Atheists vs. Theists

Back in the dim, distant past, I dispatched some of you to participate in a survey of atheists and theists. The data has come back now, and who knows, maybe you’re a few bits in this data set.

You’ll have to order the book to see the whole thing, but there were a few tidbits. You weirdos really do have some different perspectives than the god-believers, unsurprisingly.


We’re different, but that’s OK, because we’re also right.

#ParadigmSymposium: Why?


I’m back from the Paradigm Symposium, and one question I get is “Why do you waste your time with such crackpots?” Trust me, I was asking myself the same question while sitting there! So I thought I’d take a moment to explain why I subject myself to a weekend of torment.

  • Responsibility. We should know the actual views of the people you are opposing. This is why I visited the Creation “Museum”, why I’ll go to the Ark Park sometime after it opens, why I attended church services last summer, and why I attend creationist lectures when they come to Morris. I force myself to go because if I want to criticize, I have to know what I’m criticizing.

  • Curiosity. This is also an important reason — don’t you wonder what the crackpots are saying? There’s also a bit of morbid fascination at play, since it’s often like watching a train wreck. But honestly, I do want to know what their arguments are. What is their reasoning?

  • Humanizing. It’s really easy to think of The Other as subhuman, especially if you never engage with them. It’s important to be able to see people with different ideas as people like you, so I go to remind myself that the people at these things are not drooling monsters. They are ordinary, they are our neighbors, they share an interest in the universe with me.

  • Self-awareness. I go to many atheist/skeptic meetings with enthusiastic audiences; have you ever heard an atheist attendee declare, with relief, that they are so happy to be in a friendly environment, with people who think like they do and won’t disdain their ideas? I have, many times. We generally think that is a positive benefit of getting together in a community. Guess what? People at wacky paranormal conferences say exactly the same things! They are just the same as our meetings! Except for the content.

    This is why I sit quietly and respectfully through the Paradigm Symposium. I appreciate that atheist meetings serve a community purpose, I have to respect that it serves a similar purpose for other fringe elements, and that I should not be disruptive of that part of the gathering. (And yes, think about that: atheists are as fringey as conspiracy theorists and alien astronaut believers in the common culture, maybe more so.)

  • Community. We primates are enthusiastic participants in community. What are we looking for? It’s good to see others pursuing similar social goals, even if their commitment to rationality is weaker, and ask “What works for them? Why are they doing it?” We may have different goals, but the business of building bonds of cooperation is universal.

    Sad to say, one thing I’ve learned is that Alien Astronaut proponents form a community that is just as diverse and just as dysfunctional as atheism. What seems to work for them is a willingness to incorporate any nonsense into their belief system (“I believe in angels. You believe in space aliens. I think we can reconcile this by accepting that aliens are angels.”) I also see signs that being an outcast in their more traditional communities drives them together, which also fits with the atheist experience. I want us all to break away from the idea that we need persecution to bring us together, though.

  • Education. These people are seriously wrong, and are using a tragically erroneous method for figuring out how the world works. Can I find ways to get through to them?

    I don’t have a good answer for that one. It’s clear that just hammering them with the facts — pointing out that their view of evolution, for instance, is completely wrong — is not sufficient. They have a set of other needs, such as their belief that the universe has a purpose, that there are necessary functional connections between every event, and that they are uniquely special which inform their willingness to accept a sloppy stew of all kinds of nonsense, from the Bible to von Däniken to chemtrails. Tackling individual misconceptions are a small part of what we need to do; more important is to address bigger differences in their world view. Conspiracy theories are appealing because they affirm their belief that everything is interconnected with a web of causality. Genetic tinkering by aliens is attractive because they want to be told there is a purpose for the way they are, and the way the world works.

Attending this event was worthwhile for me for the above reasons. It was most definitely not worthwhile for the content, which was freakin’ distilled lunacy. But these are my fellow human beings, and I want to see where these beliefs come from, and how they survive.

And one thing I can say is that the people at these events are mostly harmless in any direct way. They hold beliefs that do indirectly cause harm to our culture, but otherwise, they’re nice, friendly people who aren’t there because they hate someone. If I really wanted to see the malicious side of a human community, I’d attend a Trump rally. I don’t have the fortitude for that.

#ParadigmSymposium: Scott Wolters, the Kensington Runestone, the Holy Grail, the Secret Treasure Vault of the Templars, and the Founding of America

Eight Götalanders and 22 Northmen on (this?) acquisition journey from Vinland far to the west. We had a camp by two (shelters?) one day's journey north from this stone. We were fishing one day. After we came home, found 10 men red from blood and dead. Ave Maria save from evil. (side of stone) There are 10 men by the inland sea to look after our ships fourteen days journey from this peninsula (or island). Year 1362

Eight Götalanders and 22 Northmen on (this?) acquisition journey from Vinland far to the west. We had a camp by two (shelters?) one day’s journey north from this stone. We were fishing one day. After we came home, found 10 men red from blood and dead. Ave Maria save from evil.

(side of stone) There are 10 men by the inland sea to look after our ships fourteen days journey from this peninsula (or island). Year 1362

This is the Kensington rune stone. It’s a broken 200 pound block of stone, with Norse runes carved on it, that was dug up by a Swedish immigrant farmer in 1898. Kensington is just a short drive north of where I live, and the stone is currently on display in Alexandria. I’m unimpressed, but there are a fair number of people in this area of Scandinavian descent who really, really want to believe that Minnesota was settled by Vikings in the 14th century.

It’s a very silly ‘artifact’, clearly cobbled up by immigrants at a time when there was a lot of Scandinavian pride movements (I grew up in a family of Scandinavian descent, and I can tell you…yes, there is quite a bit of cultural pride, not undeserved, but sometimes getting a bit carried away). But the true believers can get a bit obsessive.

Scott Wolters is a true believer. He claims to be a forensic geologist, but his credentials in geology are practically non-existent (he used to claim he had a Master’s degree. He doesn’t). He was host of a very bad pseudo-archaeology show, America Unearthed, on the History Channel. His crap has been debunked many times, but that’s no obstacle to being at the Paradigm Symposium. I saw him here a few years ago, where the highlight of his presentation was noting that two points on a globe could be connected by a straignt line.

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#ParadigmSymposium: Scottish Egyptians and the most vapid UFO story ever


Have you ever had one of those nightmares where you show up for class, and the professor starts lecturing incomprehensibly about a subject you don’t understand, but everyone else in the class is nodding happily and taking notes, and then you look down and notice you forgot to put on pants this morning? Neither have I, but I’ve lived it. Except for the pants part.

I arrived late at the conference — my wife is shopping for our trip to Korea, and so I got to play the part of the disconsolate husband sitting around in the Mall of America for a few hours. I’m not complaining, it was more fun than watching people make excuses for the paranormal. My plan had been to get there and get my double-dose of ufology that afternoon. It didn’t work out that way, because as usual, everything at the conference was running late. I was off by about an hour. So instead, I got to listen to Laird Scranton. Look him up on youtube — really, he’s hilarious, even though he doesn’t know it.

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UFOs coming right up


I spent my morning at the Mall of America.

Don’t judge me. We’ve made this a kind of Big City Weekend Holiday, and my wife and I are hanging out here with a couple of responsibilities: I have to monitor the weirdness at the Paradigm Symposium, and Mary is shopping for the stuff she needs to be presentable at the wedding of her son in South Korea next week. Who knew there was preparation involved? I just put on clean pants and I’m good to go.

Anyway, I’m done soaking in unrepentant loud capitalism now, and have to head out to listen to an afternoon of UFOlogy. First up is Peter Robbins, a pal of the notorious Bud Hopkins. I expect to hear the latest poop on anal probings.

After that, it’s Travis Waltonthe Travis Walton, who was the subject of a hollywood movie, who wrote a book called The Walton Experience, and who has a new movie out called Travis: The True Story of Travis Walton. I guess he’s fearfully terrified that you might forget his name. I expect to hear all about his dubious claims of being kidnapped by the saucer people. It should be entertaining, but not entertaining enough to make me want to hang around for the Travis Walton movie screening afterwards.

I’ve got to be back to the hotel early to write up my experiences with the UFO people.

#ParadigmSymposium: the saltatory illogic of Rita Louise


Shortly after I arrived at the Paradigm Symposium this afternoon, the organizers announced that all the toilets at the venue were backed up. I think there’s a metaphor somewhere in there.

I got to hear Rita Louise talk about “Genetic Engineering in Antiquity” anyway. It was an amazing parade of non sequiturs and irrational leaps, all built on the bizarre premise that aliens had to have guided all of evolution. I say “premise” specifically, because it was not a conclusion from the evidence, but rather a presupposition that she pretended the evidence supported. It was also strange because the entirety of the evidence she presented was conventional scientific observations that support evolution.

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