I get email

I’m getting a swarm of these, all sounding nearly exactly alike. And what do you know, an idiot youtube atheist just issued a fatwah. Guys, I’d be more impressed with your claim to be unique individuals if you didn’t simply parrot some youtuber’s talking points.

Hello PZ myers. I just want to email you to ask you a few questions and to plead for sanity. I am fairly sure that I am just wasting my time and you will not respond but here I go anyways. What is the deal with your “free thought blog”? You censor comment and ban people for not agreeing with you, from what I have heard.

Oh, please, get down off the fucking cross already. It’s a really boring trope: I’ve got comments all over the place that start, “I know you will delete this comment because I disagree with you…” and strangely, they don’t get deleted. Look at any article with a lot of comments, and you won’t find it’s all a bunch of people agreeing with me — even regulars here routinely criticize me. What you always find in those long threads is one or more jackasses braying repeatedly and inciting prolonged rebuttals.

“From what I have heard”…right. Sleazy little wanker, you are. Where did you hear it? I bet I can guess.

You seem to start arguments in the atheist community, which largely serve to divide the community and make it harder for us to get in a position to actually do something about the harm that religion causes humanity. You have people on other websites talking bad about other atheists and scientists in your name.

In MY name? That doesn’t even make sense. I’m a guy with a blog and a teaching position, with zero power and authority. I write what I think, and many people agree, and many disagree.

And what atheist community? You act as if there is some monolithic institution with a few rebels causing trouble. Atheism is a chaotic mess, with many communities within it. It seems to annoy some people that I don’t join with the libertarian, anti-feminist herd, but they never seem to consider that it takes two sides to make a rift.

I am trying to be polite in this email but you seem to be starting a cult in your fan base. We all need to work together to make the world a better place. We won’t always agree 100% with everyone even in our little niche groups, if we do then that is a sign of something worse at work. I am not asking you to just go out and say “sorry I was a jerk” but you NEED to stop doing things to divide the community.

Oh, no, I’m dividing the community! I dare to point out that some members of this community are assholes, and you get to call me a jerk and tell me what to do. If you really want to do something to help humanity, then I’m afraid what you need to do is separate yourself from the anti-feminist ranters and join a group that sincerely cares about social justice, rather than using the term as an insult.

I grew up in the 1960s, and I remember a real divide — there were all these young people demanding an end to the draft and opposing war, and then there were all the people with the “America, love it or leave it” bumper stickers. And even when I was 9 years old I could see the deep logical flaw in the bumper sticker people. If you really loved the country, and you saw serious problems (like Nixon, or creationism, or misogyny), wouldn’t the appropriate response be to work to fix them, rather than denying their existence?

Yet here we have atheists who insist on the equivalent of “atheism, love it or leave it,” seeing no flaws at all, and demanding that anyone who disagrees should shut up in the name of holy unity.

Fuck that noise. I do not aim to conform.

When you let assholes be the public face of atheism, it’s no wonder we have a bad reputation

I am no fan of Bill Maher. I was extremely uncomfortable with his selection as the recipient for the Richard Dawkins Foundation award in 2009, and I could only accommodate it by telling myself it was solely for his movie, Religulous, and not a general appreciation of his asshattery. And I didn’t even like Religulous! Orac was spot on in his criticisms, and while I’d hoped to talk to Maher at some time — we were even seated at the same table — he showed up late, complained about the brand of water served at the table, did his acceptance speech, and blitzed out of the room immediately afterwards. While happy to get an award, you could tell he was completely uninterested in associating with the riff-raff of atheism.

He also showed up with an extremely attractive young woman who could have been his daughter, or even granddaughter, but was actually his date. She was pleasant to talk to, quite unlike her sugar daddy, and actually bothered to engage the table briefly in light conversation. But you could tell that Maher’s ideal woman was candy to decorate his arm in public. It also illuminates his behavior — the man has a history of sexist remarks. Is it any surprise that he has done it again?

Bill Maher benefits from the hive mind mentality of so many atheists. You cannot disagree with Bill Maher without simultaneously delivering a slap to atheism — you must not foster divisiveness. You must accept all prominent celebrities who openly embrace atheism as pure paragons of human goodness — it is simply too complicated to think that a person might have a mix of views that are sometimes appealing, sometimes repugnant. So we constantly loft up “heroes” as exemplars, failing to recognize that the essence of atheism has to be a recognition of the flawed humanity of its people, and then we end up with primitive atheists getting defensive and angry at all those critics who point at the awkward reality of those heroes, whether they’re Feynman or Maher or Sanger or whoever.

The problem is compounded by the fact that these same boosters of the Brave Hero Leader of Atheism simultaneously insist that atheism has no guiding principles or morality or goals — it’s a complete moral cipher that simply says there is no god. So sure, as long as you clearly state that there is no god, you can be sexist or racist or endorse bombing the Middle East or love Ayn Rand with all your heart or believe that the poor deserve their lot since Darwin said “survival of the fittest” (he didn’t), and still be the paradigmatic Good Atheist. In the absence of any moral principle, we can promote even moral monsters, or ascientific promoters of bunkum and quackery, to be our representatives — and if you dare to disagree, you are ‘divisive’ and ‘bickering’ and doing harm to the movement.

I am tired of it. Atheist organizations, step it up, clean up your act, and put together a clear statement of what you stand for. If it’s just that you agree that you believe there is no god, fine; if you think the only cause worth fighting for is separation of church and state, that’s a good cause and it’s reasonable to limit your goals; if you want to promote science education, I’m all for it. But I think you need to go further. You need to recognize the implications of godlessness, that there is no Chosen People, that there is no godly support for patriarchy, that everyone is equal under Nature’s law, and that that means there is a whole raft of social and political causes under your purview…and that you should have a broader statement of the meaning of atheism. I want to know what you stand for. This current vacuum of any attempt at an understanding of what atheism ought to mean is exactly what allows assholes to flourish.

I apologise for the “sugar daddy” comment, which implies that the woman had no say in the relationship. That was not my intent; Bill Maher came off as a sexist pig, but she was actually quite an interesting person. She seemed more intelligent than Maher, that’s for sure.

Don’t be this atheist

Ophelia has already registered her displeasure with the anti-feminist attitude of this new video by Jaclyn Glenn, which Glenn describes as A video about Atheism+ and pussies.

But I have to criticize it as being simply an awful example of bad argumentation. Here’s the pocket summary: Glenn sets it up as an attempt to, in a comedic way, compare the bickering in the atheist community to arguments about vegetarians. To do this, she acts as two vloggers: for one, she puts on a blonde wig and glasses and makes a bunch of extremist, stupid arguments and demands absolute agreement; for the other, she just plays Jaclyn Glenn, reasonable, compromising, sensitive, egalitarian defender of reason who just wants to get along. In other words, she pretends to be the rational one pleading for unity while characterizing her critics as total idiots.

Really, it’s disgraceful and stupid and dishonest. And she closes it with a pitiful …and this is my life now :’( How sad.

But imagine for a moment that I made a video in which I tried to argue that atheism was a rational position, and I did it by arguing against myself, dressed up in dorky clothes, making cartoonish facial expressions, and saying things so stupid that Christians wouldn’t recognize them as their own views, which I then described as “Atheism vs. Retards.” Would that be considered at all effective? (Well, it would probably get me a 100,000 subscriptions, because the youtube atheist community is that bad.)

Look, if you want to be effective, you have to at least quote the real arguments of real opponents. Do not invent characters who do not exist and then place silly words in their mouths. If I’m arguing against religion, I don’t have to resort to mocking imaginary Christians — there is more than enough proudly stated idiocy in the religious community to keep me busy for years. It’s telling that when Glenn wants to argue against the divisiveness of feminists, she has to gather lots of hay and stuff it into a silly costume, and then translate them to vegetarianism, in order to try and come off looking reasonable.

Sorry, Ms Glenn. You failed. You failed miserably. To do it while wearing a “LOGIC” t-shirt that you sell in your store is deeply ironic.

This is stuff that embarrasses me as an atheist.

Also, I have to rub a little salt in the wound: her first lines are that she is an atheist “because she cares about people.” Lovely. She’s already paying lip service to Atheism+.

A good illustration of the problem:

It’s always ten

It’s Sunday morning. You’re lazing about in bed, or having coffee and breakfast, or otherwise having atheist happy time. You don’t have to go to church, but you could answer a few questions from a believer, I suppose. There is a set going around that are good for a laugh. Here’s the challenge:

Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…

Hmmm. Now I have to answer the questions, and I also have to ponder why a wacky Christian would think I couldn’t Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer them.

1. How Did You Become an Atheist?

Why would we be unable to answer that one? Most atheists can tell you exactly how they gave up on religion. I became an atheist because I thought seriously about what I was being told in church, and found it unbelievable. Later I found that religion drove people to do incredibly stupid and destructive things, like endorse creationism or control women’s reproductive rights, and I decided I had to be an active anti-theist.

2. What happens when we die?

The available evidence is that your physiological functions stop, brain activity ceases, your body cools, cells begin to self-destruct, and eventually bacterial activity and the work of decomposers cause your body to rot. Your flesh is dissociated and recycled by other organisms.

3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

I’m not wrong about the rotting bit. Oh, you mean your bizarre notions about a ‘soul’ that exists independent of your material body that goes on to engage in some undefined, mysterious post-life activity in some other undefined realm? That’s just silly. There’s no reason to believe that happens.

But OK, I’ll play along. If your metaphysical scenario actually played out, and “I” continued to exist after my body died, and I found myself in the fantasy land of your Bible…it would be terrible. Learning that our minds were playthings of some cosmic tyrant who at a whim would condemn you to an eternity of torture, or alternatively an eternity of servitude worshipping a monster would be nightmarish.

I’m relieved that there is no evidence for your evil dreams.

4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?

Reciprocity, empathy, a theory of mind, need. I’m a member of a social species with finely tuned instincts for interaction with my fellow humans, and I live in a culture where cooperative behavior is rewarded. I don’t really need anything outside of that to explain morality; I’ll also note that individuals who claim to have an external source of moral compulsions don’t actually behave in a more moral fashion than those, like me, who don’t have imaginary voices in our heads.

5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

Even with your phantasmal god, you’re free to murder and rape. God never seems to swoop in and stop anyone from murdering and raping, have you noticed? The ones stopping criminal actions are us. Ourselves. People. I don’t murder or rape because harming other people is repugnant and a violation of the social contract, because I have no desire to harm others, and because even if I did, there is a framework of law within my society that limits my ability to do harm.

6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

You know, imagining an invisible man who tells you what to do doesn’t give your life actual meaning. I find that doing things — sharing, teaching, playing, working, learning — gives me satisfaction. If I had an ultimate goal it would be to leave the world a better place for my children and others when I leave it.

7. Where did the universe come from?

Read a physics textbook. We’ve got knowledge of 13.7 billion years of the universe’s changing history, virtually none of which is in your holy book. It’s always funny to get that question from people who so despise the natural, physical knowledge of how the universe works that they think “god did it” is actually a good answer to their own question.

8. What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

People claim many things: they also claim that they’ve seen Bigfoot, that the Queen of England is an alien reptoid, that they can bend spoons with the power of their mind, that little grey men in flying saucers are deeply interested in their rectums. Show me the evidence. Others have tried, and it’s always garbage.

9. What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

Who would think this would be a difficult question for an atheist to answer? There are lots of different opinions of these men within the atheist community. Personally, I like Dawkins, I think he’s a smart person and a brilliant writer, who is a man of his place and time who is unfortunately a bit inept at seeing other social circumstances. Hitchens is dead…but in life, he was the best writer of the bunch, wonderfully courageous and outspoken, but also possessed catastrophically bad political views. I’m not a fan of Harris, at all.

And if you ask a different atheist, you’ll get completely different answers.

10. If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

If there is a god, then why does every society have a different religion, and further, why are there thousands of different sects within each society?

You know, your question only works if we were challenging the existence of god belief. We know people believe in gods, and that it is quite common; that many people believe in false things does not in any way make them true.

We were supposed to get some interesting conclusions from the fact that these are questions that atheists Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer, yet I found them trivial and easy to honestly answer. I think we can draw a conclusion from that, but it’s not particularly interesting.

I have to conclude that whoever composed that list was an idiot.

The humanists of Uganda are in desperate need of your help!

The organization has been gutted by a robbery.

“We woke up today to the sad news that our offices had been broken into and lots of property and cash taken. The first people to reach the office found [the building security guard] unconscious lying at the upper/ behind part of the building. Our offices were wide open.”

The thieves have taken all 6 computers, 2 laptops, power cables, their projector and camera, three guitars, a desktop printer, and even the office phone was taken. Some cash due to be paid for rent was also stolen. (The security guard is now conscious again, by the way!)

They need donations, fast. I chipped in a little bit, if all of you do likewise, we’ll get them back on their feet quickly. Every little bit helps.

I’ve got to buy a Roku now?

They seem to be nifty little devices, and now I have one more reason to get one.

American Atheists announced Wednesday that it has set Tuesday, July 29, 2014, as the official date for the launch of Atheist TV, the world’s first television channel dedicated to atheist content, on Roku. The national atheist nonprofit will host a launch party that night in Manhattan to celebrate.

“The launch of Atheist TV is history in the making,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “There are hundreds of TV channels dedicated to religious programming, but nothing like this has ever existed before for atheists, and yet the demand is overwhelming. For the first time, atheist video content—from firebrand speeches, to stand-up comedy, to documentaries, to real science-based educational programming, and more—is now available to atheists worldwide, on the air and all in one place. Atheist TV brings consistent, quality, superstition-free programming for children and adults, on the air and on-demand, right from your regular television. This is an idea whose time has come and we’re celebrating.”

The invitation-only launch party will take place from 6-8 pm ET at the Union Square Penthouse venue in Manhattan. Well-known TV producers and personalities, atheist activists and public speakers, video content producers for the channel, and Atheist TV and American Atheists sponsors and donors will be in attendance. The celebration and launch will feature a speech by President David Silverman and a countdown to the first broadcast at 7 pm, at which time a welcome video starring several well-known atheists and science educators will air.

The channel, which provides both an on-air streaming schedule and video-on-demand, is available worldwide for free via Roku, a small device that connects to the back of a television, similar to a cable box. The on-air live streaming portion will also be viewable free on the channel’s website. See http://www.atheists.tv for more information.

Godless baseball

It’s that time again — for the third year in a row, Minnesota Atheists have adopted the Mr Paul Aints for their regular conference. Come out on Friday, 11 July to watch the game, eat hot dogs, drink beer, and shake your fist at the gods, and then join us on Saturday for the conference. They’ve got Susan Jacoby! Debbie Goddard! Dan Barker! Rebecca Watson! The comedian Elizabeth Ess! Some other guy who was cheap and local! You must participate!

Los Angeles Women’s Atheist and Agnostic Group Inaugural Meeting | Center for Inquiry

This just isn’t fair. The east coast has Women in Secularism in the spring, and now the west coast has LAWAAG every month.

Join us for the inaugural meeting of The Los Angeles Women’s Atheist and Agnostic Group!

LAWAAG was formed by multi-media artist Amy Davis Roth with the goal of fostering a safe and supportive space for those who primarily identify as women, who are leaving faith, or who already live a secular or atheist-based lifestyle.

LAWAAG will meet the first Tuesday of every month at 7pm at CFI-L.A.. Along with regular monthly meetups, the group also organizes art, activism and outreach projects, and works towards building community and support for women without faith.

In order to foster a safe space that acknowledges and can focus on the specific issues women encounter and deal with in a secular community, we currently only accept members who primarily identify as women. However, we often participate in and sponsor co-ed events. We welcome new members at our monthly meetup and welcome all to attend our publicized co-ed events. Please go to our events page for a list of upcoming and current events.

Please contact Amy Roth with any questions or media inquiries.

There’s a gaping void in the middle of the country. Quick, someone set up something similar in Minneapolis! Or the South! Or in every state!

Oh, and by the way, Secular Woman is two years old now.

Really…we’re against shooting anyone

This op-ed by Robert Grant, claiming that the New Atheists are ‘dangerous’, was infuriating. What a string of stupid cliches!

While their starting point was the lack of scientific evidence for God’s existence, they quickly expanded their target to argue that religion is the “root of all evil” in the world. Far from being tolerated, religion should be banished. It obstructs the progress of the human race; and progress based on the pursuit of science and reason.

Can anyone find a single quote by a prominent New Atheist that demands that religion be ‘banished’? Anyone? Anywhere? Bueller? How about any one of them stating that the root cause of all evil in the world was religion?

The New Atheists offer a binary world view, neatly divided into good and evil. Science and reason on the one hand, religion and faith on the other. The implication being: if we get rid of religion we get rid of evil.

Oh, nonsense. Morality is always going to be an ongoing struggle; it’s a process, not a state of bliss. Freeing yourself of religion rids yourself of one source of ignorance and flawed thinking. It does not make you perfect.

They make the mistake here of treating evil as if it exists exclusively within a set of beliefs or practices, rather than as an inherent part of human nature.

As journalist Chris Hedges puts it, they externalise evil. Fundamentalist religious groups do the same, only for them evil resides in liberal secularism.

Oops, -100 points for relying on the rabid anti-atheist Chris Hedges.

Again, why does Grant keep claiming these things that are simply not true? He got into an argument with Michael Nugent on this, and Michael rightly hammered him on this claim. He can’t cite one source or give even one quote to back up this assertion (neither can Chris Hedges, who in a recent talk was reduced to this same strategem of equating atheists with fundamentalists, so he could quote fundamentalists, and then announce, “Aha! see! That’s how atheists think!”)

Religion is a specific problem of traditional teaching of invalid and bad ideas. It’s not that we think people are perfect if their brains are freed of the poison of religion — quite the contrary, human brains are faulty and full of shortcuts and limited in their degree of comprehension of the real world. But it doesn’t help if we compound our flaws with lies and lazy excuses and incoherent moral teachings. That’s the objection to religion: that it is counterfactual and destructive.

It’s as if we’re trying to teach that 2 + 2 = 4 in our math classes, but swarms of people were to insist that in their cherished traditional folkways, and in the words of their holy book, 2 + 2 = 3, and they must teach it that way. We should be able to say that that will give them wrong answers. It does not in any way imply that if only they all accept the truth of fourness, math becomes easy and everyone will be doing calculus by the time they hit kindergarten.

On the other hand, teaching people to question religion does mean that maybe, just maybe, they won’t kill other people who also question it. Check out this horror story from Iraq: fanatical Sunni Muslims in ISIS are administering roadside tests to refugees. There is, apparently, an absolutely correct answer to how you hold your hands during prayers: a Sunni way, and a Shiite way, where praying like a Shiite is utterly wrong, and the penalty for failing the quiz is to be led off to the side of the road and get a bullet in the brain.

You won’t find the New Atheists sympathizing with that approach. Rather, we’re appalled that anyone finds these artificial distinctions within bogus superstitions, whether Sunni or Shiite, Catholic or Protestant, to be useful ways to order one’s life. That we point out the futility and waste of these divisions does not imply that we’re planning to take all parties to the side of the road and have them shot — that’s religious thinking, and that’s what seems to be infecting poor Robert Grant’s mind.

Saudi Arabia has no credibility as a member of the UN Human Rights Council

Let me say first that I could never be a diplomat; the slow-motion courtesies of this meeting would drive me mad. I’d also be enraged by the presence of people who simply don’t belong there. In this short segment of a meeting, a member tries to read a statement pointing out that the treatment of Raif Badawi, the Saudi citizen who has been jailed and sentenced to flogging for being an atheist, is barbaric and inhumane…and the Saudi representative interrupts three times to basically tell them to shut up.

They don’t belong there.

Unfortunately, one could reasonably argue that the United States, as one of the greatest world-wide violators of human rights, doesn’t belong there either.