Caught Between Fat and Thin: The Pounds Come Off, But the Label Stays

Doll tape measureI’m always going to be a fat woman. Don’t get me wrong. At five foot three and 135 pounds, I am not, by any useful definition of the word, fat.

But I have been fat. I was fat for many, many years. And for years, I was an ardent advocate of the fat acceptance movement. I actively resisted the idea that there was any point whatsoever to losing weight. I believed that medical statistics on the health effects of obesity were exaggerated at best, part of the cultural conspiracy to make women hate their bodies at worst. I was convinced that I could be just as healthy at 200 pounds (and with the eating and exercise habits that kept me at 200 pounds) as I would be with less weight. And I was convinced that losing weight never, ever worked… or at least, that it worked so rarely it wasn’t worth trying–if there was even any reason for trying.

It wasn’t until my bad knee started getting worse that I saw the writing on the wall, and decided that, given a choice between losing mobility and losing weight, the weight would have to go.

You’d probably think that losing weight would make a person stop thinking of him or herself as fat. And you’d almost certainly think that making a concerted effort to not be fat would make someone abandon the whole idea of fat acceptance. I thought all that myself once… and I was wrong.

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Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Caught Between Fat and Thin: The Pounds Come Off, But the Label Stays. To find out more about how fat acceptance has been both an ally and an enemy in my struggle to love my body — and how I still see the world through the eyes of a fat person, even though I’m not fat anymore — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

A Very Special Christmas Song — No, Really

QueenIs this the Yuletide?
It’s such a mystery
Will I be denied
Or will there be gifts for me?

Come down the stairs
Look under the tree and see…

It’s December now, which means it’s officially okay for me to start talking about Christmas. (A holiday that I actually do enjoy.) So here is my annual plug for the very best Christmas song ever:

Christmas Rhapsody, Pledge Drive’s Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” written by my friend Tim Walters and his friend Steve Rosenthal.

It’s absolutely dead-on. The lyrics, the performance, the production, everything. You will never be able to listen to “Bohemian Rhapsody” again without thinking of it… and without falling into fits of the giggles when you do.

Here’s an MP3. Alas, there’s no video; videographers who want to take on the challenge should contact Tim through his website.

Trust me on this one. Even if you hate Christmas. It is hilarious, and it is freaking brilliant. Just take my word for it.

And if you like that, here’s more Tim-related holiday music. My fave: the gothy, Dead-Can-Dance-ish version of Down In The Forest, described by Tim as “A dark and slightly confused Yuletide nightmare. It has something to do with the Fisher King. Maybe.” Enjoy, and Happy Yule!

Lydia’s Cancer, and Atheist Philosophies of Death

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Greta gravestone I write a lot about atheist philosophies of death.

I’ve written about how loss, including death, is necessary for life and change to be possible. I’ve written about death as a natural, physical process, one that connects us intimately with nature and the universe. I’ve written about the idea of death as a deadline, something that helps us focus our lives and treasure the people and experiences we have now. I’ve written about the idea that our life, our slice of the timeline, will always have existed even though we die. I’ve written about how things don’t have to be permanent to be meaningful.

In the last few months, I’ve been dealing with some of death’s harsher realities.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how atheism, and humanism, can help us deal with death — and with life. Not just in an abstract philosophical sense; not just in a “creating a meaningful frame for our lives” sense. I’ve been thinking about how we can apply atheist philosophies in a practical way. I’ve been thinking, not just about how these philosophies can help us face death, but about how they can improve the way we live our life.

Lydia on back of sofa Our cat, Lydia, was recently diagnosed with cancer. Now, if you’ve ever had pets, you know: when they get sick or injured, or when they die, it’s obviously not as serious or traumatic as when a person we love gets sick or injured or dies — but it’s not trivial, either. It’s a big deal.

So our cat Lydia was recently diagnosed with cancer, and it’s been very difficult on both me and my wife Ingrid. And it’s been especially difficult because we’ve been having to make lots of difficult decisions, often with limited and incomplete information.

Lydia’s not so sick that our decisions are all really obvious — and she’s not doing so great that our decisions are all really obvious, either. She’s kind of in the middle. She’s been having a hard time a lot of the time, but she’s been doing okay a lot of the time, and there’s reasonable hope that, with treatment, the cancer will go into remission… or at least, that she’ll have a few more good months. And our information has been very incomplete. Tests on the cancer have been inconclusive, and we didn’t know at first whether the cancer was a slow- growing kind that would very likely respond well to milder treatment, or a faster- growing kind that would need aggressive, difficult- to- tolerate treatment, with real uncertainty about whether it would even work. One test even suggested that she might not have cancer at all, and that the positive cancer tests might have been mistaken. As a friend who also has a sick cat put it: Rollercoaster is the new normal.

Lydia looking at paw Plus, she’s neither a very young nor a very old cat (she’s thirteen), so the questions about how much more time we can give her, balanced against how much suffering the cancer treatment will cause her, are very iffy. Even if she didn’t have cancer, she could only have a few more months, or she could have many more years. And she has other medical problems, with her appetite and digestion, which have been making diagnosis harder. Is her poor appetite and weight loss a result of the cancer, or the digestion problems? Did she respond so badly to the chemo because her digestive system is so screwed up, or because she really can’t tolerate it?

And all of this is making decisions about her care really, really hard. The last few months have been a parade of difficult, often wrenching choices, on an almost daily basis. Should we stop the chemo that seems to be making her sick… or keep going? Rush her to the emergency vet when her appetite drops… or keep an eye on her and see how she does? Hold off on the cancer treatment altogether until we can get the digestive stuff under control, and take the risk that the cancer will advance too far to be treatable… or pursue the cancer treatment, and take the risk that the resulting loss of appetite/ weight will make her already poor health even more fragile? Pursue aggressive surgical options for the digestive problems, in the hopes that it’ll make her feel better and make the cancer treatment go better… or don’t put her through that trauma, since she has cancer and may not have that much time left anyway?

It’s been a parade of small, difficult decisions, all framed by one very large, very difficult decision: When do we keep pursuing treatment, and when do we let go?

But there is one thing that’s been making all our decisions easier.

And that’s that we accept the inevitability of her death.

Mortal loveWe understand that, someday, Lydia is going to die. If she doesn’t die of the cancer in the next few weeks/ months, she’s going to die eventually. Of the cancer — or of something else.

Lydia is mortal. She’s an animal, and all animals eventually die.

So when we’ve been looking at these hard decisions, we haven’t been looking at them in terms of, “Is she going to live or die?” We’ve been looking at them in terms of, “When is she going to die?”

Does she have a few weeks, a few months, a few years?

We understand that, someday, she’s going to die. We understand that we can’t make her live forever. We understand that her time here is limited, and that all we can do for her is to make that time — whether that’s a few weeks, a few months, a few years — as happy as we possibly can.

So when we’re making decisions about treatment, we can look at them with frankness and clarity. We can ask questions like, “Should we give her a somewhat traumatic treatment, for a decent chance at a few more happy months/ years… or should we drop it, and give her a few weeks/ months of relative peace and comfort?” That’s not an easy question, and the balance shifts back and forth almost every day: with new information, and with new responses to treatments, and with new developments in Lydia’s own mood and health. But we can face it directly. We don’t have to dance around it.

And this isn’t just about our cat.

We understand the same thing about ourselves.

Franciscus_Gysbrechts_-_Vanitas We understand that we, ourselves, are going to die. We understand that our own time here is limited. We understand that all we can do for ourselves and for one another it to make that time — however much time it is — as happy and joyful and meaningful as we possibly can.

And so, when it comes time for us to face these difficult decisions about ourselves and each other, I think we’ll be ready. If one of gets (for instance) cancer, we’ll be able to ask questions like, “Would I rather face a traumatic and horrible few months for an X% chance at a few more years… or would I rather let go and make my last few months really count?” And we’ll be able to answer those questions based on a candid, hard-headed evaluation of how horrible the horribleness is likely to be, and how much time we’d probably have left even if everything goes perfectly, and how much fun that time would be likely to be, and what the likely value is of that X percentage.

We’ll understand that the questions won’t be, “Am I going to live or die?” We’ll understand that the questions will be, “When will I die?” And we’ll be able to make our decisions accordingly, with frankness and clarity.

Now, at this point, you might be wondering what any of this has to do with atheism. You might be thinking, “But religious people know that their pets are going to die! They know that the people they love are going to die! They even know that they themselves are going to die! They disagree with atheists about what happens after we die… but they know that death is real, and inevitable. What does making clear-eyed choices about death and life have to do with atheism?”

And that’s a fair question.

Jama-logo But I recently saw some research that gives an answer to this question. There was a study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2009, showing that, among terminally ill cancer patients, those with strong religious beliefs who relied on their religion to cope with their illness were more likely to get aggressive medical care in the last week of their life.

In other words: People who are most strongly attached to a belief in an afterlife are more likely to try to delay death when it’s clearly imminent.

That doesn’t make any logical sense. If people believe in a blissful afterlife, then logically, you’d think they’d accept their death gracefully, and would even welcome it. But it makes perfect sense when you think of religion, not as a way of genuinely coping with the fear of death, but as a way of putting it on the back burner.

See no evil monkey The dominant way we deal with death in our culture is religious. And our religious culture deals with death by pretending it isn’t real. Religion deals with death by pretending it isn’t permanent; by pretending that the loss of the ones we love is just like a long vacation apart; by pretending that our dead loved ones are still hanging around somehow, like the dead grandparents in a “Family Circus” cartoon; by pretending that our own death is just a one-way trip to a different place. Our religious culture deals with death by putting it on the back burner, by encouraging people to stick their fingers in their ears and yell, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you!” (This is backed up, again, by the JAMA study, which also showed that “a high level of religious coping was also associated with less use of end-of-life planning strategies, including do-not-resuscitate orders, living wills, and appointment of a health care power of attorney.”)

So when religious people are faced with the harsh realities of death — and with the possibility that their beliefs might be bogus and that death might really, truly be the end — they’re often not prepared. They haven’t had to think about the inevitability of death, and its finality, and what kinds of choices they would make when faced with it.

Hence, the the lack of practical preparation for death… and the pointlessly aggressive medical care in the last week of life.

Christopher-Hitchens Atheists, on the other hand, have had to come up with ways of dealing with death more or less on our own. Like anyone who rejects the dominant culture, and who rejects the default answers to hard questions that get spoon-fed us by this culture, we’ve had to come up with our own answers. The same way that LGBT people are forced to think about sexuality and gender; the same way that vegetarians are forced to think about the ethics of food… atheists are forced to think about death, and what kind of value life might have when it’s brief and finite. If we once had religious beliefs about an immortal afterlife, letting go of those beliefs forced us to think about death, and to face its finality, and to come up with ways of coping with it. And even if we were raised non-believers, the religious views of death are so ubiquitous in our culture that they’re impossible to ignore… and non-religious alternatives, to put it mildly, aren’t. Atheists have had to come up with these alternatives more or less on our own. (To be fair, some religious adherents have thought carefully about these questions too, the way some straight people/ cisgendered people/ carnivores have thought carefully about sexuality/ gender/ food ethics… but being an atheist means having that thoughtfulness thrust upon us, whether we like it or not.)

Bandaid So when the subject of death arises, atheists can’t evade it. We can’t paper it over with a Band-Aid of “Well, we’ll see each other again on the other side,” with no careful thought about whether that other side is remotely plausible, or whether it would be desirable even if it existed. And every time we hear people talk about Heaven or angels or past lives or their loved ones being in a better place and looking down on them right now, we’re reminded: “Oh, yeah. We don’t think that. We think that when we die, we die forever. We don’t think our dead loved ones are with God. We think that they’re fucking dead.” We have to face death a little bit, every day of our lives.

It’s like an inoculation.

So when it comes time to face it for real, we’re ready. Of course we’re frightened by it; of course we’re upset by it; of course we want to delay it if we reasonably can, for as long as we reasonably can. Life is precious, and of course we grieve for its end. But it doesn’t take us by surprise. We’ve had time to think about it. We’ve had time to think about questions like quantity of life versus quality of life, and what we personally think about how these balance out. We’ve had time to think about questions like what makes life meaningful even though it’s finite… and how to make that meaning still be meaningful, even when that finiteness is looking very finite indeed.

Will-and-living-will And so when our pets get sick, or when our parents start to get frail, or when we’re facing hard decisions about our own life and death… we’re not caught off-guard. We can make calm, informed, evidence-based choices that are in keeping with our deepest and most treasured values, and that aren’t just frightened, reflexive reactions to the single undeniable reality of our life.

When people with life-threatening illnesses like cancer or HIV are given a good prognosis, they’re sometimes told, “You’ll live long enough to die of something else.” That may sound grisly and morbid to some. But to me, it’s oddly comforting. It offers the comfort of the solid foundation of reality. It offers the comfort of understanding that yes, we’re going to die someday… and so, armed with that understanding, we can make good, thoughtful choices about our death, and about our life.

If you’re a believer who’s questioning your beliefs, leaving your religion does mean facing the finality and permanence of death. That can be a hard pill to swallow. But when I think about those religious believers frantically pursuing aggressive and pointless medical care in the last week of their life… it seems like a bargain.

Can Atheism Be Proven Wrong?

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Note: I am now, once again, re-thinking this question, and am planning to write more about it soon. I think that I’m still basically standing by my position, which is that atheism both can and should be falsifiable. But I am reconsidering the question of what the word “god” even means, and whether the term can be defined in a way that is both coherent and non-trivial. So this piece is not my final word on the subject: it’s still a work in progress.

Persuasion Is there any possible evidence that would persuade atheists out of our atheism?

And if not — does that make our atheism close-minded and dogmatic?

There’s been an interesting debate lately in the atheist blogosphere. (The media will no doubt point to it as a sign of a terrible schism in the so-called New Atheist movement; but really, it’s been a very friendly and civil conversation so far, among people who are fundamentally allies.) The debate revolves around whether there’s any possible evidence that could convince atheists to change their minds… and if not, whether that makes their atheism an unshakable article of faith rather than a reasonable, evidence-based conclusion.

PZ MyersJerry-Coyne PZ Myers, of the famed Pharyngula blog (almost certainly the most widely-read of all atheist blogs), recently asserted that he had made up his mind. The case for atheism was just too devastating, and at this point, no possible evidence could ever convince him that any religion was correct. Jerry Coyne (author of Why Evolution Is True, the book and the blog) has expressed strong disagreement. He thinks atheism is falsifiable — and he thinks that it should be. If there is no possible evidence that would convince us God was real, he argues, not even the most wildly ludicrous hypothetical chain of events you could dream up, then atheists really would be just as close-minded as believers claim. The debate between Coyne and Myers has extended its tendrils throughout the atheist blogosphere… so I’m getting in on the action.

I’ve written at length about how atheism is, and should be, falsifiable. I’ve even gone out on a limb, in this very blog, about what exact evidence would persuade me that God was real. And after reading Myers and Coyne and a whole lot of other atheists in this debate, and after thinking about it at some length, I’ve reached two conclusions:

1) I don’t agree with PZ.

2) I think PZ makes some seriously important points.

I don’t ultimately agree with him, but the questions he raises are making me re-think my position on this question.

Sacredheart Let’s get the first bit out of the way: I think PZ is wrong. It seems, uncharacteristically for him, like he’s not getting the rules of the game. I think he’s focusing too much on existing religions, gods that people currently believe in, and on whether any of those could ever provide any evidence that would persuade him. Yes, atheists pretty much agree that no existing religion has a shred of decent evidence to support it. That’s why we’re atheists. If we thought any religion had supported itself with decent evidence, we’d accept that religion. That’s not the game. The game isn’t, “What religion that currently exists could convince you that it was right?” The game is, “What hypothetical made-up religion could convince you that it was right?”

Or, to put it another way: We’re talking counter-factuals. We understand that the universe, as it is now, is overwhelming in its evidence for atheism and materialism, and against any kind of deity or supernatural realm. We get that. We’re talking about alternative universes. We’re asking, “What would the world look like if there were a god or gods?”

Strategic planning for public relations And, in pointing out how vastly different that world would be from the one we actually live in, we’re not just making a stronger argument for our position. We’re not even just making our position falsifiable, and thus making it philosophically stronger. We’re making our position rhetorically stronger. In my debates with religious believers, I’ve found the “What would convince you that you were mistaken?” gun to be invaluable. When I can point out that I’m willing to consider the evidence for religion, but that no possible evidence could convince them that they were mistaken — and that they therefore aren’t arguing in good faith — it can be very effective in getting believers to re-examine their beliefs. And it shuts down the “It’s so close-minded of you to come to a provisional conclusion about religion based on the best available evidence” canard very effectively.

So it’s frustrating to see one of the most prominent atheists undercut that tactic, and give the “Atheists are close-minded” brigade ammunition. (I don’t think the PR point is the most important one — if I were persuaded that PZ’s position was philosophically sound, I’d stand by it even if it made atheists look bad and made our debates harder — but since I think that philosophical soundness and good PR do dovetail in this case, I think the PR angle is worth pointing out.)

But PZ makes some important points here. In thinking over my disagreement with him, I’ve had to seriously re-think my own position on this question.

And I think the most important point he makes is this:

Religion has to do more than come up with some good evidence for its hypothesis.

It has to come up with a coherent hypothesis in the first place.

And thus far, religion has completely failed to do this.

Religions haven’t just failed to support their assorted hypotheses with good, solid, carefully gathered, rigorously tested evidence. They’ve failed to come up with hypotheses that are even worth subjecting to testing. They’ve failed to come up with hypotheses that are worth the paper they’re printed on.

Slip-n-slide Religions are notorious for vague definitions, unfalsifiable hypotheses, slippery arguments, shoddy excuses for why their supporting evidence is so crummy, and the incessant moving of goalposts. Many theologies are logically contradictory on the face of it — the Trinity, for instance, or an all-powerful/ all-knowing/ all-good God who nevertheless permits and even creates evil and suffering — and while entire books are filled with attempts to explain these contradictions, the conclusions always boil down to, “It’s a mystery.” And the so-called “sophisticated modern theologies” define God so vaguely that you can’t reach any conclusions about what he’s like, or what he would and wouldn’t do, or how a world with him in it would be any different than a world without him. They define God so abstractly that he might as well not exist. (Either that, or they actually do define God as having specific effects on the world, such as interventions in the process of evolution — effects that we have no reason whatsoever to think are real, and every reason to think are bunk.)

And when I ask religious believers who aren’t theologians to define what exactly they believe, they almost always evade the question. They point to the existence of “sophisticated modern theology,” without actually explaining what any of this theology says, much less why they believe it. They resort to vagueness, equivocation, excuses for why they shouldn’t have to answer the question. In some cases, they get outright hostile at my unmitigated temerity to ask.

Praying_Hands_-_Albrecht_Durer Even when religions do make falsifiable claims — like “Prayer is effective in treating illness” or “The world was created 6,000 years ago” — their defenders slip and slide and squirm away when their claims actually do get falsified. They find the most convoluted rationalizations for why the evidence doesn’t count… or they just stick their fingers in their ears and ignore the evidence altogether. The beliefs are falsifiable in theory — but in practice, they’re unshakeable articles of faith.

So in order to persuade me that it was probably true, a religion would have to do more than just provide some decent evidence for its hypothesis. It would have to provide a decent hypothesis in the first place. It would have to provide a hypothesis that explains existing evidence, makes accurate predictions about future events, can be tested, can have those tests replicated, is consistent with what we already know (or provides a better explanation for it than existing theories), and is internally consistent.

What’s more: This hypothesis would have to do more than just explain whatever new evidence might appear to support it.

It would have to explain the utter lack of good supporting evidence in the past.

It would have to explain why, in thousands and thousands and thousands of years of human history, supernatural explanations of unexplained phenomena have never once panned out… and a natural explanation has always, always, always turned out to be right.

History.of_.the_.world_.part_.i This is another hugely important point that PZ, along with others defending his position, has been making in these debates. Atheists aren’t just atheists because we don’t see any good evidence here and now for the God hypothesis. We’re atheists because, in all of human history, there has never once been any good evidence for the God hypothesis. We’re atheists because, as Julia Sweeney said in Letting Go of God, “The world behaves exactly as you would expect it would, if there were no Supreme Being, no Supreme Consciousness, and no supernatural.” The world behaves that way — and it always has. We’re atheists because, every time in history that we’ve come to a better understanding about the world, that understanding has always been one of physical cause and effect. We’re atheists because claims from the past about miracles and so on have always come from unreliable sources, and have never once been substantiated. We’re atheists because, over the decades and centuries and millennia, religions have risen and fallen, not because they’ve been better supported with good evidence, but for social and psychological and political reasons, entirely consistent with them being entirely made up. We’re atheists because religion has had millennia to prove itself right — millennia in which it has dominated the intellectual and scientific discourse, for all but the past few decades — and has utterly failed. We’re atheists because the religion hypothesis has been tested — and tested and tested and tested, and tested again, and tested yet again, and then tested one more time to be sure, and given the benefit of the doubt and tested again, and then again, and again — and has never, ever, ever panned out.

History cover So to persuade us — me, anyway, and I suspect many other atheists — that a religion was correct, it would have to do more than show evidence of a few miracles in our time. It would have to explain why those miracles were happening now… and yet had somehow never happened before. It would have to explain why the world had always been best explained by physical cause and effect, but now, overnight, that had changed. Even if a 900-foot Jesus appeared in the sky tomorrow, healing amputees and unambiguously stating his message in all languages and whatnot, a religion would have to explain why God was making all this happen now… and not at any other time in human history.

Now — and here, again, is a point I think PZ is missing — the fact that religion has utterly failed to do this in thousands of years doesn’t mean that it never, ever could. I could imagine, for instance, a malevolent trickster god, who’s deliberately hidden all traces of his existence from us for hundreds of thousands of years… but who today, just to screw with us, has decided to show his existence: by healing amputees, by moving Earth into Pluto’s orbit without anyone getting chilly, by writing his name in the sky in letters 100 feet tall in every language known to humanity, by making all members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, alone among all other religions, healthy and wealthy and successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

That’s clearly not a god who’s posited by any religion I know about. Not even the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. But he’s hypothetically possible. And if this series of events happened, I would change my mind about my atheism, and I would accept this god’s existence. I wouldn’t necessarily worship him — I’d probably conclude that he was a jerk, and I’d only worship him out of purely self-interested fear of getting smacked down — but I’d conclude that he was real.

Q star trek Now. Many people at this point will play the “super-advanced space alien technology” card. They’ll point out, as Arthur C. Clarke did, that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And they’ll argue that “super-advanced space alien technology” would be a more plausible explanation for all these weird phenomena than supernatural gods.

And they’ll have a point. You could argue, as I do, that in the face of a sudden, massive onslaught of the violations of known physical laws — and in the face of a clear verbal message saying, “Yes, I am Loki pulling all this crap, I really am a god, so make with the burnt offerings already” — the god hypothesis would be the most reasonable and parsimonious one. But you could also argue that the space alien hypothesis would be the most reasonable and parsimonious. After all, we know that physical life and technology exist; we don’t know that supernatural beings exist. And when it comes to conflicts between natural and supernatural explanations of unexplained phenomena… well, again. in all of human history, natural explanations have won that fight time after time. Natural explanations have an entirely unbeaten, millennia- old record over supernatural ones. They should always be our go-to choice.

Loki I don’t want to get into that particular argument right here. What I do want to point out is that my conclusion — my acceptance of the trickster god hypothesis in the face of healed amputees and changed orbits and Loki’s name in the sky and so on — would be provisional. It wouldn’t be a fundamental axiom or a tenet of unshakeable faith. It would be a provisional conclusion, based on my best understanding of the best currently available evidence. If I concluded that the trickster god hypothesis was the best explanation of these weird phenomena, and then someone showed me convincing evidence that it was really super-advanced alien technology… I’d change my mind. I would renounce Loki. It’d be a provisional conclusion; a falsifiable hypothesis.

Making it completely unlike any God hypotheses I’m aware of.

Do I think my atheism could hypothetically be mistaken? Sure. I’ve already stated what kind of evidence would persuade me out of my atheism: I’ve gone out on that limb, and I stand by that limb. On that limb. Whatever. I still think atheism is falsifiable — and I still think it ought to be falsifiable. I think it makes our atheism more philosophically sound. (Not to mention better able to stand up in a fight.)

But to persuade me that my atheism was false, I’d have to see more than just evidence for the religion hypothesis. I’d have to see a religion hypothesis that was coherent. I’d have to see a religion hypothesis that was testable, capable of making useful predictions, not shot through with internal inconsistencies and logical contradictions. I’d have to see a religion hypothesis that was worthy of the name “hypothesis.” And I’d have to see a religion hypothesis that explained, not only any new evidence that seemed to support it, but the complete lack of good evidence supporting it for the thousands and thousands of years before now.

Rejecting religion isn’t an unquestioned axiom. Rejecting religion is a conclusion, based on an overwhelmingly mountainous pile of unignorable evidence. And even for those atheists who are now totally convinced that this conclusion is correct, it’s still a conclusion. It’s not that atheism isn’t falsifiable. It’s that thousands of years of history have utterly failed to falsify it.

It could still happen. The trickster god could still show his 900-foot face and wow us all.

But I’m not holding my breath.