We’re Not Praying For You, Hitch

Yesterday, we heard that Christopher Hitchens had suspended his book tour for “personal reasons.” Today, we found out what that means. Hitch has esophageal cancer and will undergo chemotherapy for it. Chemo for esophageal cancer usually involves cisplatin, which is often described as one of the most “emetogenic” chemo drugs. In other words, it makes you puke your guts up, a condition that obviously precludes a book tour.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the hate-filled theists and assorted loons to come out of the woodwork. Yahoo News seems to be a haven for them these days. One of the most amusing comments posted there came from “K”, who suggested that,

“Maybe CH will do a complete 360 ° with regards to his belief in the Divine.”

Excellent! I can now draw two conclusions about “K” based on this statement. He’s probably bad at math, and I suspect he likes circular arguments.

And then there’s this bit from “DisplayName001,”

“Since he isnt into God and stuff folks will have to pray for him a little extra, Cancer is bad, I hope he has some family and people around him to help, so many people are touched by it hopefully he comes over here for treatment since the NHS has been known to treat smokers not so good.

“God be with you Mr. Hitchens dont let the doctors destroy your immune system too much with their poison medication and try to regulate your body’s pH”

DisplayName001 seems to be unaware of a lot of things, like the fact that Christopher Hitchens has lived in Washington, D.C. for quite some time now. Or that chemo is way better at treating cancer than prayer. Or that your body regulates its pH pretty well no matter how you try to screw it up.

Comments like these should be accompanied by the warning, “This is your brain on God!” They illustrate why Hitchens is such a passionate, vocal anti-theist. These beliefs aren’t benign – choosing prayer over chemo is deadly.

Esophageal cancer is serious, and I’m glad Hitchens is receiving serious treatment. I hope the chemo works, but I won’t be praying for that outcome. I think Hitchens would approve of that sentiment.

I is on da teebee!

Monday afternoon, I was, with very little warning and only about an hour to do frantic house-cleaning in preparation, interviewed by local TV news channel KEYE 42. The story was about a new Coalition of Reason billboard that’s gone up on the north side of town (I haven’t actually driven past it yet). And I think I pretty much got the interview because I used to work with a fellow who works at the station. So that was nice of him to recommend me. (In case you’re wondering why they came to me and not, say, Matt.) The reporter, Chris Coffey, was a terrific guy and I think the piece does a fine job of being fair all around. And I’m sure you’ll all get a huge kick of the B-roll clip, where I’m standing at one of my shelves pretending to read The God Delusion, looking like I just had half a blue whale for lunch. You know what they say about the camera adding ten pounds? In my case it seems to add a whole second Martin. Back to the gym!

So, enjoy. And if you want to register at the site to leave comments responding to some of the charming Christian ones already left, well, it’s a free country!

Addendum: I wasn’t aware when I posted this just now that another station, KVUE, did a piece on the sign as well, which is embedded in the post below. They didn’t talk to me, and as far as I can tell, KEYE’s coverage was a lot fairer.

AustinCOR Billboard Campaign Starts!

This is what potentially millions of people will see over the next month as they travel south on I-35. The Austin Coalition of Reason, of which ACA is a member, officially kicked off its billboard campaign this morning. The billboard is located on I-35 north of Grand Avenue Parkway facing north. It’s a message of inclusion, designed to let other atheists, secularists, and freethinkers in the area know they are not alone.

It’s already been picked up by local news media, although KVUE is currently the only channel with the story posted. ACA Board Member and AustinCOR Coordinator, Don Rhoades, has done some heavy lifting today with news interviews. Check Don out on KVUE:

The disappointing thing about the campaign so far – the reporter here just couldn’t report the story without putting an overtly religious spin on the whole thing. The title of this story was part of a quote from a local pastor, “Atheist billboard a great advertisement for God.”

I guess if you think your god created a planet in a vast universe just for you, you just can’t help thinking a billboard is all about you too.

Addendum: Hello, Squid Hordes, and thanks to PZed for the linkage. Feel free to follow us if you enjoy what you read here, gang.

Not quite the double standard you were thinking

Hey, kids. Yes, I’m back. Been back a few days in fact. And I’m finally ready to post again, so here’s my first, in reply to a letter received responding to the conversation with Behe fan “Garry” on the last show I did with Matt. Our correspondent begins:

I am an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, and I am a friendly/open-minded agnostic theist. So with my introduction out of the way, here is my email:

In the Problem of Evil debate, skeptics and/or non-believers of God’s existence formulate their argumentation as follows:

(1) If there were an all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful God, then (due to His unlimited knowledge and unlimited power) He would be able to prevent gratuitous/pointless evil and suffering that is not necessary for an adequately compensating good.

(2) Because God would have such a capability, and because He is supposedly all-good, he would act on that capability and prevent the gratuitous/pointless suffering and evil that is not necessary for an adequately compensating good.

(3) But, there is lots of evils and sufferings that occur in the world (which have not been prevented by the supposed all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God), and much of it is not logically necessary for any adequately compensating good (and therefore seems to be gratuitous/pointless).

(4) Therefore, the conclusion is that there does not exist a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-good.

Now, many theists argue against the argument of ‘The Problem of Evil’ presented above by way of refuting premise (3) and saying that there is no evil that is gratuitous/pointless, and that all evil is logically necessary for adequately compensating goods. One of the ways in which they do this is by presenting ‘The Contrast Response,’ which basically says that if there were no evil in the world, we would not be aware of the good. God then allows evil to make us aware of goodness, since this awareness in itself is a good.

But, many skeptics and/or non-believers of God’s existence do not accept ‘The Contrast Response’ because they claim that it is not necessarily the case that our minds work this way. Essentially, they believe that we would still be aware of goodness even if there were less (or even no) evil to contrast it. So they say that ‘The Contrast Response’ is logically invalid.

That being said, I am assuming that you (Matt and Martin) are not exceptions (and have the same point of contention in regards to ‘The Contrast Response’).

So if I am actually correct about my assumption and your point of contention and belief that our minds don’t need contrasting things in order to be aware of (or recognize) non-contrasting things, why then (in episode # 660, which occurred on Sunday, 6/06/2010 and while responding to Garry from Manhattan, NY and his example of irreducibly complex systems) did you (Matt and Martin) flip the contrast response (which you do not accept as being valid in the problem of evil argument) around in order to claim (within the context of the argument of creationism) that in order to know if something was created, we have to first have an example of something that wasn’t created to compare it with (or contrast it to)? To me, this seems like a logically fallacious contradiction???

Our correspondent is wrong in his assumption of where I stand on “The Contrast Response.” I don’t reject the notion that a knowledge of the difference between good and evil is a vital element of ascertaining one’s moral positions. What I reject is the notion that an omnibenevolent God is necessary for such an understanding, especially one who would continue to allow gratuitous evils to occur long after the human race had well and truly understood those differences and had established laws to punish them. Why, in this day and age, would God allow (to use the most button-mashing of examples) the continued sexual abuse of children? Are there significant pockets of human civilization (apart from the Vatican) who still do not understand this is a deplorable act, and therefore, children must still be put through the anguish of sexual abuse in order to make those people aware of its evil, and of the goodness of not abusing children in contrast?

Another objection would be that, even if one accepts the notion of God’s allowing acts of evil in the world for the sake of “compensating goods” (and I don’t know that I accept the idea of non-victims of evil realizing how lucky they are to be a “compensating good”), this would still not absolve God of the moral responsibility to stop such acts of evil when he can. Honestly, in what way would God’s refusal to prevent the sexual abuse of a child — thereby presumably allowing us to experience the horror of the act so as to better appreciate it when children aren’t raped — constitute a better “compensating good” than for him simply to blast the assailant to smithereens with a well-aimed lightning bolt? Who would be sitting around thinking, “Gosh, I don’t understand, why did God do that to that poor man?”

Why establish good and evil as concepts if not to enforce them? A common argument in theodicy is that God must allow evil for an understanding of good. But how are we mere mortals expected to reach such an understanding if God doesn’t explain which is which and punish the evil when it happens? Instead, it seems we are meant to work it out for ourselves which are good and evil acts, as God apparently cannot interfere in the interests of not undermining our supposed free will.

The great irony of this form of theodicy is that it ends up rendering God irrelevant. Atheists and secular moralists do argue that we are the ones responsible for determining the differences between good and evil…but that we are perfectly capable of doing this by using our intellects and our empathy to evaluate the consequences of human actions, rejecting those which are destructive.

Any theodicy that proposes a God as the architect of moral precepts, only to immediately take Him out of the picture, leaving humanity to deal with good and evil on our own, pragmatic terms, might as well concede the argument and pack it in. A God who refuses to prevent gratuitous destructive acts for any reason is one who has, if He exists, surrendered His moral authority and is deserving of no thanks from us.

Additionally, even if I am wrong about my assumption [and you guys actually DO accept the contrast response as a good response to the problem of evil—or reject it for another reason that I have not presented above—(and therefore have not contradicted yourselves)], why do you even find the merit in asking a theist to provide an example of something that was not created, anyways? Essentially, asking a theist to provide an example of something that wasn’t created is unfair, because if he/she is a common theist and believes that God exists, he/she also believes that EVERYTHING [including natural things] in our physical universe was created by Him (which would mean that to the theist there would be no example of an uncreated thing that he/she could provide, because no such example would exist).

As such, the theist’s lack of ability to provide such an example does not prove (or even serve to insinuate) that there was no creator (or God). Moreover, it only further begs the question. So essentially, I think that asking Garry to provide such an example was an invalid (and therefore unnecessary) form of argumentation.

This is because, like Garry, you fail to understand that a key component of any scientific hypothesis — which is what ID wants to be — is falsifiability. In order to determine if your hypothesis is even valid in its basic premises, you have to be able to answer this question: “If what I am proposing is not true, what conditions would I expect to find existing today?” Therefore someone insisting that life was intelligently designed must be able to answer, “If life were not designed, what would it look like?” It’s hardly unfair or invalid. It’s basic science.

And y
es, this question has been answered in regards to evolution, and very simply. When asked what he thought would falsify evolution, biologist J.B.S. Haldane answered simply, “Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian.” If anything in the fossil record were not where it was supposed to be in the timeline, this would be a problem. But it has not been a problem. Indeed, evolutionary theory has been validated many times in its predictive power, another important factor establishing scientific validity. Tiktaalik was found right where paleontologists were sure a certain transitional fossil of its type would have to be found if it existed at all.

If insisting that Garry state the way in which ID or any other design hypothesis was falsifiable was “unfair,” it can only be in the way a scientifically illiterate fellow set himself up to be humiliated in his ignorance on live television. But that’s hardly our fault. If some creationist calls us, trying to peddle an inferior product, and proceeds to lecture authoritatively on a subject about which he is in fact ignorant, a little humiliation is the least he has coming.

How the Bible was made

From Christians, we often get letters quoting scripture and telling us the Bible is god’s word. From atheists, we sometimes get letters asking us about how the Bible came to exist–usually because they’re in a debate with a theist online who is making claims about evidence of textual reliability.

When I was a Christian, I was swayed into accepting the religion by a set of claims put forward by professional apologist Josh McDowell. I was a naive 15-year-old living in the days before the Internet, and the claims Josh made that were impressive to me had to do with the meticulous record of Biblical texts and the reliable methods of reproduction of those texts. His foundational argument is that the Bible stories are trustworthy–in so far as accurately representing honest reports by the authors. That is, what people wrote is what they believed they saw. And we can trust the book we read today matches the original texts nearly flawlessly. His further arguments all springboard off Biblical claims. So, the resurrection then requires an explanation–because obviously the events in the gospels are accurately reported–so what did people see to make them think a resurrection had occurred?

Bear in mind most churches do not teach classes on how the Bible came to exist. And before the Internet, unless a child thought on their own to go and look for this information, they would surely be impressed by someone who is describing these events and scenarios in a way that made him sound informed and scholarly. In other words, a kid in this class would be impressed by perceived authority and accept, very likely, these claims without question–having never been told anything different.

It wasn’t until I went to college that I actually met anyone who wasn’t a theist (at least openly). Prior to that, everyone I met was some brand of Christian. And eventually, at college, I was challenged on my parroted claims from Josh McDowell’s courses. In an effort to prove my fellows wrong, I ended up spending hours and hours in the basement of the UCF library where the “religion” section was then housed. It was there I first learned I’d been hoodwinked. From church histories produced by Catholic societies, to secular scholarship, they all agreed on the relevant facts: The origins of the Bible are quite opaque until centuries after the events they record–where they then surface as quite murky for some time further. What is recorded leaves any person with a working mind with the understanding that there is no basis for taking these texts at face value.

It was still many years later until I finally became an atheist. Eventually I found Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus. I loved it because it was as though he took all the research I had done and bound it into an easy-to-read, short book–and then added even more that I hadn’t found, since, unlike him, my life’s work has not been to study these texts in their original languages in great detail.

I’ve recommended this book to many people over the years who have expressed an interest in Bible origins. But I’m always disappointed when I realize that many people simply aren’t readers. Now, however, I’ve found a way to remove all excuses and make, what took me many nights and hours in a university library basement, easy for you. On Youtube there is a 10-part lecture by Bart Ehrman on the topic of Bible origins, where he talks about the information in “Misquoting Jesus.” Even if you don’t have the stamina to sit through all 10 parts, I promise you the first two will be sufficient for you to grasp the point.

If, after viewing this, there is any doubt in your mind as to the level of (un)reliability of the Bible’s content–then you have a mighty faith, indeed!



An Inspiration!

We received a letter this week from a woman who had an upbeat story worth sharing. I don’t think I would ever have thought to try this, but what a great idea:

I have written in before about general stuff but I had a story about something that happened yesterday that I would love some opinions on. Near where I work, on nice days there are usually a lot of people out proselytizing. Now, I have dealt with street and door-to-door proselytizing before, usually women; and they have usually not been too bad. However, I find the idea of going up to people on the street to push religion kind of appalling, and though I personally don’t mind, because it offers the opportunity for discussion, I still find it to be incredibly rude. I understand the reason they go around in pairs, or sometimes even groups of 3 or 4, so they are able to corner people. And it just bothers me.

So I was walking home from work, and I spotted two young men with Bibles talking to some young lady sitting on a park bench. I decided to go up to them, and instead of addressing the two young men I turned to the girl and said something along the lines of “You are a good person, you have your own morals and can make your own decisions and don’t need them or their book to tell you that you are weak, because you are not.”

Then I told them all to have a nice day and started on my way again. But then the two boys started shouting after me. I say “boys,” they were probably in their early twenties. So, as they started to shout things like “yeah get out of here! No one cares what you have to say!” I decided that I couldn’t just leave it at that.

Maybe I should have left it, but I decided to go back. Maybe I shouldn’t have said this, but addressing the first boy I said “Well why don’t you tell her about the part where Lot gets drunk and has sex with his daughters, or the part in Judges where Jephtha sets his daughter on fire.”

After looks of confusion from the two young men, and a quirky smile from the girl, the first boy just kept repeating “Who are you? Get out of here! You’re Satan!” in a robotic tone, as the other one holding the Bible said I was “crazy.” I asked if I could borrow their Bible to show her either passage, to which the first asked “Well where’s your Bible?”

I pulled out my digital reader on which I had a copy of the King James Bible, and I informed him that I read it often. He replied that I didn’t know what was in the Bible, and that I must be Satan. They asked me if I knew the girl or something, to which I said that they didn’t know her, either, and were probably bothering her while she was trying to relax in the park. It was at this point that the one young man said that I “must be retarded”.

I wish I had had time to, instead, draw these two away from this poor girl, but I didn’t, so I addressed her with another vote of confidence and went on my way.

She seemed to be responsive to what I had said, but one can’t be entirely sure. As I walked away they continued to shout after me, continuing to call me “Satan” and such.

Now I never mentioned to any of them that I was an atheist or even what my particular beliefs might be. I even acknowledged in my last words to the girl that I didn’t know if she was a Christian herself, or what her beliefs might be, but only that she didn’t need these two young men to figure those things out—basically, to believe in herself and not them. I have a Youtube channel, and as soon as I got home I did a big long video telling the story exactly as I have told it here.

I recall an open-air preacher who used to shout at passers-by at my university. He would handle questions and hecklers alike; but this is something different. She proselytized to proseltyzers, showed them up in front of their mark, and absolutely gave them as good as they were giving to other people that day. I bet she totally knocked them off their script!

She asked what we thought about what she did—if it was rude. I told her it was inspirational!

Here is her YouTube account of her adventure…

Can we be moral without god?

A young man has written to the list a few times. He seems to be “atheist curious” and apparently is being influenced by religion. But rather than blindly accept what he’s being told, he is sending the apologetics to us to say “What do you all think of this?”

Whenever I’ve replied, he’s been extremely polite and expressed gratitude. And in his last correspondence, he asked a common question: If atheism offers no beliefs or guidance in life, on what grounds does an atheist tell anyone else they’re behaving morally incorrectly?

Here is my reply:

This is a very involved question with a lot of angles. I’m going to include some links, and explain why I believe they are relevant. This is a question many different people in many different cultures through time have attempted to address. In the end, as with all such questions, you are going to have to process the data and try to draw the best conclusion you can based on your observations and values.

First of all, let’s start with the prior base [which he had already agreed to in a previous e-mail], that humans are demonstrably social animals. You can see we are. We live in societies all around the globe. Other social animals we observe include lions, wolves, dogs, and so onany animal that lives in a community and requires cooperation, generally, to survive. Lots of animals aren’t social, but we can see when they are; and humans clearly are.

This means we have evolved things like compassion, guilt, concern, and so on. We have all the individual survival instincts, but also instincts that cause us to care about others to some degree. People will have these to different degrees. Some will be so compassionate they won’t hurt a fly. Others will be so uncaring they will be labeled as sociopaths. Nearly all physical traits, whether they affect our minds or bodies [obviously not intended in the dualistic sense, but in context of a discussion on morality], will be spread through the population on a bell curve, where there will be a “normal” range, where most of us fall, but then extremes on either end. So, we see most people have brown eyes around the world, or cholesterol that falls in a certain range, or are within a normal weight range, or have normal intelligence, etc. And there are always people who fall within more or less “normal” ranges. This diversity is actually beneficial to us as a species, because adaptability depends on being able to move the population in different directions. The “normal” ranges for us now are simply “where we’re at” currently, but people can, for example, get to be “taller” on average than they were 200 years back.

So, we have these basic sets of normal emotional ranges that encompass our interactions with other people. But they are very basic. You can see this in domestic dogs. We are able to train dogs easily because, like us, they are highly social. So, they have some of the same emotional ranges we do when it comes to understanding “right” from “wrong” behaviors. People can easily get a dog to understand good behaviors by rewarding the dog. And likewise, we can train a dog that certain things are “wrong”—such as biting people or jumping on the sofa. If the dog “knows” it can’t jump on the sofa, it will display behaviors of submission if you catch it on the sofa. So, it may put a tail down, or whimper or slump—to show you it knows it did what you don’t want it to do. The dog is socialized, and this is why it is easy for people to train and work with dogs.

People are similar. We have basic sets of underlying feelings about cooperative interactions. Some authors talk about an underlying sense of “fairness.” You can see this at an early age. If a child possesses a thing it likes, and you grab it away, the child becomes upset. Nobody likes to have something they like taken from them. That’s a basic feeling most of us share. Also, nobody likes pain. And to a high degree, if we’re healthy and well, most of us prefer living to dying.

Now, in reality, there are societies where “fair” includes things that here in the U.S. we don’t think are fair at all. For example, in some areas of the globe, if a woman walks down the street unescorted, she might be killed, and it’s actually sometimes considered correct for people to harm or kill her for that behavior.

The question you are asking is: What do we do when we think it’s wrong to treat a woman this way—but an entire other society thinks it’s OK? How is that resolved?

But the problem is the same within a culture, as well as between cultures. Here in the US, we have disputes about whether or not many things are OK, or not OK, for people to do. There are a lot of arguments about whether drug use should be criminal or whether abortion should be legal. And you probably have seen or heard people arguing about these things.

You are absolutely correct that atheism does not resolve any of this. Atheism only means you don’t believe a god exists. So, atheism really would not be the right place to look if you wanted to know about something like “what is moral action?” For that, you’d want to consult behavioral psychology or even philosophy. You’d have to do a lot of reading and thinking to figure out what you think is right and what you think is best.

Here are some links as examples:




For myself, I tend to think that if I wouldn’t want to be treated badly, it’s best not to treat others badly. Jesus used the Golden Rule, and a man named Stephen Covey used a Platinum Rule. Jesus said it was best to treat people how you’d like to be treated. Stephen said it’s actually better to treat the other person how the other person would like to be treated, since he or she may not like the same things you do. Other societies have used other versions of this idea, with things like “don’t do things to people you wouldn’t want done to you.”

Additionally, there is a question of how much control we should have over others. If what you do doesn’t hurt me or cause social harm, should I pass laws to stop you from doing it? This is at the heart of arguments about things like gay marriage.

If you don’t believe a god is telling you what to do, that means you become responsible for trying to figure out morality on your own and for coming up with the best ideas you can about how you ought to treat others.

In the end, people make the rules for human society. And we must all ask ourselves how much we want to be involved in that. If there is a vote for gay marriage in my area, will I vote for it, against it, or do nothing? That’s what I have to decide for myself. Do I want to help them? Impede them? Or do nothing and leave it to others to decide?

And then we have the question of societies and whether or not they should interfere with one another. This is also a personal question each of us is responsible for answering. If a neighboring culture is rounding up Jews into prison camps, and torturing and killing them—do we care? Do we intervene? There is a lot of debate and heated argument over things like this. For a long time, the U.S. hesitated to become involved in WWII. Should we have done something sooner? Should we have done nothing? That’s a question each person must answer for him/herself. Do you push your legislators to get involved? Do you tell them not to get involved? Do you do nothing and leave it to others to decide?

What are your values? What do you want from life and other people? What sort of world do you want to live in? What do you feel are your obligations toward others? What is your tolerance for personal suffering, or for the suffering of others?

These aren’t easy questions. But religion tries to pretend they are.

It is very easy to say “God’s will be done…” and leave it other people to do the work in this world.

I know you did not specifically ask about the following, but I want to offer it, just as something to consider. And I hope it’s OK.

Often when Christians ask something like you just did, they mean something like this: “I get my morality from god/the Bible; but without those, where would I get morality?” I know this is not what you said specifically; but it reminds me of this question in some ways. And there is an additional dilemma here that many religious people fail to consider. Long ago a man named Euthyphro had a thought that went like this:

“Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

What he is asking, is whether there is such a thing as “morality,” or if morality only means “doing whatever god says.”

The problem comes in with verses in the Bible like these:

1 Samuel 15:2-3: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

Exodus 21: 20-21: “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.

Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

So, in the Bible, we have Old Testament passages that state clearly that god told people to go and commit genocide against their neighbors—even killing infants and animals. Then, we have two passages from the Law of God, one that describes how it’s OK to have a slave and beat the slave near to death, and another that says we should execute gay men.

Obviously today, we would never consider these acts anything less than barbaric. If a country committed genocide, they would be globally condemned. If a country sanctioned slavery, we’d condemn that as well. And in Uganda, where they actually are passing laws to execute gays, there is an outcry against that law as an atrocity.

So, the question is, is there anything really wrong with killing gays, infants, and beating people near to death?

If morality is simply “whatever god says,” that means these things aren’t actually wrong. It means that sometimes it’s right to do these things. Any Christian who says “That was the old testament” is plainly saying “I agree that sometimes it’s right. When god said it back then, it was right. I agree it should have been done.”

Unless they’re willing to say it was wrong in the Old Testament—even if god said to do it—then they’re claiming some
times it’s OK to have slaves and beat them, kill gay people, and slaughter infants in droves.

Were these things ever OK to do to other human beings? If a person answers “yes,” then they have no moral compass. They are saying any action can be moral or immoral, all it takes is for god to say “do it” to make it “right.”

If they say that actions are not moral “just because god says to do them,” then the response is that these verses I just used demonstrate Yahweh tells people to do immoral things. A moral person would want to stop a person from beating another near to death as “property.” A moral person would want to stop a person from slaughtering babies out of pure vindictiveness. A moral person wouldn’t ever stand by and let someone kill someone else simply because they’re gay.

Usually the Christian response is that god knows better, and when god tells people to do horrible things, there is a greater good at work. We’re told we can’t recognize the larger plan, because we’re just humans, and not gods. But the problem there is: If you can’t tell a good action from an evil action, then how do you know it’s good if god says to go kill babies? It sounds evil—so what makes a person accept it’s good?

And it appears to come down to this:

If god says to do something awful, should you do it?

And here is my answer:

If I can’t understand how it’s good, and it seems evil, I can’t do it. Ultimately I am responsible for my actions. And if I don’t do this action, at least I can justify to you why I didn’t do it—why I judged it was evil. But if I blindly trust an authority, even when the action appears clearly to be evil, how do I know what I’ve done really wasn’t the evil it appeared to be? How can I justify my actions in that scenario? I can’t. I can only hope the atrocity I committed wasn’t really the atrocity it seemed.

And I couldn’t live with that level of irresponsibility. I need to know what I’m doing and why if someone wants me to do something I cannot justify as moral.

Again, I hope any of this is helpful.

More mail…

Left “as is”…and anonymous:

“hey, Matt or whoever is reading this I recently stumbled onto your videos on you tube and I don’t know if you still remember a video of where you and a gentlemen who was Christian. were going back and forth over how you say your morally supine than God.”

I may not remember the specific instance, but I’ve said this on many occasions – because it’s true. Also, you should stop watching short clips on YouTube and start watching full episodes at our archive, you need more than just the McNuggets.

I’m proud to say im a Christian and I believe in god, and thought I do not agree with your choice to be atheist im not going to try to change you mind. but going back to the conversation you had with that gentleman you said and I quote ” that the lord condone’s slavery ,genocide,sodomy, and a lot of more unethical things.”

I won’t waste time explaining why the phrase “choice to be atheist” is wrong, we’ve got bigger problems to address. Yes, I pointed out that the Biblical god condones those things…it’s true and you agree. Your argument is that it’s morally correct for that character to condone those things because…

but when god first created man he made us with free will and he only set one rule. do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. when Adam and eve did this god punished them by evicting them from the garden of edam forever,which is not understandable there was 1 and only rule don’t eat from the tree. so in my opinion I agree with God for what he did.

Which makes you just as immoral as the god you worship. If you think it is morally correct to permit one human being to own another human being, you’re immoral. If you think, as you apparently do, that this is justified by the argument that one man broke one rule about what to eat – then you’re just as immoral as the god you worship and neither you nor the authors of the book you’re supporting have a proper understanding of justice or morality.

The doctrine of original sin is immoral. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is immoral. Rather than realizing this, you’ve take the lazy route out and allowed someone else to do your moral thinking for you – and you’ve picked a collection of dead people who managed to get it horribly wrong.

Your position is that there was just one simple rule, Adam broke it and that suddenly means that slavery ‘becomes’ a morally correct act and that genocide is “OK” as long as it’s God killing off sinners (you’re about to say this almost word for word)…

“but you also comparing the old testament and the new testament which both had two separate ideas. the old testament men had to lay sacrifice for our sins to be forgiven and God allowed a lot of unethical things. and as the bible states when he had enough of it he rid the world of sin with the flood.”

How’d that turn out? Oh yes, it failed. The Bible is a comedy of errors. God creates the world with only 1 person…and that turns out to be a mistake, so he makes a companion. Two people in the world, one rule…whoops, that failed. Let’s kick them out and make life more difficult, in the hopes that this will work…whoops, that failed. OK, let’s drown everyone on the planet except for the one most righteous family…whoops, that failed. Let’s confuse their languages…fail. Let’s pick just one small group as the chosen group…fail. Let’s ignore them for a while…fail. Let’s pick and guide one king…fail.

Let’s send ourselves down and take human form in order to sacrifice ourselves to ourselves as a loophole for a rule that we made…epic fail.

The god of the Bible has no better understanding of morals, human nature or reason than the backward band of bronze-age buffoons who wrote the book. Curious, that.

“also in the book of Kings it talks about mostly slavery/war/genocide all in which god was riding the world of the worst sinners.”

I’m sorry that your religion has so severely poisoned your mind that you’re able to construct that gross rationalization. This is exactly the reason that I do what I do.

“yes at first when I studied the bible at school it was confusing to me on how a God could have a double standard. how in the old testament he let all this immoral things happen; by sending his only son to die for our sins. when Jesus died on the cross all the our sins were forgiven if we except Jesus as our savior for the sins. ( and yes I know you don’t so you don’t need to state that 🙂 ) but in doing so he also knows man are flawed and we cannot live a life without doing thing immoral. which then reverts back to the fact Jesus died for our sins and all we have to do is ask for forgives..”

When you started reading the Bible, your brain hadn’t been poisoned and you still retained some humanity. You sacrificed your humanity on the altar of servility. Someone convinced you that you are a reprobate, deserving of punishment and you became a “battered housewife for Jesus” who now runs around telling people “no, no, he really loves me…I just drive him to this because I’m so wretched.”

“and to bash on my beliefs saying im a moron and everyone who believe in God is just not able to make decision on their own is doing exactly what every atheist ive meet has cried about for years on how Religious people force their religion onto them.”

Bashing someone’s beliefs isn’t the same as objecting to them; and neither of these is the same as attempting to legislate or force beliefs onto someone.

” I respect your choice if your Life and you have free will and you choose not to believe.

and before you say well if I believe your going to hell, I honestly can’t say that the Bible also says do not pass judgement onto others for if you do it will be dealt back onto you ( I once again im flawed so ive done this also)”

Yes, I’m aware that you are unable to think for yourself…curiously, I think you’re aware of that as well, as that’s one of the points that bothered you enough to mention.

The secret, though, is that you can think for yourself again, just as soon as you give yourself permission and start doing it. You can say, “No…there is no moral justification for slavery – ever” and “No…original sin is not a moral doctrine” and “No…I do not have a rational, evidence-based justification for my religious beliefs”…

You can stop living your life out of fear and self-loathing and start living a better life.

“But I would rather believe in something and be wrong than not believe and it comes out to be true.because if I die and God doesn’t exist im going to be fertilizer for some cemetery lawn. but if he does im going to be judged and sentenced to either eternal damnation or a eternal life in the pressance of God.”

Pascal’s wager. Worst. Argument. Ever.

I hope to hear from you soon with a response. and your opinion on what dive wrote.

and please if you respond do so kindly 🙂

I think I’ve been more than kind, though I don’t expect you to see that.

A Skeptic’s Wager?

I got this on my Facebook newsfeed, and wanted to share. It’s like a skeptic’s Pascal’s Wager, but works much better. The question came up as to whether it can be labeled with a catchy title like “Pascal’s Wager”? Any ideas?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but…will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” —Marcus Aurelius