Atheists Do Not Exist

My friend Rebecca saw this sign on a recent road trip, and of course she photographed it and sent it to me:

Atheist_sign

An ordinary person might just post the photo and let it speak for itself. But this is me, and of course I want to gas on about why it’s both so funny and so nonsensical.

1. The sign seems to be a clumsily humorous attempt to respond to the idea that atheists don’t believe in God, therefore God doesn’t exist. But that’s not what atheists say at all. This isn’t Peter Pan, where every time a little child says, “I don’t believe in fairies,” somewhere a fairy drops down dead. (Tangential note: When I was a child, that enraged me so much — it’s such manipulative emotional extortion, although I obviously didn’t think of it in those terms back then — that I used to go around saying, “I don’t believe in fairies, I don’t believe in fairies, I don’t believe in fairies,” and imagining fairies dropping like flies all over the world.) Atheists don’t think that our disbelief makes God not exist — that’s getting the cause and effect completely backwards. We think there’s no good evidence for God’s existence, and therefore we don’t believe in him.

2. More to the point: Did anyone else notice that the sign actually proves itself wrong?

I find this hilarious. In theory, the all-powerful God could, in fact, make atheists disappear by simply thinking us out of existence. If God were real, atheists’ lack of belief in him wouldn’t have any effect on his existence… but God’s disbelief in atheists could, in fact, make us disappear (or convert) in the blink of an eye.

But atheists do exist. Obviously. There is, in fact, compelling, physical evidence for the existence of atheists.

Therefore, either the Lifeway Southern Baptist Church has it wrong, and God does believe in atheists… or they have it wrong, and God exists but is not all-powerful and does not have the power to make atheists disappear…or they have it wrong, and God does not exist.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

Carnival of the Godless #76

Carnival_1Carnival of the Godless #76 is up at A Load of Bright. They were kind enough to include my piece Good Cop, Bad Cop: Atheist Activism (a piece of which I’m unusually proud), so many thanks for that.

My favorite pieces in this week’s carnival:

Clearing the Ground by Ebon Muse at Daylight Atheism, on why it’s absurd to assume that, in the debates between passionate believers and passionate non-believers, the truth must always lie somewhere in the middle. (BTW, this piece links to another piece by Ebon, The Golden Mean, a more detailed piece also on the fallacy of thinking that the moderate/ middle view is always the right one, which is absolutely brilliant and not to be missed.)

Deluded about Dawkins by No More Mr. Nice Guy, eloquently respnding to criticisms of The God Delusion and pointing out that many critics of Dawkins seem to have not actually read him

And Atheism Does Not Require Faith by Vjack at Atheist Revolution, who clearly and concisely points out the flaw in the “atheism requires just as much faith as religion” argument.

Great stuff. As one commenter on the Carnival noted, “This is better than settling in with the Sunday Times.”

If you’re a godless blogger and want to get in on this hot, hot Carnival of the Godless action, check out their guidelines and use their submission form. Happy blogging!

Friday Cat Blogging on Saturday: Catfish in the Sun

And now, two cute pictures of my cat.

Catfish_sun_1_2

Catfish_sun_2

Isn’t she angelic, sitting there in that patch of sunlight? Doesn’t she just look like the sweetest thing?

And here’s a note that our catsitter left when we got back from vacation. Click to enlarge. “Fluids” means subcutaneous fluids, the reason we hired a catsitter in the first place. This is now the third catsitter we’ve had, and the first one who was succesfully able to hydrate the cat. A formidable challenge, indeed. You have no idea how much trouble a seven-pound, 16-year-old cat can be. That’s my girl.

Cat_note

Tech issues with the blog: comments and archives

Please_stand_byJust a quick FYI: If you’re having trouble clicking on comments in the “Recent Comments” list, you’re not alone. The comments are there, at the end of the posts where they should be; but TypePad is tinkering with the way their blogs display comments, and it’s messing with the connection between “Recent Comments” and the actual comments. TypePad is working on the problem; in the meantime, if you want to see the recent comments, just click on the post in question and scroll down to the bottom.

Also, there’s a problem with the archives in Categories — they’re only displaying for about the last month. But the posts are there, and again, TypePad is working on the problem. If for some reason there’s a particular post from the archives that you’re looking for, you can use the Search feature, or else just drop me a line. Ta!

Best Erotic Comics 2008 – Artist List Finalized! Plus Call for Submissions for Best Erotic Comics 2009!

Bec_2008

It’s at the printers! The artist list is finalized! After some predictable delays in production, my new anthology, Best Erotic Comics 2008, is moving forward, with an expected publication date from Last Gasp of December 2007!

Here’s the skinny. (Yes, in this case “the skinny” is the book’s official blurb, but I wrote the blurb myself, so it actually represents the book very accurately.)

A literary and artistic exploration of human sexuality — and a fun dirty book, featuring today’s smartest, raunchiest, funniest, filthiest, most beautiful, and most arousing adult comics! Best Erotic Comics 2008 smashes the divide between literary/art comics and adult comics by including both the hottest work from the literary/art comics world — and the highest-quality work from the adult comics world. Artists include Daniel Clowes, Phoebe Gloeckner, Gilbert Hernandez, Michael Manning, Toshio Saeki, Colleen Coover, Ellen Forney, and many others. The wide variety includes work that’s kinky and vanilla, sweet and perverse, and straight, lesbian, and gay. Features recent comics, a handful of vintage Hall of Fame gems — and some works never published before! Color and b&w.

Work by: Belasco
Marzia Borino & Mauro Balloni
Susannah Breslin
Katie Carmen
Cephalopod Products
Daniel Clowes
Vince Coleman
Colleen Coover
John Cuneo
Dave Davenport
El Bute
Jessica Fink
Ellen Forney
Phoebe Gloeckner
Daphne Gottlieb and Diane DiMassa
Justin Hall
Gilbert Hernandez
Molly Kiely
Ralf Konig
Dale Lazarov & Steve MacIsaac
Michael Manning
Erika Moen
Quinn
Sandez Rey
Trina Robbins
Toshio Saeki
and Dori Seda.

Cover art by Ellen Forney.

Bec_2008_2I am enormously excited about this book. It really is both dirty and arty, mind-expanding as well as dick- and clit-expanding, which is exactly the line I was trying to walk with it. And everyone who’s looked at it so far has said that they’re struck by the sheer variety of the material… something that makes me very happy indeed. Variety — not just variety of sex acts and sexual orientations, but also variety of sexual moods and attitudes, relationships and settings, narrative tones and visual styles — was one of my top priorities in choosing the material, and it tickles me that this jumps out so clearly.

I’ll be blogging about Best Erotic Comics a lot more as it gets closer to publication. I’ll be posting artist interviews, explaining more about my selection process, gassing on about why I did the book in the first place, and more. But I wanted to start spreading the news now.

And I want to start spreading a related piece of news: Best Erotic Comics is an annual series, and the deadline for the next volume is fast approaching! For details, please check out the guidelines below the fold. (Even if you’re not a comic artist, you might be interested in the guidelines, as they explain a lot about the book.) Thanks, and see you in the funny papers!

[Read more...]

Skeptic’s Circle #70… and a Rant on Alternative Medicine

Carnival_2Skeptic’s Circle #70 is up at Conspiracy Factory. They were kind enough to include my piece Seeing Jesus On Drugs… a decision they may come to regret, as it’ll only encourage me to blog drunk again.

My favorite pieces in this Circle: Skeptico on the testing (a.k.a. the lack thereof) of most alternative medicine (this is a must-read); Orac on a recent acupuncture study and how the popular media has mis-read its findings; and White Coat Underground on coffee enemas (mostly because it’s just funny).

And now the rant. Skeptico’s piece on the lack of testing in alternative medicine really hit it out of the park, I thought. And it reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to say for a while about conventional versus alternative medicine.

MeditationIn her never-ending attempt to be fair, Ingrid has pointed out that alternative medicine is untested somewhat by definition. Once an alternative treatment gets some good, placebo-controlled, double-blind, peer-reviewed, replicable studies showing that it works, it’s no longer “alternative” — it’s conventional medicine by definition. (The use of meditation to reduce stress is a good example.)

ManusingmicroscopeBut in fact, I think that’s the whole point. The dividing line between conventional and alternative medicine isn’t any particular opinion or theory about treatment. The dividing line is whether or not it’s been carefully tested, using the scientific method, to minimize the effects of human error and bias as much as is humanly possible.

What I don’t understand is why practitioners and promoters of alternative medicine think that’s a bad thing.

SieveAlternative medicine boosters often accuse conventional Western doctors and medical researchers of being close-minded, biased against any theories and opinions other than their own. But the whole point of science (including medical science) and the scientific method is that it acts as a screen against bias and preconception: an imperfect screen, to be a sure, but a screen nonetheless. It’s an extremely humbling, often disappointing process.

HomeopathyOf course doctors can be biased and even arrogant… but how is that not true of alternative practitioners? They’re every bit as biased to believe in their theories as conventional practitioners, every bit as likely to succumb to confirmation bias and cherrypick positive results while ignoring negative ones. And they don’t have the advantage of having placebo-controlled, double-blind, peer-reviewed, replicable studies to back up their arrogance and show that their results aren’t just confirmation bias at work.

Galileo_2Which, again, is kind of the whole point. If the only difference between conventional and alternative medicine is that conventional medicine has, by definition, been carefully tested using the scientific method… then how is alternative medicine the better choice? How is it anything other than the Galileo fallacy in action?

HolywaterjugAnd as Ingrid has also pointed out: Doctors and medical researchers, probably even more than other scientists, could give a rat’s ass about being personally proven wrong if it means getting at the truth. Because the truth is what’s going to help them treat their sick, suffering, and dying patients. Ingrid is an HIV nurse, and if it could be conclusively shown that homeopathy, or Reiki, or acupuncture, or even for Pete’s sake prayer, could cure HIV or even alleviate it, she’d be all over it like white on rice. The reason she uses the treatments that she uses is that they’ve been through the trial by fire: they’ve been carefully tested and shown to be effective. If there were a set of placebo-controlled, double-blind, peer-reviewed, replicable studies showing that HIV could be cured or effectively treated by sprinkling holy water on goat entrails, she’d be right there on the Catholic goat farm with the sacrificial knife.

Domestic_goat_003But again, if there were a set of placebo-controlled, double-blind, peer-reviewed, replicable studies showing that HIV could be cured by sprinkling holy water on goat entrails, then it wouldn’t be alternative medicine. It’d be conventional medicine, by definition.

Because conventional medicine, by definition, is medicine that’s been shown to work.

Carnival of the Liberals #48

CarnivalCarnival of the Liberals #48 is up now at Liberal England. They were kind enough to include my piece The Galileo Fallacy, and the Gadfly Corollary, which makes me very happy. The Carnival of the Liberals is a selective carnival — it typically only includes the ten best blog posts submitted — so it’s always a special honor to be included. Thanks, dude!

If you’re a liberal blogger and want to submit a post to the next Carnival, please check out their guidelines and use their submission form. Ta!

Night of the Living Vacation Photos

This is the price you pay, people. You want my opinionated rants thoughtful commentary on religion and politics and sex; you have to put up with my vacation snapshots. Hopefully some of you will emerge from the horror unscarred.

Ingrid_and_greta_with_spindle

This is me and Ingrid in front of the Berwyn Spindle. Berwyn is a suburb of Chicago, on the way from Chicago (where my dad and brother live) to Galesburg (where my cousin’s wedding was). Or rather, it’s on the way if you take the scenic route and make a point of going through Berwyn. The Spindle — eight junked cars skewerd on a steel pole — is an ultra-spiffy art installation in a strip mall parking lot. There’s some controversy about it — some local merchants want to take it down — so we made a detour to see it while it’s still around. (Find out more at savethespindle.com.)

Spindle_2

Arty closeup on the Spindle.

Barn

The barn where my cousin’s wedding was held, taken the day before the wedding. (And no, she wasn’t brought up in a barn; it’s just a neat space that rents out for weddings and stuff.)

Kittens

Mother cat and kittens, at the barn. But you’ve seen this before. I think Ingrid took more pictures of the kittens than she did of anyone else at the wedding.

Lincolns_chair

Me, Ingrid, and Lincoln’s chair, the morning of the wedding. Knox College in Galesburg — where several members of my family have taught, worked, attended, or otherwise been connected with — was one of the sites of the Lincoln-Douglas debates (a fact that, as Garrison Keillor noted, the people of Galesburg will never let you forget). This is a chair that Lincoln sat in, and has now become a neat, if somewhat cheesy, photo-op prop.

Greta_at_video_shoot_1

Me on the wedding day, being interviewed by my brother Rick about a fictional preacher, ranting about how a code written into the molecular structure of DNA proves that there is no God. Rick is making a series of short films as part of this ongoing video project, and we did a bunch of shooting on this trip. Mostly I just held the camera, but I did a couple of impromptu rants in front of it as well. If you click to enlarge, you’ll see that the microphone is actually a wooden chocolate dipper.

Greta_and_rick_at_video_shoot_1_2

Me videotaping my brother, on this same project.

Greta_at_video_shoot_2_2

Again. Ingrid really loves these photos of me in the Regency-style dress holding the video camera.

Rick_at_video_shoot

And again. Shooting this film with my brother was some of the most fun we had on this trip, and Ingrid took a zillion pictures of it. BTW, the location is an abandoned religious school in Knoxville.

Ingrid_and_greta_at_school

Me and Ingrid, at the abandoned school. It’s a very photogenic location (can a location be photogenic?), and after we were done with the video shoot we took a bunch of photos there.

Ingrid_and_greta_at_school_2

Ditto.

Isabel_and_emma

And finally we’re at the actual wedding itself. These are my cousin Dennis’s kids, Isabel and Emma, who were flower girls. They looked amazing, but it turns out to be very hard to photograph children, as they don’t hold still. I only got a couple of good shots of them; this is one.

Dennis

My cousin Dennis, who played bagpipes for the wedding recessional. Here he is looking like a member of the Scottish Secret Service.

Rick_with_camera

Rick videotaping me photographing him. Is there no end to the madness?

Caitlin_isabel_and_emma_1

The bride — my cousin Caitlin — with the flower girls.

Caitlin_isabel_and_emma_2

And again. I love this photo. It really captures the essence of this wedding: an odd and special blend of urban and bucolic. Especially with the flower girls in black.

Rick_at_wedding

Rick at the reception. Handsome devil, isn’t he?

Caitlin_dancing

The bride, dancing with the flower girls.

Ingrid_and_greta_at_wedding

And finally, me and Ingrid at the reception. We have to remember this “candles under the chins” trick for nighttime photography. Much more flattering than a flash.

Thank you for your patience. We now return you to our regularly scheduled ranting.

The Catholic Church: Pedophilia as a First Amendment Right

PopeI think I’m going to be sick.

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars: In one of the many pedophilia lawsuits against them, having to do with known pedophiles in the priesthood not being reported to the police and in fact being re-assigned repeatedly to new dioceses, the Catholic Church is arguing that the case should be dismissed on First Amendment grounds. They’re arguing that the free exercise of religion clause means that the Church should be able to discipline their priests however they want, and assign and re-assign them wherever they want. They’re arguing that for the courts to rule otherwise would make the courts and the government “unconstitutionally entangled in religious doctrine, practice, or church polity.”

ConstitutionOkay. Let’s get this out of the way first: This defense is complete bullshit. A religious organization’s First Amendment right to run its own ship stops when there’s harm or potential harm to the public. Churches have to obey fire and safety codes; religious leaders can’t commit fraud or murder; etc.

That’s not my point.

My point is this:

CrossThey basically just said that child molestation, and the protection of priests who commit it, is part of the Catholic Church’s doctrine, practice, or church polity.

They said that protecting priests who molest children is a legitimate part of their religion and their religious structure, a Constitutionally protected form of religious expression, an internal matter that they should be free to exercise.

And they think this is a defense???

Altar_of_st_peters_basilicaIf this defense were being mounted by anyone other than a respected, well-established religious organization, it wouldn’t just not be a defense. It would be an admission of guilt. They basically said, “Yes, we protect pedophiles from prosecution and move them from parish to parish so they can keep molesting kids for years. What business is it of yours? That’s a valid form of free religious expression.”

I think I’m going to be sick.

The Galileo Fallacy, and the Gadfly Corollary

“Alas, to wear the mantle of Galileo it is not enough that you be persecuted by an unkind establishment, you must also be right.”
-Robert Park. Stolen from the header of Conspiracy Factory

ThinkingThere’s a form of very bad thinking that I see a lot in some very smart, thoughtful people.

The thinking goes like this:

“Great thinkers throughout history have had unpopular ideas that everyone disagreed with.

“I have an unpopular idea that everyone disagrees with.

“Therefore, I must be a great thinker.”

Galileo_1I call it the Galileo Fallacy, in honor of something my old roommate Adele used to say: “The fact that everyone disagrees with you does not make you Galileo.”

I do understand the impulse. If you’re a non-conformist and an independent thinker, you’ve probably gotten used to pushing against the current — to the point that doing so feels more comfortable and natural than going along with it. If you’ve spent your life resisting popular but stupid ideas, resisting popular ideas can become a reflex. And it can be very easy to start thinking of yourself as a smart person simply because you resist popular ideas.

VaccinationAnd so you get punk rock AIDS denialists. Radical lefties refusing to get their kids vaccinated. Progressives rejecting the dogmatic religions of their childhoods, only to embrace psychics, astrologers, and cult leaders. Etc., etc., etc.

All because “that’s what The Man wants you to think. I’m not gonna do what The Man wants. I think for myself.”

The problem, of course, is this: It’s certainly the case that being popular, widely accepted, believed by the scientific/ academic/ medical/ etc. establishment… none of that makes an idea true.

But none of it makes an idea false, either.

You know what makes an idea false? Being false. You know what makes an idea true? Being true.

And you know what makes someone an independent thinker? Thinking independently.

ReflexIt doesn’t mean automatically rejecting an idea simply because it’s in the mainstream. And it doesn’t mean automatically embracing an idea simply because it’s outside of it. When you do that, you’re just as much controlled by the mainstream as if you were completely conforming to it. You’re not thinking independently — you’re reacting reflexively.

HivAnd it’s not like Galileo Fallacists are out there doing the research themselves. It’s not like the punk rock AIDS denialists are spending years studying epidemiology, doing research out in the field for a few more years, and independently coming to the conclusion that the medical establishment has it wrong and HIV doesn’t really cause AIDS. Galileo Fallacists are mostly just laypeople like the rest of us, and they’re relying on authority just as much as anybody else.

They’re simply relying on different authority — authority that supports their “you can’t trust the Man” view of the world. They’re rejecting The Man, only to accept the word of a different Man.

NixonNow, of course I understand the impulse to be suspicious of mainstream authority, and not to accept its pronouncements on the face of it. Presidents from Nixon to G.W. Bush have taught us that lesson all too painfully. But there is an enormous difference between being suspicious of mainstream authority, insisting that it support its pronouncements with evidence… and rejecting anything and everything mainstream authority says, simply because of who’s saying it. (The National Science Foundation is not George W. Bush, after all.)

The_rulesAnd there’s a still bigger difference between that and accepting the word of any alternative authority who rejects mainstream authority right along with you and who talks a good talk. The history of human knowledge is littered with would-be Galileos who were going to radically shake up our understanding of the world with their radical new theories… theories from phrenology to spirit photography, from The Rules to The Secret, from orgone boxes to the Harmonic Convergence to the transformative power of the enema on both body and soul.

To paraphrase from the movie “Bedazzled”: Yes, they said “You’re a nutcase” about Galileo and Columbus. But they also said it about a lot of nutcases.

Lipstick_lipsNow, I’ve certainly felt the Galileo impulse myself. Especially since I started blogging. When some big controversy is swirling around the blogosphere and everyone is spewing about it, the desire to say something original, something nobody else is saying, something other than just “Me, too”… it’s intense. Even if I don’t have anything original to say, and do, in fact, agree with what everyone else is saying.

LipsBut being an original thinker doesn’t mean coming up with something to say that nobody else has said yet… regardless of whether it’s true. Being an original thinker means knowing that you aren’t always right and that everyone else isn’t always wrong. It means knowing when to say, “You know, I really don’t agree with that,” and when to say, “Me, too”… and perhaps most importantly of all, when to say nothing at all.

Which brings me to the Gadfly Corollary.

*****

GadflyThe Galileo Fallacy is often accompanied by the Gadfly Corollary. It goes something like this

“Great thinkers throughout history have make people upset, angry, irritated, or insulted.

“I make people upset, angry, irritated, or insulted.

“Therefore, I must be a great thinker.”

Whenever someone says, “I’m really getting under people’s skin — I must be doing something right,” or, “If people are this pissed off at what I say, then I must be doing my job” — that’s the Gadfly Corollary in action.

Christopher_hitchens_cropIt’s a form of thinking that I see an unfortunate amount of among skeptics and skeptical allies, from Christopher Hitchens to Penn Jillette to the creators of South Park.

And it makes about as much sense as the Galileo Fallacy. Maybe even less.

Bill_oreillyI mean, of course people get angry at good ideas that challenge their assumptions or call into doubt their most dearly-held beliefs. But people also get angry at bad ideas that are poorly thought-out, ideas based on bigotry and ignorance, and/or ideas that have potentially harmful consequences. The fact that you’ve made people mad at you doesn’t automatically make you a misunderstood genius. Sometimes it just makes you an asshole.

SleepWhat’s more, the Gadfly Corollary both reveals and encourages some tremendously lazy thinking. When people assume that “if I’m pissing people off, I must be doing something right,” it absolves them of the responsibility of finding out whether they really are right; the difficult, tedious, often humbling work of actually doing the damn research.

Origin_of_speciesAfter all, it’s easy to get a rise out of people just by baiting them. It’s a whole lot harder to get a rise out of people because you’ve come up with some genuinely new truth that contradicts a deeply-ingrained view of the world. So why not do the former, and convince yourself that you’re doing the latter?

ArgueAnd perhaps that’s the most frustrating thing about the Gadfly Corollary. It’s not that it leads people to be confrontational when they might be better off being diplomatic (although that is frustrating). It’s not that it fills the world in general, and the Internet in particular, with meaningless angry noise masquerading as discourse and debate. (Although that’s frustrating, too.)

Charles_darwinThe most frustrating thing about the Gadfly Corollary is that it encourages lazy, sloppy thinking, by equating belligerence with genius. And in doing so, it trivializes both the courage and the hard work involved in actual genius. It diminishes Galileo and Darwin and other genuinely new and courageous thinkers — thinkers who were willing to brave the hostility and oppression of society in their pursuit of the truth — and brings them down to the level of Internet trolls cruising the blogs in pursuit of a fight.

Galileo_2Galileo wasn’t Galileo because he pissed a lot of people off. And he wasn’t Galileo because he had a new idea that nobody agreed with and that the establishment violently opposed. Galileo was Galileo because… well, among other things, because he was right. He didn’t just have a new idea that tried to upend everything we thought we knew about the world. He had a new idea that successfully upended everything we thought we knew about the world — because it was right. He had the evidence, he did the work, he crunched the numbers, and he was right. And being right is a lot harder, and means a lot more, than just disagreeing with the establishment and pissing people off.