We get email: Godel, Escher, Bach, and some WTF?

First exchange:

I was watching some clips from your show on Youtube.  I am always interested in the challenges presented by differing views.  Your hosts make some compelling points about what seems to be a great injustice in the belief in hell.

The problem with most of the anti-religion views is that they focus on the unknowable or unprovable.  Atheists don’t have answers but they are always challenging points within religion that even the practitioners don’t know or can’t prove.
The problem with most of religion is that it intentionally deals with the unknowable or unprovable.  Atheists don’t claim to have certainty about the answers, but we object to unjustified assumptions about subjects that people do not and cannot know about — by your own statements.
(Continued below)
You’re atheists so you’ve probably heard the statement, “even if you know 1 percent of all that is to be known in the universe couldn’t God exist within the 99 percent of everything you don’t know.”
You are not wrong to question, only wrong to think you know everything there is to know in this universe to the exclusion of God.

I think you may be working with a misconception about what atheists actually claim.  No atheist I know think that we know everything in the universe to the exclusion of God.  That would be absurd.  Rather, we say that, given what we do know about the universe, there is no reason to believe in a God, and certainly no reason to confidently claim knowledge of what a god would want us to do.  To my mind, that’s terribly arrogant.

We are so limited in our understanding and even our language fails to grasp even the simplest of ideas.  I would suggest the book Godel Escher and Bach to challenge your idea that science has the answers.

Godel Escher Bach is my favorite book.  I’m not exaggerating; it is probably the single most influential book on my way of thinking.  So needless to say, I’ve never claimed that science answers everything — only that the alternative that theists propose to believe things by faith does not appear to lead to anything that can be justifiably considered true.

And by the way, you should know that Douglas Hofstadter — while he has never explicitly claimed atheism to my knowledge — has declared himself to be non-religious and a materialist.

The short version of that book is a story from China.
A Chinese Teacher was walking with his student and the student said, ” teacher what is the meaning of life?”
The teacher picked up a stick and said, “is this a stick?  If you say no you ignore the fact.  If you say yes you deny its existence.
The “stick” has length, weight, color, history, shape, produces heat, floats, water content, etc, ad infinitum.  Our words like “stick” don’t even begin to describe the simplest item and yet we try to use them to grasp an infinite universe or the meaning of life or the existence of God.
When it comes to the big questions humanity is vastly under-equipped to meet the challenge with our short lives and inadequate language.
My own view is that God exists and I am only beginning to begin to understand his unknowable greatness.

How are you beginning to understand this if it’s unknowable?  That doesn’t make sense to me.  Your claim that the subject is incomprehensible cuts both ways, you see.  If we have no way of understanding anything about god, for what reason would you conclude that one exists?

Your host made a very unprofessional and offensive comment about “handjobs for God.”  I’m paraphrasing from the “why are you a christian youtube video.”
The reality is more likely that those who are faithful and given understanding sing out praise to God and his majesty.  Your hosts description imagines that God is unworthy.  I can assure you he is worthy.  If you want to know how I know God exists I would be glad to share that with you.

Sure, I’d love to know how you know something that you previously stated was unknowable.  What changed?

For now you would be better served to seek answers than to dissuade others from seeking answers in their own way.  The answer may be in your 1 percent (more like .0000000000000000000000000000000000001 percent and even less) or another persons “1 percent.”

We are seeking answers.  If you have a better reason to believe in God than the ones I have been presented with in the past, please feel free to share it.

  Why should it offend you if God exists?

It doesn’t offend me.  As it happens, I just don’t think a God does exist.


Second exchange:

Thanks for the decent replies.  I wasn’t sure if the rude statements were limited to the youtube videos.

You’re welcome, but I can certainly get ruder if you’d prefer, so as to match your expectations. 😉

I appreciate your honesty.  It is said that the beginning of wisdom is a recognition of our ignorance.  When I said unknowable I meant in this lifetime.  One lifetime is not enough to know everything or even a fraction of the universe let alone the nature of God.  When we prove to be eternal we have a chance.

Are you dead, then?  You appear to be very much alive as far as I can tell, and yet you’re still claiming that there are things that living people cannot know, and yet you think you know them.  I’m finding this curious.

Explaining faith with words is futile for the reasons I outlined before.  I think Chinese thinkers have come the furthest in understanding the limits of words.  A Chinese philosopher/teacher would probably answer your question by saying Mu.

Okay then, but saying Mu doesn’t actually help to resolve the question.  You’re stating that you know you are right and I am wrong.  I don’t actually know that, and I am still trying to sort out what appears to be a distinctly Western sort of positivism on your part that you know this thing that you called unknowable.

How do I know God exists?  The same way you know that God doesn’t exist.  A lifetime of searching for answers.  You found your .0000000000000001 percent and I have found mine.

I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling that you weren’t actually paying attention to what I said in my first reply.  I specifically rejected the idea that we know God doesn’t exist.  Yet here you are trying to make me relate to your claims by asserting that I have this “knowledge” in the same way that you do.

What I find curious about the approach you’ve been taking is that you’ve accused me of doing something that I don’t do, and then you’ve gone ahead and done that very thing yourself.  When you claim that you “know” God exists, but you can’t seem to muster up any reasons and merely dismiss the question, it seems to me that you’re the one who is taking a limited set of facts and drawing a definite conclusion that would require a lot more information than you currently have.  Am I wrong about that?

I can’t create God as a reality to you anymore than you can prove Gods lack of existence.  Read Godel Escher and Bach again and you will find the same logical flaw explained in the book.

Again: Hofstadter’s position on God seems to be pretty close to my own, so I’m very sure that reading the book again won’t get me any closer to understanding this knowledge that you claim to have.  Why are you trying to make your case by referring me to the work of a non-religious materialist, rather than just saying it yourself?  If it can’t be put into words, then how would reading Hofstadter’s words change the situation?

Or check out Stephen Hawkings Quote below.
Up to now, most people have implicitly assumed that there is an ultimate theory that we will eventually discover. Indeed, I myself have suggested we might find it quite soon. However, M-theory has made me wonder if this is true. Maybe it is not possible to formulate the theory of the universe in a finite number of statements. This is very reminiscent of Godel’s theorem. This says that any finite system of axioms is not sufficient to prove every result in mathematics.

That may well be true, but this time you’ve definitely picked a self-identified fellow atheist to support your belief in a God.  Listen to what else Hawking had to say:
“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Isn’t it curious that all the people you cite to explain the ineffability of the universe, seem to have also reached the conclusion that there is probably no God?  What is it that you think you know that they don’t?

Like I said words fail.  If it’s impossible to formulate a theory of the universe in a finite number of statements then the same goes for an infinite God.  Neither of us will be able to use words or logic to “prove” one way or the other.  Not in this lifetime.

All right, then in the absence of any new reasons to believe in any gods, I will continue to reject the idea.  Thanks again for getting in touch.

Final exchange (as far as I’m concerned)
First this:
From your answers I think we are talking on two different levels.  M-theory, theoretical math and Zen/Eastern philosophy don’t seem to be in your background.
Best of luck.  I hope you find what your looking for.
Then a short time later:
We have come to an impasse.  You claim that you don’t know everything in the universe but you know with certainty God and heaven and hell do not exist.  You have that belief without any scientific proof.  You have that belief without ever traveling beyond this planet or beyond death.
Congratulations you have faith.
I replied:

M-theory, theoretical math and Zen/Eastern philosophy don’t seem to be in your background.

And basic critical thinking doesn’t seem to be in yours.  So that’s a pretty big impasse, all right.


  1. jacobfromlost says

    “This is what you think and you are wrong.”

    “But I don’t think that.”

    “Yes you do. And you are wrong.”

    “No I don’t. I think this.”

    “No, you think what I tell you to think, and you are wrong for thinking it. You offend me. Good day, sir!”

    …I hate it when that happens.

  2. says

    Every other time, isn’t it? “I’m going to insist on my position AND your position, and then I’m going to win the debate!” Well, sure… but if you’re going to have both sides of the conversation, why bother pestering atheists with it?

  3. says

    I lol’d very hard after reading the part where he recommends GEB. That book was very influential in my becoming an atheist. Specifically, that book was almost solely responsible for my jump from vague deism to all out atheism. Guess I’m readin’ it wrong.

  4. Stevarious says

    Well, sure… but if you’re going to have both sides of the conversation, why bother pestering atheists with it?

    Because the goal, as always, is not ‘convince the other side’. It’s ‘chalk up another victory, no matter how hollow and undeserved, for jeebus’. These are people that think that throwing the chessboard in the mud and shitting on it means they win at chess. These are people that think that sneaking into the awards ceremony and snatching a gold medal actually makes them gold medalist athletes. These are people that think that burning the business down, collecting the insurance money, and framing their business rival for arson makes them good businessmen. They are not concerned with ‘winning’ or even ‘being right’ in the objective sense. They have confused the symbols of accomplishment with accomplishment itself. These are people, in other words, that see every failure on the part of their opponent to achieve decisive victory, as a decisive victory for their own side. Even when the chessboard is covered in mud and shit.

  5. says

    I might just be an outlier, but when I begin trying to discuss a topic with someone, I ASK what they think, not tell them.

    What is so hard about “I’ve seen insufficient evidence for a God so I don’t believe it yet?”. I have no burden to completely explore the universe to hold that position rationally.

  6. Jacob says

    So basically, I can invent anything I want (dragon in my garage, FSM, aslkdjfhdfihdadkjfhoid, etc) call it unknowable, and by default, he has to accept that it exists. What, you’re saying there isn’t an invisible dragon in my garage? Well sorry, but there is, just because it’s unknowable doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! Silly a-dragon-in-my-garage-ist.

  7. Kevin says

    I find it amusingly hypocritical that someone who dismisses the semantic content of words to be lacking would then resort to the label G-o-d to solve any question.

  8. says

    You claim that you don’t know everything in the universe but you know with certainty God and heaven and hell do not exist. You have that belief without any scientific proof.

    Wait, how many times was he corrected on this? At that point he’s just flat out lying.

  9. jacobfromlost says

    It is possible he is not lying about what is in his head: he may actually think Russell thinks that, or more precisely have to convince himself of it simply to keep his own beliefs psychologically viable.

    It’s similar to what I said on the other thread about why people believe myths. If a huge number of details are woven around the core of a myth (for example, government officials orchestrated 9/11), then that core must be defended no matter what or all the other details that are just so nifty and fun are pointless, and I would rather they be nifty and fun than pointless as I have psychologically woven those details into my very identity (and I don’t want to be pointless, I want to be one of the few who figured out something very important, making me very important).

    So when I say I don’t believe government officials orchestrated 9/11, I am NOT saying it is absolutely 100% impossible, as I have no way to know anything to that degree of certainty. All I’m saying is that if such a thing DID occur, there would be tons of evidence that would be distinguishable from no evidence–and there simply isn’t any, which is extremely unlikely. So I disbelieve.

    What many who make these arguments fail to realize is that if someone made the claim that 9/11 absolutely was not orchestrated by government officials, I would disbelief that claim also and that DOESN’T mean I believe that it was orchestrated by government officials!

    Person A can claim the Lochness Monster absolutely exists.
    Person B can claim the Lochness Monster absolutely doesn’t exist.
    And Person C can disbelieve both those claims with NO CONTRADICTION, and await evidence for them…and never make any claim at all about the existence or nonexistence of the LM if no evidence is ever presented to be examined.

  10. Mike de Fleuriot says

    I see just about every atheist saying that science does not know everything. And this always is a problem for me, because just about everything that we know of, we can at least offer a fairly good explanation why it is there. I would suggest, rightly I think, that there is nothing science does not have a working understanding of, be it emotion or Dark Matter.

    In fact, I would be hard pressed to name anything that science can not attempt an explanation of. So to put it simply, yes science does know everything. But lets be fair and look at the explanations of what theism offers for reality.

  11. jacobfromlost says

    “I would suggest, rightly I think, that there is nothing science does not have a working understanding of, be it emotion or Dark Matter.”

    Science doesn’t rule things IN, it can only rule things OUT. It doesn’t work in absolutes, and there would be no way to ever know scientifically that everything was known because that would require you to know the unknown also, and if you knew the unknown it wouldn’t be unknown (ie, there is no logical way for you to know that you know the unknown).

    Dark Matter and Dark Energy are just place holders until we figure out what is going on. We see certain unexplained effects, so we have put the label on Dark Matter and Dark Energy to explain those effects, but labeling something unknown does not mean it is known. I’m not even sure one could call them a scientific hypothesis, unless there is a way one could conduct a falsifiable experiment to determine they exist (and since I don’t believe they are actually defined, such an experiment thus far would be impossiple).

    Anyway, science doesn’t know everything even though it is the only way to know anything.

  12. says

    Part of that is definitional. Everything we know is because science has discovered it. But we can’t think of what we don’t know. “Everything” keeps growing over time, as we discover new things.

    To say that you can’t think of anything we don’t have a working understanding of is like saying that you can’t think of anything that you don’t remember.

    Normally, we just go ahead and say that we don’t know what things we don’t know.

  13. says

    To put it more simply, this is what you said:

    … because just about everything that we know of …

    ..which is the point, because there’s plenty we “don’t know of”. There always has been.. just less of it now.

  14. says

    If I believe something, tell you about it, and you point out that it’s wrong, there’s several paths I can take:

    1) Accept and integrate your information, updating my argument.
    2) Refute your information and continue.
    3) Ignore that you had corrected me and continue.

    I think #3 would be the most dishonest approach. Maybe not “lying” per se, but definitely intellectually dishonest.

  15. warren grubb says

    The only thing wrong with your summary is that the viewer never even acknowledged Russel’s clarification. As Russel said, it’s as if the viewer wasn’t reading that part (or understanding it).

    Even in the final email he claimed that Russel takes the strong atheist stance (and I appreciated that Russel didn’t bother addressing it again in the final short response).

  16. warren grubb says

    It’s evidently incredibly hard because, for years, the hosts have used examples of “do you believe in [X] claim?” to which they almost always say “no, not without some proof,” but the callers/viewers have always (thus far) failed to understand how that applies to their religion. It’s the old cognitive barrier “Well that comparison doesn’t work because my religion is real, whereas fairies are just made up.”

  17. warren grubb says

    You know an argument from a theist is crapping out when they say “if you want to know how I know there is a God, I can tell you later, but…”

    That is never followed up with anything worth a crap. If it was, wouldn’t they have led with it?

    And I love how he signed off with that jab about m-theory, theoretical math and eastern philosophy, the implication being that he has some grasp on those subjects that you don’t, but the only thing he dabbled in during that exchange was a piss-poor interpretation of some eastern philosophy.

  18. jacobfromlost says

    It might not even be intellectually dishonest (although it could be, and often is).

    We’re talking about beliefs about other people’s beliefs. If he doesn’t believe Russell when Russell says he doesn’t believe there absolutely and certainly is no god, he isn’t ignoring Russell’s correction per se, he is just operating under a false premise despite the evidence. (It’s even possible he doesn’t UNDERSTAND Russell’s position–willfully or not–even after it is explained, so instead believes Russell’s position is something he does understand: an absolute claim that god does not exist as a counterpoint to the absolute claim that he does.)

    Since faith-based beliefs already operate despite evidence, it doesn’t take much to disregard the evidence of people who tell you what their beliefs/positions are, and then replace it with the only position that makes psychological sense to them given their assumption that god absolutely exists.

    All of this is possible with no lying or conscious dishonesty (although it happens a lot with BOTH lying and conscious dishonesty, lol).

  19. badtim says

    anytime i see stuff like “oh you obviously don’t understand M-theory or Zen etc”, it always seems to come from people who, equally obviously, understand them even less than I do.

    any Zen monk I’ve ever met would drive this guy completely nuts.

  20. Mr.Kosta says

    One lifetime is not enough to know everything or even a fraction of the universe let alone the nature of God.

    Are you dead then?

    I actually LOL’d with this.

  21. jacobfromlost says

    “I actually LOL’d with this.”

    It was funny.

    It never gets old when people tell other people that humans can’t possibly know what is in Unknown Area X…

    …and then proceed to tell you what is in Unknown Area X by virtue of the fact that it is unknown.

    (And then they try to turn the tables on you and ask you, “How do YOU know what is in Unknown Area X?” When you say you don’t know what is unknown, they look at you as if you have lobsters crawling out of your ears.)

  22. John K. says

    Some great and well thought out responses Kazim. It is sad he did not bother to try and understand them. Absolute certainty was almost the very first thing you addressed, for Pete’s sake.

    I get the feeling the ‘Atheist’ in his mind went off script in act 1, and he could not recover as hard as he tried to get you back on script for the rest of the exchange.

  23. Vall says

    Further proof for my hypothesis that some people’s brain waves are 180 degrees out of phase. Everything they think and do is exactly the opposite of what the rest of us percieve as reality.
    It’s like the AND gate we have is a NOR gate in their circuits.

    Kinda like what JT and Jacobfromlost were talking about above. “It is possible he is not lying about what is in his head: he may actually think Russell thinks that.”

    To us, it seems like he is ignoring Russll’s reply, but with the NOR gate stuck, he sees Russell confirm the opinion. The writer doesn’t seem like someone trying to be a dick, but to keep making the same false claim is a dick move. I think this person would be genuinely puzzled by these comments because they don’t even realize there is a problem.

    What if this is a symptom of the god virus? In my own experience, the more fervent the believer, the more it was like talking to a wall. Black is white, up is down, I’m sure most of you reading this have similar experiences. If you don’t believe me, try sitting through the youtube video of Thunderf00t trying to interview the Westboro whatshername. It’s very uncomfortable.

    Thank you Russell for plowing through stuff like this. I would have exploded years ago.

  24. rrpostal says

    So I’m supposed to believe this guy has a firm grasp on myriad elitist philosophical subjects when he can’t even retain a fairly straight forward email?

  25. Anthony says

    Hi Mike,

    I’m just finishing off a PhD in a biology related discipline. Let me just say that I could probably rattle off a good twenty or thirty things that, as a scientist, I don’t know or understand and that will likely become the material for several hundred science careers

    Even collectively science just does not know everything – but it knows a whole hell of a lot, and it learns more every day. I certainly don’t see room for deities in the gaps that are left, but who knows which of those gaps will contain an entirely new discipline.

  26. Comment1 says

    Reminds me of that guy TAE an episode or 2 ago who said you could believe in a god for good, non-scientific reasons, like “spiritual”. But then he didn’t know what spiritual actually meant. “I believe in God for good, solid, unexplainable reasons.”


    “No atheist I know think that we know everything in the universe to the exclusion of God.”

    No, that’s more a theist, god-of-the-gaps thing. It’s like the only reason we’re not omniscient is because some other guy is omnipotent.

  27. says

    This person is so embedded in his mirror-speak that he’s unable to escape the gravity of the propaganda black hole that he’s constructed for himself. It’s pulling so hard on local space-time that it surprises me that thought has enough velocity to escape.

  28. Stevarious says

    REAL black holes emit Hawking radiation.

    This guy just goes around emitting Dunning-Kruger radiation.

  29. Owlmirror says

    Arguing with apologists often reminds me of “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles”, which I first read in GEB. Perhaps the apologist was alluding to the point that any conclusion can be rejected if the one who wishes to reject the conclusion attaches it to a goalpost with an engine that runs on the tachyonic propulsion of infinite regress.

    While GEB does have a story about G.O.D. (which stands for “G.O.D. Over Djinn” (which stands for “G.O.D. Over Djinn Over Djinn”))(and so on), I doubt that that is what is supposed to be compelling about the book.

    What I recall about Hofstadter’s work that was influential in making be suspicious of religion, was his discussion of memes in his Scientific American, later collected in the volume “Metamagical Themas” (the same name as the column in SciAm).

    He mentions some letters he received on the topic:


      System S:
          S1: Blah.
          S2: Blah blah.
          S3: Blah blah blah.
          S99: Blah blah blah blah blah blah
          S100: It is your duty to convince others that System S is true.

    Here, S1 through S99 are meant to be statements that constitute a belief system having some degree of coherency. If System S taken as a whole were convincing, then the entire system would be self-replicating. System S would be especially convincing if S100 were not stated explicitly but held as a logical consequence of the other ideas in the system.
    Are there any real idea systems that behave like System S? I know of at least three.
    Consider the following:
      System X:
          X1: Anyone who does not believe System X will burn in hell,
          X2: It is your duty to save others from suffering.
    If you believed in System X, you would attempt to save others from hell by convincing them that System X is true. Thus System X has an implicit `hook’ that follows from its two explicit sentences, and so System X is a self-replicating idea system. Without being impious, one may suggest that this mechanism has played some small role in the spread of Christianity.


  30. Otrame says

    That guy sounds absolutely terrified to me. He’s so scared that he has been seeking proof of his faith in places that will melt that faith and protects it by not letting himself acknowledge what he is actually reading. He did the same thing to Russel. The person upthread who said he was working from a script was right. It’s a script that he has to stick to in order not to actually think about this stuff. The sad thing is, that he keeps trying, which in my mind means he knows perfectly well that faith is a self-delusion. I think what we have here is an atheist in the process of being born (admitting that it may end up a still birth). If he was as sure of his faith as he claims to be he would not be wallowing around in Chinese philosophy or GEB (of all things). I feel sorry for him and hope he breaks out of the script and gets free.

  31. atheistthaigirl says

    A: “I assert you think THIS and it offends me. You’re wrong.”

    B: “That’s not what I think. How did you come to your conclusions?”

    A: “I refuse to listen to you and will continue to be more ‘open-minded’ than you. I’m humble. Now explain yourself, but anything you say is wrong!”

    B: “You’re an idiot. Bye.”

  32. atheistthaigirl says

    A: “I assert you think THIS and it offends me. You’re wrong!”

    B: “That’s not what I think. How did you come to your conclusions?”

    A: “I refuse to listen to you and will continue to be more ‘open-minded’ than you. I’m humble. Now explain yourself, but anything you say is wrong!”

    B: “You’re an idiot. Bye.”

  33. Hermes says

    That’s … disappointing. Condescending and unwilling to actually read what you wrote no matter how many times you wrote it.

  34. trj says

    Well, to be fair he’s probably so busy with M-theory that we can’t expect him to actually read the replies he gets. Personally I can’t wait to hear how M-theory explains the existence of God.

  35. trj says

    It certainly seems like the entire purpose of his emails was a build-up to his triumphant delivery of the punchline: “Congratulations you have faith.”

    That his reasoning and even his basic premises were torn apart by Kazim in the process either didn’t register, or he didn’t know how to handle such deviations from his script and so chose to ignore it.

  36. Jeff says

    Why didn’t you blast him for his lack of reading comprehension background? His critical thinking skills seem to be low on the list of his problems.

    Has anybody but me noticed how many of these poor communicators, both over email and the telephone callers, have backgrounds in philosophy?

  37. gsw says

    Policeman to Householder: Is this the burglar?
    Householder to Policeman: Yes, I recognise his face
    Burglar to Householder: Are you a neurobiologist?
    Householder to Burglar : What? No, do I need to be a neurobiologist to recognise your face?
    Burglar to Householder: You see, there are things you don’t know, I could be a clone, therefore you cannot claim to recognise me until we have agreed what you mean by “recognise” and whether humans are actually able to recognise anything.
    Householder to Burglar : Well, you could be a clone, but that is definitely my engraved diamond bracelet in your hand.
    Burglar to Householder: In the wider scheme of things, this could be a clone too – are you a geneticist? Do you think you know everything?

    As time passes, I realise that discussion is sometimes a waste of time one could be wasting on a good book, a grandchild or sitting in the sun.

  38. robertm says

    There are so many non-sequiters that seem to be chosen at random in that exchange I think either way your talking to a godbot.

  39. Ron Cole says

    I didn’t know where else to post this but, there’s a problem with the title logo on the main page. The shadow for the lettering needs to be moved to a lower layer in Photoshop… the shadow is currently in front of the letters. 🙂

  40. Jeff says

    “there’s a problem with the title logo on the main page. The shadow for the lettering needs to be moved to a lower layer in Photoshop… the shadow is currently in front of the letters.”

    Looks like that’s exactly how it should be. The star creating the light is behind the letters, so it’s backlit, with the shadow projecting forward. I think it’s a cool effect and even if it is some kind of “mistake”, should be left the way it is.

  41. says

    OK but, you know darn well that if a religious site posted an illustration of Jesus with his shadow in front of him and they explained it by saying ‘The Lord’s shadow is floating in the air in front of him because the sun is behind him’ we would never stop laughing.

  42. some Matt or other says

    Thank you for pointing that out. I’m a graphic designer, and that’s been bugging me since the first time I saw it, but not quite enough to bother mentioning it. Now that you have, I’ll go ahead and back you up.

    Whether it was intended or not, it looks sloppy and amateurish. If the letters are supposed to be backlit, then they shouldn’t be stark white. And the idea of casting a shadow onto the screen is so strange that it didn’t even occur to me that that might be what’s happening until this moment. The starlight doesn’t read to me as “behind” the letters in some kind of real space. It’s not a scene; it’s a graphical treatment, and a fairly common one at that. The reversal of that one element doesn’t create a new interpretation – it looks like a failure of the existing one.

    If I seem overly critical, it’s because I like the AE and want it to come across well.

  43. says

    Thanks for the backup. 🙂 And I concur with being a big fan of AE and just wanting to see it well represented. I’m also a visual effects artist and would be more than happy to reconstruct that logo if you guys need somebody to do that. (no charge – swear to God 🙂

  44. nude0007 says

    That’s the shadow of the logo that’s just above the top of the visible area of the graphic. It too is backlit from the other direction. (hey, it’s a graphic, so it doesn’t HAVE to imitate reality).

  45. nude0007 says

    I know I’m stating the obvious here , but:

    “We have come to an impasse. You claim that you don’t know everything in the universe but you know with certainty God and heaven and hell do not exist. You have that belief without any scientific proof. You have that belief without ever traveling beyond this planet or beyond death.
    Congratulations you have faith.”

    science indicates with all it shows us that there is no god. That isn’t absolute proof, so we can’t say 100% that there is no god, just 99.9% likely.

    If we have to travel beyond this planet or die to know god, then no one else knows about god either, especially this guy.

    I have faith that this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about and Russell does. Fortunately, I also have proof.

  46. Synapse says

    I agree on the “that guy seems terrified” thing. This is exactly the rash, canned response my friend would give me when he was cornered before he ultimately deconverted. Very much a kneejerk response that was irrelevant, aggressive, and completely unpersuasive.

    Kazim, my SC skills have deteriorated such that my opponents should be bronze, not platinum. 🙁

  47. Kazim says

    Martin did the banner and said it was intentional. He says:

    Basically what I was going for was a simulated camera effect, where a backlit subject is casting shadows through foreground dust clouds against the “lens”. Perspective is indicated by the fact the shadow letters are a considerably larger point size than the logo letters, with the lettering centered at the light source itself. If they were simply meant to be a drop shadow, both lines would have been the same point size. Hope that clarifies.

  48. says

    I’m in the special effects business and have worked on many TV, magazine and other types of advertizing campaigns (as well as movies) and as a long time artist, it’s my experience that when you get a number of people pointing out something they think is a problem with a visual you’ve created, it’s usually smarter to heed those critiques as good advice and make the change. (even if you feel you’re correct)

    Again, I love the show and I hold you guys in really high regard so, I’m not trying to be a pain or a smart ass… I’m just giving you my honest take on the logo from the viewer’s point of view.

    Not to step on Martin’s toes or anything but, I’d be happy to offer my services and Photoshop up another version if you like. (no charge, you guys have provided me with enough free entertainment so, I’d do it as a Thank You)

  49. some Matt or other says

    To be fair, you and I aren’t exactly “a number of people” (I can’t tell if nude0007 is actually criticizing or just having a little fun). Nevertheless, I’ll chime in again now that I’ve seen Martin’s intent described. Hopefully this explanation of my critique will be convincing.

    I think I understand the intended effect, and the image doesn’t convey that. Here’s the way that kind of shadow actually works:


    Note the shadows coming off of the foreground figure’s head and arm. That could be done with the text, but it’s a completely different effect from the current drop-shadow-esque technique. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, the text needs to be dark like that foreground figure, not white. I have an inkling how I would do it in Illustrator (making a Blend between opaque black text and a scaled-up, transparent copy), but I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent easy way to do it in Photoshop. I suppose the Illustrator effect could be imported into Photoshop as a Smart Object, but I’m not sure if the transparency would translate properly.

    Another way to approach it would be this:


    When the text is itself the source of light, then it can stay bright. But, again, I don’t know of an easy Photoshop effect to make the rays.

    If achieving one of those effects seems like too tall an order, then I emphatically recommend the current shadow either be stacked behind the text or be removed altogether. Either of those options would be better than it currently is. That’s the last I’ll say on it; hopefully those examples are helpful.

  50. says

    Yes there is a way to do that in Photoshop, you use the zoom tool in the blur filters. I would use an image of just the outline of the letters against black and choose the point where the zoom should seem to originate.

    I get the whole concept that it’s only a logo and it doesn’t need to make literal sense, it only needs to be about as literal and logical as The Bible. But even in that case, if I were to see this same image but instead of the text being “The Atheist Experience” it was “The Holy Bible” and the shadow were in front of it in the same manner…… you KNOW I’d be pointing and laughing. 🙂

  51. says

    OK, I just went ahead and reworked the logo. I was surprised how easy it was for me to find the exact same photo Martin used for the background! (The Orion Nebula from Creative Commons – Hubble Photos) I also managed to find the same font and lens flare effect he used. I really hope this link works because I don’t use PhotoBucket for much but, it’s the only place I could think to stick this to give it a URL…


  52. Jdog says

    At least something good came out of this e-mail exchange. I’d never heard of GEB before. I looked into it and promptly bought it from Amazon; I’ll be diving into it this weekend.

  53. Jdog says

    Would you say it’s essential to be able to understand the math systems he’s introducing in each chapter? The ones I’ve run into so far make my head hurt.

  54. Kazim says

    Yes, I would say it’s entirely possible to enjoy the book only reading the chapters with the conversations and skipping the explanations completely. It’s better if you make an effort to read as much of the in-between stuff as possible, but don’t feel bad about skipping huge sections.