copyright, for a period of time specified by the contract. Once the contract expires, the publisher can choose to negotiate a renewal of it, or not, leaving the author free to take the property elsewhere. (Note: there is a thing called “work for hire,” but I’m not addressing that here.)

But this contest is relying on newbie writers being utterly ignorant of their legal rights, which, sadly, almost all of them are. And considering that the accepted length for entries runs up to 65,000 words — right around the low end of what the industry considers a novel — this represents quite a lot of work Hunter is expecting a writer to pay to give up.

The fuckage continues. You don’t have to know jack about writing and publishing to raise an eyebrow at this one:

In the event that there is an insufficient number of entries received that meet the minimum standards determined by the judges, all prizes will not be awarded.

Get that?

If an “insufficient number of entries” are received, First One can simply call the whole thing off. How many entries are “sufficient”? Why, they don’t say. So they can get 20, or 200, or 2000, and decide, so sorry, we’ve received an “insufficient number” of entries, but thanks all the same for submitting. And for your entry fee. Wait, don’t you get that back if the contest is cancelled? Why, it doesn’t say, so I’m going to take that as a “No.” So the contest will be off, but they’ll still have your cash in their bank, and your story, which they can publish, edit, do whatever with, without paying you or even putting your name on it. Because their rules require you not only to grab your ankles but supply your own lube. Finally they wrap everything up with a kicker that leaves them legally untouchable for anything, including, one fears, any arbitrary decision to turn up at your house one day, shoot your whole family dead and burn the place down.

By entering, entrants release judges and Sponsor(s), and its parent company, subsidiaries, production, and promotion agencies from any and all liability for any loss, harm, damages, costs, or expenses, including without limitation property damages, personal injury, and/or death arising out of participation in this contest, the acceptance, possession, use or misuse of any prize, claims based on publicity rights, defamation or invasion of privacy, merchandise delivery, or the violation of any intellectual property rights, including but not limited to copyright infringement and/or trademark infringement.

No, I’m not sure what kind of writing contest could result in “property damages, personal injury or death,” but at this point I’m willing to believe they’ll think of something.

Seriously, even the prominent “Writers of the Future” contest, a major competition in SF publishing that has launched several notable careers, and which is run by the publishing arm of the Church of motherfucking Scientology, does nothing that isn’t strictly ethically above-board in their own rules. Hopefully, by now, I’ve made it abundantly clear what an exercise in total fail Karen Hunter’s little contest really is.

So now we get to that happy serendipity I mentioned earlier. Once word got out in writing and publishing circles — with people tweeting the living hell out of the Janet Reid blog in particular — some folks began to wonder just who this Karen Hunter person was. Particularly when she responded to Reid with an awesomely bitch-ass comment in her blog thread.

Janet,

While I appreciate your comments. And I understand your vested interest in this business because if we’re successful, we eliminate the need for literary agents, the contest hasn’t launched yet. So to post our rules and a link telling people that this is a contest to avoid is both self-serving and misleading. Are there issues with the rules, yes. But I think you should wait until the contest officially launches on Feb. 11, 2011, before you tell people to not join it. That’s the fair thing to do.

Could I, a 20-year veteran in publishing as a writer and publisher, afford to put out a contest that rips people off? I’m not desperate. The goal is to truly find the next great author, something not too many people are actually looking for. What’s been your success track record?

Blessings,
Karen Hunter

PS: I sleep extremely well every night because I operate in truth.

Man. Hunter wasn’t done. This comment was immediately followed by “If my response doesn’t appear on your blog, I’ll know what your true motives are. Thanks aga
in.
” Well, I’d say the contest, rather than revealing how unnecessary agents are, actually illustrates their extreme importance, as agents make their living running interference between clueless n00b writers and the hucksters like Hunter who try to scam them.

Even given the hilarious defensive petulance and rich irony of much of this whine, there was just a lot in Hunter’s language that sounded to me exactly like the kind of butthurt rhetoric we get in emails from creationists, or conspiracy fans, or alt-med anti-vax loons, or anyone who’s pissed at us for slamming something they’ve attached themselves passionately to, and who can’t articulate their anger other than to imagine wild ulterior motives driving us.

So it came as little surprise to discover that Karen Hunter has done the right-wing Christian talking pundit thing on cable news.

Do any of you remember the “atheists need their own Hallmark cards” lady? Well, this is that Karen Hunter. And if you aren’t familiar with her still, she made an appearance on Paula Zahn’s show on CNN about four years ago, where the topic happened to turn to atheism. Appearing alongside the odious Debbie Schlussel, Hunter offered such memorable bon mots as these.

What does an atheist believe? Nothing. I think this is such a ridiculous story. Are we not going to take “In God We Trust” off of our dollars? Are we going to not say “one nation under God?” When does it end? We took prayer out of schools. What more do they want?

If [atheists] had Hallmark cards, maybe they wouldn’t feel so left out. We have Christmas cards. We have Kwanzaa cards now. Maybe they need to get some atheist cards and get that whole ball rolling so more people can get involved with what they’re doing. I think they need to shut up and let people do what they do. No, I think they need to shut up about it.

And here’s my very favorite.

I think they need to shut up about crying wolf all the time and saying that they’re being imposed upon. I personally think that they should never have taken prayer out of schools. I would rather there be some morality in schools.

Oh, morality? Would this be the “morality,” Karen, that led you to think you could get away with trying to bogart the rights in perpetuity of possibly hundreds of hungry and eager aspiring creative talents, while taking their money and constructing an impermeable legal shield around yourself barring them from any recourse against you, even the right to have the fruits of their labors returned to them if you have no desire to publish them? Or if you do publish their work to great success, and overlook putting their byline on it, having set things up so you don’t have to part with a penny in royalties either?

And was it the same “morality” that gave you the smug arrogance to think you could avoid getting called on all this bullshit, by actual established and respected (and godless) professionals in the field to which you’re only a pretender? Is that an example of the Christian “morality” you disdain atheists for lacking? Then let me state how proud I am to have missed the lessons in “morality” you took to heart. As a creative person myself, nothing disgusts me more than the idea of a sleaze merchant like you exploiting the naivety behind someone else’s dreams, and all for your own petty personal enrichment. But somehow, knowing that you’ve probably convinced yourself it’s what Jesus would do, all I can say is, it figures.

What casual remarks reveal about theism’s view of the world

I’m writing this on Monday, but have delayed the scheduled posting of it for a few days, in that I do think there’s such a thing as inappropriate timing. Some folks may still think I’m off base with this one, and that’s fine.

In the wake of the horrific shootings in Tucson the other day, there has of course been a lot of argument as to possible causes, motivations, the role America’s current volatile political climate may or may not have played in the event, and so on. I’ve been involved in a few arguments on Facebook myself.

What will go unnoticed — indeed what is almost certain to be praised — is the way theists will spout sanctimonious, pious bullshit so staggeringly stupid and offensive that it can only be by a willful disconnection of one’s higher cognitive functions that the stupidity of such pronouncements do not meet with immediate ridicule and condemnation. Here’s one such inane homily, plucked at random from CNN.

“The doctors are pretty clear that we just have to wait and see,” Mike McNulty said. But he added, “I can only think that God has more important things planned for her in the future.”

Now, sure, I’m willing to accept that Mike McNulty is a respectable Democratic congressman, a dear friend and colleague of Gabrielle Giffords’, a good man dedicated to serving his state and his country, and an all around decent and intelligent fellow. He is in a deeply fraught emotional state, as anyone would be, and of course I’m not unsympathetic to that. I’m not attacking him here, so much as I am the inanity he has uttered, and what it says about how religion asks us to view the world.

Let’s consider what kind of God this remark is proposing here.

As he sits upon his heavenly throne of purest gold and alabaster, he thinks to himself, “Hmm, I have important things planned for this Democratic congresswoman. Being omnipotent, there are any number of ways I can achieve this. But I think the best is this: I will arrange for a delusional psychopath to purchase a gun under his state’s extremely lax gun laws, fit it with an extended clip, and shoot her in the head at point blank range in broad daylight in public. In the process he will shoot a number of other people, killing some, including a small child. But these will just have to be acceptable collateral damage, even though in my omnipotence it would be easy for me to prevent all of it. I’ll just make sure the girl gets an extra-awesome Barbie collectors set when she gets up here, along with pie. Now, the congresswoman herself will not die, as I will arrange for the bullet to perforate only one of her brain hemispheres. She will be in a coma following this, and will be several years recovering. But the end result of it all will be that it will allow me to implement my important plans for her once she recovers. If she does. Even though I could do it any other way.”

Does that about sum it up?

Seriously, the only way a person could believe in a God like this is if they just don’t think about the implications of what they believe. Religion trains you not to think of such things. And this is why I think religion, far from being something to offer true comfort in a time of crisis, simply offers a way to delude yourself that every tragedy has a silver lining, and that a benign space daddy still has my back, even if making life better for me required a little girl to die.

If you think I’m being offensive offering a snarky critique of a statement made by a theist in the wake of a tragedy that happens to reflect his beliefs in the midst of emotional upset, well, that’s your prerogative. For my part, I am offended by the way religion so easily makes light of human pain and suffering to find some way, no matter what, to glorify its God. It’s not Mike McNulty I’m criticizing, it’s the indoctrination that’s influenced his thinking, and the way it values its God’s glory over innocent lives.

Sex and Religion survey

OK, everybody, it’s time to help out Dr. Darrel Ray by filling out a survey on a couple of my favorite subjects: religion and sex. He needs as many responses as we can get, so I’ll be posting this all over – and let’s try to make sure that this is one area where women aren’t under-represented (actually, let’s do that in all areas).

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PGHSWMW

Authentic Supernatural Experience or Fail? You Be the Judge.

I am presenting this viewer mailer in his own words, unedited, and not even including my own rebuttals in order to avoid biasing any of you in some way to my opinions. I insert one clarification into a response I made that he includes in one of his replies, simply to make more clear what I see as a legitimate misunderstanding that arose at the end of the dialog. It is not offered as any sort of rebuttal to his claims, just a note to explain more precisely the position I was putting forward versus how it was misinterpreted by the correspondent.

His Letter 1:

Became a Christian 25 years ago (now an Atheist/Agnostic), did the whole gig from the born-again accepting Jesus to fully immersed water baptism. Bible studies, prayer, etc… Approx a year into this thing I was on the search for a church. My buddies and I decided to check out a church one night, never been there and this was in the days before they had rock concerts for worship. I’d say they had about 100 people that night.

Pastor was up talking (just a basic sermon) and at some point during the service a group of people at one end of the church (it was kind of U shaped) started laughing out loud, we were sitting in the middle of the church. It was almost like people were doing “the wave” like you see at sporting events, but with laughter. My buddies and I watched as it seemed to be moving closer to us with each set of folks laughing and almost acting drunk. Don’t know what it was, but the next I knew we were all hanging on to the pew in front of us to keep from falling down and laughing. It was wild. Absolutely hands down the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life. Pastor said it was the presence of God.

I remember leaving the church and feeling like I was glowing or radiating. Couldn’t quit smiling, it was strange. I asked some friends we ran into shortly after leaving the church if they could see anything radiating or glowing off me. Sounds whacky, but I couldn’t figure it out.

At a high school reunion 10 years after that happened, I ran into one of my buddies that experienced it with me. I asked him if he remembered it and he confirmed that we’d all experienced it.

Not saying this validates anything, I’ve just never been able to reconcile it. I started doing research on these types of experiences and it “appears” others have had similar experiences where it wasn’t manufactured (Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, etc), more like a wind or spontaneous event that you can’t control.

My question is: Do you guys really believe that things like the Toronto Blessing, Kansas IHOP Smithton Outpouring and Lakeland Outpouring in Florida (using their names, not mine) are all manufactured by mind control? In other words, let’s say a person experiences something like I did (I’ve talked with others who’ve had similar experiences without the hype), would you give that any credence to something supernatural?

His Letter 2:



Thanks for getting back to me. Yep, I’ve definitely had those “laughter is contagious” episodes with friends and family. I’d write off my experience below to something like that if the backdrop might have been different (i.e. in a more intimate setting like one on one or with a small group) and if the experience was just about uncontrollable laughter. There really wasn’t a catalyst (e.g. someone eating something bad, pastor saying something funny, strange noise in church, etc.) other than laughter and noise breaking out at one end of the U shaped seating arrangement.

I guess the bigger factor was that the three other people in my group felt the same thing; they also had to hang on to the pew to keep upright when whatever this was appeared to make its way to us. It was like watching “the wave” at a sporting event and when it was our turn, we had no choice in the matter. It all happened very rapidly. It wasn’t like we started laughing and stayed laughing for several seconds causing us to lose our balance. It appeared to reach our section and we immediately felt euphoric while simultaneously having to hang on to something to keep from falling. When we talked about it afterwards, we all confirmed feeling something strong kind of pass through us that resulted in laughter and an incredible feeling.

I don’t buy into the manufactured hype in church services with rhythmic music and yelling. Something like that could easily lead people into a euphoric state of believing they are feeling a supernatural presence. I struggle with the rapidness in which this happened, that it appeared that everyone in the church experienced it, the euphoric feelings all of us confirmed afterwards and just the “strangeness” with which we all labeled the experience.

His Letter 3 (with only the segments of my reply he included in his letter):

>>Unless there was something wildly different about the experience than what you have expressed in your letters, it just seems extremely mundane to me. <<<

Well, let me kick it up a notch then. The validity of this experience has been bugging me for over 25 years; your responses fueled the fire a bit more so I continued my investigation. There were 5 of us (friends from high school – we were in college then) at that particular church service, so last night I jumped on FB and starting digging for names. Found a few people that I thought might know how to contact these guys and sent them private messages. I ended up with a possible phone number for one of the guys and left a message. Keep in mind; I haven’t talked with any of these guys since that event (over 25 yrs ago).

He calls back and after the shock of hearing from me after all these years, I ask if he remembers being in that specific church with me and the other guys 25 + years ago. He confirms it and then I ask if anything strange or unusual happened. He laughed and proceeded to tell a story similar to mine, although he described it more like excitement breaking out at one end of the church and moving around affecting everyone. He also verified a “euphoric feeling” that seemed to hit us all at the same time that made us unstable on our feet. He compared it a wind blowing through the church that seemed to make some people laugh, some people shout with excitement and a personal feeling better than any drug. Apparently, he and the other guys kept going back to the church (I only went once) for that very reason and would bring others to experience it. Said it would happen randomly. I asked if he knew how to get a hold of the other guys, and like me, he hadn’t talked with anyone for 25+ yrs. However, he did have the name of a town for one of them, so I took that.

After some Google searches, I was able to come up with a name and phone number. Called this guy and he was REALLY shocked to hear from me. It was an awkward conversation at first, as he was trying to figure out the motive for my phone call after all these years. I explained I was trying to verify something and asked if he remembered being in that specific church with all of us 25+ years ago. He verified it, so I asked if he remembered anything strange or unusual about that church or the service we were in. Silence. He asked why I wanted to know. Awkward. I told him I remembered something unusual happening, but couldn’t put my finger on it and wanted to know he if remembered anything. Without going into details, he also verified the experience and his version which was similar to both of ours.

In both cases, I allowed the person to tell me their version of the experience instead of telling mine first. I have two more guys to contact; we’ll see what they say. I’m not implying that this proves anything other than the experience appeared to be more than just a case of the “giggles” or “contagious laughter”. Both of the guys I talked with last night alluded to a euphoric or ecstatic feeling more than a laughing fit. They both confirmed it happened quickly and when it appeared to reach our section of the church, it was hard to keep our balance. They both went back to that church and said the same experience happened several times after that. Sorry for the long e-mail, it was just hard to let it go.

His Letter 4:



You bring up a valid point that individual people and groups of people experience laughter, excitement, and euphoria. Especially when at symphonies, ballets, operas, sporting events, movies, etc. You’ve pointed out that people experience uncontrollable laughter. I get all that, promise.

Here’s the dilemma in my mind. No instruments were being played to stir emotions, no one was singing, we weren’t watching a performance, and it happened rapidly (within a matter of seconds). I get laughing and not being able to stop, but this wasn’t about laughing uncontrollably. Laughter was involved, however, it was out of an overwhelming euphoric feeling rather than laughing because someone next to me was laughing.

Two of the guys verified independently that it appeared to be something we couldn’t see that caused those feelings and our momentary imbalance. They verified it happened rapidly, they had trouble keeping their balance, the feelings were indescribable, and nothing special was going on in the church other than the pastor talking up front. I have a meeting set up with another one of the guys who happens to live in the same city. Haven’t seen him for years and I’m curious to hear his recollection of that experience.

Honestly, I don’t have an agenda here. I’d like to think I am critical thinker, an atheist/agnostic and definitely not religious. Not sure where the word “miracle” came from, but the only thing I’m implying is that I couldn’t find a natural cause for this experience. Just seems strange that I thought it was caused by something I couldn’t see and the two other guys I’ve talked with independently verified the same thing without my prompting or leading questions. If it was a natural cause, you’d think at least one of us would bring that up.

You’ve made general sweeping statements that these kinds of things happen all the time to people and groups of people. I’ve never run across anyone in my lifetime who’s had an experience like this, in the setting I described, with independent verification from others who couldn’t figure out why it happened. Maybe I need to get out more often.

His Letter 5 (with the segments of my reply he included in his letter, as well as the clarification I mentioned earlier):

I get your point, you think a group of people got a case of the giggles, the people next to them caught it and so on. People laughed so hard they felt euphoric and some even ROLFed. Got it.

You’re too focused on the laughter, which makes sense, it’s the easiest explanation. The problem is, I mentioned other factors like a euphoric feeling and loss of balance. The euphoric feeling and loss of balance happened first, the laughter followed. The laughter was because of the euphoric feeling, not because someone next to us happened to be laughing. If the laughing came first, I’d concede your point. Besides, I’ve experienced contagious laughter and this wasn’t even close to that. In fact, I’ve never been a part of a contagious laughter situation in a large group that appeared to spread in a matter of seconds. without some type of stimulus (e.g. comedian)

>>>Feelings are NOT caused by external input.<<<

[The clarification I mentioned earlier: Physical response, such as vomiting or loss of balance, is not what people generally are discussing when they say “feelings”; “Feelings” are usually used to represent emotional responses, and that is precisely how I intended it to be used. I interpreted him to be using “euphoria” in the emotional context of feelings of happiness and exhilaration. While such emotional response is caused by physical brain activity, we generally do not conflate physical responses with emotional ones. So, when I say “emotional pain” you do not think of that as burning your had on a hot iron. And when I say “physical pain” you don’t confuse that with grief that accompanies the loss of a child. We generally differentiate the two even though they both require physical response. Emotional response is a function of brain feedback. Physical response can be induced by physical stimuli. I do get this. However, comparing a feeling of “euphoria” at a symphony with a feeling of riding a roller coaster is not, in my view, a reasonable comparison, for these reasons.]

You can’t be serious? I take it you’ve never been on a rollercoaster, jumped out of a plane, been drunk or had sex? Touched a flame? I get that once you touch the flame, you can’t feel the pain sensation until signals are sent from the brain, but c’mon.

Your belief is the laughter (or no external input) was the cause of the euphoric feeling and loss of balance. My story is, the euphoric feeling and loss of balance came first, then the laughter (similar to jumping out a plane, feeling the rush of free falling 200 mph towards the ground and then getting excited). Not much else to say. The two guys I talked with gave the same story, maybe I’m making this into a bigger deal than it really was.

###

That’s the last I’ve received so far. I don’t expect there to be more. But if he writes back I will direct him to this blog post where he can see if it’s the consensus of other skeptical thinkers that I’ve been unreasonable in rejecting his claims as he’s described them, or he’s been gullible for accepting them as anything but mundane.