Removing blog roll for now

That neat little widget that used to appear in the side bar, which scrolls through a list of other atheist blogs, is gone for now. It was causing some false reports of malicious software on some browsers. We’ll keep an eye on this site until they come up with a solution to put it back.

Open thread on Non-Prophets 9.8

It just occurred to me that I mentioned the new episode was up last week via Facebook, and of course you podcast-savvy listeners have already heard it. But for those who only rely on the blog for new information, you may not know that there is an all new guerilla episode featuring Lynnea, Jeff Dee, and me, Russell. Go check it out!

An unsolicited chat about Pascal’s Wager.

Out of nowhere just now, I received a message on Gmail:

12:40 PM some guy [screen name withheld]: So you’re an atheist?

Naturally I thought, “So who the heck is this guy and why is he pestering me?” Searching through my email , I found a long exchange with a Muslim, which I eventually got sick of. I even posted about it here, here and here.

12:41 PM me: We had a ten email long exchange about this already.
12:42 PM I posted it on the Atheist Experience blog and linked you to it.
12:44 PM Muslim apologist: ah thats right
12:45 PM Why don’t you take advantage of Pascal’s wager?

Now I had to think real hard about whether to just hit the “block” button, because I don’t really want to be hassled at work by some random Muslim apologist. But then I thought about things I might say, and I was inspired. Here is the rest of that exchange.

me: Ah, you mean become a Christian.
12:46 PM apologist: Christian Muslim, Jewish, same god
so ya sure
me: Really? Because a lot of Christians believe that Muslims will go to hell.
So why don’t you take advantage of Pascal’s wager? Aren’t you afraid of Christian hell?
apologist: So do we, I believe alot of muslims are going to hell too
12:47 PM me: So you’re not afraid of Christian hell then.
apologist: of course not. Christians believe those that did wrong will go to hell
me: No.
Christians believe those that don’t accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior will go to hell.
Do you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?
12:48 PM apologist: You mean Jesus Christ as in God?
We believe in Jesus Christ
me: Yes, but do you accept that he died for your sins, and have you pledged to let him into your heart specifically?
12:49 PM apologist: We believe he never died…
me: You don’t believe that he died for your sins and then rose from the dead?
Bad news, man. According to the Christian religion, you are doomed to hellfire.
12:50 PM It doesn’t matter if you’re a good person or not. All people who die without accepting salvation go to Christian hell.
Why don’t you accept Pascal’s wager?
apologist: No we believe Jesus is going to come back to earth
12:51 PM me: Then you are a heretic in the eyes of the Christian god, and you deserve eternal torment.
12:52 PM apologist: Accept christian religion was changed over years so you don’t know exactly if thats true or not.
me: I certainly do not know that, but it MIGHT be true.
And even if there is a small chance, then can you afford to take the risk?
I don’t understand why you would risk hellfire over the possibility that you are wrong.
12:53 PM apologist: Well no you see, if the Christian religion was not changed and remained in tact from when Jesus first revealed it then it would be exact similiar to the quran
me: That’s your belief. It’s your business if you want to risk your eternal soul over something when you might be wrong.
12:54 PM Hey, I’m just doing what you asked and taking Pascal’s Wager seriously, you know?
Pascal was a Catholic. You’re not Catholic. Do you think Pascal thought Muslims would go to heaven?
apologist: Why would I take pascal’s theory. Whether I believe in Christianity, Judaism or Islam I am believing that god exists
12:55 PM Christianity and Judaism is just like Islam except for the change documents
only difference is Islam is unchanged
12:57 PM Its just obsurd to think that something came out of nothing
me: Oh I see. So you think there is evidence to support your religion.
So actually Pascal’s Wager means nothing to you at all.
If it did, you’d accept Jesus as your savior.
12:58 PM Why did you bring it up then?
apologist: Jesus himself never died he was replaced by someone else on the cross which latter Christians failed to believe
Islam address this in the quran
me: So you don’t believe Pascal’s wager?
A simple yes or no will do.
apologist: Why would I?
12:59 PM I am in the right religion already
me: then now you know why I don’t believe it, and I have answered your question ;)

Then I blocked him.

We’d like to thank the academy…

Hey, gang, remember that one time when we asked you to go vote for us as best access TV show in the Austin Chronicle? Well, thanks very much for your votes… WE WON!

Got a nice blurb, too:

This international public access show includes debates about religious philosophy while promoting a positive education on atheism. Some of our town’s most delightful free thinkers, including Hepcats author Martin Wagner, computer scientist Don Baker, and aerospace engineer Jen Peeples, host this tasteful approach to lively, interactive conversations with viewers of various beliefs.

Oh my gosh, so many people to thank, if we can just stop crying long enough to put on our tiara.

Congratulations also to our good friends at the Texas Freedom Network, who walked away with “Best Activist Organization.”

Flowchart: Does God send people to hell?

Alert viewer Robert K. was inspired to create this flow chart based on Matt and Jeff’s dialogue with Denise.

The only part that I would object to, a bit, is that it implies that the caller should not be taken seriously if he or she supplies a “wrong answer” to the early questions about what God is actually like. This implies that there is an actual “right answer” to questions like “Did God create hell?”

Of course, the way I see it, the actual right answer is “Of course not, because there is no God.” But even for a believer, there’s no compelling reason why their answers must conform to anything other people believe, or even the Bible. See, that’s the benefit of belief systems that are just made up. Even if they are internally consistent, there’s no chance that you can ever be proven wrong. Even if you are, in fact, wrong.

Open thread about AE #672

We’ve received some pleas lately to have threads available to discuss the shows when they happen, so I’m going to try and grant that request. If you can’t see a thread started each week, feel free to drop a line to [email protected] asking for it.

I’m listening to the show right now, and I just finished with Denise the Christian caller hanging up on Matt. Good stuff. Want more. Our thanks to the person who taunted her into it.

Doing my part to spread the word

Back during a few months when the TV show was being filmed from “Dillahunty International Studios” rather than its normal location at the public access TV station, we stopped eating at Threadgill’s for a while and started going to a place near Lakeline Mall called Pluckers Wing Bar. Some people didn’t like it, but I managed to get mildly addicted to their hot wings. :)

There’s this challenge at Pluckers, that if you eat 25 “Fire in the Hole” wings, you get your picture taken for inclusion on the “Wall of Flame.” I’ve been meaning to leave my mark there, so yesterday I skipped breakfast and lunch and went for it.

The picture I got is of me giving an anguished stare at the empty basket of bones. Written in sharpie at the bottom is the inscription: “There is NO GOD!” If you want to drop by and admire my handywork, I’m on the left side of the board near the ceiling, as that was the best spot I could find on the fairly crowded wall.

Also got a t-shirt for cheap (unless you count the price of 25 wings) so that I can proudly display my accomplishment the next time I’m on TV. I feel enriched and character developed, let me tell ya.

Still more on being a dick

This started as a comment on Matt’s post about being a dick, but when it got to a certain length, I decided to barge to the front of the line and write my own post. That is, no doubt, a dick move on my part. :)

The problem with Phil’s approach isn’t that there are no dicks in the atheist community. Obviously there are, as highlighted by the “all Christians are retarded” post linked in that thread. All Christians aren’t retarded, and that’s a dick thing to say. One point for Phil.

The real problem is that by focusing on it in a speech this way, Phil gives the clearly false impression that this is systemic to the “leaders” of the “new atheist” “movement” (to the extent that there are leaders and it is a movement that is new, although I join many in despising the “new” designation).

There’s a bait-and-switch which always seems to go on in these discussions. PZ Myers, Dawkins, and we on TAE, do what we can to attack ideas and not people at every opportunity. Some people are dumb, but none of us wants to paint with a broad brush everyone who holds a belief as universally dumb. We say that up front, and we don’t hesitate to call specific ideas dumb, if it’s warranted. By focusing on the ideas we can pay attention to WHY they’re dumb, rather than calling names of people who, after all, are complex individuals with many different ideas and motivations.

We do attack ideas, but we attack them in a way that sometimes offends people. The point, though, is that the people who are taking offense are often doing so due to unreasonable beliefs. Like PZ Myers and his “frackin’ cracker.” It’s less about the offensive language and more about the fact that certain people believe the cracker is the body of Jesus — which it clearly isn’t — and they are willing to terrorize and intimidate people who don’t treat it with the respect due to a magical cracker — which it isn’t. It’s about the fact that people should be allowed to draw cartoons with Mohammed as a character — clearly an activity that harms no one except by annoying them — without receiving death threats.

In a nutshell, this is about drawing attention to an activity which shouldn’t be offensive but is. It is taking a stand to say that religious devotees cannot draw arbitrary battle lines and say “We hereby intend to be offended by activity X, and unless you cease and desist from doing X at all times, you are a dick.” I actually see a lot of parallel between this issue and the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”, which is neither a Mosque nor at ground zero. On that subject, an opinion seems to be coalescing, even among people who are trying to appear reasonable, that “those Muslims have the right to build a cultural center there, but good taste dictates that they should not do it.”

I reject that. I think if anything, this whole crapstorm has made it more apparent that those Muslims should build their cultural center right where they damn well said they would, because if they give up ground on this issue then there won’t be a spot in America where they are allowed to build anything, ever. Free speech and free assembly aren’t just symbolic. If those rights aren’t exercised then we can still lose them.

I’m willing to have a reasonable discussion about what are the best methods for exercising our free speech to deal with unreasonable taboos. Sure , Phil, in a few situations it may be preferable to be polite and observe the taboos that you disagree with, depending on how important the fight is. I reject, however, the categorical statement that you shouldn’t do things that might make some group think you’re a dick. That way lies capitulation to every unrealistic demand of a new Taliban.

But Phil Plait would also like to strengthen his case by sneakily conflating two things. On one hand, we have posts that say “All Christians are Retards,” a statement which is both dickish and false. On the other hand, we have PZ Myers throwing his cracker in the trash. By conflating the two, we can be left with the impression that PZ Myers calls all Christians retards, when in reality the two acts are not equivalent.

It just seems to me that way too often, saying “Don’t be a dick” is actually code for “Shut up and accept it when other people are dicks to you.”

The Quran and the speed of light

I think I should make a policy, that if I received a similar very specific question by email twice, I should turn the first exchange into a blog post and link it as a reply to the same question in the future. I probably won’t be able to stick to this policy, but I’m doing it now for this message.

The claim: The Quran computes the value of the speed of light with unbelievable accuracy.

Sources: “Speed of Light“; “Quran and The Speed of Light?” (video)

Best rebuttal online: At Islam Watch.

My two cents:

This is a clear case of cherry picking numbers to sound plausible. They had to use some incredibly tortured logic to drag the number “12,000 lunar orbits” out of a fairly generic verse which, after all, makes no reference whatsoever to moons or distances or even the number 12. They are taking something vague and trying to make it specific, which after all is what all apologists do when they want to make a prophecy out of something that isn’t. If it hadn’t been the moon, they could have tried “1000 centuries of walking” or “1000 rotations of the earth” or “1000 earth orbits” — ANYTHING which gets them within the right order of magnitude to something specific.

Then that’s not enough to get them all that close, so they screw around with the numbers more. For instance, you’ll notice they use some extremely fuzzy math to claim that there are 86170 seconds in a day. There aren’t 86,170 seconds in a day, there are 86,400. If there were as much as 230 seconds difference every day, then we’d have a leap year every year.

They do all kinds of stupid math tricks just to line up some number with a lunar cycle to match a verse that doesn’t even say anything about lunar orbits, and then they claim that the Quran predicts the speed of light. Okay. If that’s the case, then why didn’t the ancient Muslims know what the speed of light was? Why is it never referenced anywhere? Why isn’t it calculated? Why, in fact, did no one think to calculate the speed of light from the Quran until long after Einstein Ole Rømer came along? [Edited -- thanks Curt!]

I’ll tell you why, because it’s nonsense. It’s applying known scientific facts, discovered by westerners, and giving credit to their holy book by retrofitting nonsensical numerology with cherry picked frames of reference.

How did the authors of the Quran have such fantastic futuristic knowledge, Muslims ask? It’s really simple when you recognize a few facts. The Quran is an ancient book written by people who had no knowledge of modern science, and in fact reads this way. A contemporary person who knows some science can make passages of the Quran superficially resemble scientific insights by manipulating verses that have nothing to do with science and trying to pigeonhole them into something resembling contemporary knowledge.

You could, if you were so inclined, do exactly the same thing with “The Canterbury Tales,” “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” or Lewis Carrol’s “Jabberwocky.”