Something to read with your Monday morning coffee

Everyone loves a good beatdown of those two adorable sad-sack clowns, Ray Cameron and Kirk Comfort. (Or is that the other way around? Oh, who cares!) And here, a fine young atheist writer named Nathan Dickey provides one for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.


Talking to Nathan on Facebook this morning, he brought up that he was inspired to take the opposite approach suggested by this post of mine from a year ago, in which I tried to encourage atheists simply to ignore Ray. My opinion then, which I still hold, is that the vast majority of what Ray says and does is every bit as much about self-promotion and aggrandizement as it is about evangelizing.

It’s nothing but a publicity stunt when Ray and Kirk do things like publish their own version of Origin of Species, or “challenge” people like Richard Dawkins to a debate (simply so they can crow he must have chickened out when he refuses). And Ray’s legendary dishonesty is so shameless in all of his dealings with atheists that for atheists to continue to seek engagements with him can only be seen as an act of futility. This is quite simply a man who cannot be trusted to show any degree of integrity whatsoever. He is a pathological liar, straight up, as we saw most recently in an exchange where Ray informed an atheist commenter to his blog that he would be delighted to phone in to AETV if we extended an invitation to him, as he did not want to invite himself. I immediately went to Ray’s blog and posted an invitation. Ray replied by posting a link to his “interview request” form, which would seem bizarre, considering that I wasn’t requesting an interview with him, only extending the invitation to call us that he had asked for. I say it would seem bizarre, until you realize that Ray is dishonest in every imaginable way. Then you realize this behavior is par for the course for him.

Weeks later, we were told by a reader that Ray was once again repeating the whole “Sure I’d love to call them, but they haven’t invited me!” thing, which makes him nothing less than a blatant, bald-faced lying sack of shit. So in this regard, yes, I still say, atheists should ignore Ray, because he has demonstrated through his every behavior that honesty at even the most basic level is just not part of his playbook.

But then, to do as Nathan has done, and critique the content of Ray and Kirk’s evangelism — well, that remains an entirely legitimate exercise in counter-apologetics. And a fun one too, as Ray and Kirk are without question the most laughable excuses for apologists alive — and when you consider the generally low intellectual level the bulk of religious apologetics is working in, that’s really saying something. So keep tearing apart their silly books and websites and TV programs. As Nathan notes, beating down Ray and Kirk’s drivel can be thought of as the training wheels for newbie atheists just learning to ride the counter-apologetics bike. It’s good sport, and good practice.

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.
Remember?
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.

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.

More risible moral arguments for God

One of my many godless Facebook friends (you mean you’re not one? — well, fine, be that way!) is a young Oregonian named Nathan who’s written some impressive essays that he’s posted to his Notes section, including a fine takedown of Zeitgeist. Sometimes, Christians in his own friends list try to challenge him on some of his Wall posts, and this happened most recently when Nathan posted a quote from Tracie to the effect that religious morality is little more than canine obedience. One Christian woman wrote the following, which I could not resist responding to.

It is important to remember that just as our perception of that which exists is limited, so is our idea of morality apart from its author.

Morality cannot exist merely because we perceive right and wrong in terms of human consequence….this type of moral structure is infinitely at odds with itself, ending in nothing but mere self-preservation. Societies that live at peace have not come up with a “morality that works” apart from the morality set forth in Scripture. You are assuming much when you suggest there might be any morality set forth by the secular world that has not been “borrowed” by the God of the universe. My premise, of course, is that God came first…we all came later.

So, then, we must also ask, is moral character conferred upon the author and creator of all things as you first implied, or does it exist because of that author? We are not the ones who attribute morality to God! We have, through the Scriptures, been given a glimpse of morality as it is merely a reflection of who God is. It comes from him. We do not define it or attribute it to Him. It is a reflection of the person of God, not an idea that floats around in our endlessly depraved minds.

That slurpy sound you hear is that of an atheist theatrically rolling his eyes. Seriously, every moral argument for God I’ve heard has been a total intellectual faceplant, but this one more than most. It really does read as if this woman is simply parroting claims she got from some apologetics source, without thinking them through for even a moment.

First off, in what way is a set of moral precepts based on an understanding of the consequences of actions any more “at odds with itself” than a set …of moral precepts simply handed down as rules from a divine authority figure who expects to be obeyed upon pain of eternal torture? The former has at least something to do with compassion, empathy, and kindness. The latter is little more than simple subservience based on fear.

Moral precepts rooted in human empathy and consequences, while no one would claim they are perfect, at least have a real-world referent. Human beings, being thinking creatures, can understand the difference between observed positive and negative consequences. Moreover, another point she ignores in her claim that secular morality leads only to “self-preservation” is the fact that we are a social species, and our instinct for self-preservation is still tied to species success. It is not the norm for human beings to exist in total isolation, and in order to coexist we develop behaviors that are beneficial to maintaining that coexistence. (And humans are far from the only species that do this. Basic moral behaviors have been observed in a number of primate species, as well as in such animals as dolphins and dogs.)

If anything, it is religious “morality” that stems from self-preservation, because a person who adopts moral behaviors simply in order to please a god whom he fears will punish him otherwise is not really a moral person, just a terrified, submissive and broken one. He has been given no reasons to be “good” other than to avoid negative consequences to himself. Beyond this he has been given no understanding of the positive benefits of his moral behavior. Religious morality, as has been said here many times, gives people bad reasons to be good. If you live a moral life simply to score yourself a ticket to heaven, you’re doing it wrong, and worst of all you haven’t been given the intellectual tools to understand why.

You’ll have noticed the woman responding to Nathan makes bold assertions that she glibly fails to back up in any way. At the same time, all she offers as support for her God’s alleged moral nature are tautologies (God is moral, morality is of God, is basically all she’s got), with a sprinkling of “and anyway, God’s just beyond our puny human perception.” These are not sound bases for an argument.

If her premise is that “that God came first…we all came later,” she must first support that premise with evidence before she begins to argue from it. She says that secularists are “assuming much when you suggest there might be any morality set forth by the secular world that has not been ‘borrowed’ by the God of the universe.” I would say that she’s assuming infinitely more when she claims that there is a “God of the universe” to begin with. Demonstrate through evidence that this is true first, then she can begin to argue that morals come from this God.

She asserts that “societies that live at peace have not come up with a ‘morality that works’ apart from the morality set forth in Scripture,” without, of course, citing any source to support this claim. Indeed, I suspect that the bulk of the world’s cultural anthropologists would be laughing their heads off about now. The Code of Hammurabi predates most Biblical writings, and Confucius came up with something very like The Golden Rule more than 500 years before Jesus is said to have done so. While you might argue that many of the punishments laid out by Hammurabi would be barbaric by modern standards, so would the morals of the Old Testament. After all, this is a book in which Lot, said to be the most virtuous of men, offers his daughters to a gang of rapists simply so that they’ll leave his male house guests alone. Later these same daughters get him drunk and have incestuous sex with him, because God wants them to. (God doesn’t explicitly command it, but given that this is one pissed off motherfucking deity who’s just firebombed the living shit out of two whole cities for their sexual shenanigans, it’s hard to imagine that He just stepped out to grab a smoke and totally missed the act of drunken incest, let alone failed to notice the subsequent pregnancies that gave rise to two whole new lineages.)

Among the “moral” precepts God is proud to have handed down to me is that I must be put to death for eating shellfish, gathering sticks on a Sunday, or having sex with a woman during her period. On the other hand, if I rape a girl, all I have to do is buy her from her father for 50 shekels, and it’s all good. If these “morals” are a reflection of “the person of God,” then God is a person I don’t care to know. (Oh yes, this God also explicitly, unambiguously, and without any possibility of spinning it otherwise, endorses slavery.)

I think if this woman ever chooses to crack a history book that hasn’t been vetted and redacted by fundamentalists, she’ll learn a thing or two: that the time when such modern concepts as human rights, equality, free speech — ideas that emerged from the “endlessly depraved minds” of people — began to take root is known as the Enlightenment. And this period is notable for the decline of the authority of religion over all of the affairs of humanity.

Finally, I’m going to repeat a point I made in my last post on this topic: what use would God have for morality? This is an all-powerful being, who needs to answer to no one at all for his deeds. He can never face any form of punishment for even the greatest atrocity he could conceive. Furthermore, why would God care if we were moral? If all God wants is our unyielding worship and adulation, why would morality need to be part of that equation? We could all wipe ourselves out in the worst of all possible wars, and God could simply chuckle and, being all-powerful and stu
ff, just recreate the human race from scratch. So why would God have bothered to “author” something like morality in the first place, when its own consequences could never apply to him, and its application to our own lives could not possibly be relevant to him?

Morality is entirely comprehensible when considered as an emergent social phenomenon occurring within social frameworks. It is incomprehensible when thought of as originating from a supernatural being utterly immune to its consequences or even its practical application.

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.”

Answering the right questions…

Reposted from my Facebook notes, by request:

“What proof and evidence can you provide that atheism is accurate and correct?”

Atheism is not a world view or a philosophy, it does not assert claims that could be viewed as accurate and correct – it is the rejection of theistic claims. It is disbelief of the claim “some god exists” – there is no requirement that one believe that no gods exist in order to be an atheist.

The question, as phrased, represents a misunderstanding of both atheism and the burden of proof. It’s an attempt to frame atheism as if it is asserting that no gods exist and it does so in order to shift the burden of proof. It’s not only hand waving…there’s a big, rotten, fallacy-ridden, red herring in that hand. Why phrase the question that way? Because, to those who don’t understand the burden of proof or the subjects at hand, it sounds so much more clever than “can you prove that there are no gods?”

In my case, I reject theistic claims because they have not met their burden of proof. That’s it. I’m an atheist because no one has been able to provide sufficient evidence to support their theistic claims. They’ve failed to answer a question similar to the one they aim at me…and after being called on that failure they’re desperately trying to point the finger in any direction except where it belongs.

If you believe you can read minds, why would you ask a non-believer if they can provide proof and evidence that you can’t — instead of simply demonstrating the truth of your claims? The simple answer is that you can’t, and you know you can’t.

Consider the following:

I get e-mails from Christians on a regular basis. Many of them are convinced that the Holy Spirit has instructed them to contact me and give me valuable evidence that will change my mind. These people believe that their god is real, that he wants me to know that he’s real and that he’s charged them with providing me with the evidence.

We can, via reductio ad absurdum, demonstrate that these people are simply wrong:

If their god exists, then it knows precisely what information they’ll need to convey to convince me and it would communicate this information to a person who is capable of accurately presenting it in a way that achieves the stated goal. (I’m not going to draw out a syllogism for this…it’s all from the definition of the god that they believe is real.)

Why then do these people consistently present the most obviously flawed arguments and absurd anecdotal evidence? Why then do these people often say the very thing that confirms that they have no clue what they’re talking about?

Are they just inept at communicating the needed information? Then their god has made a terribly stupid mistake, inconsistent with the character of the god they believe in.

Is their god incapable of accurate communication? Not according to their beliefs. Their god is perfectly (or nearly) wise, intelligent, capable, powerful, etc…and clearly directed them to present the information.

No matter how you break this down, the god they believe in simply doesn’t exist. There may be a god, and it might even be the one that they’re trying to represent, but they’re clearly wrong about its desire and ability to demonstrate its existence. At best we’re left with something that is, to a third party, indistinguishable from delusion.

Is there something that you’re really good at or knowledgeable about? Perhaps you’re a bit of an expert at a game, or at repairing cars, or you’re a trivia wiz about a certain show. Perhaps you’re highly educated in a particular scientific discipline or you’ve been doing a particular job for many years.

If so, then you’ll have some idea of how easy it is, in many cases, to determine (roughly) how skilled someone else is in that same area. You probably also have some sense of the extreme frustration you feel when someone who clearly has no clue what they’re talking about is trying to “educate” someone else. It’s almost as frustrating as when they’re trying to “educate” you. You can spot the bullshit from a mile away and it’s almost physically painful to watch someone get away with poisoning another mind with nonsense.

That’s what I feel like when I read many of these e-mails. That’s what I feel like when I see apologists videos or blogs.

I’ll continue to take on all callers, including (especially?) the overly-glib bullshit artists who willingly lie to promote their beliefs…because it’s something that I find important and something that I’m pretty good at.

The phone lines are open.

Not quite the double standard you were thinking

Hey, kids. Yes, I’m back. Been back a few days in fact. And I’m finally ready to post again, so here’s my first, in reply to a letter received responding to the conversation with Behe fan “Garry” on the last show I did with Matt. Our correspondent begins:

I am an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, and I am a friendly/open-minded agnostic theist. So with my introduction out of the way, here is my email:

In the Problem of Evil debate, skeptics and/or non-believers of God’s existence formulate their argumentation as follows:

(1) If there were an all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful God, then (due to His unlimited knowledge and unlimited power) He would be able to prevent gratuitous/pointless evil and suffering that is not necessary for an adequately compensating good.

(2) Because God would have such a capability, and because He is supposedly all-good, he would act on that capability and prevent the gratuitous/pointless suffering and evil that is not necessary for an adequately compensating good.

(3) But, there is lots of evils and sufferings that occur in the world (which have not been prevented by the supposed all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God), and much of it is not logically necessary for any adequately compensating good (and therefore seems to be gratuitous/pointless).

(4) Therefore, the conclusion is that there does not exist a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-good.

Now, many theists argue against the argument of ‘The Problem of Evil’ presented above by way of refuting premise (3) and saying that there is no evil that is gratuitous/pointless, and that all evil is logically necessary for adequately compensating goods. One of the ways in which they do this is by presenting ‘The Contrast Response,’ which basically says that if there were no evil in the world, we would not be aware of the good. God then allows evil to make us aware of goodness, since this awareness in itself is a good.

But, many skeptics and/or non-believers of God’s existence do not accept ‘The Contrast Response’ because they claim that it is not necessarily the case that our minds work this way. Essentially, they believe that we would still be aware of goodness even if there were less (or even no) evil to contrast it. So they say that ‘The Contrast Response’ is logically invalid.

That being said, I am assuming that you (Matt and Martin) are not exceptions (and have the same point of contention in regards to ‘The Contrast Response’).

So if I am actually correct about my assumption and your point of contention and belief that our minds don’t need contrasting things in order to be aware of (or recognize) non-contrasting things, why then (in episode # 660, which occurred on Sunday, 6/06/2010 and while responding to Garry from Manhattan, NY and his example of irreducibly complex systems) did you (Matt and Martin) flip the contrast response (which you do not accept as being valid in the problem of evil argument) around in order to claim (within the context of the argument of creationism) that in order to know if something was created, we have to first have an example of something that wasn’t created to compare it with (or contrast it to)? To me, this seems like a logically fallacious contradiction???

Our correspondent is wrong in his assumption of where I stand on “The Contrast Response.” I don’t reject the notion that a knowledge of the difference between good and evil is a vital element of ascertaining one’s moral positions. What I reject is the notion that an omnibenevolent God is necessary for such an understanding, especially one who would continue to allow gratuitous evils to occur long after the human race had well and truly understood those differences and had established laws to punish them. Why, in this day and age, would God allow (to use the most button-mashing of examples) the continued sexual abuse of children? Are there significant pockets of human civilization (apart from the Vatican) who still do not understand this is a deplorable act, and therefore, children must still be put through the anguish of sexual abuse in order to make those people aware of its evil, and of the goodness of not abusing children in contrast?

Another objection would be that, even if one accepts the notion of God’s allowing acts of evil in the world for the sake of “compensating goods” (and I don’t know that I accept the idea of non-victims of evil realizing how lucky they are to be a “compensating good”), this would still not absolve God of the moral responsibility to stop such acts of evil when he can. Honestly, in what way would God’s refusal to prevent the sexual abuse of a child — thereby presumably allowing us to experience the horror of the act so as to better appreciate it when children aren’t raped — constitute a better “compensating good” than for him simply to blast the assailant to smithereens with a well-aimed lightning bolt? Who would be sitting around thinking, “Gosh, I don’t understand, why did God do that to that poor man?”

Why establish good and evil as concepts if not to enforce them? A common argument in theodicy is that God must allow evil for an understanding of good. But how are we mere mortals expected to reach such an understanding if God doesn’t explain which is which and punish the evil when it happens? Instead, it seems we are meant to work it out for ourselves which are good and evil acts, as God apparently cannot interfere in the interests of not undermining our supposed free will.

The great irony of this form of theodicy is that it ends up rendering God irrelevant. Atheists and secular moralists do argue that we are the ones responsible for determining the differences between good and evil…but that we are perfectly capable of doing this by using our intellects and our empathy to evaluate the consequences of human actions, rejecting those which are destructive.

Any theodicy that proposes a God as the architect of moral precepts, only to immediately take Him out of the picture, leaving humanity to deal with good and evil on our own, pragmatic terms, might as well concede the argument and pack it in. A God who refuses to prevent gratuitous destructive acts for any reason is one who has, if He exists, surrendered His moral authority and is deserving of no thanks from us.

Additionally, even if I am wrong about my assumption [and you guys actually DO accept the contrast response as a good response to the problem of evil—or reject it for another reason that I have not presented above—(and therefore have not contradicted yourselves)], why do you even find the merit in asking a theist to provide an example of something that was not created, anyways? Essentially, asking a theist to provide an example of something that wasn’t created is unfair, because if he/she is a common theist and believes that God exists, he/she also believes that EVERYTHING [including natural things] in our physical universe was created by Him (which would mean that to the theist there would be no example of an uncreated thing that he/she could provide, because no such example would exist).

As such, the theist’s lack of ability to provide such an example does not prove (or even serve to insinuate) that there was no creator (or God). Moreover, it only further begs the question. So essentially, I think that asking Garry to provide such an example was an invalid (and therefore unnecessary) form of argumentation.

This is because, like Garry, you fail to understand that a key component of any scientific hypothesis — which is what ID wants to be — is falsifiability. In order to determine if your hypothesis is even valid in its basic premises, you have to be able to answer this question: “If what I am proposing is not true, what conditions would I expect to find existing today?” Therefore someone insisting that life was intelligently designed must be able to answer, “If life were not designed, what would it look like?” It’s hardly unfair or invalid. It’s basic science.

And y
es, this question has been answered in regards to evolution, and very simply. When asked what he thought would falsify evolution, biologist J.B.S. Haldane answered simply, “Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian.” If anything in the fossil record were not where it was supposed to be in the timeline, this would be a problem. But it has not been a problem. Indeed, evolutionary theory has been validated many times in its predictive power, another important factor establishing scientific validity. Tiktaalik was found right where paleontologists were sure a certain transitional fossil of its type would have to be found if it existed at all.

If insisting that Garry state the way in which ID or any other design hypothesis was falsifiable was “unfair,” it can only be in the way a scientifically illiterate fellow set himself up to be humiliated in his ignorance on live television. But that’s hardly our fault. If some creationist calls us, trying to peddle an inferior product, and proceeds to lecture authoritatively on a subject about which he is in fact ignorant, a little humiliation is the least he has coming.

An Inspiration!

We received a letter this week from a woman who had an upbeat story worth sharing. I don’t think I would ever have thought to try this, but what a great idea:


I have written in before about general stuff but I had a story about something that happened yesterday that I would love some opinions on. Near where I work, on nice days there are usually a lot of people out proselytizing. Now, I have dealt with street and door-to-door proselytizing before, usually women; and they have usually not been too bad. However, I find the idea of going up to people on the street to push religion kind of appalling, and though I personally don’t mind, because it offers the opportunity for discussion, I still find it to be incredibly rude. I understand the reason they go around in pairs, or sometimes even groups of 3 or 4, so they are able to corner people. And it just bothers me.

So I was walking home from work, and I spotted two young men with Bibles talking to some young lady sitting on a park bench. I decided to go up to them, and instead of addressing the two young men I turned to the girl and said something along the lines of “You are a good person, you have your own morals and can make your own decisions and don’t need them or their book to tell you that you are weak, because you are not.”

Then I told them all to have a nice day and started on my way again. But then the two boys started shouting after me. I say “boys,” they were probably in their early twenties. So, as they started to shout things like “yeah get out of here! No one cares what you have to say!” I decided that I couldn’t just leave it at that.

Maybe I should have left it, but I decided to go back. Maybe I shouldn’t have said this, but addressing the first boy I said “Well why don’t you tell her about the part where Lot gets drunk and has sex with his daughters, or the part in Judges where Jephtha sets his daughter on fire.”

After looks of confusion from the two young men, and a quirky smile from the girl, the first boy just kept repeating “Who are you? Get out of here! You’re Satan!” in a robotic tone, as the other one holding the Bible said I was “crazy.” I asked if I could borrow their Bible to show her either passage, to which the first asked “Well where’s your Bible?”

I pulled out my digital reader on which I had a copy of the King James Bible, and I informed him that I read it often. He replied that I didn’t know what was in the Bible, and that I must be Satan. They asked me if I knew the girl or something, to which I said that they didn’t know her, either, and were probably bothering her while she was trying to relax in the park. It was at this point that the one young man said that I “must be retarded”.

I wish I had had time to, instead, draw these two away from this poor girl, but I didn’t, so I addressed her with another vote of confidence and went on my way.

She seemed to be responsive to what I had said, but one can’t be entirely sure. As I walked away they continued to shout after me, continuing to call me “Satan” and such.

Now I never mentioned to any of them that I was an atheist or even what my particular beliefs might be. I even acknowledged in my last words to the girl that I didn’t know if she was a Christian herself, or what her beliefs might be, but only that she didn’t need these two young men to figure those things out—basically, to believe in herself and not them. I have a Youtube channel, and as soon as I got home I did a big long video telling the story exactly as I have told it here.

I recall an open-air preacher who used to shout at passers-by at my university. He would handle questions and hecklers alike; but this is something different. She proselytized to proseltyzers, showed them up in front of their mark, and absolutely gave them as good as they were giving to other people that day. I bet she totally knocked them off their script!

She asked what we thought about what she did—if it was rude. I told her it was inspirational!

Here is her YouTube account of her adventure…

A Skeptic’s Wager?

I got this on my Facebook newsfeed, and wanted to share. It’s like a skeptic’s Pascal’s Wager, but works much better. The question came up as to whether it can be labeled with a catchy title like “Pascal’s Wager”? Any ideas?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but…will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” —Marcus Aurelius

Why I don’t argue with YouTube, redux

A few months back I posted a statement of policy about refusing to argue with YouTube videos. It has served me pretty well since then, because now every time we get email saying “Watch this video and tell me what you think!” I link to that post and reply with “Please sum up the points in that video that you found compelling, because I’m not going to watch.” I’ve seen several other members take a similar approach more often as well.

I have to say, however, that over at the Conspiracy Science blog, this post provides a much longer and more thorough explanation of why arguing via YouTube videos is (1) mostly fruitless, and (2) so beloved of people who don’t really have a good argument. Read it! Although it relates to conspiracy theories and not atheism in particular, they face a lot of the same issues. A couple of excerpts to get you over there:

Because there’s no difference in a conspiracy theorist’s eyes between any two sources based upon the nature of those sources, they have no way of telling whether a source is true or false. David McCullough, a respected academic historian with decades of credentials, is no more reliable a source than David Icke, an ex-football player who believes that the world is controlled by reptilian shape-shifting aliens. John Maynard Keynes, one of the most influential economists in recent history, is no more credible than bloviating radio talkshow host Alex Jones on matters of economics. This is why conspiracy theorists generally interpret any questioning of the credibility of their sources as an “ad hominem” attack, because to them credibility is irrelevant. Taken to an extreme, this idea results in the bizarre belief that a YouTube video can be just as true and credible as a peer-reviewed scientific paper published in a nationally-respected journal.

Conspiracy theorists hate experts and intellectuals mainly because they are forced to. Few if any real experts in anything—engineering, economics, metallurgy, political science, or history—agree with conspiracy theories, and conspiracy theorists know that this is a major obstacle in their attempts to gain mainstream acceptance. Honestly, if one structural engineer with questionable credentials says that the World Trade Center towers were dynamited and 99 real structural engineers say that theory is bullshit, which side are most people going to believe? Consequently, conspiracy theorists have to tear down experts. They do this mainly by denigrating the real value or relevance of expert opinion, which usually means casting aspersions on expert status in the first place. This has two effects: first, they think it blunts the attacks of experts on their theories, and second, it elevates non-expert opinion into the same realm as expert knowledge.

Also, in the interest of not having a double standard, I want to say something else.

(Pausing to look sternly at the Atheist Experience audience.)

I hope you guys don’t argue that way.

Something I prefer not to see is using a clip from TAE as an authority. We’re not one. Thus, if you’re in an argument and you say “You’re wrong! Here, watch this video!” … You’re doing it wrong. You know they won’t watch the video, and if they do, they will dismiss it as quickly as possible.

It’s the arguments in the video that are meant to help you, and they don’t carry any additional weight just because some slobs with a few bucks to blow on producer licenses said them in front of an audience. If you thought the arguments were good, do yourself a favor and learn to use them. The effort of typing in your own version of the Euthyphro dilemma or the argument from evil or whatever, will serve you much better in the long run than proving you can paste a URL into a window.