What if the atheist movement needs to die?

I’m sure glad David Smalley and I are friends and fellow atheists, because he begins a post titled What’s Killing the Atheist Movement? by saying this:

Remember when our friends could be wrong?

I do. Lots of my friends were idiots growing up. Hell, I was that idiot a few times.

But we stuck by each other, we worked through our issues, and we grew together.

So he won’t mind at all when I say that the post is a string of obnoxious atheist cliches and that he’s dead wrong about everything. It’s all the same bullshit I heard over 5 years ago when assholes started harassing my friends, and random women and minorities, off the internet.

We’re supposed to keep our disagreements private.

Also, I have standards in my friends. I don’t mindlessly stick with them; there are things they can do that I would absolutely kick them to the curb over, that are not negotiable. This is as it should be. “Friends” is not a contract that requires me to abide the abominable.

Yes, we had fights. And that’s ok. But our fights were private, and were about the issues. Not public horrific Trump-like attacks because of a simple disagreement in method or opinion.

Not once, in my entire history of blogging (over a decade), or my entire history of internet interactions (going on 25 years or more) has anyone politely called me up to have a “private fight” about something. I can’t even imagine it happening. I’d probably look at my phone in disbelief and say, “Dude. Take it to the internet. We can take our time and write stuff with substance and put it on record, instead of babbling on ephemeral media.” But I’ve heard this suggested many times, publicly, on the internet, and usually by someone who fears they’ll get publicly eviscerated. And then it’s usually a prelude to the poor person who wants to make it “private” using the opportunity to publicly denounce the other person for being a poor sport, rude, and unwilling to settle a disagreement with a friendly game of tiddlywinks.

Then there’s the “our disagreement is so petty that you should back down for the good of the movement” approach.

When our “friends” on Facebook or Twitter make a comment that we find offensive or absurd, we are so quick to disown them and “take a public stand” immediately, that we’re fracturing our movement into a thousand tiny micro groups that will be useless against the larger powers we’re collectively fighting.

Who are these larger powers that justify silencing dissent?

There are two parts to this issue that I find difficult to handle.

One is that I hear this from the same atheists who like to tell me that the only thing atheists can unite and agree on is the trivial issue of whether god exists (He doesn’t. There, done with that!) So there is a substantial segment of the atheist community (which doesn’t exist, according to them) that wants you to shut up about anything other than the existence of a god…and the operative phrase is shut up. The nonexistence of deities is not a very useful or practical cause; I’m far more interested in the implications of an absence of a divine authority, specifically in how science and reason explain the nature of the universe, and how any moral action should be based in humanism. So right away we have a problem: merely fighting against a vague and unspecified faith isn’t useful, and many atheists refuse to discuss in any concrete way what they want to fight for.

The second part is that the things I think important are disparaged by these same atheists: feminism, equality, social justice. So when I encounter some dudebro atheist jerkoff spitting on feminism, you’re not going to persuade me to go easy on him in the name of unity over our shared agreement that god doesn’t exist. When someone declares their indifference to the murder of a transgender woman, I’m not going to resist the temptation to unfriend them on facebook because, gosh, we both laughed at an irreligious George Carlin routine.

I’m also not going to sit back and let someone else tell me what’s important to me, and trivialize the causes I consider essential, asking me to silence myself about misogyny or racism because darn it, this year we’re going to get “In God We Trust” off of our pennies.

I’m not saying to excuse all ridiculous behavior.

This is another example of trivializing: now the problems many of us see in the movement are merely “ridiculous behavior”. We are fractured because there are deep disagreements about how to address serious social issues. Worse, because some people won’t even accept the dehumanization of fellow human beings as something more substantial than ridiculousness.

But where’s our Humanism? Where are the private and personal phone calls to work things out?

What is it with the phone calls? I give my phone number to friends and family. The last thing I want is The Amazing Atheist to give me a ring so we can work out our differences, as if a phone call would fix anything. Where does this fantasy that differences in philosophy are best resolved over the devil’s instrument, the telephone, with a strategy, talking, that can be as godawfully bad as Twitter for engaging in depth.

The “phone call” ploy is just another silencing tactic. Don’t express your disagreement and your ideas where other people can see them, please put it on a private channel where I can ignore them.

When someone is being absurd on Facebook, and we dog pile that person, make fun of that person, and create little secret groups to demean that person, that sounds more like church than it does a bunch of skeptics.

“Absurd”. Someone can say something dehumanizing, violent, racist, anti-woman, and we’ll just tuck that into the category of the “absurd”, and then dismiss the protestations against it. We’re not talking about deep rifts in atheism over whether we favor Skittles over M&Ms. Pay attention to what the people leaving atheism are complaining about. They’re serious. This isn’t over jokes or trivia.

Also, what sounds to me more like church is demanding quiet deferral to authority and a conspiracy of silence, in the name of the sacred cause, to protect the powerful and popular.

This is all just the tired old “civility” debate rehashed again. Not interested. I’m also not interested in discussing nothing but the existence of gods with atheists, where that issue is already settled, especially when it’s used as an excuse to avoid grappling with substantial human concerns. Fuck civility when we’ve got atheists who think the humanity of women or transgender individuals or non-white males in general is something we need to debate.

Oh, excuse me, not debate — to phone people up and have a private conversation about.

1-800-FLOWERS, for when you absolutely don’t care about getting a terrific experience


I have a shocking confession to make. I’m a nerd. A colossal, boring, asocial nerd, and a homely one at that, and I always have been. You might also be surprised to learn that I totally lack all confidence in myself and my appearance, and it only takes a little bit to impress me.

So I was dating this girl once upon a time…a girl who totally outclassed me in all regards. This was the standard scenario: I was the typical dirt-poor nebbish with the glasses and the weird focus on science, and I had acquired this fascination with this one very attractive, smart, well-dressed, significantly-more-popular-than-me girl, and I had one day decided that I would be bold and ask her out on a date. I’d do it that night.

[Read more…]

The 2016 Hugos


Man, they’re just torturing puppies. The Sad/Rabid/Pathetic Puppy slate got repudiated again by giving awards to people who earned them.

The winner of the best novel was The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin. This book is not light reading: three different narrators gradually coming together in a complex fantasy story set on a world with frequent apocalyptic geological catastrophes, held together by by wizards who focus on calming seismic events…or in some cases, triggering them. This is a story with a lot of hard detail and psychological nuance. It deserves this award.

The best novella (and for me, it literally was — this was my favorite SF story of the past year) went to Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. This was classic hard SF — humans live in space, engage in interstellar travel, and meet alien species, some of whom want to kill us. And at the same time, it doesn’t erase 90% of the human species by turning starfarers into an American monoculture of endless variations on Captain Kirk.

Both of those are written by black women. That has got to sting the Puppies, who hate “SJWs”, which is actually a code phrase for “doesn’t think white men necessarily deserve all the things”. There’s also no way to call these token awards — these were stunningly good books.

Most of the rest of the nominees I hadn’t read — especially that very popular “No Award” that seemed to beat out offerings from Castalia House. Of the ones I did read or saw, I did not much care for The Martian by Andy Weir, which won best long form dramatic presentation, although I will admit that the book was a fast-paced page turner, and the movie was slick. I just objected to an engineering wish-fulfillment fantasy presented as science. That one is going to be long forgotten while people will still be watching Mad Max: Fury Road. I noticed that one episode of Jessica Jones also won best short form dramatic presentation.

The best thing, though, is that when awards are given on merit, rather than racial and gender bias, you start to seen great new voices being appreciated.

NK Jemisin’s acceptance speech is worth reading. For completely different reasons, Vox Day’s weird rationalizations are also worth reading, to see the depth to which the puppies will sink. He calls Jemisin a half-savage, claims her win was primarily a vote against the Puppies, claims credit as kingmaker for The Martian’s win (it was a very popular movie and book, you know, without Theodore Beale’s “help”), and declared that coming in second place was a great victory. He also comes right out and says that the goal was to burn the Hugos.

Malaugmented reality


Unfortunately, you don’t need fancy computers and high tech 5-senses interfaces to get this effect, where your reality is distorted by filters in your head. This is the human condition. We do it all the time.

Here’s an example: a comic book used to manipulate the wetware in kids’ brains to make them think gay people are wicked.


We grow up with these little modules planted in our skulls by well-meaning families and friends who also have them in their heads, and it isn’t a little box mounted on our necks that we can conveniently rip out to perceive “reality”. There ain’t no such thing possible — it’s implicit in the modeling of the world we see around us, because we don’t accurately “see” the world, we build it. Everyone is walking around in a virtual reality all the time, and what matters is how well it reflects an underlying substrate of matter and energy, how well it allows us to interact with our fellow avatars, and how much damage and how much benefit we provide to each other. This is true not just for them, fellow liberal/progressive secular humanists, but for us.

The people who made that anti-gay comic are using a version of virtual reality that creates enemies all around them, and justifies wrecking their lives. It’s also kind of crude and generates a blocky, black & white universe that doesn’t have much nuance or fine detail.

How’s yours doing?

Cutting edge information on atheism!

I really regret having to miss this conference going on in San Antonio this weekend: The Gods of Atheism.

Wait, what?

It’s put on by the Fullness of Truth Catholic evangelization ministries.

Yeah, they’d be the experts in the “Gods of Atheism”, I guess.

The conference features some atheist superstars:

  • Fr. Mitchell Pacwa, S.J. Who? He’s some guy with a lot of training in theology.

  • Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio. Who? He used to play bass in some rock bands in his youth, and now has a Ph.D. in historical theology.

  • Sr. Miriam James Heidland. Who? She used to play volleyball. Now she’s a nun.

  • Adam Blai. Who? An auxiliary member of the International Association of Exorcists. Enough said.

Perhaps you want to see the schedule?

I really could use information on Avoiding Demonic Attacks and Staying Spiritually Safe, and I’m curious to find out what the Most Dangerous Atheism of All might be. And, well, it would be nice to find out who the Gods of Atheism are, ’cause I’ve been failing in my duties to them, apparently.

It’s really too bad I have to miss out on so much information about atheism, but even if I were able, I couldn’t go. It’s sold out.

So many students…

Another portent of doom: the students are arriving. I’m also at the Lake Itasca Biological Station for our annual Bridge To Biology program, in which a fraction of our incoming new students are taken out into the woods for a weekend of brainwashing indoctrination fun and education and cohort building activities. We have so many new biology students that they can stretch all the way across the mighty Mississippi.


We also have some returning students acting as peer mentors/wranglers.


Obviously very dangerous. Don’t cross them.

The biggest crime in America: unregulated capitalism

Our priorities are all screwed up. The wrong people are in jail.

In dollar terms, what group of Americans steals the most from their fellow citizens each year?

The answer might surprise you: It’s employers, many of whom are committing what’s known as wage theft. It’s not just about underpaying workers. They’re not paying workers what they’re legally owed for the labor they put in.

It takes different forms: not paying workers the federal, state, or local minimum wage; not paying them overtime; or just monkeying around with job titles to avoid regulations.

No one knows exactly how big a problem wage theft is, but in 2012 federal and state agencies recovered $933 million for victims of wage theft. By comparison, all the property taken in all the robberies of all types in 2012, solved or unsolved, amounted to a little under $341 million.

One of the nice things about stealing that much money is that you can buy off people to cover your criminality. Also, we have these ideological fanatics — Libertarians and Republicans and Conservatives — who will leap to the defense of the Invisible Hand’s right to pick pockets.

Friday Cephalopod: This Pokemon Go stuff is getting out of hand

I mean, really. This team of ‘scientists’ hijacked a valuable research submersible, strapped their gadget to it, and sent it cruising to a depth of 900 meters in the Pacific Ocean just to catch this goofy-looking purple thing.


Listen to these people…buncha giggly teenagers.

I’m a bit annoyed that they went to all this trouble to find it, and then they apparently were all out of pokeballs.

It’s actually a movie prophesying our future under Trump

We’re getting yet another dumb-as-dirt Christian movie: Torchbearer. It’s made by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s brand new campaign advisor, and it ‘stars’ Phil Robertson, the Talibanesque asshole who is best known for selling duck calls and appearing in a reality TV show. How bad is it? You may not want to watch the trailer.

Firstly, it visually and emotionally assaults the viewer by lingering on gruesome images of violence and death, using reenactments and animation as well as the most graphic historical footage from Auschwitz and more recent images of victims of ISIS and Boko Haram being beaten, shot and burned to death. I would call the movie’s infliction of trauma gratuitous, but it seems a very purposeful act meant to provoke and inflame and generate a rage to war.

This is what this country has come to. And it’s so stupid: Robertson is an ignorant nobody, they’ve just concatenated a collection of horrible, unrelated images, and claimed that only being as fanatical about your fanatical Christianity as this fanatic will save you from those other fanatics. Meanwhile, they obliviously show prolonged scenes of Catholic and Lutheran Nazis committing atrocities under the rule of the Catholic Hitler, while blaming their actions on atheists.

I disapprove

Statues of a naked Donald Trump have appeared in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle, and New York City. I don’t understand why.

They are intended to demean and belittle the guy, I understand that. But does anyone think they’ll be effective? At all? Does anyone think they’re even the slightest bit accurate? Caricature should have a substantive point of some sort — political cartoons, for instance, will exaggerate features to make the subject instantly recognizable, but then the idea is that the caricature is doing something, saying something to illustrate an idea. These statues are just standing there inert, looking unpleasant. It’s content-free mockery.

I have to switch it around. If a statue of a naked Hillary Clinton were erected somewhere, would anyone find it to be a cogent argument?

I’ve personally been the subject of a lot of this sort of thing: I’m regularly sent photoshops, or scrawled, poorly done cartoons, that simply illustrate me as short, fat, and ugly. I don’t see the purpose; if the creators think it stings, I actually do know exactly what I look like, and mainly what I see is that they had to work to make me look uglier, and that what’s most ugly are the minds of the people who think these kinds of garbage portrayals are persuasive or in any way potent.