Watch AETV this weekend with guest Dale McGowan / #810 open thread

On this Sunday’s show, Russell and Jen will be talking to Dale McGowan from the Foundation Beyond Belief. Dale is the editor and co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, and author of the newly-released Atheism for Dummies. He teaches nonreligious parenting workshops across North America and is founding executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, a humanist charitable organization. In 2008, Dale was named Harvard Humanist of the Year.

Edit: Also, consider this your open thread.

Video streaming by Ustream


  1. says

    I’m a prophet. Watch:

    I predict that sometime tomorrow you will inexplicably find yourself in a situation in which you will have to make a choice.

  2. Hollie says

    I can vouch for the Veggie Tales path to atheism. Although I am much too old to have seen the show, I came to atheism very early through Sunday School.

    I read a great deal of fantasy when I was young, and learned thoroughly what was fantasy and what was real, almost to the point of cynicism. Sunday School was full of colorful Bible stories presented in puppet shows and coloring books and other creative activities. It didn’t even occur to me that this was intended to be real, or that anyone could take it as such. Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle, is perhaps the best example; the book is full of fantasy and theology, and for me they were one and the same. The bible was no more or less real than that.

    I must have been rather dense, because I made it all the way through confirmation classes and vacation bible school without realizing people believed this to be real. I just considered it very banal entertainment celebrating a rather uninteresting fantasy with bad songs. Confirmation classes were literary education, and a chance to watch movies like The Ten Commandments.

    It was on the day of my confirmation that I first realized people took this stuff as truth. It is also the day I discovered a true disgust for it. My family, aunts and uncles and cousins, etc. sat around talking sincerely about their beliefs. They were such amazing hypocrites; they were thieves and gambling addicts and domestic abusers and adulterers. Nothing had ever led me to believe they had any particular moral system. I was disgusted by them.

    It was a few years later before anyone in my family found out. My mother, who was not particularly religious and stopped going to church after my sister was confirmed, cried because I would become immoral. I scoffed coldly and told her that I’d been an atheist for years, and not a bit different than I was yesterday. If anything, I tend towards being overly critical and judgmental of moral choices.

    However, I did feel that there was a universal energy. The world *literally* hummed with it. There were times when it was overwhelming, even unbearable. When I started on medication for my bipolar disorder, that hum and other hallucinations (flocks of black birds, packs of black dogs) I had disappeared. Just another chemical hiccup in my brain.

  3. says

    I think that before I’m going to take a “prophecy” seriously, it needs to meet some minimum requirements:

    * A specific timeframe
    * A specific event
    * More to the point, something that is unlikely to happen
    * The ratio of predictions you’ve made that came true versus haven’t (in case this isn’t a sharpshooter fallacy)

    …otherwise, the prediction hasn’t yet be raised out of the fog of ambiguity, and thus, even if it were to “come true”, it wouldn’t mean a damn thing.

  4. Houndentenor says

    I also feel that I am more moral as an atheist than I was as a Christian. Religion offers too many outs. You can just ask for forgiveness (to the deity apparently, not so much from the person you wronged). Religious morality is full of logical inconsistencies that are explained away with some version of “god said it; i believe it; that settles it”. Now that I have no excuses and have to take sole responsibility for my own behavior I have to think through the consequences of my actions before making choices. That’s not to say that I don’t still screw up, but I don’t think some supernatural entity is going to come behind me and clean up my mess. No, there won’t be any consequences in an afterlife to deal with, but the consequences in the here and now are more than enough to keep me honoring my commitments to myself, friends, family and my fellow citizens. But then, that threat of damnation doesn’t seem to keep the religious from lying, stealing, killing or screwing each others’ wives, so that plan isn’t working for them anyway.

  5. says

    I was thinking, this question isn’t that much different than “how can we tell the difference between a godless universe, and the universe of the god you’ve defined?” It’s a question of ambiguity to the point of unfalsifyiability. I was controls – I want experiments to help suss out a muddy scenario.

    My question to these people would be:

    How can we tell the difference between your time-unbounded, unspecific, likely-event predictions that were derived from supernatural sources, and a time-unbounded, unspecific likely-event predictions made by some guy who makes an educated guess?

  6. Lord Narf says

    I read a great deal of fantasy when I was young, and learned thoroughly what was fantasy and what was real, almost to the point of cynicism. Sunday School was full of colorful Bible stories presented in puppet shows and coloring books and other creative activities. It didn’t even occur to me that this was intended to be real, or that anyone could take it as such.

    Ditto. Although for me, it was even more pronounced, because I had a great deal of exposure to Greek and Norse mythology, as early as kindergarten. My father was a big mythology buff, despite being in Catholic seminary, at one point. Perhaps it’s because of his religious background that he was so into non-Christian mythology. I like to think that he was perhaps an atheist and just couldn’t say so … that he learned too much, while in seminary.

    There were a lot of other influences, like the exposure to stage magic and pre-kindergarten reading of earth-science and biological texts, purchased for my older brother, but the exposure to fantasy reading and non-Christian mythology had a major effect on me, I’m sure.

  7. gwen says

    I caught on to ‘Charlie Checkum’ almost immediately. It was hilarious waiting to see how long it would take you guys to get suspicious! Lol! As for Dave McGowan…GREAT interview. My parents did what he suggested. My mom was an atheist who said she wanted to make sure we knew what we were choosing to believe or not believe in. I did the same to my children, sending them to Catholic schools (the education was stellar, and they had the best sex education classes in the area), and we discussed the dogma, and filed in the sex ed part I didn’t agree with (such as gay sex/rights, and birth control). I became an atheist of my own volition and full knowledge of what religion had to ‘offer’, and so did my children.

  8. Kazim says

    Oh, I thought I recognized him right away, but I didn’t want to hang up on him without being sure. Anyway, if we hang up too quickly on somebody for what looks like no reason, people accuse of us censorship… not that they don’t do that all the time anyway.

  9. Lord Narf says

    Maybe if you guys specifically said it, once you were sure it was one of your repeat harassment callers? It’s like the problem that you have sometimes, just naming a logical fallacy without explaining what it means. Likewise, people who aren’t regular viewers might not be aware of the posers you get periodically.

  10. says

    It’s just comical how he managed to be completely undeterred by anything that was said about the “best examples” of prophecy he could come up with. But that’s the mindset these kind of fringe prophets seem to have: don’t mind the part where anything I say doesn’t really make any sense, because if you’d just see the big picture like I do, you’d understand how absolutely mind blowing this all is.

  11. Peter Waine says

    Give the guy a break, making predictions is very difficult especially about the future.

  12. Houndentenor says

    I read The Late Great Planet Earth as a kid. My dad has the book. I remember him giving possible dates for various prophecies to be fulfilled. It’s possible I have that confused with other books that I would have read at about the same time. I will look for old copies from the early 70s when I’m in used bookstores and see if I can find one. It would be interesting to see how well those predictions held up. The hosts were right that Lindsey obviously believed that the second coming would be within a decade or so of the publication of the book. It’s 2013 so that didn’t happen. But such end-timers have been actively predicting the soon-coming end of the world since the mid 19th century. (There’s a long dry spell of such doomsday predictions from the middle ages, when people thought the year 1000 would be the end of the thousand year reign and the revolutionary period in Europe in 1848 and the American Civil War.)

    Also, a lot of references the caller made are interpretations and not what the text actually says. Certain passages are though to refer to Russia, but of course no such word existed at the time. is that what is meant or is that how we have interpreted them? There are other examples. And of course most mainstream Christian scholars (as in, not fundamentalists, have long believed that John the Divine was writing about contemporary events concerning the Roman Empire (with Nero as the antichrist) as a way of encouraging current Christians that the persecution they were suffering would not last much longer. That interpretation makes a lot more sense, if any sense could be made from John’s Revelations. Personally I think John was sampling the mushrooms there on the Isle of Patmos.

  13. Houndentenor says

    I agree. Raise Freethinkers, not atheists. Indoctrination is likely to have the same affect on atheist children as it has on children raised in strict religious traditions. The rebellion is not only inevitable but cliche. Besides, you really can’t force beliefs on other people, not even your own children. give them tools and hope they use them wisely. That’s the best anyone can hope for.

    About Murray-O’Hare’s son, I’ve seen him in interviews and as he tells it his mother was something of a nightmare. Now, he was telling this to a fundie audience on Mike Huckabee’s talk show on Fox so who knows what happened back then but he seemed sincere in recounting tales from his childhood. (At least that may be the way he remembers it now.) Atheists aren’t going to be any better or worse parents than theists. Good parenting cannot be assumed in any group. It’s also possible that he figured out there was more money to be made from the god crowd. It’s impossible to know someone else’s experiences and motivations. He doesn’t seem happy today and that’s sad.

  14. Zanna White says

    Thank you so much for this episode! It helped me much more than I thought it would.

    My situation is somewhat rare, I think. I am an atheist and my husband is deist (in a loose, fuzzy… “I don’t think about it that much but I think there’s a God” sort of way). We just adopted an 11 year old who spent the past five years in a Christian group foster home. He is extremely religious and has PTSD reactions to perceived “sin”. We’re slowly working on defusing that where we can, but he’s been very thoroughly indoctrinated. I have yet to share my own disbelief, but try to bring up differing viewpoints when he makes statements condemning things he has been taught are sin (homosexuality, drinking alcohol, surprise sin-du-jour… it’s hard to nail down his theology because, even though the group home was denominationally Methodist, he had a lot of other influences that were far more restrictive than what I’ve seen from Methodists.)
    I like the idea of guiding exposure to lots of different religions to water down the concentration. So far we’ve just been in triage mode to get past the PTSD issues.

    Thanks again!

  15. Lord Narf says

    Yeah, it’s not like he’s got a god talking to him, giving him information or something.

  16. TAnderson4 says

    It’s interesting…religion is a conspiracy. Possibly the biggest conspiracy of all time. Glad I didn’t lump it in with all the other “crazy” conspiracy theories.

  17. dragon says

    I remember reading The Late Great Planet Earth long ago. I think it was during high school, suggested by a friend. The one thing that I really remember from it was how Lindsey proved the Bible is true through Biblical prophecy. To summarize:
    1) Biblical prophets were always accurate. Note: this requires that the later stories were not written to mimic the predictions, which Lindsey apparently never contemplated.
    2) Biblical prophecy came true because God talked through the prophets
    3) Therefore God/Bible is always true.

    Then a few chapters later he was discussing prophets again. And he mentioned that there were some incidences where a prophet said something that did not come true. But that was because during those times they were not ‘talking as a prophet’ (I forget the exact quote, but that is the gist). And the way you could tell when a man was ‘talking as a prophet’ was whenever it came true, because the Bible is always true. And anything that did not come true was when the man was not ‘talking as a prophet’.

    And I thought ‘Wait!!!! That invalidates your entire earlier chapter.’ What amazing circular reasoning when both chapters are combined.

    Before I read Hal Lindsey I had wondered if there could be something to this Christianity thing, and his book answered that question for me. I have to give ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ some of the credit for convincing me to embrace my atheism.

  18. AdamF says

    Of course I will love my kids regardless of what they end up believing with respect to religion, and they will hopefully always know this. But one thing that struck me listening to this episode was a sense from Dale that atheist parents should give their children, not just the right, but ample opportunity to become religious? What contributed to this vibe I got, were comments from Dale describing himself as “not playing fair” merely because he challenged the concept of hell, “ideal” home circumstances occurring when children had theistic and nontheistic parents, and wishing that more relatives were religious so he could give his children an opportunity to be exposed to their views (if I remember correctly…I listened last week).

    The question this raised in my mind was, would Dale advocate the same sort of exposure to any and all unjustified views? If not, why not? Does he, for instance, also see it as ideal for parents to seek out friends/relatives who practice homeopathy, to counter the evidence-based views of medical practitioners; just so children are exposed to contradictory ideas to chose from?

    The point being that I as a parent aim to teach my kids how to distinguish between good and bad reasons for believing things. Likewise, that being in a position of authority, doesn’t make someone right. I will encourage them to discuss anything and everything, and to learn how to challenge my views and their own.

    But I fail to see the benefit of going out of my way to expose them to people who embrace unjustified ideas, religious or otherwise. Especially ideas that are divisive at their core, and contradict basic human rights. And so, if my kids do come home one day asking whether I believe in God, or that Mary was a virgin, or that Muhammed flew to heaven on a winged horse, or that hell exists, or homosexuals are immoral. I’m going to clearly and without apology say no I do not, and then explain why I do not. Just as if my kids asked me whether I believe in fairies, or iridology.

    I’m very curious if others think I’m misrepresenting/misinterpreting what Dale was advocating, or if others think I will be denying my kids something through this approach.

  19. Kent says

    How disappointing. For crying out loud.. PLEASE do not disabled comments on YouTube.

    What is wrong with you people?

  20. says

    We have made it abundantly clear why we have disabled YouTube comments. For every episode, we offer open comment threads both here and at our FB page, plus people can comment live during each show in UStream chat. All these services are easier to moderate to keep out trolls (which YouTube comment threads almost always turn into), and between them should be more than enough. And yes, first-time commenters here are held in moderation as a standard spam-prevention thing.

    Since you’ve chosen to initiate interactions with us as an entitled douche who thinks he’s owed things, we will now demonstrate the effectiveness of our anti-troll measures by plopping you right back into the killfile where you belong. Toodles.

  21. Lord Narf says

    It’s to prevent spambots. You get a hell of a lot of them, on blogs. After you make your first post that isn’t spam, the moderators will approve your IP address. After that, your posts will appear immediately.

    They don’t filter out opposing viewpoints, either. They even allow through fundie nuts who want to preach at us, as long as the fundies don’t willfully plug their ears and spew back bile when we try to give them reasonable responses. You have to be a major idiot in order to get banned on here.

    Mind you, you’ll still occasionally post something that will get caught up in moderation. If you make a post with a bunch of links in it, that will trip the spam filter. Once one of the moderators has a chance to look it over, though, they’ll push it through.

  22. Lord Narf says

    A message on the reply form about first time posters being screened for bots might be helpful. Then again, you might be right, Martin. A person who starts his comments with two whines in a row might be the sort who is going to have to be banned eventually. 😀

  23. Lord Narf says

    And, umm, did you just seriously say that the UStream chat room is easier to moderate? You have been in there, right? 😀

  24. Lord Narf says

    Speaking of which …

    MAAAAAAARTIN!!! My comment on another post got caught in moderation! Go fix it!

    *points and stamps foot*

  25. Lord Narf says

    Heh, yup. I’ve had it happen many times.

    Now, where are my cookies and my blankie?!?

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