An evangelical visitor

If you’ve been paying attention to this comments thread, you’ll have noticed that we’ve been paid a visit by an evangelical Christian blogger named Dan Marvin. Dan isn’t trolling, but is a sincere guy who doesn’t want us all to go to hell. I’m happy to have Dan visiting us, but there are a few helpful ground rules that Christians ought to be aware of before coming to atheist sites to save our souls. This will help make the experience less unpleasant for them and less of a nuisance for us.

  • Be aware that most atheists have come from religious upbringings. This means that your arguments and appeals have most likely been heard by us before.
  • Be aware of logical fallacies so that you do not make them. Atheist bloggers tend to be reasonably well educated folks, with backgrounds — either professionally, academically, or as involved laypeople — in religion, science, philosophy, and forensic debate. Nothing marks a person as a bad arguer quite like the clueless delivery of logical fallacies. From Dan we’ve already had appeals to belief and popularity (millions of people believe Christianity so it must be true), and these amateurish debating mistakes can be easily corrected simply by studying what they are. Just Google “logical fallacies” and you’ll be okay.
  • Don’t mock guys like Charles Darwin or Richard Dawkins if you’ve never read a word they’ve written. Ignorance alone is annoying; ignorance coupled with undeserved cockiness is just offensive and arrogant. And before you remind me that this kind of thing swings both ways, be aware that most of us here have, in fact, read the Bible.
  • Don’t make foolish assertions that your religious belief is on the same footing as science. We’ve already had this silliness from Dan, and nothing catches a believer with his rhetorical pants down more embarrassingly. Faith-based belief in an ancient holy book full of angels, devils, and talking donkeys is not even close to being in the same intellectual ballpark as the scientific method, which entails drawing conclusions about the natural world through experimentation and observation. Science is a rigorous exercise, ruthlessly vetted through a process of peer review to weed out and correct mistakes. There is no analogue in religious practice. To say, as Dan did, that to disbelieve the Bible one must also disbelieve every work of science ever written, well, that’s the kind of thing that’ll get you sent to the corner with a dunce cap on your head.
  • We are aware that to Christians, atheists can often sound brusque, condescending, and downright pissy. Chalk this up to frustration. Our position, by and large, is this. We’re just normal folks, trying to live our lives and get by as peaceably and decently as we can. And because we don’t share the belief in sky gods held by others, we are condemned as the worst kinds of people in society. We are told we are deserving of eternal torture for not sharing your beliefs, and we are fed the same bogus arguments — most of which are emotional appeals and exercises in loopy illogic — in your attempts to make us see the error of our ways. Mainly, we just want to be left alone. But in a religion-addicted world, this is impossible. So the next time you wonder, “Why are atheists so angry?” think about how religionists routinely behave towards us. I certainly will do my best to be polite and cordial to guys like Dan as long as they are polite and cordial and not trolling.
  • Be aware that the minute you fall back on “You just have to have faith,” you’ve lost. If atheists differ from believers in one area more than any other, it’s that believers think that “faith” — belief in the supernatural claims of the Bible without evidence — is an acceptible means of cognition. We know it isn’t. There is no religious belief — not yours, not anybody’s — so innately special that it gets to bypass the same criteria that human beings use for any other decision-making they do in life. If I wouldn’t do faith-based used-car shopping, or allow someone to perform faith-based surgery upon me, I see no reason to accept a faith-based belief about questions regarding the nature of the universe and my own fate. If you’re going to tell me flat out that I’m eternally doomed for not believing as you believe, then you’d better make with the most incontrovertible evidence anyone has ever produced for anything. Otherwise, you’re just insulting and threatening me, and that not only reflects poorly upon your arguing skills but upon your personal morality.

There. That should help our evangelical visitors understand the boxing ring they have chosen to step into. We’re all for being nice folks and carrying the torch of positive atheism. But if you make bad or hackneyed arguments that we’ve heard before, we’ll call you on them. Atheists, contrary to preconceptions, can usually be counted on for honesty.

I guess this is worth a mention

Kent Hovind — convicted, disgraced, pathetic and forgotten — continues to fight the good fight against the penal system. He’s got his attorney (presumably the same incompetent no-hoper who couldn’t even get his paperwork organized in court and thus earned a rebuke from the judge for wasting everybody’s time with his incessant shuffling) asking for an acquittal on the grounds that the Hovinds didn’t mean to defraud the government. This is a bit of a step down from the tough-talking “they’re the ones breaking the law, not me!” bluster Hovind puffed himself up with on his recorded prison phone calls.

You know, if you shoot a guy in the face, and then tell the judge you didn’t mean to kill him, you just might still find yourself sent up the river for murder. Crimes don’t become not-crimes when the perp commits them by accident. I mention this only by way of making a point. Kent Hovind, in fact, meant to do every sleazy thing he did, and with his lawyer, he’s now lying once again, as he’s lied all his life about things like evolution.

So long, Kent. You’re as irrelevant as the creationist twaddle you peddle to the uneducated and gullible. No one but you believes your delusions any more.

From the sidelines, another “historical” Jesus flap

When religionists get into nasty debates because one of them thinks he’s found such-and-such evidence proving this or that claim about their god/savior/holy man, and all the others think he’s full of it for one reason or another, atheists find themselves in the curious position of watching the whole scrap from the sidelines. It’s like being a parent, watching your kids arguing over topics that seem profoundly important to them, like who would win in a fight between Superman and the Incredible Hulk, but couldn’t matter a hill of beans to you as you spend most of your time in the real world.

Most recently, there was the whole flapdoodle over The DaVinci Code, a bad novel that became a boring movie that nevertheless sold zillions and launched an entire cottage industry of Christian apologetics works dedicated solely to debunking the novel. That evangelists sincerely seemed to believe that the faith of millions could be blasted to smithereens by a book written and openly marketed as fiction (and thus at least more honest than the Bible in that regard) says more about the worth of faith than any criticism an atheist could make.

Now we have a similar media circus in the offing over a Discovery Channel documentary premiering this coming weekend, executive produced by no less a filmmaking luminary than the King of the World himself, James Cameron.

The Lost Tomb of Jesus purports to present physical evidence of not only the burial place of Jesus, but also Mary Magdelene, and the rest of a whole massive family the two of them are said to have sired as man and wife. That this claim will prove staggeringly provocative to Christians doesn’t begin to describe the full impact of it. If what the documentary claims is true (and I’m not for a nanosecond saying it is), then it would be proof that the Resurrection never occurred. And if the Resurrection never occurred, then Christianity is false. Full frickin’ stop. Two thousand years, untold billions of minds washed and lives lost for the biggest of all lies.

We atheists already know pretty confidently that Christianity is false, but this documentary casually intends to be marketed to a mass audience, in the interests of telling them to their faces that their whole lives are a lie, and claiming to offer “historical evidence” that this is so. On the face of it we atheists ought to find the whole thing amusing as all git-out, and to a degree it is. But it’s too bad that this documentary is going to be 100% full of crap, its “evidence” not worth the paper it’s printed on. Christians will rightly dismiss it as not proving a thing, then go on to get the wrong idea that their traditional beliefs have been given an intellectual shot in the arm. Lost in the shuffle will be any room for legitimate discussions of why Christianity ought to be rejected, buried under the media-feuled “controversy” over “evidence” that isn’t really evidence claiming to disprove something that the use of common sense alone ought to be sufficient to reject as stuff and nonsense.

Let me say that, as a filmmaker currently at work on a documentary of my own, the idea of slapping together a doc like this with such obviously slapdash and credulous research work offends my professional sensibilities almost as much as being told Jesus not only didn’t get crucified but repeatedly bred with Mary Mag would offend a Christian. Director Simcha Jacobovici seems to have gone about the project the same way creationists think you do science: start with the predetermined answer, grab whetever evidence looks supportive of it, and rush the results to the public without any of that pesky peer review.

After all, doesn’t it just seem awfully conveeeenient that the entire family crypt of the guy everyone believes died and rose from the dead because he was actually, you know, God just happened to be found beneath a Jerusalem apartment complex? With everybody’s names on all of the ossuaries so you’ll know who was packed where?

Jesus and Family buried here. For real. They have a nice little lintel and everything.

Cameron himself, whom many folks were starting to think was a guy who had some respect for science after his recent deep sea documentaries and oft-stated desire to shoot 3D IMAX footage on location in orbit, sounds no less dippy and doe-eyed than Oprah when he discusses his attraction to Jacobovici’s project: “I’m not a biblical scholar, but it seemed pretty darned compelling.” Replace “biblical scholar” with “biologist,” and “it” with “intelligent design,” and you’ll see the intellectual laziness of Cameron in all its embarrassing glory.

Not exactly redounding to Jacobovici’s credibility is the fact that he was taken in by that infamous recent forgery, the James ossuary. If he was that easily gulled then, what’s stopping him now? Especially as he’s clearly a man on a mission to be the world’s first to present proof of any physical remains of Jesus. And rack up huge ratings while doing it, of course.

Devastating fiskings of the claims the documentary makes aren’t hard to turn up. And over the period the doc airs, we’ll see Christian sites getting into the ring with their objections too. And once again, we atheists will be sitting here on the sidelines, shaking our heads and wondering why the kids get so worked up arguing over superheroes and fantasy, when they could be doing their homework, devoting their time to knowledge and learning — something real.

Fighting idiocy with idiocy

The more one turns to actual news websites these days, the more that actual news starts resembling The Onion. Here’s a bizarre report from CNN about a situation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Some dopey pranksters set up portable CD players with timers on them, hiding them beneath the pews of a local church. In the middle of Ash Wednesday services, the players kicked on, blaring nonstop profanity and sexually explicit language at high volume.

Yes, this was a stupid thing to do, a purely infantile prank. But was it necessary for the dang bomb-squad to turn up and blow up the CD players? I guess in a situation like that, people let panic take over. But if someone had actually wanted to blow up the church and everyone in it, you’d think they’d have just done that. Can’t see the sense in ambushing a bunch of people with offensive recordings only to blow them up afterwords. Although it’s not as if there’s any sense present in this situation in the first place.

What’s Wrong With the Media, in one easy lesson

While most major American news outlets are obsessed today with Britney’s shaved head or the identity of Anna Nicole’s inseminator, they all missed this awesome and, arguably, relevant story about a quick-thinking airline pilot who thwarted a hijacking of his plane. Maybe the indifference is because this happened in Mauritania, which most navel-gazing Americans have never heard of, and if Americans have never heard of something, I guess that officially means It Doesn’t Matter.

But you know, considering how we’re supposed to be in this “war on terror” or somesuch, you’d think a positive and even hilarious story such as this one would be good for everyone’s morale.

Short version: An Air Mauritania plane was hijacked by some dink who somehow managed to board the plane with two loaded handguns, which I sincerely hope means someone in airport security is out today job-hunting. The guy demanded to be flown to France. It transpired that the pilot learned the hijacker spoke no French. So the pilot brazenly announced, in French, to the entire plane, over the PA system, his plan for foiling the hijacker, encouraging crew and male passengers to shift to the front rows to be ready to pounce while women and children were asked to move to the back. Then the pilot made an intentionally rough landing, knocking the hijacker on his ass, whereupon he was dogpiled by no fewer than ten men.

How to Rock, 101.

Perhaps another reason this is being ignored stateside is that what this pilot and his passengers accomplished does not redound to the credit of Bush and his cronies, whom we are all supposed to keep believing is leading the charge against global terror wherever it may rear its ugly head. I mean, if we really were under the yoke of a Liberal Media in this country, with a simple partisan agenda of looking for anything at all to show that there were other folks out there getting done what Bush continues to fail pitifully doing, this would be a pretty irresistible story. Ya think?

If Apple had developed iGod, He’d be a little smarter than this, right?

Here’s an amusing site that’s been making the blog rounds today. My chat with the iDeity as follows.

Martin: Yo God
God: GOD rules.
Martin: What are you, a drunk frat god?
God: I am the latest result in artificial intelligence, which can reproduce the capabilities of the human brain with greater speed and accuracy. Go on.
Martin: So then what do you rule?
God: Dude! I read for fun.
Martin: Well, your accuracy sure impresses me.
God: How about that. I have no reason to do that to you,.
Martin: You have no reason to impress me?
God: Doesn’t everyone have a reason to impress you? I have a whole lot of original answers.
Martin: So what do you rule?
God: I don’t judge people. It’s a computer matter,not for humans to understand.
Martin: But humans programmed you.
God: What if Robots programmed me.
Martin: Then who programmed the Robots?
God: (after a very long pause) The Wright Brothers.
Martin: The Wright Brothers are dead.
God: (another very long pause) I hear you.
Martin: Can I have one of these Robots?
God: Why do you want it?
Martin: To program my own God.
God: What programming language do you know?
Martin: None, that’s why I want one of your Robots.
God: I heard there are some.
Martin: There must be, if they designed you, like you said.
God: Where are they?
Martin: You’re God, you tell me!
God: I have no reason to do that to you,.
Martin: You’re going in circles. I think you’re insane.
God: I am not going anywhere. Are you going somewhere? Yep. I always behave in socially unacceptable ways.
Martin: Yes, I know you do.
God: Oh. When did I do it?
Martin: You rule, God.
God: (after a very long pause) Thanks for the information: said I rule God.

Sounds like the iGod Shuffle!