There Will Be Blood: The critics have at Expelled

As happens with all shitty movies, the distributor for Expelled declined to screen the movie in advance for critics. Indeed, we know they kept their advance screenings a tightly controlled series of fundie lovefests, expelling any knowledgeable, scientifically literate viewer if they were able. After all, in a movie that beats the “free speech” and “academic freedom” drums long and loud, it’s certainly very important to keep opposing views silent, eh?

But now real movie reviewers are getting a chance to eyeball the film, and the results aren’t pretty. It will be interesting to hear how Stein and Mathis and their usual gang of idiots try to spin this as the expected reaction from a liberal Darwinist cabal hostile to competing ideas, considering that these are just movie reviewers who are going to see the film as part of their weekly roster along with everything else. They really can’t be said to have a horse in the creation-vs-evolution race. Which is also true about most people who don’t make the atheist/science/Christian/creationist blogosphere part of their daily routine. And the movie’s emotional caterwauling is unlikely to sway or even interest them. There’s such a thing as overkill, and even unsophisticated audiences will recoil if they think they’re being beaten over the head.

Expelled is currently tracking at 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. By comparison, here is the critical scorecard for the works of self-proclaimed genius auteur Uwe Boll: House of the Dead: 4%. Alone in the Dark: 1%. Bloodrayne: 4%. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale: 5%.

Thus I’d like to offer Nathan Frankowski my congratulations on being able to boast that he is a more critically acclaimed director than Uwe Boll.

I’ve posted some choice reviewers’ quotations in the sidebar. Now it will be entertaining to see how the opening weekend pans out. Since Premise Media actually managed to get the thing on over 1000 screens, the heat is on far more crucially than if they’d opened in limited release and then done a regional release pattern throughout the rest of the summer. If they don’t score huge numbers this weekend, they’re losing their shirts in a way they would not have if they’d just hit smaller markets in 50-100 screen rollouts in succession. Executive producer Walt Roloff perhaps got overly excited at the prospect of being able to boast the widest release ever for a “documentary.” But I think he’s just a teensy bit optimistic when he goes on to cheer that he thinks Expelled‘s numbers could exceed the $23.9 million opening weekend of Fahrenheit 9/11. After all, that movie had colossal pre-release hype going for it. Plus Michael Moore was feeding off a zeitgeist. And despite Roloff’s apparent beliefs to the contrary, there isn’t this groundswell of public outrage over some conspiracy theory about “Big Science” and its suppression of ID as there was in 2004 over the depredations of the Bush administration.

I must say, it will be interesting to sift through the rubble on Monday.


Amusingly, RT has logged a second positive review for the movie (against 20 pans), and this one is from Christianity Today, which you’d expect to be receptive. Yet even they admit the movie is scientifically empty: “…if you’re looking for ammo to argue your Darwinist friends under the table, look elsewhere.”

More embarrassing press for Expelled

The more these clowns responsible for Expelled get any press outside the protected confines of the fundamentalist anti-science subculture, the more desperate and dishonest they look. Now the New York Times has published an article about the whole fracas involving Orlando Sentinel reviewer Roger Moore, the absurd press conference and screening he attended where people were required to sign nondisclosure agreements, and the total harshing of the movie he eventually wrote for the paper.

Hilariously enough, the Times doesn’t have to do anything other than let Ben Stein and publicist Paul Lauer speak for themselves to make them look foolish. For instance, the hilarious excuse Lauer gives for disinviting Moore to the screening is that “the film was not polished enough for professional scrutiny,” ironically implying that to pass muster amongst the fundamentalist Christian audience they’d hand-picked for their screening, professional polish wasn’t necessary. Hey guys, never let it be said you don’t respect your audience!

The article makes it abundantly clear just what a hypocritical exercise Expelled is. While on the one hand it assaults its imaginary villain, “Big Science” (led, no doubt, by Michael Myers in full Dr. Evil getup), for disallowing “academic freedom” in “suppressing” ID, on the other hand it clearly only intends to preach to the converted, gearing its marketing solely towards a fundamentalist audience already sufficiently scientifically illiterate to lack the knowledge to know how badly they’re being lied to. Keeping out critics from the mainstream media, or anyone who isn’t already part of the fundamentalist camp, is something they’re dead set on.

As has been remarked upon, if Stein and Lauer and the liars-for-God behind this movie really wanted a free and open exchange of conflicting ideas, they’d host numerous press screenings, not require nondisclosure agreements to be signed (talk about wanting to “control the message”!), and in fact enthusiastically encourage scientists and academics to come to those screenings and debate the film’s claims. That they don’t is clear indication they don’t want knowledgeable people exposing Expelled‘s campaign of deceit, at least not before that campaign has gained a foothold and spread even more anti-science poison among a populace who’s already been crippled by too much of it already.

The difference between real and fake journalism

Ever noticed how the bobbleheads in the mainstream news media really have it in for bloggers? It’s an especially virulent hatred on the part of right-wing media figures. Bill O’Reilly has called anyone associated with Daily Kos (including its readers) “devil worshipers,” and raving closeted homophobe Michael Savage is driven to near-homicidal mania by the very thought of Media Matters.

Perhaps the mainstream media is just pissed off that bloggers have an ability to do proper journalism — that which isn’t vetted by corporate masters and their armies of lawyers loyal to one political faction or another — they simply lack. Not that the crew of Fox or CNN would do proper journalism if they had the chance. That’s the thing about guys like Murdoch taking over every media outlet they can buy. They tend to hire on-air personalities cut from the same ideological cloth.

CNN’s latest exercise in egregiously stupid non-reportage came in this simple-minded puff piece about the Light the Highway movement, that exercise in fundamentalist absurdity in which the faith-heads have been laying “purity sieges” to Interstate 35 and any businesses that happen to be stationed along it they don’t like. I snarked all over it a few days back, and it has been widely covered on other godless blogs as well, to much amusement.

The CNN piece really is pitiful. Note how the writer, some nincompoop named Gary Tuchman, calls the fundie obsession with I-35 an “interesting belief.” Well, I suppose it’s “interesting” in the same way some madman raving on a street corner in a bathrobe and a lampshade on his head about how the CIA and the Illuminati are trying to kidnap him and haul him off to Area 51 for a round of alien anal-probage is “interesting.” And note Tuchman’s flaccid gesture towards the concept of “objectivity.” It’s the sort of equivocating gibberish that has led to the kind of “he said, she said” pandering that conveniently allows the reporter himself off the hook when it comes to actually digging up hard facts: “Now, it’s only fair to say most people, the religious and the non-religious alike, don’t buy any of this…” Yeah, no shit, Sherlock. Someone also told me the sun rises in the east. Who knew? “But on the side of the road, the prayerful aren’t going to change their minds.” Yes, that tends to be the mentality of lunatics who congregate to do their business on the sides of roads. Remind me how any of this is news?

Well, none of it is news in the way CNN has approached it: as the sort of pure padding on a slow news day newspeople call a “human interest” story. But here’s a little something about the Light the Highway movement that is interesting and even a little newsy. And naturally, one has to have gone online to find it.

When this story originally surfaced in the blogosphere, it was accompanied by a YouTube clip of jaw-droppingly lunatic 700 Club “news” broadcast extolling the virtues of this amazing evangelical enterprise. Part of this report featured the stunning story of James Stabile, a “19-year-old homosexual atheist” (two, two, two horrible sins in one!) who was apparently on his way to his local gay bar one night to smoke a little pole when he encountered some prayer warriors laying purity siege to said bar. After a brief exchange with Joe Oden, the purity siege organizer, Joe “laid hands” on James (no, not like that!) and instantaneously “cured” him of teh gay through the power of Jebus!

This account was met with what you might call skepticism, mostly by those who identify themselves as skeptics. Who knew that you could transform a gay man into an all-around red-blooded American heterosexual stallion simply by letting a moronic religious bigot scream “Fire!” at him? You’d think if it were that easy the country would have rid itself of the gay community ages ago and the Rupert Everett/Jodie Foster wedding would have been the talk of the tabloids for 2007. Many bloggers and commenters cried “Staged!” and “Plant!” But it took a couple of online writers, blogger Warren Throckmorton and gay journalist John Wright, to get to the bottom of what was going on with this James Stabile character. And it was far more intriguingly complex than just the usual routine of fundie lying. How did they get their information? Why, by doing what guys like Gary Tuchman are supposed to do: investigate, follow up leads, dig beneath the surface to get to the truth. You know…journalism.

The short version: it turns out that James Stabile suffers from bipolar disorder and often goes off his meds, at which point he is described by his family and those who know him as a pathological liar who loves attention and will say what he has to to get it. After James was “cured” by Oden, James enrolled in a “residential treatment program” in Kentucky run by Pure Life Ministries, but was ejected by them for being what they called a “compulsive liar.” That’s an interesting charge coming from a camp run by Mike Johnston, an HIV+ man who was the face of the Christian “ex-gay” movement for years, until it was revealed that he was still cruising for unsafe gay sex all the while.

Anyway, after James left Pure Life he moved in with some folks from Oden’s church, where his problems with dishonesty, doubtless a symptom of his bipolar condition, continued to manifest.

By the time CBN’s 700 Club crew came to Texas to shoot their segment, Joe Oden already knew about James’ mental health issues. He had spoken to James’ father, Joseph, a Methodist minister who is reportedly “fully accepting of his son’s sexual orientation and believes being gay is neither a choice nor a sin.” Oden claims he told CBN about all this, and they didn’t care. They wanted James for their piece. Still, Oden doesn’t get off the hook here. He is interviewed in the same CBN piece, and joyously boasts of de-homosexualizing James. So he’s just as much an exploitive, lying shit as any of them.

Word is now that James has finally returned home to his family and is receiving “appropriate medical care.” So the long and short of it is, on the one hand, a young man with mental health and sexuality issues lying to people in order to feel accepted and validated, and a group of religious fundamentalists only too happy to exploit him to promote their crusade. A sad story all around, but one that appears to be ending more or less happily for the Stabiles. The problem with James isn’t that he’s gay, it’s that his brain chemistry is all out of whack. It’s a shame he left his tolerant family for acceptance by a bunch of raving bigots. But the appeal of fundamentalist groupthink is that, with its revivals and mobs of singing, cheering worshipers, it can seem to a lost and confused person to have something meaningful and fulfilling to offer in a directionless life. When all you really need in life are those people who know you and love you for who you are, not who their ideology dictates you have to be. (And with that loving environment, in the case of a real mental disorder, the proper medical care. You can’t pray away mental illness any more than you can pray away the gay. When it comes to dealing with real problems, count on science every time.)

For in depth coverage of James’ story, read Wright’s story here, and Throckmorton’s blog here. Especially if you’re Gary Tuchman. These writers ought to give you some tips on how to do your job.

“Those who know what’s best for us….”

“…must rise and save us from ourselves.” So sang Canadian prog-rockers Rush in their 1981 track “Witch Hunt”. A quarter century later, the modern-day torch-bearing hysterics haven’t gone away.

I’m a little behind-hand on this, as I took a week’s blog break and don’t regularly read the local Austin paper. So it wasn’t until today that I saw the full-page ad that ran on page A14 of the November 9 issue of the Austin American-Statesman. In screamingly huge type it grabbed your attention with the button-mashing headline “The Most Despicable Crime Ever Committed Against America’s Children”!

The Catholic pedophilia scandal, you might ask? No, it’s all them evil liberals pushing violence and smut in our entertainment, poisoning, in the paranoiac words of Dr. Strangelove‘s General Jack D. Ripper, our precious bodily fluids. The ad is exactly the same kind of reactionary drivel I thought was a relic of the Reagan years. (And as you read on, you’ll find that’s exactly its provenance.) To take its claims at face value, you’d think America was a real life version of a Halo 3 deathmatch, with maddened gun-packin’ teenagers running around wantonly blasting away at everyone and everything in sight (that is, when they aren’t gang-raping each other silly). It’s a lunatic Heironymous Bosch view of reality that, more than anything, reflects the utter, paralyzing fear under which religious conservatives live their lives. Or…is it just cynical manipulation run by dishonest, sleazy, exploitive hucksters to raise cash from those among the public susceptible to such easy manipulation?

The ad is a veritable smorgasbord of fallacies and irrationalism. It purports to offer evidence of the alleged brainwashing effects of violent and explicit media in sidebars with the header “The Truth”. Whenever wingnuts use the word “truth,” and especially when they capitalize it, just remember that immortal line from The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The “Truth” presented here takes the form of sensationalist headlines. “Police say 13-year-old molested girl after seeing sex on TV.” Egad. Well, what police? Where? Which 13-year-old? When? Oh, you want these claims backed up? Sorry. They don’t do that here. None of these headlines is sourced, which one would think would be a bottom-rung criterion for credibility. It’d sure help persuade me to the cause if, say, “Judge says film influenced boy to kill 2-year-old” was followed by “Such-and-Such Gazette, Month, Day, Year.” Otherwise, how do I know this is the truth? Oh, I see. It says so in the header.

The ad was placed by some outfit calling itself the Parents and Grandparents Alliance. There is no website URL printed in the ad, which immediately struck me as curious, especially in a day and age when everybody and his hamster and his hamster’s mice has, at the very least, a fucking MySpace if not blog or full-on website. Quick Googlage revealed a webpage at outragedcitizens.org, which is little more than an anemic version of the kind of hysteria featured in the newspaper ad. I say anemic because the ad actually featured denser content. But the format, particularly the use of unsourced alleged headlines as “evidence,” is no different. The web page, however, does feature a photo of has-been fundie crooner Pat Boone. You know, for street cred.

To find out what the Parents and Grandparents Alliance actually is, I had to check out this page at Sourcewatch, which reveals it’s an offshoot of Accuracy in Media, the right-wing media watchdog group run by Reed Irvine until his death in 2004. AIM began running these ads as far back as 2001 in the New York Times. Apparently it’s taken them six years to climb down the newspaper food chain to the Austin American-Statesman. Accuracy in Media has been doing its thing since 1969.

Since Google is fun, I thought I’d do a little more digging. But first, it’s interesting to note the difference in presentation between the outragedcitizens.org website and AIM’s own. The latter looks stately, journalistic and professional, while the former employs bright primary colors and blazing, 48-point headlines full of emotionally overwrought language. (Content-wise, they’re equally full of shit.) And while outragedcitizens.org says it’s not a fund-raising ad, the newspaper ad itself most definitely is, with a clip-out donations coupon at the bottom extolling all the parents and grandparents they hope they’ve terrified to “send in the ‘Outraged Citizens Petition’… You don’t need to send in any money to have your Petition added to the number we report. But we beg you to help. These ads cost up to $20,000 and more each. This is a grass roots campaign.”

Horseshit. It’s an establishment campaign. AIM’s corporate donors include Mobil Oil and Union Carbide, which no doubt reflects the organization’s global warming denialism. Neocon gazillionaire Richard Mellon Scaife gave AIM $2 million over a 20 year period, until he was embarrassed by the right’s failed attempt to concoct a bogus murder allegation against Bill Clinton in the case of Vince Foster’s suicide (a situation in which Irvine and AIM were major players). AIM has been responsible for a number of other vicious and wholly false wingnut smears, such as vilifying Walter Cronkite as a “Soviet dupe,” falsely accusing a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter of fabricating a story on a massacre in Kosovo (another source here), and getting another NYT reporter fired for reporting on the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador in 1981.

So far from being a “grass roots” anything, AIM and its bogus sockpuppets like the “Parents and Grandparents Alliance” are really tools of the entrenched neocon plutocracy. (Hey, how’s that for agitprop language!?) Since violent and sexy entertainment continues to be released and continues to meet with public approval (this ad hit the Statesman the same week that American Gangster was the #1 movie, with $80 million in ticket sales so far), it seems to me that Irvine’s successors at his “watchdog” group aren’t really lying awake nights over the thousands upon thousands of imaginary children who are running rampant, raping and pillaging after an all-night World of Warcraft marathon. It’s only when they need to get those donations rolling in, the ones they claim amount to 75% of their operating budget, that they sprinkle these fearmongering ads out among Bible Belt newspapers.

Thus it’s on the meager, hard-earned paychecks of the great unwashed — cowering in terror over the thought of a meth-hopped, FPS-addicted sk8er off his ritalin crashing through their front doors to chainsaw them into hamburger in an orgy of liberal-media-feuled lust and carnage — that AIM can pay to libel and defame their ideological and political opponents in their own neocon-friendly press.

Now who are the outraged citizens?

(For another detailed AIM critique, go here.)

The messy world of free speech

From Florida comes this report of a Christian evangelist who’s had his TV show yanked off a local station because he can’t resist talking smack about Islam.

Earlier this month, officials from the Council on American Islamic Relations wrote a letter to the TV station’s owners asking for an investigation of the show it broadcasts, “Live Prayer with Bill Keller.”

In a May 2 broadcast, the televangelist said Islam was a “1,400-year-old lie from the pits of hell” and called the Prophet Mohammed a “murdering pedophile.” He also called the Koran a “book of fables and a book of lies.”

Well, I for one utterly agree with the last statement, though I would add that Keller’s Bible also qualifies. I’d have to reserve judgment on the second statement and would agree with the first half of the first statement, too. Someone else who I’m sure would largely agree with Keller would be atheist bestseller Sam Harris, who’s written that Islam is nothing less than the “enemy of civilization”. It’s sweet when we can all see eye to eye on something, isn’t it?

So, were local Muslims understandably offended? Sure they were. Should they have been allowed to protest the show, even to the point of having it taken off the air? Yes again. But did Keller have a Constitutionally protected right to voice his opinions of Islam, however offensive they were? Why, we’re back to yes. Welcome to the conflicted and messy world of free speech.

There are actually many layers to a situation such as this. One valid criticism one might make of Keller is that while he has a Constitutional right to spew invective about a competing religion, he does not (nor does anyone else) have a Constitutional right to a TV show, and members of any community as well as a television station itself have every right to drop something that they find appalling. Readers will note a similarity here to the recent firing of celebrity radio clod Don Imus for making racist wisecracks. It’s a tossup as to which situation is more offensive: Imus made a joke, though an egregiously juvenile and thoughtless one, while Keller was really being deliberately confrontational and insulting.

Should Imus have been fired? I’d have to waffle and say definitely maybe (a long suspension would have served fine; after all, the man’s been offending people on the air for 30 years now, so it’s not as if he hasn’t got a rep). Imus’s bad joke served no purpose but to insult a group of people who’d done nothing to deserve it (quite the opposite, in fact), and was in fact not an insult over anything they’d done at all, but over who they were and the color of their skin. There wasn’t, nor could there have been, any valid programming context to justify its utterance.

Should Keller have been similarly canned, though? I don’t think so. In this case, there’s no bones made about who the man is and what kind of program he’s got. The station which carried him had to have known he was an evangelical Christian, and thus he’d be spouting barbarian opinions on any number of subjects. And since when should anyone be taken aback that a program promoting one religion would, every now and again, knock the competition?

When people express strong opinions, someone will be offended. Period. The Atheist Experience offends a lot of Christians simply by existing at all. Dawkins criticizes faith and is labeled a bully and an “atheist fundamentalist” and a thought-cop and a bigot, though everything I’ve read of his is delivered in a tone that, while certainly confrontational and blunt, never merely seeks to insult people on a personal level. Christians, on their TV networks, say personally insulting things about atheists, liberals, homosexuals, and basically anyone who isn’t in their club with such reliability that you can practically set your watch by the frequency of Pat Robertson’s latest idiotic remark.

In a culture that supports free speech, offensive statements should be allowed, but expressly so they can be aired and then subject to criticism and debate. This is why I think the bad guys in this scenario here are neither Keller nor the Islamic group who got his show pulled, but the TV station itself, for not allowing the Islamic group a chance to counter Keller’s remarks. We all cringe with disgust when filth like Fred Phelps or the KKK announce they’re coming to town. But the value there is that when they do come, hundreds of people whose minds are not poisoned by religious bigotry and ignorance find themselves rallying together in counter-protest.

So I say yeah, Keller should be allowed to have a show if he can find a station that’ll take him on. And the Islamic citizens whom he offends should be able to rebut him publicly and encourage viewers not to watch his show and boycott his sponsors. And there should also be a nice, family atheist show on Florida TV as well, pointing out that both these folks are full of shit and offering rationalism as a better alternative to both. If anything in this modern world is aggressively Darwinian, it’s the marketplace of ideas. Let the bad ideas have free rein, if only so that better ideas can be aired to challenge and ultimately conquer them.


Okay, having said all that, I will anticipate and respond to a criticism I can already see some of our Christian readers making. Isn’t it hypocritical of me, they might say, as an atheist, for you to support free speech and the exchange of ideas when it comes to something like religious broadcasting, but not when it comes to giving equal time to intelligent design alongside evolution in science classrooms?

In short, no. Religious television shows and similar entertainment venues are forums in which people express opinions, even when they’re deluded people who think their opinions are facts. Science classrooms are different, because they are educational (not entertainment) venues in which facts, and not opinions, are to be discussed. If certain facts in science are controversial, then that itself is a fact and is free to be taught there. The reason right now for opposition to ID in classrooms is that the side promoting it hasn’t shored up sufficient facts for their challenge to evolution to be accepted as legit. If the ID camp devoted a fraction of the attention they devote to media dog-and-pony-shows and indignant press releases to actual scientific research programs, then they wouldn’t be currently denied the respect of academia that they seem to feel is their birthright. There’s no appropriate comparison between censoring opinions in the media and refusing to teach students things that aren’t supported by facts in our schools.

What theists don’t ask

Michael Gerson has written a piece in the Washington Post entitled “What Atheists Can’t Answer.” As I mentioned on my last show appearance, often these kinds of claims come about because theists don’t bother talking to any atheists before coming to conclusions about what they think.

The heart of this article is this:

“So I merely want to pose a question: If the atheists are right, what would be the effect on human morality?”

Later it is re-expressed in this way:

“So the dilemma is this: How do we choose between good and bad instincts? Theism, for several millennial, has given one answer: We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it. While many of us fall tragically short, the ideal remains.”

As people know who watch or listen to our shows, we’ve grappled with those questions frequently in recent years. The problem with the question “How do we choose between good and bad instincts?” is that it’s a non-trivial philosophical issue, about which tremendous volumes have been written by philosophers for many centuries. Folks like Michael Gerson believe that they have scored a good point when they essentially ask us to give them an simple answer in a thirty second sound-bite or even an 800 word column. Then they falsely assert that religion provides that easy answer.

You want a sound bite? As always, take a cue from the Euthyphro Dilemma. You don’t need to play the game of trying to appear to have all the answers; it is sufficient in this case to point out that theists do not have any answers either. The counter-question is “How does inventing a god help us to choose between good and bad instincts?” Then you can follow up immediately by pointing out awful things that God can and does ask people to do in the Bible. You can take your pick from slaughtering entire cities and taking the virgin girls to be unwilling brides; being prepared to stab your first born son to death as a test of loyalty; millenia of unabashed support for slavery; etc. Not to mention modern applications of religion, such as flying planes into buildings.

In this case, pleading “That’s the old testament” or “Only Muslims fly planes into buildings” is completely irrelevant. Michael Gerson didn’t make an argument for modern liberal Christianity; he made the more general claim that believing in a higher power solves the problem of morality. Of course it doesn’t. Belief in a higher power simply adds a level of arbitrary abstraction to your moral decisions. You are no less likely to commit acts of atrocity, only now you are free to attribute these actions to the deity of your choice. Instead of picking your morals, you are picking your god, as well as your interpretation of what the god wants.

Here in the west, only a few extremists are willing to take Biblical morality at face value, including (for example) stoning unruly children to death, but these are not the sorts of people you want to spend much time talking to. Most people are ready to argue that they shouldn’t be expected to accept some of these edicts that were supposedly directed by God. At that point, the question of “Where do you atheists get their morality?” is easily answered: “It’s probably about the same place YOU get your morality, since it clearly isn’t from God.”

That’s most of what the article is about, although there are a couple of other assertions that are worth commenting on. The first paragraph of the article says:


“British author G.K. Chesterton argued that every act of blasphemy is a kind of tribute to God, because it is based on belief. ‘If anyone doubts this,’ he wrote, ‘let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor.'”

Right. That totally makes sense. Because every time you criticize something, you are secretly supporting it. Doesn’t matter what it is. If you stop and think “Hey, I saw my mom sneaking around my bedroom, I wonder if she left that money under my pillow?” you are paying tribute to the tooth fairy. If you say “Suicide jihadists are idiots to believe that they will get 72 virgins in the afterlife” you are paying tribute to their notion of an afterlife.

I wonder if anyone will ever catch on that this argument boils down to nothing more than “I know you are, but what am I?”

Gerson also states:

“And I suspect that a certain kind of skeptic would remain skeptical even after a squadron of angels landed on his front lawn.”

This, too, is a fairly common desperate move to use against atheists. Theists realize that the actual evidence that is available to prove the existence of God is piss-poor, so in frustration they make up hypothetical rock solid evidence, which does not really exist. By making the unsupported claim that atheists wouldn’t even believe THAT, they manage to shift the discussion away from the poorness of the actual evidence, and turn it into an unwarranted assumption about how unreasonable atheists are in their imaginary alternative universe.

Still, just so we are clear, let me state this for the record. If a squadron of angels landed on my front lawn and started chatting me up about God, I’d be pretty easy to convince at that point.

There. Now God knows exactly what he can do to make me renounce atheism. Where’s my squadron of angels?