Introductions: Matt Dillahunty

So, we’ve moved the blog over to a new home and the obligatory introductions have commenced.

Hi, I’m Matt and I’m an atheist and a former Christian. As this sounds a bit like an Alcoholics Anonymous introduction, allow me to shred the nonsensical victim-promoting 12 steps by turning them on their head:

1. I’m not powerless and my life is not unmanageable. I’m responsible for my own actions and I can change my mind and my behavior – though I’ll occasionally need assistance from other humans.

2. I’ve come to recognize that I’m not divorced from sanity and that I don’t require any “Power greater than ourselves” to fix me.

3. I’ve made a decision to base my life decisions on reason and evidence and this lead, inevitably, to the rejection of god-claims…but I wouldn’t turn my  life over to a god even if one existed. It’s my life…go live vicariously through someone else.

4. I have made and continue to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself. (One of only 3 ‘steps’ that I’ll support, as written.)

5. I’ve admitted to others that I’m wrong…but I see no need to admit this to a god, even if one existed.

6. I won’t be needing any gods to remove defects of character.

7. I won’t be humbly asking any gods to remove shortcomings. (Are there really 12 steps, if so many seem to say the same thing? Is this the ‘let go and let god’ program, or what?)

8. I didn’t make a list of people I’ve harmed, but I’m willing to make amends where they’re needed.

9. I’ve made amends…where possible. This 12-step thing is really tedious.

10. I’ll continue to take personal inventory and admit when I’m wrong.

11. I have no use for prayer and couldn’t care less what “God’s will” is.

12. Nope…no spiritual awakenings here – but I will be carrying a message to others.

I’m currently the president of the Atheist Community of Austin, host of our public-access and internet-streaming television program, “The Atheist Experience” and a regular contributor to our other podcast, “The Non-Prophets“. I’ve been hosting the TV show for nearly 6 years, though the show has been around for 14 (it was started while I was still a Christian). I’m also on the Secular Student Alliance’s Speakers’ Bureau and enjoy travelling around to universities and conventions for talks and debates on morality, religion, skepticism, atheism…and a host of other subjects.

In addition to those volunteer efforts, I work a full time job and I’m helping to plan my wedding to Beth Presswood (who is now hosting her own podcast covering feminism and atheism: Godless Bitches), on October 30th, 2011.

I’ll try to get out additional information, but I’m preparing my talk for the Texas Freethought Convention/Atheist Alliance America Convention that is happening next weekend in Houston, TX.

 

Comments

  1. Mike de Fleuriot says

    Is there any real work getting done on floating a secular media network, or are we all still admiring it as a very good idea?

    • Kazim says

      What Matt said. Some years ago I put together a demo CD as a “highlights reel” for the Non-Prophets, hoping we could drum up some professional interest in supporting our show on “real radio.” I sent it off to some people at the newly-created Air America Radio, where it promptly disappeared into a black hole; and of course, the network is itself now defunct.

      I figured out pretty quickly that I’m nowhere near qualified to navigate the business end of radio production, and the people who are qualified would have to take a huge business risk to get anything of that sort done.

      Years later, I met Dan Barker and asked him: “So you now have a weekly Air America show yourself, how did you arrange that?” And he said, “We pay for every bit of it ourselves. We buy the air time by lining up our own advertisers and begging for donations; we have volunteers making it all happen.” That sort of thing is just not a career I’m aiming at.

      I love doing this as a volunteer, and will donate my time and experience being in front of a microphone to anyone trying to make it happen for real. But when it comes to eking out a living, well, I already HAVE a marketable skill set, and I’m not going to abandon that career to become a starving artist, thanks very much. :)

      • Aliasalpha says

        Wouldn’t it be better to focus on web based media anyway since it’s pretty well destined to supplant the current broadcast tech within the next 20-30 years?

    • says

      This very thing — trying to sell more skeptical viewpoints to the mass media — was discussed quite a bit at TAM this year. The trick with something like this would be funding and resources. To get a full-fledged network going would literally cost millions just to start up. Then you’d have to find a carrier for the network, and advertising revenue, because these things don’t pay for themselves. Our culture is one in which rationality isn’t where the money is, which is why the History Channel shows more UFO specials than anything to do with history. Ask the folks at Air America how hard it was simply to keep a liberal-centric radio network alive in a field dominated by hate-crazed right-wing blowhards.

      In a world of unreason, we will have to, for the time being, be satisfied with our niche-media status. At least it’s growing. Ten years ago you’d be hard pressed to find any atheist literature at a major bookstore, while today people like Penn Jillette, Sam Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens have turned out major New York Times bestsellers. There’s more visibility for atheism and skepticism today, even online, than there was 10 years ago. The times they are a-changing!

      • jacobfromlost says

        I think skeptical viewpoints need more spokespeople who have a flair for not only the ability to entertain, but also communicate effectively. I think Penn Jillette is up there, as is Ricky Gervais (the shtick with Karl Pilkington is as thinly veiled an argument for skepticism as possible, yet it is SO entertaining that I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone speak out against it).

        The problem is that whenever one starts to venture into the entertaining area of persuasion–using metaphors, analogies, jokes, or even anecdotes or longer stories–to illustrate a skeptical point, one risks the possibility of “nonskeptics” confusing the rhetorical approach with the rational point that it illustrates.

        If one WANTS to be entertained more than they want to understand the point (and they want to feel good about what is entertaining them, and not feel bad that the entertaining part is illustrating a rational point that makes the entertaining part a secondary tool to GET to the rational point), then the rational point will probably be lost and the entertaining elements (myth, metaphor, analogy, etc) will take the place of rationality in the nonskeptic’s mind simply by being conforting.

        So it is a bit of a Catch-22. It’s always going to be more profitable to tell people exactly what they want to hear in passionate, entertaining ways…and more difficult to get them to listen to things they don’t want to hear, even if they are told in passionate and entertaining ways. (Of course, it can get boring hearing what you want to hear all the time–and with luck we can get new skeptics from a pool of people smart enough to get bored at hearing the same old magical thinking all the time.)

        The most entertaining point for skepticism I’ve ever seen:

  2. says

    Why are you so focused on Christian’s? There is Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism and many more. Why does Christianity seem to be the main target of the Atheist experiment? Just curious because in a way I surely emphasize with the view that many of the theologies promulgated are destructive. Are most of your members former Chrisitans or something. I also find it really odd that you would say “a god even if one existed”. Isn’t that a moot point in your opinion, strange to bring it up in that way, in other words by leaving the door open.

    • says

      Because the others aren’t causing problems, as well as the fact that in the cultures we reside, Christianity is the main religion, so statistically it’s going to be the one that comes up most often.

      Christianity is the big bad bully on the schoolyard, and we’re addressing it with our nerd powers.

      Isn’t that a moot point in your opinion, strange to bring it up in that way, in other words by leaving the door open.

      It’s not strange, it’s intellectually honest. We don’t hold an absolute position that a god doesn’t exist. We’re just not convinced that there is one. It’s called being open minded.

    • says

      It’s shocking how often I get this question and it’s almost always from people who aren’t familiar with the show.

      First of all, it’s a call-in show.

      That should really be sufficient. We’re more likely to get Christian callers than Hindu callers….thus that’s where the discussions focus.

      If you want to talk about something else. Call.

      • jacobfromlost says

        “and it’s almost always from people who aren’t familiar with the show.”

        Scanning the thread, I was thinking that John MUST have been familiar with the show, at least somewhat, to make such a criticism.

        Then I read more slowly, and I saw that he called the show the “Atheist experiment.”

        I wonder if he has EVER seen the show at all…or read the giant banner at the top of this page?

        • John Williams says

          Typing too fast and must have had ‘experiment’ on my mind. I have watched a few hours of the show online so I am familiar with the show

        • John Williams says

          I should add it is probable I did not watch a representative cross section of the show and its topics so the point probably is correct. The episodes with dogmatic viewpoints does appear to get spread around more.

  3. says

    Why are you so focused on Christians? There is Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism and many many more. Why does Christianity seem to be the main target of the Atheist experiment? I am curious as to why your show has evolved to focus on such a narrow part of the “religious” spectrum of beliefs. I surely empathize with the view that many of the theologies promulgated by Christians are destructive but there are many other belief systems out there other than Christian. Is it because they are the most insecure and therefore the most in need of defending their beliefs? Are most of your members former Christians?
    Also it seems really odd that you would say “I wouldn’t turn my life over to a god even if one existed”. Isn’t that a moot point in your opinion, strange to bring it up in that way, in other words by leaving the door open. Is that supposed to be ironic?

    • JoeBuddha says

      Christians happen to be the most visible and most plentiful religious practitioners in this country. You might call it a target-rich environment. Plus, they’re constantly trying to take over the country and force everyone else to do what they do. Believe me, the Buddhists won’t be taking over any time soon (and I’m not sure anyone would notice). I won’t claim to be able to read his mind, but that’s a good enough reason to focus on Christianity, IMHO.

    • Joshua Fisher says

      Though this question has been answered many times, I’ll take a crack at it for you. Christianity is, by far, the most pervasive and influential religion in the United States. The Atheist Experience is fairly equal opportunity in its dismissal of all religions and even other supernatural nonsense. But, the reality of the situation is that in the United States most of the issues that come up will be Christian issues. In the U.S. Muslims aren’t trying to legislate Sharia law, Jews aren’t trying to force everyone to eat Kosher, Jains aren’t trying to outlaw flyswatters and pesticides. When there are relevant topics and events related to other religions, the hosts and co-hosts at The Atheist Experience examine those religions with the same unforgiving rationalism.

      As for “I wouldn’t turn my life over to a god even if one existed.” Well, I am not Matt, so I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but, being an atheist as well, I can tell you what that means to me. I do not believe that there are any gods, so I certainly wouldn’t turn my life over to an imaginary friend in the sky. However, even if a god did exist, I have yet to have one described to me that I believe is worthy of my devotion. So, even if Yahweh was real, I would not worship him. He is a monster. A petulant child with unlimited power. What’s to worship?

      • John Williams says

        What about Spinoza’s God, the one Einstein talked about or a definition of God where he is “The organizing principle of the universe” whatever that may be. I find the Atheist position kind of incomprehensible like many of the Christian views because neither have set a definition for God. Believing in something you cannot define is nonsensical but in a way so is not believing in what you can not define. Is it the supernatural? Or just the nebulous word God and any connotation it may have? I am curious because I am an unorthodox theist who empathizes with Atheists much more than I do orthodox Christians.

        • otrame says

          It’s a matter of evidence. Spinoza’s god, or anyone else’s. Besides, what does “organizing principle” mean? And if there is one, other than physics, so what? How does believing in an “organizing principle” change one single thing about one’s life?

          There may be some kind of god. I seriously doubt it, but I don’t know everything. If it’s the Christian god, I am going to hell, along with most of the good people I’ve ever known. If there is an organizing principle, it is welcome to go right on organizing. It’s no skin off my nose.

        • steve oberski says

          You probably don’t believe in leprechauns but I suspect the lack of a set definition for such a being does not affect your disbelief.

          It is incumbent on those who introduce the god hypothesis to provide a definition.

          Life is to short to play 20 questions with each and every godbot that drags their invisible friend into the public marketplace of ideas.

          • John Williams says

            Leprechauns are defined, little green guys who have a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I am not trying to push any views I am just curious about understanding different viewpoints especially when I see a group that generally says “question everything” because I relate to that idea, I passionately dislike dogma because it stunts many aspects of human growth and the search for knowledge.

          • steve oberski says

            That’s a very unsophisticated definition of leprechaun and a distortion of what leprechaunists actually believe.

            I suggest you go read some books on leprechaunology by serious thinkers in the field.

        • says

          Believing in something you cannot define is nonsensical but in a way so is not believing in what you can not define.

          How is that remotely nonsensical? That’s the default position. Belief is accepting a claim as true. If it’s not defined, there’s no way to accept it as true, thus, non-belief is the default position.

          “God” as a label is practically superfluous at this point. There’s so many people with so many definitions, we now just ask “What do you believe and why?”, and we’ll tell you if we believe it too.

          “God” is about as useful as “thing” as a word, maybe with a little extra baggage.

        • says

          Sorry to spam you, but I think I know where your confusion is, if not then I apologize.

          Not accepting a claim as true is not equivalent to saying it’s false. It’s the difference between “guilty” “not guilty” and “innocent”. Finding that a suspect is “not guilty” is not equivalent to saying the person is “innocent” – just that the “guilty” claim hasn’t been demonstrated.

          So if “belief” is accepting a claim as true, “disbelief” is “pending accepting the claim as true”.

          • John Williams says

            What about the definition’s I provided:
            Spinoza’s God, the one Einstein talked about or a definition of God where it is “The organizing principle of the universe” whatever that may be.

          • says

            What about them?

            A game theists love to play is “pin the god-word on the atheist”, where, through any amount of warping, disconbobulation and spinning of the definition of a word, the goal is to get an atheist admit that he/she believes in a god.

            It’s a dumb game.

            I think there are definitions of “God” that are useful, and some that are useless. If you’re going to say that God is the defining principles of the universe, fine, I accept that definition.

            I just have another word for it – physics.

            The problem is that the word “God” comes with baggage – like omnipotence, intelligence, plans and purpose – as typically used by theists.

            Unless the God definition employs those attributes, I think the definition is about useful as defining my coffee mug as God. Sure, I believe that it exists, but so what?

            I’ll have to read up on Spinzoa, as I am unfamiliar.

          • John Williams says

            I was attempting to show that not defining God is problematic because then any definition someone comes up with is game.

          • says

            I agree that it can make understanding what an atheist is a bit more confusing, but that’s not our fault. It’s because millions of people keep inventing new definitions.

            That’s not our problem. It’s theirs.

            What matters to us are truth claims – not semantic discussions as much. It’s just that the semantics is step one before any real discussion can commence.

            We don’t have to define what we don’t believe in, because for one thing that list is infinitely long. We define our belief systems by what we DO believe in, and what we DO define. That set is manageably finite.

            The only thing we can do with any practicality is ask “What do you believe, and why?”, because then we can focus in on some actual definition instead of deciding which of the definitions, within the endless noise of quacks that we’ll arbitrarily choose to specifically define ourselves as not believing in.

            That’d be silly.

          • John Williams says

            But if I were to say I do not believe in x now you tell me what x means so I can tell you why I do not believe in it, you would think that was silly. It is not such a bad comparison to Atheism though.

          • says

            But if I were to say I do not believe in x now you tell me what x means so I can tell you why I do not believe in it, you would think that was silly.

            No I would say that is rational. Picking one definition out of millions and saying THAT specifically is what I don’t believe in would be silly.

            The way it works is – the default position on any claim is disbelief – whether it’s because it’s unjustified or not understood.

            Then, we get inundated with many different definitions of a god, and they’re all rejected – not just one that we’ve arbitrarily picked out of the rest – ALL of them.

            They’re rejected for one of two reasons, typically:

            1) They’re unsubstantiated.
            2) They’re mundane and superficial (“God is this coffee mug”)

          • says

            When someone comes to us with a god definition, they’re defining it, not us. We’re evaluating their claims one by one.

            There’s no rationale for picking one of them out of the rest and saying that theists specifically don’t believe in THAT god.

          • says

            I see no reason to think of the “organizing principle of the universe” as a “god.” Use of the word in such a context reveals only that “god” as a concept is little more than a placeholder for ignorance.

          • Joshua Fisher says

            But if I were to say I do not believe in x now you tell me what x means so I can tell you why I do not believe in it, you would think that was silly. It is not such a bad comparison to Atheism though.

            This is a mischaracterization of what atheists do. The word god has a meaning. It is not the tightest definition in the world for for most common usages it implies a certain set of characteristics. Beneath that broad stroke there are tighter subgroups, for example, christian god or Allah. Even within these categories there is wiggle room and descriptions vary, but with only a few exceptions the word “god” means or implies certain things. Those things are things atheists do not believe in.

            However, there is the occasional wackaloon who wants to break out of the box and assign the word god to something else. Or, the occasional person who thinks they have the one special tweak on an old idea (like christian god) that will make all the difference. It is for those people that we reserve the statement, “Now, tell me what x means to you, so that I can tell you whether or not I believe it.” (Note that I have changed the statement a little. Those changes are small, but important.)

            If that person tells me that god is this ink pen, then, fine, I believe in that ink pen. And I will concede to that person their right to label that thing in their own mind as “god”. This does not then mean that I suddenly am compelled to believe in Yahweh, Allah, Thor, Ra, Buddah, etc. I also do not believe that the “god” pen can do anything special that could not be expected of any other pen.

        • Larry Clapp says

          > or a definition of God where he is “The organizing principle of the universe”

          What’s to worship? You might as well worship gravity, or electromagnetism, or the equation “E = mc^2″.

          • John Williams says

            It is all of those and quite likely much much more though, I could also include everything that arises from that principle.

        • jacobfromlost says

          Spinoza’s god and Einstein’s god isn’t really a god.

          It’s a metaphor (for our continued ability to discover natural principles in the natural world). To say the metaphor is “literally real” (ie, a “god” the way most people mean the word) is to miss the point of a metaphor.

          I can say, “This icecream sundae is heaven!”, but that doesn’t mean I believe heaven is a real place that souls go to when people die (nor does it mean I think the sundae is LITERALLY a place where souls go when they die). And if a theist heard me say “this sundae is heaven”, and then pointed to it as evidence of my belief in heaven, they’d be wrong. What I REALLY believe is that the icecream sundae tastes really, really good!

          Just as those who point to Einstein using “god” as a metaphor are wrong about his belief in a typical god notion (omniscient, omnipotent, etc). What Einstein was expressing was his recognition that science and rationality can reveal more and more about the world around us, and that process of discovery is really, really neat.

          He clarified this many, MANY times, but theists still use it as evidence that Einstein was a theist. (There’s even a commercial from Europe claiming Einstein defended the god notion as a child in class in the face of an “atheist” professor–if so, there is no record of it, it was never mentioned or written about prior to this fairly recent commercial, and the creators of the commercial never supplied any evidence that their rather specific and elaborate claim was true. There is evidence, however, of an urban legend of a student doing the exact same thing, but previously “Einstein” was not the student.)

          As an adult, Einstein said things like this often:

          “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

          - Albert Einstein, letter to an atheist (1954), quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman

          “The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.”

          Letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, January 3, 1954

          • John Williams says

            I was not talking about a personal God that is why I mentioned Spinoza’s God. Einstein had explicitly said he was talking about Spinoza’s God so Einsteins God is obviously similar in nature.

          • jacobfromlost says

            I’ll let you define what you think Spinoza’s god is, then, and then we can tell you if we think there is sufficient evidence to believe such a thing.

          • John Williams says

            My current conception of Spinoza’s God would be a singular substance that is made up of everything in the universe. I believe the Universe is cyclical in nature. Recently their has been evidence that this is the case: “Penrose: WMAP Shows Evidence of ‘Activity’ Before Big Bang”. I believe nothing comes from nothing, if something came from it, whatever that it is, it was something. Since time slows down as light speed is approached and theoretically slows after it is passed, logic would indicate lightspeed is timeless. The substance Spinoza spoke of would occur at the beginning of the big bang when everything in the unverse is compressed into one substance. It would also occur at maximum expansion when all matter becomes energy owing to the timeless nature of light. A superposition of all the cyclical universes throughout eternity would also create the substance Spinoza spoke of, an overlaying of all the cyclical universes that have ever existed. This substance would be undifferentiable, therefore no contrast or relativity would be possible in it. All the known laws of our universe would breakdown, there would be no time, space, energy or matter, there would be a combination of them all as one substance. This would create the inverse of Mach’s principle. Since there is no large scale structure to that universe there would be no way to discern any phenemona. That is my hypothesis for Spinoza’s God.

          • jacobfromlost says

            John,

            “My current conception of Spinoza’s God would be a singular substance that is made up of everything in the universe.”

            I believe the universe exists. We have evidence.

            “I believe the Universe is cyclical in nature.”

            It could be. We don’t have evidence for this yet (ie, and infinite cycle of universes?), so I don’t believe it.

            “I believe nothing comes from nothing, if something came from it, whatever that it is, it was something.”

            Sure.

            “Since time slows down as light speed is approached and theoretically slows after it is passed, logic would indicate lightspeed is timeless.”

            No, light speed cannot be passed…unless that neutrino thing is confirmed. (It hasn’t been yet.) Or unless you are talking about the expansion of space-time itself after the BB.

            “The substance Spinoza spoke of would occur at the beginning of the big bang when everything in the unverse is compressed into one substance.”

            You’re mixing and matching incompatible ideas (unless you count “undefined” or “unknown” as compatible).

            “This substance would be undifferentiable, therefore no contrast or relativity would be possible in it.”

            Then there cannot be evidence for it, and you have no means to support your claim it exists (or any means to KNOW it exists).

            “All the known laws of our universe would breakdown, there would be no time, space, energy or matter, there would be a combination of them all as one substance. This would create the inverse of Mach’s principle. Since there is no large scale structure to that universe there would be no way to discern any phenemona. That is my hypothesis for Spinoza’s God.”

            That doesn’t sound like Spinoza’s god as Spinoza described it. It sounds like a hypothesis of the natural world based on no evidence that slaps the name “Spinoza’s god” on it for reasons that are not clear to me.

            I therefore don’t believe it until I see evidence…and even THEN, I wouldn’t call it “Spinoza’s god.”

          • John Williams says

            I clearly stated it was a hypothesis. You have your own brain take it or leave it as you see fit. I am claiming no certainty because certainty is the destroyer of the search for truth. It is an idea and there are similarities to the substance Spinoza continually wrote about,in my opinion, he is not here to ask unfortunately.

          • jacobfromlost says

            John,

            “I clearly stated it was a hypothesis.”

            I must have missed something in this conversation. I thought you were asking if some of us atheists had considered believing in Einstein’s god or Spinoza’s god. I explained how that made little sense, as they basically redefined god to mean “nature doing what nature does.” We atheists do believe in nature, the universe, and the ability to use science and rationality to discover more about the natural world. There is nothing remarkable in that.

            “You have your own brain take it or leave it as you see fit.”

            I’m leaving it because it seems to be making something of nothing, and I know how you hate that.

            “I am claiming no certainty because certainty is the destroyer of the search for truth.”

            Sure. How might you find out if you are right or wrong? If there IS no way to find out, as the claim by its very nature is unfalsifiable, then your claim is on the same list as everything imaginable, everything false, everything contradictory, everything unknown, and everything unknowable. That means it is the weakest claim possible.

            “It is an idea and there are similarities to the substance Spinoza continually wrote about,in my opinion, he is not here to ask unfortunately.”

            But we can read his writings, and it doesn’t seem to match up with your description except in the most basic and useless way possible–ie nature does exist.

          • Vicki says

            I read a little bit of Spinoza back in college (it was an assigned text for some course). I nearly threw the book across the room when I saw that Spinoza’s god, as defined by Spinoza, is the entity whose existence can be proven by Anselm’s “ontological argument.” (That’s one of Spinoza’s axioms. If the axioms of a system are invalid, so are its conclusions.) I have considered, and rejected, the “god” that exists because it is defined as existing.

          • John Williams says

            I must have missed something in this conversation. I thought you were asking if some of us atheists had considered believing in Einstein’s god or Spinoza’s god. I explained how that made little sense, as they basically redefined god to mean “nature doing what nature does.” We atheists do believe in nature, the universe, and the ability to use science and rationality to discover more about the natural world. There is nothing remarkable in that.

            You asked for my definition of Spinoza’s God, I obliged with a hypothesis.

            I’m leaving it because it seems to be making something of nothing, and I know how you hate that.

            Does that include the entire Big Bang theory? Which from what I can tell is supposed to appear from nothing at all.

            Sure. How might you find out if you are right or wrong? If there IS no way to find out, as the claim by its very nature is unfalsifiable, then your claim is on the same list as everything imaginable, everything false, everything contradictory, everything unknown, and everything unknowable. That means it is the weakest claim possible.

            Then it is in good company along side the Big Bang and the wave nature of matter which is dependent on inferences and the belief that it has an uncollapsed state when no one is looking at it. If you look at it it collapses, as Einstein said “I like to think that the moon is there, even if I am not looking at it.”

            But we can read his writings, and it doesn’t seem to match up with your description except in the most basic and useless way possible–ie nature does exist.

            He said it was a single substance, what I put forward would be one substance. That is a similarity.

            It almost seems that an attempt at putting forth a creative idea or hypothesis bothers you. It is just an attempt at thinking outside the box, nothing more, no need to act like it is an attack on you.

          • jacobfromlost says

            John,

            “You asked for my definition of Spinoza’s God, I obliged with a hypothesis.”

            Why would anyone “believe in” a hypothesis?

            “Does that include the entire Big Bang theory? Which from what I can tell is supposed to appear from nothing at all.”

            You need to do some more reading, then, so you can tell better. (The BB says no such thing.)

            “Then it is in good company along side the Big Bang and the wave nature of matter which is dependent on inferences and the belief that it has an uncollapsed state when no one is looking at it. If you look at it it collapses, as Einstein said “I like to think that the moon is there, even if I am not looking at it.””

            No. We have evidence for the Big Bang. We didn’t just make it up. (Einstein was wrong about quantum mechanics–we have evidence.)

            “He said it was a single substance, what I put forward would be one substance. That is a similarity.”

            You mean the word “substance” means you are both talking about the same thing? Can you demonstrate this, as “substance” seems very vague, and can be used to describe lots of things that are not remotely similar.

            “It almost seems that an attempt at putting forth a creative idea or hypothesis bothers you.”

            Creativity is wonderful AS creativity. Passing it off as reality based on nothing does bother me.

            “It is just an attempt at thinking outside the box, nothing more, no need to act like it is an attack on you.”

            But posing hypotheses based on no evidence is thinking that is ensconced SECURELY IN the box! If you want to blow the lid, sides, and floor out of that box, you have to come up with a hypothesis that is falsifiable, then test it so that it could fail the test, and then demonstrate that it didn’t fail the test. (And even if it DOES fail the test, if the idea was sufficiently novel, it tells us more about other possible answers and may directly lead to a hypothesis that doesn’t fail the test.)

            THEN you are thinking outside the box.

            Just making up stuff that is utterly disconnected with observable reality, with no means to find out if it is true or not, is as “in the box” thinking as thinking gets. Anyone can do that.

          • John Williams says

            Hypothesis Definition

            1. A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.
            2. A proposition made as a basis for reasoning, without any assumption of its truth.

            Need I say more?

          • jacobfromlost says

            John,

            “1. A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.”

            So if it is a starting point for further investigation, how would you proceed to continue investigating as your claim is unfalsifiable? If there is no means to continue investigating it, I’m not even sure if it qualifies as a hypothesis.

            “2. A proposition made as a basis for reasoning, without any assumption of its truth.”

            But I was already at that stage BEFORE you mentioned your hypothesis–I assumed it was not true until I see evidence for it. (That’s what most atheists do, by the way–that’s why they are atheists.)

            “Need I say more?”

            Yes. For instance, why are you floating ideas that you yourself say have no assumption of truth EVEN BY YOU in a discussion with atheists where you started off asking us if we believe in Spinoza’s god? Wouldn’t the possibility of “us believing in Spinoza’s god” mean we assumed it to be true? And why would it matter one way or another if YOU don’t even assume it is true?

          • Joshua Fisher says

            I clearly stated it was a hypothesis. You have your own brain take it or leave it as you see fit. I am claiming no certainty because certainty is the destroyer of the search for truth. It is an idea and there are similarities to the substance Spinoza continually wrote about,in my opinion, he is not here to ask unfortunately.

            There is a problem with what you are doing here. In this post you are trying to distance yourself from claims you have made on “Spinoza’s God” But if you read the entire exchange you will see that you have made some logical errors.

            You see, you told jacob that:

            Einstein had explicitly said he was talking about Spinoza’s God so Einsteins God is obviously similar in nature.

            To which jacob replied:

            I’ll let you define what you think Spinoza’s god is, then, and then we can tell you if we think there is sufficient evidence to believe such a thing.

            You then gave your hypothesis/definition of Spinoza’s God, thus suggesting that this is what you think Einstein believes in.

          • John Williams says

            So if it is a starting point for further investigation, how would you proceed to continue investigating as your claim is unfalsifiable? If there is no means to continue investigating it, I’m not even sure if it qualifies as a hypothesis.

            Who said I thought that far ahead. I was introducing an idea I only very recently contemplated. Quite likely many others have thought of the same thing.

            But I was already at that stage BEFORE you mentioned your hypothesis–I assumed it was not true until I see evidence for it. (That’s what most atheists do, by the way–that’s why they are atheists.)
            “Need I say more?”
            Yes. For instance, why are you floating ideas that you yourself say have no assumption of truth EVEN BY YOU in a discussion with atheists where you started off asking us if we believe in Spinoza’s god? Wouldn’t the possibility of “us believing in Spinoza’s god” mean we assumed it to be true? And why would it matter one way or another if YOU don’t even assume it is true?

            Having evidence and having an idea are not the same thing, one necessarily precedes the other. The reason for introducing it was civil feedback, possibly curiosity or any other number of human responses, I do not know what those will be until after I do it. You appear to be locked down in your own “dogma” so I guess it was a wasted effort. You appear to already know everything including what is falsifiable and what is not though I highly doubt you grasp, or are wiling to grasp the possible significance. Therefore there is no way I could explain if I wanted to.

          • John Williams says

            Joshua Fishel

            You then gave your hypothesis/definition of Spinoza’s God, thus suggesting that this is what you think Einstein believes in.

            No one really knows for sure what Einstein believed in, so that is impossible. I presented the best approximation I could. My hypothesis for what Einstein and Spinoza may have been referring too. It is just a supposition, nothing more, due to curiosity about the response. Christians responses are totally rooted in dogma, I was curious about the response to a claim that could be conceptualized, at least to some degree.

          • jacobfromlost says

            John,

            “Who said I thought that far ahead. I was introducing an idea I only very recently contemplated. Quite likely many others have thought of the same thing.”

            Then it isn’t a hypothesis in the scientific sense. It just something you said.

            “Having evidence and having an idea are not the same thing, one necessarily precedes the other.”

            Anyone can have an idea. If your idea is such that it cannot be verified in any way, it is nonsense.

            “The reason for introducing it was civil feedback, possibly curiosity or any other number of human responses, I do not know what those will be until after I do it.”

            I’ve been uncivil?
            How can I be curious about something that has no means to observe it? To verify it? To test it? It’s like being curious about the chemical make up of Jack’s magical beans. Is that REALLY curiosity? No.

            “You appear to be locked down in your own “dogma” so I guess it was a wasted effort.”

            What dogma would that be? Requiring evidence before believing in things? I already told you I accept your “hypothesis” in exactly the same way you do: as something that has no assumption of truth value. So why are you taking offense as if we disagree?

            “You appear to already know everything including what is falsifiable and what is not”

            You DEFINED it as unfalsifiable! You said, “This substance would be undifferentiable, therefore no contrast or relativity would be possible in it.”

            I don’t know everything, but I do know when someone defines a proposition as unfalsifiable that the PROPOSITION is unfalsifiable, by (your own) definition.

            “though I highly doubt you grasp, or are wiling to grasp the possible significance.”

            It would have no more or less significance than any other proposition that says existence in some form “always existed” for lack of a timeless term.

            “Therefore there is no way I could explain if I wanted to.”

            How do you know that?

          • John Williams says

            You DEFINED it as unfalsifiable! You said, “This substance would be undifferentiable, therefore no contrast or relativity would be possible in it.”
            I don’t know everything, but I do know when someone defines a proposition as unfalsifiable that the PROPOSITION is unfalsifiable, by (your own) definition.

            By uncivil I mean the assumptions above, maybe you are not aware you are doing it? This quote “”This substance would be undifferentiable, therefore no contrast or relativity would be possible in it.” does not say unfalsifiable anywhere. I do not know if it is any more falsifiable/unfalsifiable than Hawkings “Superbrane”. I do not know whether or not there are logical inferences that would indicate it is the case, much like the wave natue of matter is inferred from indirect statistical evidence. How are you so certain?

          • jacobfromlost says

            John,

            “By uncivil I mean the assumptions above, maybe you are not aware you are doing it?”

            I think the problem here is that you don’t know what falsifiable means.

            “This quote “”This substance would be undifferentiable, therefore no contrast or relativity would be possible in it.” does not say unfalsifiable anywhere.”

            It doesn’t have to. If something is “undifferentiable” and has “no contrast or relativity”, then there is no means to distinguish it from other things. If you have no means to test to see it is what it is, and it isn’t something else, then the claim of its existence is unfalsifiable. (Unfalsifiable means that you can’t devise a test in which the claim being tested could fail the test–meaning the claim is very weak.)

            “I do not know if it is any more falsifiable/unfalsifiable than Hawkings “Superbrane”.”

            The difference is that a hypothesis by an expert in the field that bases their hypothesis on mountains and mountains of evidence (indirect evidence in this case), as well as mathematics, carries more weight than assertions based on nothing. Still, even with no evidence contradicting a hypothesis by an expert, even with mathematical support, the hypothesis MUST be confirmed through observation, experimentation, etc, in a falsifiable way to make it solid. Otherwise it is just something Hawking said (which will only be taken more seriously than something YOU said by virtue of the fact that he knows much more about the subject at hand then you do, but that doesn’t mean science takes the “superbrane” so seriously that they say it is demonstrated in reality).

            “I do not know whether or not there are logical inferences that would indicate it is the case, much like the wave natue of matter is inferred from indirect statistical evidence. How are you so certain?”

            How am I certain about what? I am certain (as a human can be certain of anything) your claim is unfalsifiable simply by the way you defined the claim (I didn’t define it, YOU DID). There is nothing specific IN your claim. Any of the competing ideas by EXPERTS IN THE FIELD could be demonstrated to be correct tomorrow, and you could say you were “right” because you defined your position with words like “substance” that could indeed be anything.

            Here’s my opposing hypothesis: the observable universe came from some stuff, and by “stuff”, I mean the stuff the universe came from, and by “the stuff the universe came from”, I mean something that isn’t your “substance”, whatever that is. Therefore my hypothesis wins no matter what–because I defined it that way! lol

            See the problem now? You can’t float an idea by making it as vague as possible, then claim that anything discovered in that giant vague idea means you are right. I can just as easily float my opposing vague idea, and simply define your vague idea out of existence.

        • Joshua Fisher says

          John,

          What about Spinoza’s God? This sort of wishy-washy hands off god has no meaning. If god has no effect on the universe what does it matter to me whether or not he exists? It is a question I will address when there is a reasonable means to determine its truth. To me this question of a deist god is no more relevant that the question of whether or not there is a cell phone floating in space near a planet in a galaxy billions of light years from our own. There may be… So what?

          Believing in something you cannot define is ridiculous. By definition, you don’t have anything to believe. Not believing in something you cannot define is automatic. For example:

          Person 1: Do you believe in frempboodies?

          Person 2: What are they?

          1: Don’t know. They are undefined.

          2: Then, no.

          If they aren’t defined there is nothing to believe.

          The problem is that God is defined. Sure, it’s rare enough that any two people agree on what that definition is, but there are many, many, many definitions for God. I have yet to have one submitted to me that I believe in. I am not in the business of inventing things to disbelieve. I do not go about my day, relishing in all the gods I can imagine not to believe in.

          When someone tells me that there is a god out there, it falls to them to define it and demonstrate to me that it exists. If someone manages to do that to my satisfaction I will be a believer. Until that time, I do not believe.

        • Janstince says

          I think the issue here has been summed up pretty well, with one more point in mind. Positive claims require positive evidence. But the big point in my mind is that either such a god would be indistinguishable from the natural laws we observe, and thusly can not be detected or proven to exist, or does not exist.

          The main point is curiosity: when somebody says, “Goddidit,” that’s an open invitation to cease inquiry, whether through lack of curiosity or by force to maintain dogmatic assertions. Regardless, it is a poor statement for determining the laws the universe operates on. It’s like the idea of irreducible complexity; if god did it, how can we figure it out (and in most of the examples Behe has pulled out, deterministic causes have been identified).

    • Drivebyposter says

      Because Christians are the most common religion in America. It’s the one the guys and gals on the show have the most experience with. They have talked about other religions, but only as they come up. There’s no point in mocking Ereshkigal when that won’t really make any sort of impact. Besides…Christians are ones who are trying to force their religion into our government. Their behavior and claims are the ones most in dire need of ridicule and debunking at the moment.
      Besides…they’re the ones talking about the stupid shit they believe the most. They just leave themselves wide open to get their beliefs torn apart.

  4. YouShouldReadMore says

    You don’t really understand 12 step programs. And it shows.

    The word god as it is used there has zero, nada, nilch, nothing, zip to do with Jesus type-god or belief in any kind of Old Man With A Beard type of punishing god. You could use physics, gravity, reason or science as your idea of what god represents if you wanted and that is totally cool.

    But it is very easy for those people who are not alcoholics/addicts, who have not done anything but a cursory reading of the literature, or have a different agenda to pick on that one point as a set up for a punchline.

    But you should go read some more, smart guy.

    • says

      You really didn’t understand what I wrote – and it shows.

      I am not under the impression that the 12-step “god” is necessarily Jesus. I’m aware that they claim “god” can be anything…and it doesn’t matter one bit.

      The program is designed to replace one addiction (ex. alcohol) with another (the program/group). It doesn’t build people up, it doesn’t offer them tools to help them change their behavior, it tears them down, requiring that they admit that they’re helpless (they’re not) and that they find some “higher power” to fix them.

      I didn’t pick “that one point” – I picked ALL of them. Smart guy.

      • So Glad. says

        I guess, at times like this, when it is absoluelty plain that you neither do, nore care to, understand what AA is, it’s best that those of us who do just leave it alone. I’m not going to try to explain: you’re not interested in acquainting yourself with what we really are.

        Nor should you be. You obviously don’t understand addiction at all, based on your comment above. And that’s wonderful. Nothing makes me happier than when people don’t have to fight this.

        If I had any say in the matter, I’d wish that you didn’t tilt at this particular windmill, because your fighting against something that doesn’t exist as you’ve described it. And that’s a waste of effort you could be making advancing the atheist goals that we do agree on.

        So, just color me grateful that you don’t need AA. Because I’ve seen people with your attitude come around. Most don’t, but some can. But it’s a very painful process. And a lot of them die trying.

        • John Williams says

          Addiction is mainly about personal responsibility, based on my experience, and trouble taking any. The statistics on the 12 step programs do not scream success. Maybe personal responsibility should play a more central role.

          • says

            Addiction is mainly about personal responsibility, based on my experience, and trouble taking any.John Williams

            Hmm. I’m glad that your experience of addiction was as simple as “taking personal responsibility,” as that sounds like it was not as devastating as many folks experience.

            I’ll point out that your personal anecdote falls a bit short with respect to professional literature. The DSM offers a more…knowledge-based definition of Addiction.

        • says

          I love that – “You don’t agree so clearly you don’t get it”

          Speaking as someone who’s suffered gaming additions (and yes, enough to cause me to crash & burn in college to the point of almost flunking out), I know first hand that a way to get out of it is through understanding, collecting myself together, and the acknowledgement that I actually DO have the power to overcome it – I just have to overcome my own psychological roadblocks.

          It didn’t take anything or anyone more than myself to pull myself out of it.

          • So Glad. says

            I didn’t make the statement that those who do not agree cannot understand. I made an assessment that Mr. Dillahunty doesn’t understand based on his statements.

            As for 12 step programs being the only way, I’ve never said that and never would. Other things work for other people. I’m really happy you were able to overcome your gambling addiction. That’s fantastic. That you did so without a 12 step program speaks laudably of you.

            There are a lot of jackasses in AA who say that “either you do it the AA way, or you die, or you aren’t an alcoholic.” That’s plain bullshit. But AA does work for many people, including atheists (there are lots of atheist AA groups).

            I don’t pray. I don’t believe in any kind of a “God”. But I do recognize that there are things bigger and stronger and more powerful than me. And I know from my own experience that I couldn’t recover without help from something bigger than me, because I tried. That says nothing about anyone else’s experience. There are other ways to do you: you proved that.

            The thing that makes me sad is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Through AA, tens of millions of people have given up alcohol, and gone on to lead normal, healthy, productive lives, reunited with friends and family who thought they were lost. If they want to see that as a gift from some “God”, then it makes no benefit to me to argue it.

          • says

            It is easy to Google “alcoholics anonymous success rates” and discover a number of skeptical analyses of the 12-step program. AA does not encourage independent research of its methods, so it’s hard to get a solid impression of just how effective the treatment really is at getting people sober and keeping them that way. One problem is that a number of people who join up only go to a couple of meetings and stop. In any event, Matt’s criticism was of the tenets of the 12-step program itself, the first three of which say this:

            1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become
            unmanageable.
            2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to
            sanity.
            3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
            understood Him.

            This is pretty much a requirement to surrender completely to theism and devalue yourself as a person. There’s really no other way to spin it than that. On this basis alone, AA merits any and all attacks on its worthiness as an addiction-recovery plan. You don’t cure addictions simply by transferring them to another “drug.”

          • says

            It is easy to Google “alcoholics anonymous success rates” and discover a number of skeptical analyses of the 12-step program.

            Yes, because random people on the internet are my most trusted source of information.

            AA does not encourage independent research of its methods, so it’s hard to get a solid impression of just how effective the treatment really is at getting people sober and keeping them that way.

            You have no idea what you’re talking about. AA has no opinion on any research either pro or con. They will not assist anyone trying to do research because that goes against traditions 11 and 12.

            One problem is that a number of people who join up only go to a couple of meetings and stop.

            Is that a fact or are you guessing without any evidence?

            This is pretty much a requirement to surrender completely to theism and devalue yourself as a person. There’s really no other way to spin it than that.

            Wow – not even close. If you wish to correct your ignorance, I would direct you to chapter 4 of the AA Big Book. If not, hey, that’s cool too.

          • says

            If you wish to correct your ignorance, I would direct you to chapter 4 of the AA Big Book. If not, hey, that’s cool too.

            Naturally, AA’s own literature will provide the most objective, unbiased analysis of their methods! Next you’ll be telling me that I can find all the evidence God exists by reading the Bible.

            I should note that I have no particular axe to grind regarding AA (I certainly don’t have the emotional investment that you’re exhibiting in defending them), not being an alcoholic at any point myself and thus not needing their services. But I do frown on any “program” that takes a captive audience of vulnerable people and imposes theism upon them. You could protest that AA doesn’t do this, but the language of their vaunted 12-step program itself says otherwise, so I’m going to have to trust AA’s own word over yours on how they propose to treat addicts. While I don’t deny some people get genuine help from AA, that fact doesn’t obviate criticisms of the organization’s religious agenda, any more than the fact that some people “get something positive” out of religion in general obviates criticisms that religion is superstitious twaddle.

            Here’s a source I found on AA recidivism rates.

      • jacobfromlost says

        I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, at one point thinking that an obsession with religion would at least be better than drinking oneself to death.

        But now I’m leaning toward Matt’s view. I’ve never drunk a drop of alcohol because of the long line of alcoholism in my family, and was never much into doing things just because others were doing them. My paternal grandmother drank from the time she was two years old (don’t ask), and didn’t replace the copious amounts of alcohol with copious amounts of religion until late middle age (through AA).

        I can’t say it was any better, and was probably worse. Her thinking was still irrational in more ways than one(long story short, there was an incident involving a funeral, firearms, and multiple threats, that I won’t go into…that required several family members to speak logically and rationally to her for hours before the threats were dropped and the funeral could continue). Somehow she got it in her head that cancer was something you could murder someone with, and wanted immediate retribution. (It was the only time in my life that I was worried I might literally be a material witness in a murder.)

        But that’s just one story. There were dozens of others that all stemmed directly to the mix of her alcoholism and religion.

        I don’t know all the causal relationships involved–I just knew that if I didn’t drink, I wouldn’t need AA…which would also keep me away from religion. I could think clearly and rationally more easily without alcohol or religion, and never end up in such a weird mental space.

        And somewhat similarly to Matt, any suggestion in a group that I have to declare myself helpless, or “go along to get along” for reasons that are less than rational or apparent…I start to get the creeps. If I accept such a group, I start to feel like they might start passing out the koolaid at any moment.

    • Epinephrine says

      Having been to AA meetings, they vary in their use of God as a specific figure, but there is no question that for some groups, it very much is the Christian God (and thus, also Jesus).

      AA is a brainwashing cult, and it is in no way necessary.

      I was, by standard definitions, an alcoholic. I drank daily, it affected my work and studies, as well as my relationships. I would deal with stresses by drinking. I decided I was done with it, and quit. I am not now an alcoholic, and I will never say that I “am” one, or that it has been X days/months/years since my last drink. I quit all alcohol for several years, but realised that I don’t need to do that. I am in power, and I can have a drink socially, because it is MY choice. Heck, not having a drink out of fear that I would go back to drinking is just giving power to it. *I* decide whether to have a drink. *I* am responsible for my choices, and I certainly didn’t need to tear myself down to quit.

      I have gone to AA with people who felt they needed that to help them, and if it works for them, I suppose there is some benefit. It would never have helped me, and I think that it is an abusive organization that encourages a needless dependency.

      • Recovering Alcoholic Atheist says

        “I decided I was done with it, and quit. I am not now an alcoholic, and I will never say that I “am” one”

        Bully for you. I tried many many many times and was totally unsuccessful until I went to A.A. Just because you could kick it doesn’t mean that everyone else can. Neurological studies of addiction have shown unambiguously that there are changes in the brain due to addiction. These studies will eventually result in a treatment method that would probably include a lot of the facets of A.A. but without the god business.

        Even if such a thing had been available to me in 1983 I probably would not have taken advantage of it due to the shame I felt. I didn’t want to tell my health insurance company, my boss, or my family. I also wasn’t ready to quit for good — one day at a time was a very helpful concept for me. I also never had to listen to anyone who hadn’t experienced pretty much everything I had. My drinking story included a whole lot more than a few hangovers or bounced checks. In light of all the stuff that happened due to my drinking, it was indeed ‘insane’ of me to be tempted at all, but I had selective amnesia — I remembered only the pleasure, never the pain. (Studies have shown this to be true of addiction in general.) If I’d had to listen to some smug person like you saying “just quit” I would have walked out the first day.

        Functional MRIs have shown that dopamine receptors light up when an addict merely thinks about the thing they’re addicted to. That’s a very poewerful force that takes a great commitment to overcome. It also means the brain of someone with an addiction to a substance or something that gives them pleasure might need an interim addiction to help transition back to normalcy. So what if A.A. is addictive? Nobody ever got arrested for sober driving or got fired for making amends to their family.

        A.A. doesn’t tear people down – we are already down when we get there, with the possible exception of court-ordered atendees (who may not even be addicted).

        If you have never felt powerless over your behavior or wondered if you were insane for doing self-destructive thingsdespite multiple sincere resolutions to change, then of course the steps of A.A. would seem like “tearing down.” In practice, the steps build up as much as tear down, and acceptance from a group of people is powerful medicine after being regarded with suspicion, disgust, and fear by others for years.

        I have never been through orthopedic rehabilitation because I have never broken a bone, but I would never presume to say that people with broken legs should just get up and walk because I was able to get over a sprained ankle. THat’s essentially what you’re implying.

    • Vall says

      Are you suggesting anyone critical of the program has never been to a meeting? I’ve been to some. One person used that same line, “it doesn’t mean ‘God’ god, your god could be a tree, as long as you admit that the tree is better than you and you are powerless without it, and your only hope at being a good person is through the blessings of that tree.”

      See, I didn’t mention Jesus. The problem is not “Jesus.” The whole “higer power” thing is the problem. I don’t care what you call it.

    • steve oberski says

      So the fact that our local (Toronto) AA kicked out 2 secular AA groups has nothing to do with jebus ?

      On Tuesday, Toronto’s two secular AA groups, known as Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, were removed or “delisted” from the roster of local meetings. They’ve disappeared from the Toronto AA website and will not be in the next printed edition of the Toronto directory.

      The dispute started when Beyond Belief posted an adapted version of AA’s hallowed “Twelve Steps” on the Toronto website. They removed the word “God” from the steps, which are used as a kind of road map to help drinkers achieve sobriety.

      http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1002750–does-religion-belong-at-aa-fight-over-god-splits-toronto-aa-groups

      • Recovering Alcoholic Atheist says

        A.A. defines itself by the 12 steps, so of course a group that rewrites them has essentially left before being delisted. Any group that deviates from the definitive characteristics of A.A. would be delisted.

    • G.Shelley says

      You could use physics, gravity, reason or science as your idea of what god represents if you wanted and that is totally cool.

      Sure you could, but it wouldn’t make any sense. You can’t hand your life over to these things, seek closer contact with them through prayer and meditation, prayer for knowledge of their will or ask them to remove your shortcomings

  5. Matthew says

    Hey Matt! So glad you are on a better blog server now. Out of curiosity: what would it take for you to become a professional atheist/skeptic?

    • says

      Um…money. That kinda goes hand-in-hand with “professional”.

      I can’t afford to just quit my current job and hope that there’s enough paid speaking gigs and book deals to survive. Right now, we do everything for free.

      As long as I have the time and I’m able to get the message out – that’s good enough.

  6. Anonymosity says

    I’m confused. Nowhere in you 12 steps do you mention Jesus. You mention Christianity only in your brief bio. How did the commenters pick up on the fact that you’re only talking about Jesus? Is there some sort of code that I haven’t figured out?

    • pombolo says

      Hey, we’re atheists: that gives any non-atheist the right to tell us what we believe and think, don’t you find?

  7. uncle frogy says

    OK “I didn’t pick “that one point” – I picked ALL of them.”

    If you are not powerless over alcohol then good for you. No one is required to think like anyone no one says you should join AA. If you do not like it and don’t need it so what, Why do you even care? it is voluntary.
    If you are completely defeated by drinking and can not control your desire to drink and you life or some part of it is unmanageable because of it you can try it if it does not work try something else no charge.

    AA and the rest of the 12 step programs and there are many different ones are all made up of humans and have many of the same problems as other groups that are made up of humans have.
    There is no “counselor” to control anyone though as in any grouping of people there are controlling bossy people who will gladly tell you how you should do things. There is no authority to in force anything and no rules to in force. The 12 steps are called the 12 suggested steps not commandments.
    It is the god of your own understanding it is no where defined in any 12 step program . Right up front it says take what you liked and leave the rest. There are many none believers involved in 12 step programs as well as believers there are even people who are “born again christians”
    the 12 step process and the many programs help many learn how to cope with the problems that are encountered in life.
    if you do not need it good for you
    uncle frogy

    • Jdog says

      The point is that atheists generally feel that combatting substance abuse with delusional thinking is a bad idea. It may “work” for some people, but replacing one harmful thing (alcoholism) with another (faith) is not the best way to go about things. What happens if/when the reformed alcoholic realizes that there is probably no such thing as a higher power? Their entire reason for refusing alcohol just went out the window and they’re back to square one.

      • says

        It may “work” for some people, but replacing one harmful thing (alcoholism) with another (faith) is not the best way to go about things

        Man, the Dunning-Kruger is strong here. CLINICALLY, addicts’ brains don’t process dopamine the same way as non-addicts.

        The “trick” of how recovery programs work is the addict literally rewires his brain. Neural pathways that led to drinking/drugging/etc. are rewired to non-destructive behaviors. The 12 steps, for whatever reason, do a pretty good job of ‘rewiring’.

          • jacobfromlost says

            Indeed. I was doing some research into “cognitive restructuring”–ie, basically methods to identify irrational beliefs in oneself that lead to bad behavioral outcomes, and modify those beliefs to be rational beliefs that have better behavioral outcomes. (This is NOT brainwashing, as the rational beliefs are directly tied to functional behavioral outcomes as opposed to dysfunctional outcomes based on irrational beliefs.)

            I found this so fascinating that I was going to e-mail it to the AETV…and then it dawned on me that that is exactly what the show has always done, lol. It not only works with religion, but any behaviors based on irrational beliefs.

            Did anyone really think that life would be better if they had another drink or ten? In some sense, yes, they did. Replacing that irrational belief with the rational belief that one has a problem with drinking, and that drinking will only cause another problem…is damned hard to do. That’s why I think it is rational to have experts in psychology and addiction counsel addicts to help with the “rewiring” of rational beliefs. (Disclaimer: I oversimplified “cognitive restructuring” here to get my point across.)

    • Joshua Fisher says

      If you are completely defeated by drinking and can not control your desire to drink and you life or some part of it is unmanageable because of it you can try it if it does not work try something else no charge.

      If someone is completely out of control, if alcohol controls them, you think the answer is to say, “You are right, you are worthless, you cannot control yourself, instead of letting alcohol control you let me control you instead.” Sure, surrendering control to a program instead of alcohol may work for some people, but it does so at the cost of their own personal worth.

      Would it not be better to help them find the strength to overcome their problems on their own? To help them find their self worth?

  8. ReadsomeMoreAgain says

    I would encourage people to not listen to a non-alcoholic, non-medical professional discuss what is and is not effective for the treatment of alcoholism addiction. This is the same thing as getting your climate information from Lord Mockton. Bad idea.

    The writer of this blog is not a) a doctor b) an addiction medicine specialist c) appears to not have any personal experience what-so-ever with the treatment, diagnosis or the latest research on addiction, the biochemistry of addiction, or any of the other related fields.

    So, in other words, all the stuff he spouts off about is just the opinion of one dude with some serious sensitivity to anything remotely religious sounding, who happens to have a blog.

    That’s it.

    I would suggest you seek a more informed source of information about the usefulness and effectiveness of 12 step treatment programs, the complicated issue of addiction, and the success rate of other non-12 step programs in comparison. So far the best science has come up with is to prescribe disulfiram (which you need to, what, take forever I guess ?) and tell you to stop what you are doing. Not really all that effective when the person is a drug addict. See, if they could do that, um, they wouldn’t be an addict.

    Science has not produced any answer to addiction that has a better record that what the 12 step programs offer. If they had, that’s what we would all be using in hospitals, court referrals and inside jails. And for things like meth and oxy they have nothing but opiate blocking inhibitors, in otherwords, a treatment that only works if you take more drugs to block the drugs.

    This thread is pretty much the classic cliched hit list of misconceptions being run down for the 10 millionth time by people who are not, have not been, and cannot understand what it means to be an addict and have only a cursory understanding of what is involved in the 12 step process from a fly-by assessment completely from the outside.

    It is highly recommended you do some of your own research for yourself if you have any kind of substance abuse issues before dismissing the available options.

    • Jdog says

      The point is that the ends (ending one addiction, alcohol) do not justify the means (replacing it with another, faith/religion).

    • Aquaria says

      There is nothing but anecdotal evidence that AA works. There has never–EVER–been a definitive study done to break down who goes to AA, who stays sober for 5 years, 10, 20, 30 or more years, and certainly not any comparison to other treatment strategies.

      NOT ONE.

      And then you want to rake people over the coals for not accepting this UNTESTED religitard rip-off? Seriously?

      I bet you would have been the first person in line to buy snake oil back in 1880s. You’d be saying, “Of course it works! All these supposed people says it does! Research? Testing? Analysis? But it will make you better–swear!”

      AA has been presented by you and all the other 12-step bots in precisely the same manner–as fucking anecdote and wild claims backed up by fuck all. And you actually have the fucking gall to tell us that we don’t know what we’re talking about?

      Fuck you.

    • Danielle says

      My mother is a medically trained alcohol and drug counselor, and she’s also been in AA since I was 2. I understand how addiction works from both what my mom has taught me, from sitting outside of AA meetings since I was young, sitting in AA meetings when I was a preteen, and joining Alateen/Alanon until I was in my 20′s.

      Although I don’t agree with the twelve step method, I’m glad it works for my mom and a lot of other people. If it was just a way for adults to stop drinking, I would have no problem with it. However, this isn’t the case.

      Where I’m from, there are Alateen programs, for the teenage children of alcoholics. There are also Alakid and Alatot programs nearby. I would be fine with these too if they were just babysitting groups that explained to kids why their parents couldn’t stop drinking, and gave them some friends their age who understood. But they were full blown replicas of AA, where you were got a sponsor and worked the steps. My mom and others in AA are encouraged to send their children to these meetings. They are told they won’t be able to fully recover from their alcoholism/addiction if their children aren’t working the 12 steps too. This is what happened to me. I was told as a kid that I was insane, that only God could make me better, and that if I didn’t give my will and life over to him my mom would start drinking again. That is where it crosses the line by a mile.

    • jacobfromlost says

      “I would encourage people to not listen to a non-alcoholic, non-medical professional discuss what is and is not effective for the treatment of alcoholism addiction.”

      I take it you ARE an alcoholic (recovering?) medical professional then, since you are suggesting it is effective and we ostensibly should listen to you?

      You’ve suggested you have expertise and information about the effectiveness of 12 step programs. Do you, or are you just floating that to see if anyone accepts it?

      I have no doubt it CAN be effective in getting SOME people sober, just as I have no doubt Scientology can and has done the same thing (as well as Nation of Islam). The question is…is it the BEST way? The most effective way? And is all the god stuff necessary, the “helpless” stuff, the focus solely on the sins/wrong-doings of the addict, etc?

      And why doesn’t everyone just read that book from the “Malibu Addiction Center”? They claim it is a “Cure” with a capital “C”. Must be true. The guy in the commercial says he is cured. (I always imagine you open it up, and the first page says, “Stop drinking,” and the rest of the pages are blank. That WOULD be a cure if one simply followed that one single step, right? And if you don’t follow it, I guess that’s your own fault?)

      Another problem with this discussion is that many people use drugs/alcohol to escape from underlying emotional pain, abuse, or trauma. The 12 steps I have read don’t seem to address this at all, and I could see how someone who no longer had drugs/alcohol to numb their emotional pain/trauma would turn to religion to further distract themselves from that pain. But what makes it WORSE is that the 12 steps seem to focus on the sins of the addict alone, and not the addict dealing with past troubles in a way other than ignoring it or replacing the numbing effect of drugs with the numbing effect of irrationality (ignoring the past and its effect on one’s present mindset, pretending things didn’t happen, thinking abuse must have been deserved since “I’m a horrible sinner”, god will take care of it, “it was all my fault” when rationally no one could have changed a particular trauma from happening, etc).

      Anyone see that scene in “Fearless” with Rosie Perez and the tool box? Great scene, illustrates what I’m talking about regarding trauma (she wasn’t an addict in the movie, but I could see someone easily going down that road).

      • SoberAtheist says

        Actually, the steps can and do help people address trauma, but they are often a first stage of recovery from these things or an adjunct to other kinds of therapy. A.A. is really designed just for stopping drinking and staying stopped. If you identify something in while working the steps that you feel you need professional help with there’s nothing stopping an alkie from getting that help. On the other hand, drinking pretty much ruins all attempts to use psychotherapy.

        • jacobfromlost says

          “Actually, the steps can and do help people address trauma, but they are often a first stage of recovery from these things or an adjunct to other kinds of therapy.”

          I’m genuinely curious HOW the steps address trauma, as all the versions of the 12 steps I have read seem to suggest the addict is powerless, sinful (a wrong doer or some variation thereof), and needs to take responsibility for [fill in the blank].

          Now, I’m not saying people shouldn’t make amends (and take responsibility) for things they’ve actually done wrong, but people CAN feel guilty about things that were not their fault at all–and these steps SEEM to confirm their worst fears (fears that probably directly contributed to their drinking in the first place) which makes it easy to swap the obsession with “drinking the guilt away” with an obsession with “the steps” or “religion” to “redeem” oneself (putting the person in a psychological trap that says the only way to avoid your sins/wrongdoings is to accept a supernatural savior, and leaves them no way out from that position except back to the booze, blaming themselves for going back to the booze, then going back to the religion to redeem themselves from going back to the booze, ad nauseum).

          I’d rather people used a system that doesn’t require god belief, doesn’t require declaring oneself helpless, etc, and instead rests on the stable foundation of rationality. Maintaining a clear, rational understanding of ones own irrational beliefs in order to continually fight those irrational beliefs. Replacing one irrational belief (drinking will make me feel better and make my problems go away) with another irrational belief (I am powerless and god is in control) is just robbing Peter to pay Paul.

    • says

      This thread is pretty much the classic cliched hit list of misconceptions being run down for the 10 millionth time by people who are not, have not been, and cannot understand what it means to be an addict and have only a cursory understanding of what is involved in the 12 step process from a fly-by assessment completely from the outside.

      Well, here’s one 12-stepper who was very quick to adapt The Courtier’s Reply.

      Perhaps what Mr. ReadSomeMoreAgain is actually trying to argue is that when AA requires its members to “believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” and to make “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God,” that AA is not in fact requiring these things, but is actually requiring something else, or being metaphorical/poetic or some other vague and inoffensive postmodernist thing in which theism gets imposed without actually getting imposed. Or maybe it’s something you have to be drunk to understand.

      • SoberAtheist says

        A.A. doesn’t actually require anything. You can’t get kicked out of A.A. for not following the steps or for rewriting them to suit yourself. There are some dogmatic members because there are some personalities that prefer that style of thinking, but then there are the rest of us who give the finger to anyone who tries to tell use what we *have* to do.

    • says

      The writer of this blog is not a) a doctor b) an addiction medicine specialist c) appears to not have any personal experience what-so-ever with the treatment, diagnosis or the latest research on addiction, the biochemistry of addiction, or any of the other related fields.

      Nor did he make any such claims. Matt was addressing specifically the twelve step; a set of rules or guidelines, the exact phrasing of which is public knowledge. He was explaining why he disagreed with (most of) these rules and found them less that optimal.

      Perhaps you’d like to explain why it is so important that you state that you are powerless and must rely entirely on an outside “greater power”.

      Is this essential to the twelve step program? Will the efficiency go down if we eliminate these steps? What precisely is your problem with what Matt said?

  9. says

    Hey Matt, I think you and the rest of the rest of the Atheist Experience folks do a great job on the TV show. (The podcasts are good to, maybe even more on target for us non-believers.)

    Sometime you should figure out how to give your posted images a little bit of border spacing (or whatever). Nothing critical, it just might look better with some breathing room.

    Thanks for all the time you put into everything.

  10. Kol says

    Welcome, Matt!

    Reading down to this point (actually scrolling rapidly) went like this in my head:

    1. *Matt walks in* “Hi! I’m Matt.”
    2. *Rabid badgers begin quoting Spinoza”

    Can’t even walk into a room and say hi without the nature of reality exploding all over the place like a sack of exploding rabid … badgers.

    So, Hi Matt. You and the entire crew of the AE have been a tremendous influence on me personally. Suffice it to say that once I decided which side of the fence I should be on, your group effort to convey rationality was the reinforcement I needed to slap the spooky shit out of my mind and keep it out.

    Beth and the GB’s are doing an AWESOME job with the podcast. I’m proud to have the two of you as representatives of the “T” states.

    I’ll shut up and read now.

  11. says

    Hi Matt! My name is Joe and I’m married to a former 12-step addict.

    She used to consider herself to be an alcoholic. She used to hand her life over to a higher power, and go to BS meetings where they talked obsessively about drinking.

    Now she’s an atheist, and doesn’t go to meetings, an takes responsibility for her life. She’s had therapy for the problems she was medicating with alcohol, and she takes doctor-prescribed medication to handle her moods. She enjoys the occasional drink, but doesn’t feel the need to drink every day, or to have more than a couple of drinks in a single evening.

    She realizes that she’s not dependent on a magical higher power to control her behavior. She doesn’t need to belong to a cult in order to enjoy life. She can enjoy life on her own terms, she can control her own behavior, and she doesn’t need a god or a group to keep her from dying, no matter what AA claims.

  12. 386sx says

    Oh neat. I’ve seen Matt’s videos. He might be the greatest atheist of all time! I didn’t know he had a blog here.

  13. knut7777 says

    Welcome to Matt D., I wholeheartedly applaud your efforts to make the world a saner place.

    Some things I appreciated about 12-step programs, some of which I sampled in an attempt to understand the behavior of an ex:

    1. For someone feeling cast adrift, it was a source of badly needed fellowship.

    2. It did help me to understand the behavior that had been driving me nuts.

    Some things I did not appreciate about 12-step programs:

    1. The casting of a medical condition as a moral failing.

    2. The groupthink, which offended my sense of the beauty of individuality.

    3. The folks trolling for pickups among the vulnerable.

    4. The reduction of the varieties of human experience to a small trite set of dogmatic categories.

    Some of the 12 steps are no doubt good practice for someone who wants to lead a more moral life, but elevating them to dogma, and seeing the world purely through their prism, with no room for the uniqueness of each person, is every bit as close minded as any of the overtly religious dogmas we oppose.

    BTW, I have a brother who has been an alcoholic his whole life, who has been through every treatment and 12-step program there is, who had a brush with a life-threatening illness last year, and has truly quit drinking for the first time in decades. It is amazing to see that being faced with mortality has succeeded where all the rest did not.

    • Recovering Alcoholic Atheist says

      “1. The casting of a medical condition as a moral failing.”
      I thought it was the opposite — until A.A. came along alcoholism was considered a moral failing and it is now considered a medical condition. The fact that so many people still think it’s a matter of will power should tell you a lot about what people were facing in the 1930s.

      “2. The groupthink, which offended my sense of the beauty of individuality.”
      Individuality blossoms in A.A. Alcoholism destroys individuality. One drunk under a bridge or passed out in their kitchen is pretty much the same as any other drunk in that situation. There is a type of groupthink but you tend to see extreme people at meetings because they go to more meetings. You don’t see me at meetings because after almost 30 years I really only check in every once in awhile. The reason you see so few old-timers at meetings isn’t that we’ve relapsed. It’s because we’ve gotten on with our lives.

      “3. The folks trolling for pickups among the vulnerable.”
      Yeah, that sucks, but you see it in rehabs and bars too. It comes with the territory of being an alcoholic, sadly. Fortunately for me I drove my first-year boyfriend nuts before he had a chance to make me crazy. :-p Anyone who wants to hook up with a freshly sober alkie is in for a helluva ride. When I was more active I made a point of looking out for yhe young women, but keep in mind some of them want to be picked up.

      “4. The reduction of the varieties of human experience to a small trite set of dogmatic categories.”

      Do you mean that things we tend to be ashamed of or clasify as “sins” or that we’ve done that hurt people can be ascribed to instincts? That’s really true if you think about it.

      “Some of the 12 steps are no doubt good practice for someone who wants to lead a more moral life, but elevating them to dogma, and seeing the world purely through their prism, with no room for the uniqueness of each person, is every bit as close minded as any of the overtly religious dogmas we oppose.”

      There’s no rule that you have to be that way. A lot of alkies return to the religion of their childhood. Others are like me. So what if some people are extreme? That happens everywhere. People are people. That’s true in A.A. The only thing people in A.A. have in common is not being ableto quit drinking on their own. Period. Everything else is up for grabs. Don’t judge the many by a biased sampling.

      • says

        There’s no rule that you have to be that way. A lot of alkies return to the religion of their childhood. Others are like me.

        Which neatly demonstrates that all the crap about “god, as we understand him” is completely unnecessary dogma that doesn’t affect the efficacy of the program.

        So, why is it there?

        • Recovering Alcoholic Atheist says

          How can anything that’s up to the discretion of the individual possibly be considered “dogma?” That makes no sense at all. Dogma by definition requires that everyone believe the exact same thing.

          The steps were written in the past tense because they described the process used by the earliest members. That was almost 80 years ago. I totally made up my own approach but I leaned heavily on others for help and guidance, and I believed that I could get sober because I met these other people who got sober. Nobody required me to believe one little thing. I wasn’t threatened with any kind of excommunication if I messed up. They didn’t even keep people out who showed up drunk unless they were disruptive, and even then someone would just take them outside and talk with them one-on-one (or three-on-one if the drunk had a knife!)

          I welcome educated opinions about A.A. but that’s not what I’m seeing here.

  14. nude0007 says

    WOW! I love the new site! Links to all the neat things u guys have going on. (Can u make the replies here go in ascending order, so the newest is at the top? I think that’d work better)

    It is cleaner, neater, and more professional looking.

    You guys need to get volunteers to go out and beg for money to do more things. Dress as hari krishnas and haunt airports. Petition Richard Branson for support.

    • Kol says

      Interesting conception but the idea might be conceived as a Trojan.

      Did durex like pizza? Mine always ruined ours with condom ints.

      You can I.D. me as Kol.

      IUD u as JT.

      Your idea is interesting. If it doesn’t work, there’s always Plan B.

  15. says

    I am late here, as usual. I LOVE those 12 steps. Back when I was a Catholic teenager, I did in religious classes a presentation on alcoholism, and the AA’s twelve steps were used by the teacher as evidence for the existence of God. Even as a Catholic, I hated them then. I hate them now. I always thought it was borderline cultist. I think I never became an alcoholic so I wouldn’t have to go into the A.A.

    • jacobfromlost says

      “I think I never became an alcoholic so I wouldn’t have to go into the A.A.”

      Same here. I just never drank.

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