“AS” strikes again

The 16-year-old who wrote to us with many proofs of god, featured a few posts below, has replied via e-mail. I wanted to share the reply, and my response, interspersed below:

well, to reply to you very first paragraph, lol.. does George washington exist? well, you know he does in fact exist because of documents, and history books. You know, he said MANY quotes, JUST like Jesus did.

No, it’s not “just like Jesus,” because Jesus never wrote anything himself that we know of. We have no autographs. And we have no records of Jesus supplied to us by reliable eye-witness, contemporary authors. So, it’s not “just like” what we have for Jesus when it comes to George Washington. The mountain of records available for the existence of George Washington, and the specific records by contemporary peer sources for his actions during his lifetime, and his personal correspondences, make George a historic person, where Jesus becomes more myth than man. And when we’re given events that sound even a bit “iffy” about George, we don’t accept them as accurate. So “he never told a lie” is discarded as myth. And with Jesus, so many of the claims about his life are outlandish, far beyond “he never told a lie,” that we have to reject quite a lot of what is recorded about him by even the second-hand sources. So, it’s not comparable at all.

how can you believe one side of history, like George washington, when you don’t believe in the history side about Jesus, doesn’t make sense AT ALL.

Because I already explained that history rests on evidence available—realizing that what we claim to “know” must be supported by what we can actually reasonably support. With Jesus, again, not one reliable contemporary eye-witness account. That means what we have are stories about stories. That’s not the best to work with in trying to piece together facts. The “historic” Jesus that is put forward by historians is nothing like the Jesus recorded in the Bible. I am willing to accept that there may have been a rabbi upon whom these myths were based, since this is expert opinion. I never said I think Jesus never existed. But I reject the miracle claims (as do serious historians), the same way I would reject them about Washington—or about Homer’s claims as I explained already earlier. I accept “Jesus” historically, with all the same requirements I apply to claims of all other historic persons.

expert? lol, who’s to determine an expert?? we could all be dummies here on the Earth. While some are smarter than others, I don’t think that term was correct, noone is completly 100% an expert on things, if they were we’d all have the answers.

If my sink breaks, I don’t call a heart surgeon. Would you? There are men and women who have devoted their lives to the study of specific areas of history. It has nothing to do with being smarter. It’s about them having access to the best evidence and information available—that the rest of us will likely never see. And also the fact they’ve studied these areas of history to a far greater extent than the lay population. That makes them better qualified to comment on the issue than you or I.

To claim nobody is any more expert in a historic opinion than anyone else is not reasonable. And to claim, then, that we can’t accept anyone’s explanations, even the most educated people in the field of history—as being “the most” trustworthy—undermines your own views as much as anyone else’s: If you can’t trust anyone—why trust the people who wrote and produced your Bible and told you it was about a god? If we have to put our trust in anyone—why would anyone assert it wouldn’t be the people who are best informed in any given area of study? Again, if you’re going to say that your beliefs don’t have to stack up to evidence or expert opinions, then why are we even talking about this? What is your method of determining if your beliefs are likely to be true or not, if you reject evidence and expert explanations of that evidence? What do you trust in that case, and why do you trust it?

And who said you have to know anything 100 percent? I’m saying that if you care whether or not your beliefs are likely to be true—then you will align your beliefs to the best evidence available and the most educated explanations of that evidence.

Example: I come home from work tonight, and my house is a shambles inside. My television and computer are gone and a window has been forced open, do you think it is more reasonable to assert that I have been robbed or that I have been violated by a poltergeist? It’s hard to accept that you seriously believe that evidence should have no bearing on our beliefs, or that some beliefs are more or less likely to align with the available evidence. What you’re claiming is that if we can’t “know” a robbery has occurred, then saying it’s a poltergeist makes just as much sense. And I can’t begin to tell you how unbelievable it is to hear someone say that. I hope you’re more reasonable in other areas of your life than you are in your religious beliefs—otherwise, you’re a con man’s dream come true—since you have no apparent method of telling fact from fiction, evidence and reason have no value in your worldview, and you’ll believe outlandish things based on stories.

And about the tower of Babel, NO they clearly were trying to get away from the flood, as well, as get to God.

No, they weren’t “clearly” trying to get away from a flood. You are simply wrong. Here is the entire script of the story of the tower. Where do you see any mention of any flood concerns from anyone?

Genesis 11
1And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Of course NONE of this matters if you don’t believe in God.

Uh, your subject line, just to remind you, is “AE Show – Proofs of God”—what good are proofs of the existence of god which are only convincing to people who already believe god exists? If your proofs of god don’t demonstrate a god exists to people who don’t believe god exists already, why exactly did you contact unbelievers to present these “proofs”?

My advise is, as BEST as I can give it, is that if you TRULY want to know if God, exist you WILL ask Him, to prove Himself to you,

And if you truly want to know if atoms exist, you will ask them to prove themselves to you. Do you approach other things in your life this way? When you want to know if a thing is real—you ask the thing? You don’t verify it against evidence and reality? You just “ask it’? This is NOT how we determine if things exist. This is not how to tell fact from fiction. This is not the process we use if we care whether or not our beliefs are likely to be true. Existence is manifestation in some measureable way. That’s what it means to “exist.” If your god exists, then it should not be difficult to demonstrate that. If there is nothing there to measure—then in what way is your god different than nothing? Did you read the Carl Sagan essay “Dragon in my Garage” that I linked you to? If not, I assure you it’s very short, but very useful in explaining why we don’t go around asserting things exist if we can’t actually tell them apart from nothing. It’s also the lesson of the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” in case you just don’t have time to read the Sagan essay.

If your god answers you when you ask him for things—as you’re telling me that if I need proof I can just ask—why don’t you pray and ask him for a proof that actually convinces nonbelievers? If he exists, you’ll get it, right? If he truly wished his adherents to seek and save the lost—that is, the unbelievers—why did he only supply you, this round, with reasons that you say only convince those who already believe?

 I can sit here and give you everything I know,

You just told me you can’t know everything, and that, therefore, “we could all be dummies here on the Earth.” So, why should I believe that you “know” any of these things you’re asserting? Why should I believe the people who told you these things “know” anything? What I know, is that you can’t claim to “know” what you have not verified and what you have not demonstrated to be true. When you admit you have nothing convincing to offer for why you believe what you believe, it’s ridiculous to immediately turn around and call it “knowledge.”

and every word in the Bible,

It’s like I’m sending letters into a void. Did you read what I wrote when you claimed your Bible was perfect and that even the strongest scrutiny hadn’t shown any errors? I sent you Bible translators’ notes, right out of the Bible, telling you there is forged material in your Bible. Why then would you use the Bible in your next letter without addressing how it’s reliable in light of the fact that it’s been edited with inserted passages? Why do you trust its content? I believe the Bible scholars, you don’t. So, I’m asking you, who do you believe, because you believe it’s perfect. Since that’s not the expert view, who has told you this, and why do you accept that as true above actual Bible scholars?

but it won’t mean 1 thing if you don’t see God for who He is.

And here I am again. Ironically, a Muslim once used this exact argument with me. He told me that if I read the Koran, it would convince me Allah is real. I told him I would get it from the library and read it. In his reply to that, he wrote that it would only be convincing if I read it believing it was written by Allah. I hope that sounds silly to you. And I hope you can understand why changing out “Bible” for “Koran” and “Jesus” for “Allah” makes it no less ridiculous.


  1. Jeff says

    Tracie, I am always impressed with the amount of effort and time you put towards people and their arguments that clearly do not deserve it. The writer of the email is a moron. I wouldn’t have the patience.

  2. says

    Well, mainly he’s just a brainwashed kid who hasn’t developed the ability to think beyond his indoctrination. He’s a prime example of religion’s great crime: the damaging of young minds at the time they are most receptive to learning. Every child brought up to reject evolution, for instance, because some church wants to keep its coffers full, is one less potential doctor or scientist who might have grown up to advance the human race in amazing new directions.

  3. Mark says

    It’s incredibly sad to read stuff like this coming from a 16 year old who is presumably intelligent and highly functioning in other areas of his life. The shifting of burden and the blatant refusal to address the points you made in your initial reply are textbook. As Sam Harris once said, “You can’t reason somebody out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.” Not unless they’re actually willing to listen and think about the points you’re making anyway. You should ask him this question, “If there is no God, would you want to know?”

  4. says

    The thing that depressed me most was the utter lack of response to nearly all of my points in my last e-mail. I’m assuming that he didn’t even read beyond the first few lines, and that’s really too bad. I won’t waste my time on a further response unless he demonstrates he actually is reading what I’m taking the time to write. I feel sorry for the kid, but not the point I’m going to sit every other day spinning my wheels for nothing.

  5. says

    i am continually astonished at how many religious people don’t know the first thing about their religion. i mean seriously – if i were to have a belief that affected how i lived my everyday life then i would try to determine whether it was a reasonable belief!
    the latest was a fundy who claimed to be studying theology and thought that mathew was the chronologically first gospel.

  6. says

    But isn’t this so often the case, Tracie? They don’t really want a dialogue, just to preach. They want us to listen to them, but see no reason to return the favor.

  7. jacobfromlost says

    Great post Tracie.

    It might also be useful to explain how the oldest copies of the gospels date to decades after Jesus was dead, many other “gospels” written around the same period were later tossed, the hundreds of years it took to compile the bible based on certain majority votes, the fact that the gospels were anonyously written, the fact that the titles were added much later, the fact that no gospel mentions its author in its text, etc. I was already an atheist when you got me researching this, and I was dismayed by how UNRELIABLE this text is to determine the truth of ANYTHING, much less supernatural things.

    What if I were to claim I knew a guy named Pete in 1975, who predicted the Challenger Disaster, 9/11/2001, and a couple other historical events, and that I had four eye witnesses who wrote all this up at the time. BUT…

    1) I can’t remember the eye witnesses names.
    2) They don’t mention their names in their texts.
    3) Their texts were copied each year by believers, sometimes changed from copy to copy, and the oldest copies we have date from 2005.
    4) There are a few dozen other texts about Pete that contradict the four eye witnesses I listened to.
    5) Those texts are not bound in the same book as the four texts I like about Pete, therefore they are wrong. (The texts were bound in 2004.)
    6) Since people seem to listen to eye witness testimony, I think I slapped the titles Joe, Mike, Seth, and Charles on the top of each of those books in 2011, and people think that that means they wrote those books [shrug]. Close enough.
    7) Oh, and Pete died in 1976…I mean ascended into heaven.
    8) There is no record of Pete except from the eye witnesses of Joe, Mike, Seth, and Charles.
    9) Joe, Mike, Seth, and Charles contradict each other in their texts.
    10) Oh, and major elements of their stories seem to correspond to other stories popular in 1975.
    11) And technically Joe, Mike, Seth, and Charles are only “eye witnesses” because I keep saying they are, just like I keep saying they wrote those books.

  8. perpetualstudent says

    Hmmm. The whole tower of Babel discussion is interesting to me. I grew up as Seventh Day Adventist and one of the founders of the church, Ellen White, wrote that the tower was built to avoid the flood. So this is taken as truth no matter what the Bible actually says. What I don’t know if if this is a position held in the wider Christian community.

  9. SCorinth says

    Just to comment on the thing about asking god to reveal himself: My Sunday school teachers and pastors always told me that God would do anything to bring me back if my faith faltered. So, as I was becoming an atheist, the last prayer I’ve ever said was a plea to show me he was real, and to forgive my doubts – as everybody tells me he would. As strange as it is, that prayer gave me the strength to leave the church and start living as an atheist in earnest, because, if God really was as forgiving as they say, he’d show me the way back… And if he’s not that forgiving, fuck it, I don’t want to worship him!

    So, as strange as it is, asking God to reveal himself might be more useful than you might think. I doubt “AS” had my story in mind when he suggested it.

  10. says

    George Washington didn’t perform any miracles, break any laws of physics, or otherwise do anything that’s extraordinary.

    The evidentiary requirements for him are far lower than the son of a supposed invisible nonmanifesting nondetectable creator of everything.

  11. warren grubb says

    The tone was so different from the previous mail to this one that I have gone from thinking “naive 16 year old” to “sad, annoying troll.”

    The first mail made it sound like they might be willing to consider input, but as soon as you “took the bait” and responded, they went straight for the stupid.

    As you said, they didn’t even try to address most of your points, and when they did- that thing about the Tower of Babel? They can’t really be that feeble minded, if they cared at ALL they would have looked it up and either dropped it or made some attempt to discuss it based on their research. They basically just said “nuh-uh!”

  12. says

    He may be a moron, but the likelihood is that he is not.

    Many of the best and brightest of we atheists believed that sort of stuff for years or decades, but came through it in the end.

    Check out the CamelsWithHammers freethought blog.

    And in particular http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/10/11/i-dont-really-give-a-fuck-about-tone-per-se/

    The writer of that, I am pretty sure, would confirm that at the age of this poster he might well have responded in a somewhat similar way.

    Some of the admins and mods on my discussion board certainly would confirm that at a point in their lives they would have done, too.

    Calling people morons, when they are in fact capable of writing (even wrongly) with the facility of that poster is both factually wrong and completely unhelpful.

    In fact, IMO, you are falling for the the same sort of ‘athier than thou’ sort of shtick that compares with the ‘holier than thou’ sort of attitude among Christians that both provides positive reinforcement for them, but is out of touch with reality.

    Your claim that some poor, young, misled kid is a moron is both false, and, somewhat ironically, adequately demonstrates your own moronic status.

    Arguments, even bad ones, might always be said to deserve time and patience.

    He might not know better, but you should.

    David B

  13. Umbre says

    He seems to have gotten worse. The first email made me think that maybe he’d be willing to listen, but apparently not.

    For the record, it was writers like you and sites like this that helped me leave my faith for good during a time in which I felt alone and confused in my doubts. I was around thirteen, I think, when I got the courage to completely drop religion, after three years of struggle against ongoing indoctrination attempts. I’m sixteen now and much happier.

    Granted, I was never quite so sure of my religion. But I would not have gained the confidence to leave without the blogs and sites I found that let me know there were other people out there who not only did not believe, but had good reasons for it.

    Who knows, maybe you got to him in the first reply and this is just his anger and confusion speaking.

  14. paulcollier says

    Boy, did this kid’s mommy and daddy do a number on him. He also seems to think himself quite the theologian/enfant prodigue. He may turn out OK, though. My mommy and daddy did quite a number on me too.

  15. sithrazer says

    What kind of advanced warning did they get on this flood if they could build the tower of babel before being inundated with water? I’m no student of architecture, but I bet it would have needed to be more time than what Noah supposedly got. Also, mud brick would not be my building material of choice for escaping floodwater.

  16. Joshua Fisher says

    The tower of Babel is a myth intended to explain the diversity of language. It must necessarily come after the flood to have any meaning. Noah and his immediate family were the only humans to survive the flood (if you believe that shit). Why would God confuse their languages, only to drown them all a few days/weeks/months/whatever later. And, if they all died in the flood, why doesn’t everyone in the world speak whatever language Noah spoke? Think it through dingbat!

  17. helenaconstantine says

    He threw a silver dollar across the potomac.

    Seriously, all those weird stories about him (including the cheery tree) come a biography that was written by Francis Glass in Latin in 1836 that was commonly used as a reader in high schools until Latin began to be phased out in the 1920s. They were all made up of course.

    You can find the text here (no wikipedia article, oddly enough):


    The book has quite a bit in common wit the gospels. It imitates Caesar’s commentaries quite closely, and compromises its history for that reason just as much in the gospels is midrash on OT passages.

  18. helenaconstantine says

    That article is pretty screwed up. But it would a pretty big job to fix.

    The biggest thing that stood out to me was the sectin on Jesus in the Talmud. Peter Schaeffer has been doing a lot of work recently that needs to be taken into account. All Talmudic passages concerning Jesus (and he is often refered to by code names since any copy of the Talmud that mentioned Jesus could legally be burned in the later Roman Empire or in the Middle ages) is directly based on the Gospel of John, so its not an independent witness at all.

  19. helenaconstantine says

    Actually building a mud-brick structure higher than Everest would be child’s play compared to the difficulties Noah faced in even rounding up all the bio-diversity on the earth with the available technology, let alone storing it on a small wooden boat–it must have been a tardis.

  20. Jeff says

    “Your claim that some poor, young, misled kid is a moron is both false, and, somewhat ironically, adequately demonstrates your own moronic status.”

    Not buying it, sorry. While I didn’t notice that he was 16 (skim reading to the point of the post), I do not agree at all that it makes me a moron. Nice standard response, though.

    “Some of the admins and mods on my discussion board certainly would confirm that at a point in their lives they would have done, too.”

    Then they were also morons. If they are better now, they have de-moronified.

    “Arguments, even bad ones, might always be said to deserve time and patience.”

    Seriously? Do you honestly think this? Wow, so you’ll be over at the David Icke reptilian forum, patiently rebutting every argument they throw at you? You can conceive of no argument so bad that it is not worth your time? How little do you value your time? There is definitely a time to laugh and walk away.

    I get that you’re an “everybody’s opinion is special and should get heard” kinda guy, but I’m not. I’d have little time for this kind of garbage, especially when the writer in question will not properly address or consider Tracie’s response.

  21. heicart says

    Sorry for the sometimes “heicart” sometimes “tracieh” log-ins. I’m not used to the site. When I log in, it takes my heicart name, when I don’t, it seems to default back to tracieh. :/

    But I was interested in the Seventh Day Adventist comment. I have never heard anyone assert the Tower of Babel had any connection to the Great Flood. So, I would say it’s not a common reading of the text. And if it is an Adventist doctrine, the kid may be in that sect. I find it interesting when different readers with different backgrounds catch different odditites in doctrinal differences and say “that’s what they used to teach us when I was XYZ…” It’s nice to see where these different ideas originate and spread.

    Regarding the difference in tone between the letters: In my last response, I called out that he indicated he was both seeking, and that he’d found what he was looking for. I noted it’s one or the other. And my bet would have been on “found.” I think that the claim he’s searching was just so much fluff. And I think this latest letter is the true colors. I don’t think it’s so much a tonal change as the idea that he read a few lines into my letter, felt he had a good rebuttal and fired off a reply without thinking there was any need to read the rest of my letter since he had me at the first paragraph (in his own head).

    Too bad. But as I don’t see any indication he read my last letter, it’s likely he won’t finish reading this one either. I guess we’ll find out if he writes back.

  22. sithrazer says

    I haven’t read it, but doesn’t the bible passage, or a related one, give dimensions of Noah’s Ark? And even considering slave labor combined with adrenaline-fueled drive for self preservation, the sheer volume of material required to build a structure of the fabled size of the tower of babel would take a long damn time.

  23. N. Nescio says

    Just wanted to say that not all that long ago *I* was that teenage kid whose critical thinking was held in check by religious indoctrination. I shudder to think of what a sanctimonious little jackass I was. I got better. If I still believed in any gods (I do not) I would be thanking at least one of them that I grew up a little and started caring about whether or not what I believed was actually true.

    If that’s really not a troll you’re writing to, hopefully he’ll go back and re-read what you’ve written. I hope he cares enough to actually think of good answers to your questions. It’ll get his mind working, and that’s the best you can hope for.

  24. says

    Never mind the advanced warning. What about the fact that the Tower of Babel story takes place after the flood? AFTER, dammit! It’s right there if you bother to open your goddamn bible.

    Genesis, chapters 6-8 deal with ark-building and the flood. Chapter 9 deals with praising god for not completely exterminating mankind. Chapter 10 deals with the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Chapter 11 deals with the Tower of Babel.


    It’s not metaphor. It needs no interpretation. There isn’t multiple ways of reading it. It’s a straight-forward chronological account and it clearly puts the Tower business after the flood. In fact, the story makes absolutely no sense if it wasn’t.

    If they built the Tower to escape the flood, well, clearly they failed because Noah and his family were the only survivors.
    But the Tower is supposed to be an explanation for the diversity of language, right? If all the people who spoke the new languages died, then what was the point?
    How did the descendants of Noah learn these new languages? They were on the ark when all this happened. They had no contact with the doomed.

    If we put the Tower sufficiently far back that Noah and his family could have learned the new languages, it still doesn’t make sense, because they must have had a common language. Otherwise, how did they talk to each other on the ark? And having one common language, why would they speak any other? Why would you deliberately speak a language that your conversation partner doesn’t understand?

    It makes no sense. Any way you look at it, any way you twist and turn, the Tower of Babel simply must have come after the flood.

    Sorry to go on so long about this, but it really annoys me when people claim that the bible is the word of god, but they still can’t be bothered to read the damn thing.

  25. John K. says

    Kind of strange that language was split by people who immediately died. Just by Noah and his descendants being the only human survivors, wouldn’t that put us back at one language for everyone again? Weird. Not that any of this makes sense to begin with.

  26. John K. says

    Read the Bible believing it is the word of god and you will believe in God. Read the Koran believing it is the word of Allah and you will believe in Allah.

    Believe hard enough and you will believe.

    Silly apologetics are silly.

    Tautological arguments are tautological.

  27. helenaconstantine says

    Yes the dimensions are give, and they are simultaneously too large for a wooden ship to survive rough seas, and too small to hold even a fraction of the necessary vertebrate types, to say nothing of the extinct vertebrates such as dinosaurs fundamentalists now claim, leading to the most bizarre speculations, such as Noah took only 2 cats, which some how in a few generations evolved into everything from the marguay to the saber-toothed tiger, before evolution mysteriously reached its limit.

  28. tracieh says

    I am chuckling at the number of people pointing out the futility of god adjusting all the languages and then just killing everyone but one family. I never heard anyone claim the Tower was to escape the Flood, so this claim, and his adamant stick-to-it attitude, after I pointed out it was wrong (it’s just a few verses, and easily read/understood), just baffled me. And honestly, I never considered the logistics of thinking of the story as true and analyzing the stupidity of creating multiple languages to keep people from communicating, only to then kill everyone, only to then end up in a world with multiple languages, having cut off at the knees the Biblical explanation for those diverse languages.

    It is quite funny. And a good criticism. Thanks to those who noticed that an pointed it out.

  29. tracieh says

    It’s just crazy. How can you even call it a proof of god’s existence if it doesn’t actually work to convince people god exists? Saying it proves it, but only to people who already believe it is nuts.

  30. says

    I would think that’d be the point.

    Proof that isn’t meant to be used to convince other people is like a restaurant that’s not mean to have any customers.

  31. jacobfromlost says

    For me, just understanding the notion of the “origin myth” makes everything fall into place.

    People have questions that don’t have answers to.
    Mythmakers need to make interesting stories.
    Why not combine the two and include the answers in the interesting stories!? The people will love that! Their curiousity about these answers will engage them in a way that won’t let them go! (just what any storyteller wants to do)

    Therefore this is how the earth is made, and that is how people and animals were made, and this is where the rainbow came from, and this is why everyone speaks different languages, and this is why people sometimes do evil things, etc…

    And if feels nice, to get these answers.

    Kind of like how the X-Men movie felt nice when it kinda sorta corresponded to history…and the rest of the X-Men myth. We get to find out how the X-Men became X-Men, and ALSO see how they fit into known history! I was always curious about that! And suddenly the weight of reality starts being lent to mythical stories…sometimes without our awareness…

    I’ll say it again: people–especially young people–can have a very difficult time separating metaphor and reality, especially when a bunch of metaphors are woven together with compelling details into a story…when the story is more EFFECTIVE when you think it is literally real. (The audience WANTS to believe it because it is 1000 times more fun that way, by the nature of the story.)

    A few examples: Stephen King recounts a story that was recounted by Charles Fort, where a country family was having a picnic in the front yard with neighbors, someone forgot to bring salt, so the father went in the house to get the salt, started walking back, and DISAPPEARED half way across the yard. I have no idea if King really believes this, but as a good storyteller, he says this is a “perfectly true story”…and that is the only thing that MAKES it compelling–the suggestion that it is TRUE. ( /watch?v=amT6xFKdUg8 , watch how easily the audience gets sucked in by this master storyteller, when the stories themselves are not that strong at all)

    Another example I thought of was “The Blair Witch Project”. I had to explain to high school students 5-6 years after this movie had come out that it wasn’t real. “But it said it was based on a true story!” they said. “Yeah,” I said. “THE MOVIE said that. Besides, what does ‘based on’ mean? Some people went camping one time?” Does the movie work at all without, at some level, making yourself believe it is real as you watch it, perhaps even more than “suspending your disbelief” and wandering into ACTUAL BELIEF?

    Another compelling example is the book “Commmunion” by the alien abduction claimant Whitley Strieber. If you don’t on some sense BELIEVE his first hand, first person account of being abducted by aliens as you read the book…the story doesn’t work AT ALL.

    Certain stories CAN get you to WANT them to be literally true, since they simply don’t work very well as stories without that assumption (and hence the more you get sucked into them, the more you both WANT to believe them, and do believe them…at least while you are engaged with them). Origin myths can be like that, as can general religious myths (and all conspiracy theories).

  32. Coragyps says

    “Get away from the Flood?” How many generations after the Flood had fled? Why can’t these folks even read their own book?

  33. says

    I’m not familiar with the various legends about Washington, but I don’t think the coin toss applies.

    The reason for this is that the historicity of Jesus tends to be primarily about supernatural things – walking on water, son of god, miracles, etc. On the other hand, the historicity of George Washington is primarily about mundane things – being a leader, fighting in a war, being a president, etc.

    If someone were to start making claims about Thomas Jefferson floating around shooting eye-lasers at the Redcoats, that wouldn’t make the primary historical understanding of him now require extraordinary evidence.

    If someone were to say that some guy called Jesus existed once long ago, but without any extraordinary claims, I might just take his/her word for it.

  34. Joven says

    Also, this was a flood that would cover mountains…

    As someone who took the ladders out of my Sims pool while they were inside…would not it have been more fun for God to simply let them build their little tower, then watch as they realize, ‘oh bother…this isnt gonna work’? I mean, their God loves torture, so why pass up that opportunity?

    And lets say that somehow a building made of bricks and mortar was taller than the tallest buildings we could make today, and some of it peeked over the waters..would it survive any kind of tidal forces?

    Wouldnt their collective efforts be better off trying to make a fleet of boats? Hell, they would have been just as well off if they tried to make Sealab or Rapture.

    Also, in their fiction…wasnt Noah kinda looked on like an idiot? He tried to warn people, right? And was taken about as seriously as Harold Camping?…So why would they put so much effort into escaping something they wouldn’t have believed in until it started raining quite an awful lot…which unless a cartoon character was their builder, probably couldn’t have kept up building with the water rise.

    If your going to have fiction, at least have it make some internal sense.

  35. perpetualstudent says

    I should have been more clear. It is believed to have been built to aviod a repeat of a flood. As in “Great grandpa Noah narrowly escaped being destroyed by God. But we can keep on with our hedonistic lifestyle and use rationalism to protect ourselves from that monster.” So yes in timeline it is supposed to happen after the flood.

  36. perpetualstudent says

    There is a belief among Seventh Day Adventists (and I don’t know who else) that the tower was built because the inhabitants of Babel did not believe God’s promise to never destroy the world with a flood. So chronologically it still is placed post-flood. Their source for this is not from the Bible, but from Ellen White, an alleged prophetess.

  37. perpetualstudent says

    Just to be clear, Seventh Day Adventists do not think that the tower of Babel happened pre flood. Here is the actual source, specifically look at the section labeled page 119. Ellen White was believed to be speaking with guidance from God himself and most Seventh Day Adventists get confused on which parts are from her and which parts are from the Bible, since most of them actually never read either of them.

  38. John K. says

    I can only guess people have not thought much about what they are saying when they say these things.

    If I believe hard enough I will believe. Yes, that is the definition of belief. I don’t believe, and we have not gone anywhere.

  39. says

    To be fair to your correspondent, his first point is not evidence for Jesus – but it is evidence for Paul. We know from textual analysis that seven of the books attributed to Paul were written by the same person, who calls himself Paul; that a few more were a mix of this author and other people; and that a few more were written by others and falsely attributed to him. This is considered good evidence that Paul existed and said the stuff in at least the seven books clearly by him. It’s possible that Paul was a fictional character created by yet someone else, but historians are generally happy to leave it at “yep, this guy wrote these books, we might as well call him Paul.”

    tl;dr We don’t have strong evidence for Jesus, but we do have strong evidence for Paul – the actual founder of Christianity.

  40. Kevin says

    Fear is a powerful motivator, and certainty a balm for that fear. It’s like a railing on a roller-coaster: You’re still falling just as fast, but somehow grabbing onto that bar provides a sense of security.

    Questions like “Why?” ultimately lead to “We don’t know yet and may never know,” and that really upsets people. It’s so much easier to say “Because” even if the “because” is so incomplete that should logically lead to more questions.

    And, of course death is pretty scary for most people. So, entertaining fantasies that it doesn’t happen (or happens but is only a phase you’re going through) again soothes the fear.

    Also, some questions require a fair amount of mental gymnastics to wrap one’s head around the answer. I’m reasonably happy thinking of quantum physics as “magic”, simply because I don’t have the time and energy to study it. I had a hard enough time with Calculus I. The difference is that I *think* some people understand the magic black box better than I do, and the best of them are willing to revise their understanding if sufficient evidence comes their way.

    Not that any of what I’ve said is anything new, but it really means convincing the people who put their fingers in their ears and shout “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!” is an exercise in frustration.

  41. says

    Did we make “moron” a clinical term with a specific definition again while I wasn’t looking? Or is it still a matter of opinion, which one might reasonably hold regarding a sixteen-year-old kid who thinks they’re smarter than historians but writes in text speak?

    It’s true, this kid is probably just indoctrinated and brainwashed into the usual apologist Dunning-Kruger ignorant arrogance, and calling them a moron to their face probably wouldn’t make them rationally consider your arguments.

    But when faced with this kind of uncritical, poorly-written, arrogant, clichéd tripe, from someone so unwilling to consider the possibility that other people might be better informed than they are, to consider that they might be wrong about something, then I don’t think “moron” is an unreasonable or unwarranted opinion to hold.

  42. Jeff says

    Thanks for the support, Tom. I agree that it probably wouldn’t be productive in getting them to consider my point, which is why I’ll do the mocking/ridicule and let the AE team do the “positive atheism” outreach. My original point was some respect to Tracie for her tireless and selfless efforts in trying to have a conversation with those whom I’d consider to be too far gone.

    And perhaps we should explain it the way Matt usually does, which is to say that he is not a moron in all areas of life, but is “being a moron” in this case.

  43. stubby says

    You are a far more patient person than I am to put that much effort in to your response. I’m glad their are thoughtful, caring atheists out there to make up for me and my ilk. Although, I don’t appreciate you making me look bad. Jerk!

  44. tracieh says

    Wow, yeah, that story is really just pulled out of the writer’s butt, I have to say. Thanks for the link.

  45. Jeremy Shaffer says

    Some Christians once told me that God would do anything to get me back into the fold too. The confusing part was that all the things I suggested that God could do to make that happen ended up being tests of God, including simply revealing its presence/ existence; to which I was informed that God did not do tests.

  46. says

    That sounds about right. God will do anything to convince you, except anything that’s, you know, actually convincing.

  47. Jacob says

    I love how he just ignores everything you’d said in your reply earlier, then goes on with the typical false equivalence between historical facts and miracle claims. Hey, AS, if you’re reading this, explain why we should admit the Bible as evidence, but not the Koran, not the book of Mormon, not any of the ancient Greek or Roman works which mention MANY gods, it goes on and on. Without objective and verifiable evidence for any one book, there exists no reason to believe its claims are true.

  48. says

    Great post Tracie, as usual.

    About the historicity of Jesus and the reliability of the Gospels: when I debate with a Christian (fundamentalist or not, they often do think the Gospels are real) I use the Chanson de Roland as an analogy. We know Charlemagne existed, there is extended historical evidence about it. We know even that The Chanson de Roland was based on a true story: Charlemagne’s readguard was killed at Roncevaux, it is even very likely that Roland, Ganelon and other people in the story existed. However, we also know now that the Chanson mostly fabricated. Charlemagne was nothing like the Charlemagne character depicted in the Chanson de Roland: he did not have a flourishing beard, was not saintly, in fact he was a very controversial figure in his time, etc. His rearguard was massacred by either Basques or Gascons, not by Sarrasins and it was an embarrassing episode for him, not an epic battle where he ended up victorious. Yet for years, if not centuries, and until fairly recently, the image of Charlemagne that were transmitted in French schools was the one of the character in the myth, the one of a benevolent wise old man.

    Now we know now that a lot of the Gospel is also utter fabrication (the Census, the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, etc.), but the Jesus myth has an advantage over the Charlemagne one: earliest source we have so far come from believers, people who were not interested about historical accuracy but about making a compelling, convincing story about a man they considered divine.

  49. Aquaria says

    I believe that will work better in France. Most Americans would only give you a “Huh?” if you mentioned Charlemagne. They don’t know who he is.


    We’d have to use a similar event that happened in a Super Bowl game.

  50. says

    True, I would probably come off as pedantic or geeky. Still, the example works in itself: Charlemagne existed, Ronceveaux happened, but it doesn’t make the Song of Roland historically accurate or reliable in any way.

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