Playing to win: Debating lessons from competitive gaming

I’m working on a 15 minute segment of my talk for the Freethought Alliance Convention in Orange County in a couple of weeks. I’ve talked about this topic before, but I’ve never tried to sum it up so quickly, so I figured I’d help get the writing going by putting it in blog format. If you’re in Southern California and would like to attend, you may not want to read this as it will constitute a spoiler. :) Hope to see you there!

If someone demands extraordinary evidence for my nerd credentials, I should only have to mention that I was in my high school chess club. Got a couple of very minor trophies. My dad taught me to play at a very young age, and I taught my son to play in turn. I’ve also taught several other people to play, including my childhood friend Gil, who later went on to coach his local middle school chess team.

When we were kids, Gil had this annoying habit of always trying for a Scholar’s Mate. For anyone who’s unfamiliar with this tactic, a Scholar’s Mate looks like this:

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Freedom of Speech: A Christian, Jewish, Atheist, and Muslim Perspective

I’ll be speaking on behalf of atheism this Thursday evening. If you’re in Austin, feel free to come by. If not, I’m told it will be live streamed and will try to put up the link when I can.

Freedom of Speech panel at UT

Facebook event page

April 16, 6:30PM, Welch Hall Room 2.122

Tiff’s treats and samosas will be served as refreshment.

Update: Here’s the video.

The video starts while people are still arriving. To skip the small talk, an invocation begins at about 6:00, and the actual talk starts at 9:40.

Pascal’s Wager … again

P.S. @ Matt Dillahunty._ You are going to die sooner or later_That is a natural fact. What you assert is there is no God; the God of Bible because He cannot be proven_ Is a fact. You are “Gambling” that there is no God; the Christian God of the Bible_Is a fact. By your own admission the Christian God of the Bible does not exist, therefore you would reject that you possess a soul that is eternal, that will either go to heaven or hell._Is a fact.
FACT_you are going to die someday; are you willing to take that GAMBLE that you do-not have a soul that will live forever either in heaven or hell?
P.S. _ I really believe that Matt Dillahunty is Demon possessed, and anyone that would argue with a Demon will get no-where because it is a slippery slope because Demons are masters of deviation

We get e-mails like this all the time. Matt has answered more than his fair share of these, so I’ll take one for the team. This person singled out Matt, but he (she?) might as well have written it to any AE host, or any atheist for that matter. I’ll refrain from commenting about writing style as that’s just too easy. The e-mail above is unedited.

First, atheism is the lack of a belief in a god. Check the front page of the ACA’s web site. Mankind has invented tens of thousands of gods and there is no reason to believe that any of them are real. Christians are atheists, too, with respect to most gods, but they think their god is special. Is it? I can’t think of a reason. Is it because there are a lot of Christians? There are a lot of Buddhists too, does that make their religion true? Is it because there’s more evidence in support of Christianity? Nope. I don’t know of any solid evidence for the claims of Christianity. Is it because they believe passionately? Would anyone say there’s a Muslim afterlife with 72 virgins just because the 9/11 attackers believed so passionately enough to kill themselves for martyrdom? Of course not.

In nearly all forums where I interact with believers, I ask for good evidence for the claims the believers are making. I’m usually disappointed in what I get. Let me be clear on what I’m looking for. There are lots of bald assertions that believers give, usually claiming this or that about their god. If you don’t have evidence to back up those claims, then please forgive me if I just ignore them. “That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” (Christopher Hitchens) Beyond bald assertions, I’ll also disregard falsehoods, deception, logical fallacies, and emotional manipulation. These seem to be the primary tools of apologists. If you have to lie to me, trick me, or manipulate me to believe something, what does that say about that thing you’d like me to believe? It says that even the theist can’t think of a good reason to believe in their god, so what’s left are bad reasons.

I’m pleasantly surprised that you admit that your god can’t be proven. Starting from there, the conversation should go like this:

  • Atheist: Do you have any good reason to believe in your god?
  • Theist: No.
  • Atheist: Thank you for your honesty. Please understand if I don’t believe.

End of story. But in their desire to market their religion, theists go on to give bad reasons.

Yes, we are all going to die. And we’ve heard “Pascal’s Wager” a million times. It’s a really bad argument with at least a dozen flaws. I’ll answer it, though in my own words. I personally have no fear of your god, or any god for that matter. As near as I can tell, the god of the Bible is fictional and I can think of no reason to fear fictional characters. But let’s pretend for a minute that gods are real. Is the goal to choose the one that offers the best afterlife, or perhaps save you from the worst hell? Isn’t that exactly like being a hedonistic toady, or perhaps sucking up to a monster so that you will be spared eternal torments. Maybe it’s both: you can even get to watch the torments of others while basking in eternal bliss. This seems rather sick to me, yet it seems to be what Christianity is promising.

Do you follow the most noble god? The god of the Bible blames Adam and Eve, indeed the entirety of humanity for his mistakes. Later, Yahweh orders Abraham to kill his own son. That story reads to me like a gang initiation ritual. In New Testament mythology, the same god kills his own son because there had to be a blood sacrifice due to a rule he either made up or given to him by some other more powerful god. Appeased, by his actions, he then allows the Jews to take the blame for his alleged sacrifice? Every story about the god of the Bible paints him as a monster. Even if he were real, I wouldn’t follow him.

I’ve made the decision to live my life as if there are no gods. I’ve looked at god claims, and I find them all to be without merit and most likely derived from human imagination. So how will I respond if, after my death I find out there’s some god that wants to torture me? I may not be happy, but I will have a lot of things (assuming “I” continue to exist) that will never be taken away. I’ll have the satisfaction of having lived my life in a sensible and kind manner. I will have the solace of knowing I’ve taken responsibility for my actions and that I will forever be more moral than the monster who is torturing me. In short, I will have my integrity. My integrity is not something I’m going to bargain away for vague promises from an invisible monster.

What will be your legacy when you die? From my perspective, perhaps the biggest claim you could make is that you tried your hardest to be a vector for a disease that has stifled progress, caused untold human misery, and murdered millions. From my perspective, you have hitched your wagon to a delusion. You’ve already pissed away your integrity. How sad.

I wonder, too, if you really believe your afterlife claims. If you’re going to go on to some perpetual orgasm, why hang around only to make the world a worse place? Please don’t let me stop you. I suspect you too have your doubts. If you don’t believe in Jesus why should I?

As for demons, atheists think demons are at least as silly (and unlikely) as gods. Be sure and check for monsters under your bed and sleep with your lights on. Boo! Maybe your invisible friend will protect you.

Now let me respond to the subtext of your letter. If you actually had good reason to believe in your god, you would have presented that. Since you didn’t present a good reason, it seems clear you have none. We both know prayer is a failure or you could have prayed for one ahead of time before writing. Next, if Christianity had any positive value, you could have pitched that. Again, it seems there is no positive benefit. You did offer threats (emotional manipulation). While Islam’s main tactic is murdering those who disagree with them, Christianity relies on lies and thuggery. Death threats are a common Christian tactic to get their way. Lies, like the “Christian Nation” propaganda only show how much a fraud the religion is. With threats of hell, there is usually caveat by the threat giving Christian that he has nothing to do with the threat; they’re just passing it along from on high. Yet I have yet to meet two Christians who can agree on the nature of their god, and as you admit, there is no good evidence to believe in such a good. People like you choose to believe in a clearly evil god. I can only imagine you do so because you identify with that aspect of his storied nature. Ultimately the threats are coming from Christians who believe themselves to be good. This is part and parcel of an evil delusion.

Years ago, Christians actually tortured non-believers, with the idea that coercing them to “believe” was a kind of mercy. Converting them here through torture was thought preferable to the “loving” justice of eternal torment. Fortunately, secular morality has made torturing heretics an anachronism. Christian torture and holy wars have just made more atheists. Regardless, the subtext of your note tells me that Christianity has no merit (you seem to admit that) and you still want me to join you. You want me to shut off my brain, give up my integrity, and become a wannabe thug that excuses the atrocity of the Bible and the murderous fruits of Christian belief. Yet the only think you’re offering is some idea you have in your head that I might get to look down from heaven in a blissful amoral stupor and enjoy watching the torments of my fellow human beings in hell. Wow. What a steaming pile of shit.

I want nothing to do with your religion.

Texas Right to Life demonstrates more of the fraud of Christianity

In today’s Austin Statesman, PolitiFact Texas fact checks a claim made by Texas Right to Life concerning an informal poll they did on the University of Texas campus. (Note: the article should appear later on the PolitiFact Texas web site.) Texas Right to Life made a claim that University of Texas Students “signed a petition seeking the legal right to abort newborn babies up to five-years-old.” Yes, that’s right: “aborting” infants, otherwise known as infanticide.

Sadly, Politifact Texas had to rate the lurid claim as half true. In their poll, Texas Right to Life approached students to “sign a petition,” concerning women’s rights and not being terribly honest about the true contents of the poll. Many student signed thinking it was about empowering women. The “poll” apparently involved exactly 30 students, 12 of whom were tricked into signing it. Those that understood the true nature of the poll where aghast. When asked later, one student was shocked at what she had signed. “Had I fully understood the actual position of the organizer was advancing, there is absolutely no way I ever would have signed the petition.”

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Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 6: Is Skepticism Right For YOU?

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

I’ve pitched the value of skepticism for a lot of reasons: Being skeptical keeps you from being conned, it can be a safety issue, it prevents wasting taxpayer money on bad ideas, it protects you from jumping to unwarranted conclusions. But in a time where there are all these people and web sites and fake news sources who are actively trying to lie to you, how do you figure out what’s true and what’s not?

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Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 5: Evaluating information in the internet age

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

To discover a solid truth, you need careful investigation and analysis. Believing something just because of blind trust takes no time at all. Mark Twain once said: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Urban legends and rumors appeal to people. Claims that speak to our secret prejudices, that confirm things we want to be true, spread quickly and efficiently through gossip, and at any given time there are thousands of things that “everybody knows” which aren’t actually true.

We live in an interesting time. It’s only since I was a computer science undergraduate that the internet stopped being a weird hobby for mega nerds, and started being used by everyone everywhere, to transmit information as fast as we can think about it. We all carry magic boxes in our pockets that we can use to immediately tap into the largest repository of knowledge in human history.

But a lot of it is lies.

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